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Iceland’s Pop New Wave: 10 Artists Poised to Burst the Arctic Bubble This Year

Vök, photo courtesy of Sigga Ella.

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There’s something really magical about Iceland’s music scene. As I detailed in an article earlier this year, after visiting Iceland, touring Reykjavik’s renowned Greenhouse Studios, driving around the lush green countryside listening to Icelandic indie stations, and (if only for a week) absorbing the culture, nowhere else in the world right now exhibits quite the same level of talent that just always feels poised to break out at any moment.

Unfortunately these artists have only trickled into North America, despite in some cases  performing extensively throughout Europe. So if you’ve been playing those Björk, Sigur Rós, Múm, and Of Monsters and Men records on endless repeat waiting for something new and northern to hit your speakers, you’re in luck. Today we’re highlighting ten artists who are sure to be the next big thing here in North America.

Hatari

Let’s start this list off with a whip and a bang (…on the butt cheeks!). Their sound is an intense blend of dark techno and industrial punk rock, yet somehow also has an ethereal faraway quality that kind of puts them somewhere near Sigur Rós. Hatari is a highly anti-capitalist, BDSM band that has been gaining major attention since their inception in 2015. Most notably though, they represented Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019, and finished 10th overall.

Vök

What I love about Vök, besides their insanely catchy brand of dream-pop à la Robyn or Chvrches, is that they write their lyrics in both Icelandic and English, making it that much more intriguing and, of course, catchy. Formed as a duo solely for the purpose of entering an annual music contest in Iceland called Músíktilraunir, the band has seen fast success since they formed in 2013. They’ve since expanded to a trio, and in 2018 they played Icelandic Airwaves to international audiences.

Fufanu

Called “Iceland’s most exciting young band” by Pitchfork in 2017, Fufanu are also one of Iceland’s most creative. They’ve just released “The Dialogue Series,” which is a succession of EPs, each one uniquely exploring different personalities and styles that the band has experimented with — from post-punk to techno, to avant-garde electronica. They’ve played festivals such as Icelandic Airwaves and JaJaJa, and have received extensive radio play.

Mammút

With several accolades under their belt, Mammút has been steadily building their fanbase in Iceland. An all-female trio, their career launched after winning the annual Icelandic battle of the bands, leading to their debut album being released on the label Smekkleysa (which was founded by fellow Icelandic band The Sugarcubes, and translates humorously to “Bad Taste”). They went on to win the 2008 “Best Band” category of the Icelandic Music Awards as well as Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Cover of the Year at the 2013 Icelandic Awards. In 2017, their album Kinder Versions was released outside of Iceland to international acclaim — a preview of what’s to come hopefully!

Ásgeir

Having embarked on international tours in recent years, including one in North America, Ásgeir‘s acclaim has steadily gained over the last few years, including when Canada’s CBC named him an “artist to watch” in 2016. He also sings in English and Icelandic. With his release Dyrd i daudathogn becoming the fastest-selling Icelandic album from a domestic artist of all time, over the last few years Ásgeir has accumulated millions of streams on YouTube and Spotify, inspiring lots of touring and festival appearances, with many more to come.

Between Mountains

From Iceland’s Westfjords, Between Mountains first caught Icelandic audiences’ attention when they won Músíktilraunir in 2017. Since then, they’ve been rising fast.  If you’ve just listened to the above song, it’s not that surprising, but would you believe me if I told you the members are just 15 and 17 years old? It’s true. And it makes this duo all the more poised to make major waves over the next few years. They’ve already had a performance at the globally-important Iceland Airwaves.

Kælan Mikla

With a haunting, psychedelic sound, Kælan Mikla is a standout voice not only in the Icelandic local scene, but I’d dare to say music scenes worldwide as well. With a growing international fanbase and an endorsement from The Cure’s Robert Smith to boot, this brooding synth-pop artist’s sound is bound to break out in no time.

Árstíðir

Since their formation in 2008, Árstíðir has been building to a massive breakthrough. In 2012, they saw the first of many accolades as they became the first Icelandic band to win the Eiserner Eversteiner European Folk Music Award in Germany. They’ve also won the Independent Music Award for Best Album in the “Alt/Indie Rock” category in the US. A performance of their song “Heyr himna smiður” (above) went on to become viral on YouTube, receiving more than 7 million views and giving the band their first spark of international attention. By 2014, they had raised over $70k with a Kickstarter campaign for their third album Hvel. The band has since toured extensively, including a coast-to-coast tour of the United States, which included stops on the festival circuit.

JFDR

What really caught my attention about 24-year-old JFDR is that during her 2018 Icelandic Airwaves performance, she sold copies of her new EP Gravity in the form of a chocolate bar (created specifically for this project) with a download code inside. Sweets aside, JFDR may be young, but she’s no stranger to the local music scene. Having previously worked in bands like Amaris, Gangly, and Pascal Pinon, Jófríður Ákadóttir launched her solo project JFDR in 2017, and has been buzzing with attention ever since. Björk has even cited her as an inspiration!

Hugar

With a genre-defying sound that has gained them opportunities to work alongside Icelandic greats like Björk, Sigur Rós, Johann Johannson, and Ólafur Arnalds, Hugar first garnered massive attention for their cinematic and folk-inspired self-titled EP in 2014, and have since accumulated over 30 million streams worldwide on Spotify alone. Now signed to Sony Music Masterworks, Hugar is set to release new music as well as headline a string of shows in Europe and Asia, hitting the festival circuit along the way, including their third consecutive appearance at the Iceland Airwaves Festival. Look out for them on some of our biggest stages here as well.

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Angela Mastrogiacomo
Angela Mastrogiacomo

Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placement on Alternative Press, Spotify, Noisey, Substream, and more, as well as the Director of Community and Events for Music Launch Co. Her free training ‘Reaching a Wider Audience Without Spending A Dime’ helps emerging artists cut through the noise and get in front of fans and industry influencers in just a few steps. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.