Music of Iceland

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The music of Iceland includes vibrant folk and pop traditions, as well as an active classical and contemporary music scene. Well-known artists from Iceland include medieval music group Voces Thules, alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, singers Björk, Hafdís Huld and Emiliana Torrini, post-rock band Sigur Rós, post-metal band Sólstafir, indie folk/indie pop band Of Monsters and Men, blues/rock band Kaleo, metal band Skálmöld and techno-industrial band Hatari. Iceland's traditional music is related to Nordic music forms. Although Iceland has a very small population, it is home to many famous and praised bands and musicians.

Iceland Island republic in Northern Europe

Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 358,780 and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík, with Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country being home to over two-thirds of the population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains, and glaciers, and many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

Folk music Music of the people

Folk music includes traditional folk music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th-century folk revival. Some types of folk music may be called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. The term originated in the 19th century, but folk music extends beyond that.

Pop music is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1950s. The terms "popular music" and "pop music" are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many diverse styles. "Pop" and "rock" were roughly synonymous terms until the late 1960s, when they became increasingly differentiated from each other.


Folk music

Icelandic music has a very long tradition. With some songs still sung today dating from 14th century. Folk songs are often about love, sailors, masculinity, hard winters, as well as elves, trolls and other mythological creatures, and tend to be quite secular and often humorous. Bjarni Þorsteinsson collected Icelandic folk music between 1906 and 1909, and many of the songs he encountered were accompanied by traditional instruments like the langspil and fiðla, which are among the few musical instruments traditionally played in Iceland. Chain dances, known as víkivaki, have been performed in Iceland since the 11th century at a variety of occasions, such as in churches and during the Christmas season. An example is "Ólafur Liljurós", an Icelandic víkivaki folk song dating to the 14th century, about a man who, while on his way to meet his mother, is seduced, kissed, and stabbed by an elf woman while riding his horse, then eventually dies.

Langspil musical instrument

The langspil is a traditional Icelandic drone zither. It has a single melody string and usually 2 drone strings.

Iceland's isolation meant that, until the 18th century, foreign influences were almost completely absent, which resulted in the maintenance of a particular rhythm, called hákveða , lost in other Nordic countries and considered one of the main characteristics of Icelandic folk music. Hákveða refers to a special emphasis placed on some of the words of a song, often the last word of each sentence in each verse. In the following example, taken from the song "Ólafur Liljurós", hákveða is shown in italics:

Ólafur reið með björgunum fram, villir Hann, stillir "Hann,
hitti hann fyrir sér álfarann, þar rauði loginn brann,
Blíðan lagði byrinn undan björgunum, blíðan lagði byrinn undan björgunum fram.

Rímur are epic tales sung as alliterative, rhyming ballads, usually a cappella. Rímur can be traced back to the Viking Age Eddic poetry of the skalds and employs complex metaphors and cryptic rhymes and forms. [1] Some of the most famous rímur were written between the 18th and early 20th centuries, by poets like Hannes Bjarnason (1776–1838), Jón Sigurðsson (1853–1922) and Sigurður Breiðfjörð (1798–1846).

A cappella music is specifically group or solo singing without instrumental accompaniment, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It contrasts with cantata, which is usually accompanied singing. The term "a cappella" was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato style. In the 19th century, a renewed interest in Renaissance polyphony coupled with an ignorance of the fact that vocal parts were often doubled by instrumentalists led to the term coming to mean unaccompanied vocal music. The term is also used, albeit rarely, as a synonym for alla breve.

Viking Age Period of European history from the 8th to the 11th century dealing with the Scandinavian expansion

The Viking Age is a period in European history, especially Northern European and Scandinavian history, following the Germanic Iron Age. It is the period of history when Scandinavian Norsemen explored Europe by its seas and rivers for trade, raids, colonization, and conquest. In this period, the Norsemen settled in Norse Greenland, Newfoundland, and present-day Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Normandy, Estonia, Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Isle of Man, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and Italy.

"Edda" is an Old Norse term that has been attributed by modern scholars to the collective of two Medieval Icelandic literary works: what is now known as the Prose Edda and an older collection of poems without an original title now known as the Poetic Edda. The term historically referred only to the Prose Edda, but this since has fallen out of use because of the confusion with the other work. Both works were written down in Iceland during the 13th century in Icelandic, although they contain material from earlier traditional sources, reaching into the Viking Age. The books are the main sources of medieval skaldic tradition in Iceland and Norse mythology.

In the early 18th century, European dances like polka, waltz, reel and schottische begin to arrive via Denmark. These foreign dances are today known as gömlu dansarnir or literally the "old dances". After their arrival, native dance and song traditions fell into serious decline. For a long time, rímur were officially banned by the church. Paradoxically, many Icelandic priests were keen in making rímur. Rímur remained popular recreation until the early 20th century. In recent years, efforts have been made to revive native Icelandic forms. For example, a modern revitalization of the Rímur tradition began in 1929 with the formation of the organization Iðunn. [2]

The polka is originally a Czech dance and genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. The polka remains a popular folk music genre in many European countries, and is performed by folk artists in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland, Croatia and Finland, and to a lesser extent in Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, Ukraine, Romania, Belarus, Russia, and Slovakia. Local varieties of this dance are also found in the Nordic countries, Spain's Basque Country, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Latin America and the United States.

Waltz dance

The waltz is a ballroom and folk dance, normally in triple  time, performed primarily in closed position.

Reel (dance) form of dance and genre of accompanying music

The reel is a folk dance type as well as the accompanying dance tune type. Of Scottish origin, reels are also an important part of the repertoire of the fiddle traditions of the British Isles and North America. In Scottish country dancing, the reel is one of the four traditional dances, the others being the jig, the strathspey and the waltz, and is also the name of a dance figure.

Protestantism has also left its mark on the music of Iceland. Hallgrímur Pétursson wrote numerous Protestant hymns in the 17th century. In the 19th century, Magnús Stephensen brought pipe organs to Iceland, soon to be followed by harmonium pumped reed-organs. "Heyr himna smiður" ("Hark, Creator of the Heaven") is probably the oldest psalm which is still sung today; it was composed by Kolbeinn Tumason in 1208.

Hallgrímur Pétursson Icelandic writer and minister

Hallgrímur Pétursson was an Icelandic poet and a minister at Hvalsneskirkja and Saurbær in Hvalfjörður. Being one of the most prominent Icelandic poets, the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík and the Hallgrímskirkja in Saurbær are named in his honor. He was one of the most influential pastors during the Age of Orthodoxy (1580–1713). Because of his contributions to Lutheran hymnody, he is sometimes called the Icelandic Paul Gerhardt.

Pipe organ wind instrument that produces sound by driving pressurized air (called wind) through pipes selected via a keyboard

The pipe organ is a musical instrument that produces sound by driving pressurized air through the organ pipes selected via a keyboard. Because each pipe produces a single pitch, the pipes are provided in sets called ranks, each of which has a common timbre and volume throughout the keyboard compass. Most organs have multiple ranks of pipes of differing timbre, pitch, and volume that the player can employ singly or in combination through the use of controls called stops.

Pump organ keyboard instrument sounded by vibration of metal reeds

The pump organ, reed organ, harmonium, or melodeon is a type of free-reed organ that generates sound as air flows past a vibrating piece of thin metal in a frame. The piece of metal is called a reed.

The music of Iceland includes vibrant folk and pop traditions and is expanding in its variety of sound styles and genres. Well-known artists from Iceland include alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, singers Björk, Hafdís Huld and Emilíana Torrini, and post-rock band Sigur Rós, as well as electronic music groups like GusGus. Iceland's traditional music is related to Nordic music forms.

Icelandic popular music today includes many bands and artists, ranging from indie and pop-rock to electronic music. It is also increasingly becoming recognized for its vibrant and growing metal and hardcore scene. [3] [4]

The most famous Icelandic artist is eclectic singer and composer Björk, who has received 13 Grammy nominations and sold over 15 million albums worldwide, including two platinum albums and one gold album in the United States. [5] Followed by the post-rock formation Sigur Rós and singer Jónsi. Widely known outside Iceland, they were immortalized in an episode of The Simpsons [6] and more recently in an episode of Game of Thrones . [7]

Indie and pop-rock

According to the Icelandic label Record Records, the indie pop-folk group Of Monsters and Men is Iceland’s biggest act since Björk and Sigur Rós. Their debut album My Head Is an Animal , as well as their first single “Little Talks”, reached high positions in single and album charts worldwide. In 2013 they won the European Border Breakers Awards. Singer-songwriter Ásgeir Trausti did likewise in 2014, and ever since has been successfully touring Europe and the U.S. with his melodic-folk-pop songs, which he sings both in his native language Icelandic and in English. Female singer-songwriter Emiliana Torrini is an established Icelandic artist. Her song "Jungle Drum", from her 2008 album Me and Armini, is well known abroad and reached number one in the German, Austrian, Belgium and Icelandic single charts. Her latest album Tookah, released in 2013, reached the Top 50 album charts in several countries.

Other artists that are attracting attention outside Iceland include the electro-pop group FM Belfast, indie pop / rock / folk band Kaleo as well as the singers and composers Sóley and Sin Fang, who are both known as founding members of the band Seabear.

Alternative and metal

The alternative and metal scene is vibrant with Icelandic bands playing large festivals in Europe and the United States. The metal-band Solstafir is widely known outside Iceland. Already back in 1999 they had a contract for their debut album with a German record label. The Viking-Metal Band Skálmöld played two sold out shows with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in the capital’s concert hall Harpa in December 2013. [8] Agent Fresco combine metal, rock and alternative elements with the unique voice of singer Arnór Dan Arnarson and have also gained international attention. The instrumental post-rock and alternative-rock band For a Minor Reflection is widely known since supported Sigur Rós on tour back in 2009. Their sound is often compared to Explosions in the Sky or the Scottish post-rock band Mogwai. Dead Skeletons are not only known for their unique psychedelic-rock sound but also for their artwork and an art gallery in Reykjavik run by front man and singer Jón Sæmundur Auðarson. [9] The Vintage Caravan, founded by two of the members in 2006 when they were only 12 years old, are about to play one of Europe’s biggest festivals, the Wacken Open Air, this summer.

Iceland also has a thriving extreme metal scene which is gaining recognition abroad. [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] The black metal band Svartidauði are widely considered a central figure in the development of the Icelandic black metal scene. Many of the scene's most significant albums were recorded and produced at Studio Emissary, a recording studio set up by Irish musician Stephen Lockhart [15] , and the cassette label Vánagandr has also had a significant role in the development of the country's black metal scene. [13] In 2016, the music festival Oration MMXVI debuted as Iceland's first black metal festival, and subsequently returned for two final instalments in 2017 and 2018. [15] In 2016, black metal band Misþyrming were selected as one of Roadburn Fesitval's artists in residence. [16]

Electronic music

The techno house group GusGus is one of Iceland’s most successful exports in the field of electronic music. So far they released nine studio albums. The latest Lies Are More Flexible came out in February 2018.

Other artists include DJ duo Gluteus Maximus, Hermigervill, Bloodgroup and Sísý Ey.

The international franchise Sónar held their first festival in Reykjavik in 2013 with a long roster of international and local electronic acts.


Ben Frost, born in Melbourne, living in Reykjavik, is bringing together electronic soundscapes with classical elements and noisy tunes. His latest album, Aurora , was released in June 2014.

Classical elements also characterize the symphonic music of Icelandic born composer and singer Ólafur Arnalds. Other widely known experimental bands are Múm and the high school originated Hjaltalín.

The trio Samaris have gained attention, especially in Europe, and have played festivals all over Europe. Their self-released EP, Stofnar falla, received positive reviews and was followed by their self-titled debut album, released in July 2013.

Mengi in Reijkjavik is a centre for avant garde music, experimental music and contemporary music. The organisation organizes performances, exhibitions, conferences and runs a recording studio and a record label.

Classical music


Classical music came to Iceland comparatively late, with the first Iceland composers working in the western, classical tradition emerging in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Among them was Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson, who is considered to have been the first Icelandic professional composer. [17] Among his contributions to Icelandic music is the national anthem, Lofsöngur. Belonging to this first generation of Icelandic composers were Sigvaldi Kaldalóns and Sigfús Einarsson, and Emil Thoroddsen, best known for their songs with piano accompaniment. The most significant Icelandic composer in the first half of the 20th century was Jón Leifs.

Today, Iceland has a vibrant classical music scene, with numerous composers of contemporary music achieving international success. [18] These include Haukur Tómasson, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Daníel Bjarnason, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hugi Gudmundsson.


The first proper orchestral concert in Iceland was held in 1921, in conjunction with the royal visit of Christian X of Denmark, the reigning monarch of Iceland. The ensemble created for the occasion was given the name Hljómsveit Reykjavíkur (The Reykjavík Orchestra), and performed sporadically in the years that followed under the direction of Sigfús Einarsson and Páll Ísólfsson. Following the founding of the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service in 1930, and the festivities at the 1000th anniversary of the Alþingi, and through the pioneering work of musicians like Franz Mixa, Victor Urbancic and Róbert A. Ottóson, this ensemble was slowly transformed into the professional symphony orchestra known today as the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra resides in Harpa, Reykjavík's largest concert house, and holds weekly concerts in its Eldborg hall.

Additionally, a number of musical ensembles regularly perform in Reykjavík, playing music that ranges from Baroque to contemporary music. These include Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra, CAPUT ensemble and Nordic Affect. Several classic music festivals are held in Reykjavík and all around Iceland annually, including Dark Music Days and Reykjavík Midsummer Music. [19]

Icelandic classical instrumentalists have achieved success internationally. Undoubtedly, the most famous Icelandic citizen within the world of classical music is the Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, who settled in Iceland with his Icelandic wife Þórunn Jóhannsdóttir in 1968, following their defection from the Soviet Union. He was awarded Icelandic citizenship in 1972. [20] Other notable, Icelandic classical instrumentalists with international careers include Sigurbjörn Bernharðsson, violinist and member of the Pacifica Quartet, [21] Elfa Rún Kristinsdóttir, violinist, [22] Víkingur Ólafsson, pianist, [23] [24] and the cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir. [25]

List of Icelandic music artists

National anthem

The national anthem of Iceland is "Lofsöngur", written by Matthías Jochumsson, with music by Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson. [26] The song, in the form of a hymn, was written in 1874, when Iceland celebrated the one thousandth anniversary of settlement on the island. It was first published under the title "A Hymn in Commemoration of Iceland's Thousand Years".

Music institutions


Iceland hosts a variety of music festivals. The biggest festival is Iceland Airwaves with over 9000 guests. It takes place in the central area of Iceland’s capital city Reykjavík for five days at the beginning of November. There is also an up-and-coming festival, Secret Solstice, which was held for the first time in the summer of 2014, June 20–22. The festival took place at the Laugardalur recreational area, also known as Hot Spring Valley, which is located just 15 minutes from downtown Reykjavik. There are also a number of intimate and transformative festivals that happen year-round in the countryside, such as Saga Fest in Selfoss and LungA Art Festival in Seyðisfjörður.

Other festivals are:


Concert hall Harpa is the biggest venue in Iceland. The opening concert was held on May 4, 2011. Smaller concerts are held at smaller venues or pubs located mainly around capital area.

Record labels

Some of the labels mostly concentrate on one genre, whilst others are promoting many types of music. 12 Tónar and Smekkleysa run record stores in Reykjavik.

Producers and studios

Related Research Articles

Sigur Rós Icelandic band

Sigur Rós are an Icelandic avant-rock band from Reykjavík, active since 1994. Known for their ethereal sound, frontman Jónsi's falsetto vocals, and the use of bowed guitar, the band's music incorporates classical and minimal aesthetic elements.

GusGus band

GusGus is an electronic band from Reykjavík, Iceland. Although initially a film and acting collective, the group is mostly known for its electronic music. The group's discography consists of ten studio albums.

In Icelandic literature, a ríma is an epic poem written in any of the so-called rímnahættir. They are rhymed, they alliterate and consist of two to four lines per stanza. The plural, rímur, is either used as an ordinary plural, denoting any two or more rímur, but is also used for more expansive works, containing more than one ríma as a whole. Thus Ólafs ríma Haraldssonar denotes an epic about Ólafr Haraldsson in one ríma, while Núma rímur are a multi-part epic on Numa Pompilius.

Iceland Airwaves

Iceland Airwaves is an annual music festival held in Reykjavík, Iceland in early November.

One Little Indian Records is an English independent record label that rose from the ashes of punk rock record company Spiderleg Records. It was set up in 1985 by members of various anarcho-punk bands, and managed by former Flux of Pink Indians bassist Derek Birkett.

Bad Taste (record label) Icelandic record label

Bad Taste is one of Iceland’s most important record labels; located in Reykjavík and known worldwide for being home to The Sugarcubes, it also publishes poetry books, short films, greeting cards and Icelandic gifts. Bad Taste should not be confused with Bad Taste Records, a distinct record label based in Sweden.

Tappi Tíkarrass was an Icelandic punk band which added elements of funk, rock and jazz to their music, marking a difference from other traditional bands at that time. The band is also considered the first serious music project of now renowned singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir. The band was reformed in 2015 by the original members, without Björk.

Jónsi Icelandic musician

Jón Þór "Jónsi" Birgisson is an Icelandic musician; he is the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. He is known for his use of a cello bow on guitar and his falsetto or countertenor voice. He is blind in his right eye from birth as a result of a broken optic nerve from the brain. He is openly gay. Apart from Sigur Rós, Jónsi also performs together with his partner Alex Somers as an art collaboration called Jónsi & Alex. They released their self-titled first book in November 2006, which was an embossed hardcover limited to 1,000 copies. The two also released the album Riceboy Sleeps, in July 2009. On 1 December 2009, Jónsi's official website,, was launched in anticipation of his debut solo album, Go, which was released on 5 April 2010. After the release of the album, Jónsi promptly started a tour across North America and Europe, featuring songs from the album plus a few other selections, planning to tour from March to September.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson Icelandic musician

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, also known as HÖH, is a musician, an art director, and allsherjargoði of Ásatrúarfélagið.

amiina is an Icelandic band composed of Hildur Ársælsdóttir, Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, and Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir. The name is spelled in lowercase. They have frequently performed live and in the studio with Sigur Rós. In 2009 Magnús Trygvason Eliassen and Guðmundur Vignir Karlsson joined the group on a permanent basis.

Slowblow is an Icelandic musical duo consisting of Orri Jónsson and Dagur Kári Pétursson, formed in the early 1990s. Their music is an aesthetic of home-made, lo-fi analog tinkerings, which often slips into both electronic and folksy terrain. They began recording in the mid-1990s and have made several albums together. They created the soundtrack for the successful independent Icelandic movie Nói Albínói, which Dagur directed. They have worked with other Icelandic artists such as former Múm band member Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir, who provided vocals on the band's self-titled 2004 album, and Emilíana Torrini. In 2009 the duo provided the music to the film The Good Heart. They have released albums under the Reykjavík based record labels Smekkleysa, Kitchen Motors, and Mobile / Plug.

Steindór Andersen Icelandic singer

Steindór Andersen is an Icelandic musician.

Jónsi & Alex

Jónsi & Alex is an artistic collaboration between Jón Þór Birgisson and his partner Alex Somers. They create ambient music as well as visual art. The music tends to be more ethereal and experimental than that of Sigur Rós.

Kraumur Awards is a music prize, organized by the Kraumur Music Fund, awarded for the best albums being released in Iceland.

Daníel Bjarnason is a composer and conductor from Iceland. Bjarnason studied composition, piano and conducting in Reykjavik, before going on to further study orchestral conducting at the University of Music, Freiburg. He has had a number of works commissioned and debuted by Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Íslensku tónlistarverðlaunin is the official annual music awards given every year in Iceland to commemorate the musical achievements of the year.

The following is a list of notable events and releases of the year 2017 in Icelandic music.

The following is a list of notable events and releases of the year 2016 in Icelandic music.

Páll Ragnar Pálsson, born in Reykjavík, July 25, 1977, is an Icelandic composer.

Neopagan music

Neopagan music is music created for or influenced by modern Paganism. It has appeared in many styles and genres, including folk music, classical music, singer-songwriter, post-punk, heavy metal and ambient music.


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