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Icelandic music is related to Nordic music forms, and includes vibrant folk and pop traditions. Opposite to the Nordic folk dance music traditional Icelandic music is strongly religious in character although there are also many folk songs which are not religious that include elves and other hidden creatures. Many of these songs were accompanied by traditional instruments like the langspil and fiðla. Epic alliterative and rhyming ballads called rímur are another vital tradition of Icelandic music. Rímur are epic tales, usually a cappella, which can be traced back to the Viking Age Eddic poetry of the Skalds, using complex metaphors and cryptic rhymes and forms. Some of the most famous rímur were written from the 18th to the early 20th century, by poets like Hannes Bjarnason (1776-1838), Jón Sigurðsson (1853-1922) and Sigurður Breiðfjörð (1798-1846). Rímur were, for a long time, officially banned by the Christian church, though they remained popular throughout the period. A modern revitalization of the tradition began in 1929 with the formation of the organization Iðunn.

The scholar Sigurður Nordal wrote on the rímur: “Icelandic rímur are probably the most absurd example of literary conservatism that has ever been noted. It can be said that they remain unchanged for five whole centuries although everything around them changes. And although they frequently have little poetic value and sometimes even border on complete tastelessness, they have demonstrated with their tenacity that they satisfy the needs of the nation peculiarly.”

It is this, in our eyes, oddball way of making music that is so typical for Icelandic pop.
Popular rock and beatmusic in Iceland started in the sixties with Hljómar (known as Thor’s Hammer for the international market). In 1966 they made a short film called Umbarumbamba which was a first attempt in beat music. After two albums disbanded in 1969 and half the members formed the progpop combo Trúbrot with members from the band Flowers. In 1974 Hljómar came back together and made one album which didn't sell well so the band disbanded again and the members formed Lónlí Blú Bojs  1975 releasing more commercial pop music. More progressive rock was made by powertrio Óðmenn that was formed in the sixties around the Jóhansson brothers. It only came to one album in 1970 after which Johann Jóhansson went solo. In the seventies the biggest name was the group Studmenn who played folkrock kind of music.

It was not until 1979 that popmusic (in addition to rock) took it’s original turn in Iceland with singer Bubbi Morthens and his group Utangarðsmenn (The Outsiders). Bubbi Morthens recorded his first solo album in 1979 (a blend of rock, blues and reggae) with the title of Ísbjarnarblús which led him to popularity in Iceland due to the change of music styles but particularly due to the lyrics as their content was embedded in the social struggle, especially of the lower classes from the fishing industry to migrant workers. This led to a whole range of punk and new wave bands in 1981/82. Among many there was Þeyr (also known as Theyr) which grapped back at the mysterious elements in Icelandic folk, Tappi Tíkarrass which added elements of funk, disco and jazz and Purrkur Pillnikk who played rock but had singer Einar Örn Benedikts who’s howling and off-key singing were his lyrics described very day-to-day things but with a lot of interwoven angst. It was the last named groups that, when splitting up, reformed in KUKL and after that in The Sugarcubes. The 81/82 punk movement was documented in the film Rokk I Reykjavik. And again it was this movie that interested the British public when shown there.

In the slipstream of the movie KUKL was singed to the label of British punk band Crass and gained wide popularity. Especially when they chanced their name to Sugarcubes in 1986. The band's music was characterized by psychedelic pop sound and the imploring, voices of Einar Örn and Björk Guðmundsdóttir. Björk would, after the split of the band, become Icelands internationally best known artist until the rise of Sigur Rós in 2000. In between there were groups like Jet Black Joe, Gus-Gus, Ensimi and singers like Móa and Magga Stina. In 1998 the Icelandic music scene again was featured in a movie, This the project was called Popp I Reykjavik. The new millenium brought artists like Mugison, Múm and Sigur Rós. Singer/songwriter AsgeirTrausti became one of the internationally best selling artists with his 2012 album, which was released a year later in an English version.

The musical link between England and Iceland?
Somehow up to today there is a link between the two islands. What and why stays open for debate. Why not turn other Scandinavian countries who shares more of it’s music tradition? One could say that both being islands created a bond. One could also say that geographically both countries are more neighbouring then Norway and Sweden. Fact is that a lot of Icelandic groups moved towards the British island for recording sessions and were signed to British independent labels. In return a lot of British artists took and interest in Iceland. In speculation this probably helped Icelandic groups to break through more easily towards the British and European market.

 





 

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