17 Artists to See at Iceland Airwaves 2022
Having taken 2020 and 2021 off due to the pandemic, the Iceland Airwaves festival returns this year, happening November 3-5. A slightly scaled down version of the festival, 2023 features 85 artists across three days at venues in downtown Reykjavik. While this year's fest includes a few big international artists -- including Mercury Prize winner Arlo Parks, Metronomy, and Amyl & the Sniffers -- Iceland Airwaves has always had a focus on discovery, with an emphasis on Icelandic artists. It's also a good excuse to check out Iceland and its many spectacular natural wonders, some of which are not too far outside the city. It's a fun festival. Passes and travel packages are still available.
With discovery in mind, we combed through the lineup and listened to the official playlist and came up with 17 artists we're excited to catch at Iceland Airwaves, with more than half the list made up of Icelandic artists of all shapes and sizes. Check out our picks and listen to the official Iceland Airwaves playlist below.
17 ARTISTS TO SEE AT ICELAND AIRWAVES 2023
There is no shortage of folk artists in Iceland but newcomer Arny Margaret, who hails from the sparsely populated Westfjords peninsula in the northwest, has cut through the haze with sublime songwriting and a gorgeous, emotive voice. She learned to play piano barely out of kindergarten, taught herself guitar, and has been in music school most of her young life. She's toured with Leif Vollebekk, just played some U.S. dates with Blake Mills around Newport Folk, and is signed to One Little Independent, home of Bjork. She released her debut EP in February of this year. Her debut album, they only talk about the weather, is out October 21.
Maker of our 18th favorite album of 2021, Brooklyn resident Arooj Aftab wowed a lot of people last year with her album Vulture Prince that also got her nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys. (She lost to Olivia Rodrigo but did win Best Global Music Performance for "Mohabbat.") Her blend of chamber folk, jazz, South Asian ghazal, reggae and other styles is totally unique, and whether she's playing a warehouse in Queens or the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur, Arooj always captivates.
Bríet made waves in Iceland with her 2020 debut album, Kveðja, Bríet, that mixed pop and country, heartbreak and survival, with her powerhouse vocals soaring above it all. She won Pop Album of the Year, Lyricist of the Year and Female Singer of the Year at the Icelandic Music Awards, while the Reykjavik Grapevine awarded her Album of the Year and Song of the Year (for "Rólegur Kúreki" which translates to "Quiet Cowboy"). New single "Dyro I Dauoapogn" is currently in the Icelandic Top 10, and Iceland Airwaves will be Bríet's first live performance in a year, so this should be a big moment for her and the festival.
The word "collective" gets thrown around a lot when referring to a group that has a lot of members (especially if they're Canadian) but Crack Cloud use it to describe themselves, and it fits. Singer Zach Choy met most of the other members of the band in rehab, and they see Crack Cloud as their recovery program. With an undeniable anarchistic bent, the group's cinematic aesthetic has time for all Posts -- punk, modern, apocalyptic -- with a sound that is like a party at the edge the abyss. The band recently followed up their great 2020 debut with the equally impressive Tough Baby, and their in-house made music videos are now getting them work directing for other artists. Crack Cloud bring the same sprawling scale to their intense, energetic live shows.
DAUGHTERS OF REYKJAVIK
Eight-piece, all-female Icelandic hip-hop band Daughters of Reykjavik, or Reykjavíkurdætur as they're known in their own country, have been together for nearly a decade, having released two albums and over a dozen singles, all aiming "to empower, particularly women and non binary people, and give energy back." After spending most of their career on the fringes of Iceland's music scene, they appeared on TV singing competition Söngvakeppnin which led to single "Tökum af stad" which translates to "Let's Take Off" -- and they finally did, with the song hitting #4 in their home country. That led to "Turn this Around," their bid to represent Iceland in the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest. While it ended up not getting chosen as Iceland's Official Song, it was another Top 10 hit for the group and has kept them in the spotlight.
Born in Iceland, singer-songwriter Laufey currently calls Los Angeles home and is one of the biggest breakout artists -- internationally -- that her country has seen since Of Monsters and Men. Laufey's jazzy pop style has gotten comparisons to Norah Jones, Weyes Blood and Phoebe Bridgers, she has her own radio show on BBC 3, and just wrapped up a sold-out North American tour in support of her debut album Everything I Know About Love, which was released in August.
NATION OF LANGUAGE
NYC band Nation of Language make the kind of electronic-imbued rock that was central to John Hughes soundtracks, loaded with cascading arpeggiated synths, bouncing rhythms, and frontman Ian Devaney's soaring vocals that glisten with just the right touch of melodrama. If time machines were possible, Nation of Language could slip right into 1982 and probably storm the charts with potential smash hits like "A Fractured Mind," "Across That Fine Line," and "Whatever You Want" -- all of which are on their terrific new album, A Way Forward.
We caught JFDR, aka dreampop artist Jófríður Ákadóttir, at Iceland Airwaves 2019 where she performed a spare, mesmerizing set backed by her sisters. Since then, she released her glitchy, diaphanous second album, New Dreams, in 2020 that got her noticed outside Iceland. JFDR just announced that she's signed with Houndstooth, the artist-focused sister label of London's Fabric and new single "The Orchid" is very promising. We're looking forward to hearing more at Airwaves.
If you're looking for a good time at Iceland Airwaves, trio Inspector Spacetime have serious fun potential. Named after a popular TV show within the world of NBC sitcom Community, the group make giddy dancepop that pulls from house, two-step, French Touch, and UK garage. After scoring an Icelandic hit with "Hvað sem er," Inspector Spacetime released their self-titled debut album in early 2021 and the band were named Artist of the Year by Reykjavik Grapevine. They've kept the momentum going with bouncy new singles "Kenndu mér" and "Under My Underwear."
Led by mesmerizing singer/songwriter Dana Margolin, Brighton's Porridge Radio made one of our favorite albums of 2020 and followed that up this year with the fantastic Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky. The band's songs, like Margolin, are nothing if not intense, but also beautiful, sometimes funny, often sad, and as big and memorable as the emotions they deal with. As great as their albums are, Porridge Radio's songs spark to life with Margolin pouring her heart out in front of an audience.
russian.girls is the brainchild of Guðlaugur Halldór Einarsson who has been releasing music under the moniker since 2014. These days russian.girls are a trio with Tatjana Dís and Gylfi Sigurðsson, making dark melodic electronic pop with a heavy dose of techno, drum-and-bass and shoegaze. Einarsson, who also plays in Skrattar that will be at Airwaves 2023 as well, likes to keep things enigmatic but their music, like their music videos, is stylish and alluring. Color us intrigued.
One of the most vibrant underground scenes in Icelandic music currently is Post-dreifing, a collective of young Reykjavik artists who aren't DIY, they're DIT ("Do It Together"). More than a dozen acts are under their umbrella but the first to release music through Post-dreifing was Skoffin, which began as a solo project for frontman Jói but soon became a proper band -- "the loudest band in Iceland" as they are fond of saying. Their brand of shouty, anthemic indie rock isn't a million miles away from mid-'00s UK indie acts like The Libertines, The Cribs or Arctic Monkeys, and sounds as much like a gang of mates as a band, which is quite infectious.
Bjarni Daníel, who plays in Skoffin, is also in another Post-dreifing group, Supersport!, who lean a little more on the pop side of indie rock and who the Reykjavík Grapevine called "most charming indie pop group in Iceland." Daniel and bassist/singer Þóra Birgi share lead duties and their sound recalls '90s Swedish indiepop groups like The Cardigans, The Wannadies and Eggstone. Their 2021 debut album, Tveir Dagar ("Two Days"), was produced by The Vaccines' Árni Árnason and they followed that up early this year with another terrific single, the cheery "taka samtalið" ("Take the Conversation").
A member of revered Icelandic indiepop vets Seabear, Sóley went sóló when the group went on hiatus after their 2010 album We Built a Fire. Seabear are back -- they played Iceland Airwaves in 2019 and released their first album in 12 years In Another Life in April, but Sóley has stayed active on her own: in 2021 she released both a solo album (the haunted Mother Melancholia, named Album of the Year by Reykjavik Grapevine) and the poppier Dream is Murder, her second collaboration with Sin Fang and Örvar Smárason.
SUCKS TO BE YOU, NIGEL
Reykjavík band Sucks To Be You, Nigel formed during the pandemic summer of 2020, solidifying the lineup of the group later that year with the addition of vocalist Silja Rún Högnadóttir who says she's more of a screamer than a singer. However you describe her voice, it's perfect for the hyperactive twee punk found of the band's fun, addictive 2021 debut album, Tína blóm. Silja gives 110% on irreverent, irresistible songs like "Is It Un-PC to Cut Babys in Half?" and the album's title track, and you can just tell she's a pistol at live shows.
Hailing from the Faroe Islands (pop. 54,000) located between Iceland and Norway, duo Kóboykex (Sigmund Zachariassen and Heiðrik á Heygum) are a very new group, having released their debut single earlier this year. But what a tune it is: "Midnight Gale" is a haunting, hazy take on country, as lonesome and wide-open as the prairie -- or the North Sea that surrounds their home. Harmonies and tempo are thick as molasses and the song's self-directed video is just as arresting. They've released a second single since, the nearly-as-lovely "Cake," and we're anxious to hear more.
Another group in the Post-dreifing collective, trio GRÓA formed in their teens in the mid-2010s and while all three had played music previously, none of them had played their particular instrument before. They picked it up pretty quick, though, playing their first-ever show in 2018 as part of the Músíktilraunir battle of the bands and soon became favorites in the DIY scene with their danceable post-punk sound. They've released three albums in rapid succession, the most recent being 2021's What I Like To Do that's full of big hooks and clattering percussion.
Read our coverage of Iceland Airwaves 2019 here, and discover more 2022 artists on the official Iceland Airwaves playlist: