Icelandic Music Guide & Playlist (Iceland Airwaves 2018)

The Northern Lights, volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls – incredible sights need an incredible soundtrack and Icelandic music is perfect to do just that.

The land of sagas and fairies is a magical place. So much so that I’ve personally visited Iceland on four occasions and even once specifically to attend an Icelandic music festival and see Icelandic bands. I had a blast at Iceland Airwaves Festival.

Iceland Playlist: ‘Ja’ Pronounced ‘Yow’ Means ‘Yes’.

There are lots of great Icelandic bands considering how small the country it is. Some very famous like John Grant or Of Monsters & Men; some a little more colloquial like bands from the Icelandic folk music scene, or the ones you’ll find playling the small venues at Iceland Airwaves.

We’ve included a guide to all the Icelandic bands playling Airwaves at the bottom of the page, so scroll down for more.

Whether hugely famous or not, each Icelandic band has a flavour of the country, running through their music. It would be impossible to live somewhere like Iceland and not have it affect your music.


More Listening: Check out our full range of Nordic music playlists, including Greenlandic music, alongside the sounds of Sweden.  

Through splendid isolation, Icelanders have cultivated their own unique culture and the influence on their music is clear. From Sigur Ros’ made up language, to Bjork’s ethereal music and visuals, there is something fresh and different about each Icelandic musician on this playlist.

Reykjavik Music Scene

If you are heading out to Iceland, along with this playlist, check out our post regarding our favourite hangouts in Reykjavik. The city has some great music cafe’s, venues and bars for your nights out.

Our favourite music venues start with the Harpa – Iceland’s national concert hall. Set in a beautiful glass fronted building, it is an iconic piece of architecture and a must see landmark.

Other, smaller venues that are great for music include Kex Hostel down by the northern shore, Dillion Whiskey Bar is a great rock music hangout, Prikid is a favourite hip-hop hangout for burgers, beer and lively fun at the weekends. And finally, Kaffibarinn is a great late night venue for electronic DJs at on Friday and Saturday nights. For more info, head to the hangouts list above.

My favourite website for the latest in up to date info on what is happening in Iceland is Reykjavik Grapevine. The site also features lots of travel and culture information, so it’s a must read for your trip.

I’d recommend heading to Iceland Airwaves 2018 if you want to absorb Icelandic music. It was at the festival a few years back that I learned and fell in love with the way Icelanders say ‘yes’ in their own language.

Hence we name this playlist ‘ja’ which is pronounced ‘yow’ and means ‘yes’ in Icelandic. Enjoy these excellent Icelandic bands and take a look at this video we made whilst visiting the country, soundtracked by Sigur Ros.

We loved touring around Iceland, making this film. It’s got lots of our favourite places in it and is a great visual guide to the south-west of the island. But also, listening to Icelandic music as you go, really does enhance the experience. Give it a try.

Iceland’s Favourite Bands

John Grant – A proud Icelander and Cafe Mokka in Reykjavik is featured on the cover of one of his albums. Grant is a great advocate of the music in his homeland, often taking new Icelandic bands on tour with him.

Múm – An Icelandic band who truly embody much of the spirit of Iceland in their music. Calm, tranquil and wonderous, they are band – pronounced ‘moom’ – remain a favourite, two decades on from their formation.

Bjork – One of the most creative musicians of all time, regardless of where they come from. Bjork’s music stands the test of time and will remain well listened to for many, many years to come. A true pioneer and radical.

East Of My Youth – One of Reykjavik’s amazing new breed of musicians, EOMY are a talented electropop outfit with a reputation for futuristic sounds and impassioned performances, as their bio says ‘from the moon’.

Ásgeir – A big artist for the future on the roster of world-renowned Icelandic label, One Little Indian. It’s almost a right of passage for great Icelandic acts to feature on this label and the past alumni features many names from this list.

Of Monsters & Men – Formed in Reykjavik in 2010, Of Monsters & Men’s rise to fame has been fast and accomplished. Now well-known far beyond the shores of their tiny island for high quality, charged indie rock music.

Sigur Ros – A wonderful example of how Icelandic isolation has made this small country so incredibly creative. Lots of their songs feature lyrics in their own, made up language. Their attention to detail is astounding.

Fufanu – One of a new school of Icelandic music acts that have turned their back on the wonderous, twee that is often associated  with the island. They make forceful and frenetic new wave and post punk instead and well.

JFDR – Jófríður Ákadóttir is a regular on the Iceland music scene. A former member of Samaris and Gangly – two music acts who were very well-loved at home but didn’t make too much impact internationally. You sense that’ll be different with JFDR.

Samaris – The three piece that Ákadóttir was a member of and a powerful and credible acts in the indie scene. They have featured on both of Iceland’s main two well-regarded labels – 12 Tonar and One Little Indian.

Gangly – mentioned above and we couldn’t do that without letting you hear them. I saw this band at Iceland Airwaves and the atmosphere was electric. It’s not that I’m their greatest fan but they do seem important to Icelanders.

Local Bands at Iceland Airwaves 2018

Iceland Airwaves really is a great experience, so we’d recommend it to anyone keen to hear a mix of international and local acts.

Icelandic music can have many distict charectoristic and to hear it in the place it is created, only adds atmosphere to already great sounds.

Here is a previews of many of the Icelandic musician playing the festival in 2018. 

Agent Fresco – Mixing major key rock outs, minor key emo attitude and classical licks, this odd but strangely alluring band are amongst the first wave of acts announced for Iceland Airwaves 2018. They’ll be a safe bet to put on a good show too.

AUÐUR – Mixing trippy samples and r’n’b vocals, this Icelandic artist takes his name from the word for ‘desolate’ – it’s a word which mirrors the Icelandic landscape and signals the home influence that s mixed alongside American melancholy soulful sounds.

Between Mountains – This duo comprise of two young girls from the Westfjords of the island. Katla Vigdís Vernharðsdóttir is just 16 years old and and Ásrós Helga Guðmundsdóttir an amazing 14 years, make up the band. Half my age and twice as talented!

BRÍET – At just 19 years old from Reykjavik, her debut self-released single ‘In Too Deep’ is an R&B crossover electro-pop track. With songs that are very much in-keeping with the international sound of now, she is inevitably making waves.

Cyber – Punk ethic, synthpop power and Icelandic lyrics create a heady mix of music. You get the sense this band will put on a strong performance, from the passionate sound of their music so far.

Júníus Meyvant – With music that sounds timeless and full of wonder, Júníus Meyvant will be a crowd pleaser at Iceland Airwaves 2018.

KIRIYAMA FAMILY – Making suave and geady indie music with keys, this act remind me of bands like Dutch Uncles. There more than a hint of lounge, along with some modern flashes but if that’s up your street, then this family will be perfect.

RYTHMATIK – Fun, fast and frantic indie pop from a precise band. Their sound harks back to naughties NME favourites like the Wombats and the like.

Snorri Helgason – Pleasent folk sounds are the staple of Helgason, with aged wisdom for words and a simplicity of message. A sound that helps you slow down and feel all warm. 

Listen to or follow ‘Ja’ pronounced ‘Yow’ means ‘Yes’ – Playlist On Spotify



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