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12 artists to see at 2019 Iceland Airwaves

Just Mustard (photo: Pany Inthaxoum)
Just Mustard (photo: Pany Inthaxoum)

Iceland Airwaves music festival has been around since 1999, offering a showcase for new music, both Icelandic and international, in a very unique setting. The 2019 edition is no different, offering up over 130 artists from 20 countries, playing at venues in downtown Reykjavík from November 6-9. There are always a few bigger, well-known artists who play Iceland Airwaves and this year that includes hometown heroes Of Monsters and Men, Olof Arnalds, Mammút, and Seabear, as well as Mac DeMarco, Whitney, Shame, Girl In Red Booka Shade and more. But with the festival’s emphasis on discovery, here are a dozen acts you might not have heard of before that we’re interested in catching, with about half the list focused on Icelandic artists (some of which are very well known in their home country). You can check out the full 2019 Iceland Airwaves lineup here, a Spotify playlist featuring all of this years artists is here, and tickets and travel packages are still available.

Check out our picks below.

HATARI (photo: Lilja Jons)
HATARI (photo: Lilja Jons)

HATARI

Highly theatrical, highly political Icelandic group HATARI put EDM, industrial, metal, punk and pop into a pulverizer and pour the resulting ooze into a vinyl bondgage gear. With an intent to make art that “unveils the relentless scam that is everyday life,” Hatari have had a big 2019. They somehow ended up representing Iceland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv (their song “Hatrið mun sigra” came in 10th, watch that below) and won Best Performers in the Icelandic Music Awards. You are not likely to be bored by their show.

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GDRN

Speaking of the 2019 Icelandic Music Awards, pop/R&B newcomer GDNR (real name: Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð Jóhannesdóttir) won four major awards: Best Pop Album (her debut, Hvað ef); Best Pop Song (“Lætur mig”), Music Video of the Year (“Lætur mig”), and Best Female Singer. If you’re looking to experience what is genuinely popular in Iceland right now, this is it.

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JOHN GRANT

Originally from Colorado, John Grant played Iceland Airwaves in 2011 and he ended up bonding so much with the people, the music and the landscape, that he ended up moving to Reykjavik, and collaborated with Gus Gus’ Biggi Veira on his 2013 album Pale Green Ghosts. Even without that cool backstory, Grant’s brand of widescreen glam — part Bowie, part Elton John, part Hedwig, all in outer space — is always worth seeing, whether it’s with a full band or just him and a piano.

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JUST MUSTARD

Hailing from Dundalk, Ireland, five-piece Just Mustard make danceable, atmospheric rock indebted to shoegaze, trip-hop and post-rock. The band released their impressive debut album, Wednesday, last year and made a fan of Robert Smith who had them open for The Cure at Dublin’s Malahide Castle in June, and they toured with Fontaines DC in the UK. Just Mustard’s second album is due out early 2020 and they just offered up an early taste by way of excellent new single “Seven.”

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GRÍSALAPPALÍSA

Much of the music that gets exported from Iceland these days tends to be of the grand, sweeping, cinematic and orchestral variety (Sigur Ros, Mum, Of Monsters and Men), but the weirdo art-punk spirit of bands like The Sugarcubes lives on in groups like Grísalappalísa. Their hyper sound has elements of ’60s garage, ’70s krautrock, skronky tongue-in-cheek Lounge Lizards jazz, and sarcastic post-punk. It’s all got an eccentric groove to it — if you looking for a party where thing might get weird, Grísalappalísa might lead you there.

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MOSES HIGHTOWER

Formed in 2007 in Reykjavík, trio Moses Hightower have gone on to release four albums of jazzy, soulful, laid back pop that dips its toes into ’70s soft rock and sunny psychedelia. They won Songwriter of the Year at the 2017 Icelandic Music Awards for their most recent album, Fjallaloft, but it’s the title of their debut that says the most about their groovy, sultry sound: Búum til börn (“Let’s make babies”).

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PENELOPE ISLES

Brighton, UK’s Penelope Isles really impressed at NYC’s New Colossus Fest earlier this year, mixing complex (but not complicated) pop songwriting, musicianship and explosive energy. There’s a real grandeur to their music, big and swelling, with ebbs and flows, and lead vocals often traded between siblings Jack and Lily Wolter. The whole band is seriously talented, and you might not expect — given jazzy songs like “Chlorine” — that Penelope Isles seriously rock, too.

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POTTERY

At a Brooklyn show this year, Montreal’s Pottery opened with a song that almost seemed like an audition reel called “We Can Play Anything,” that cycled through a myriad of styles over the course of eight minutes or so, from hyper new wave punk, to Doors-style ’60s psych, ’70s bombast, country, and seemingly all point in between. That they nailed all of it is a testament the musicianship of this band who, on record, have so far stuck mainly to jangly, manic post-punk pop. Pottery recently wrapped up a tour with Fontaines DC and are currently working on their full-length debut. Iceland Airwaves should be a great place to catch them — being from Montreal they thrive in cold weather.

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HACHIKU

Anika Ostendorf was born in Detroit, raised in Germany and now, after some time in London, makes bedroom dreampop as Hachiku in Melbourne. That grobe-trotting has made for more worldly pop, and her songs have a homespun feel that is both intimate and magical, assured and hard to pigeonhole. Signed to Courtney Barnett & Jen Cloher’s Milk Records, Anika has turned Hachiku from a solo project into an impressive four-piece band who are working on their debut album. You can also catch Hachiku on a tour solo with Barnett in the U.S. in 2020.

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SNAPPED ANKLES

London’s Snapped Ankles describe themselves as “AGRROcultural PUNKTRONIC” and look the part on stage, looking like feral beings who were perhaps raised by the woods itself. Their clattering sound also sounds like the woods, or just a lot of wood, used to make danceable post-punk about the decline of mankind. Snapped Ankles’ back-to-nature ethos, which should be taken with a grain of salt, is vividly on display on this year’s Stunning Luxury, that mixes primal urges, sharp critiques of the skyrotting real estate boom and groovy dissonance.

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SOLSTAFIR

There isn’t too much metal on the Iceland Airwaves lineup, but Icelandic metal is all the rage lately, so this fest would be a great time to see the few bands who are playing, on their own turf. The one that’s perhaps the biggest and most-loved in America is Sólstafir, who mix black metal, post-rock, and pop music in a way that makes them easily accessible to metalheads and non-metalheads alike.

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AUDN

For something a little more consistently evil than Sólstafir, but still atmospheric, there’s Sólstafir’s Season of Mist labelmates Auðn. They’ve got two albums to their name at the moment (including 2017’s acclaimed Farvegir Fyrndar, which was their first for SoM), and they’ve mastered a folk/atmospheric black metal blend that fans of stuff like Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, and Primordial would probably dig if they haven’t heard this already. If you’re looking for a place to start with this band, Farvegir Fyrndar closer “Í Hálmstráið Held” should suck you right in.

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Here’s that playlist of all of Iceland Airwaves 2019 performers:

Check It Out

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