A few weeks ago I decided to capitalise on the economic misery by buying some cheap flights to Iceland. It has always been a longstanding tourist destination for those wishing to perve at nature while enjoying such culinary delights as putrefied shark. For those who don’t dig that sort of thing there is always culture, in particular the music. Iceland has a damn fine music scene, and I am not just talking about Sigur Rós and crazy old Björk.
Wandering through Reykjavik, it became apparent just how important music is in Iceland; nearly every coffee shop and bar, no matter how small, doubles up as a venue, and there is a distinct lack of international music on sale. There is also an absence of soulless mega stores and in their place are several laid back independent record shops such as Havari and 12 Tónar. The latter is a little green house with an atmosphere more like a best friend’s bedroom than a record store. It not only stocks all the Icelandic favourites but also homemade demos from new bands, lets you try before you buy, holds gigs, serves free coffee and has its own label — phew! But, for me, what really sets Tónar apart from Glasgow’s independent stalwarts is the feeling it creates, giving the idea that not only is music integral to everyday life in Iceland, but also that everyone can get involved.
Just around the corner I discovered Smekkleysa, (that’s “Bad Taste” to you and me). This shop/label was established in 1986 by Icelandic legends The Sugarcubes. The label is currently home to Kimono, an experimental rock group brought to my attention by the paper trail of posters strewn across the city. Down the street I came to Prikið, the stronghold for Iceland’s mini hip hop scene, pioneered by the Beastie-esque Quarashi. The café looks like an unlikely place to hold any musical event, especially as I noticed that during the day the clientele are mostly ageing regulars enjoying coffee in its subdued surroundings. However, at night the place fills with djs, chaps in big hats and an awesome atmosphere. The café is an example of the music scene’s diversity, throwing the concept of genre straight out the window with bands like Sometime, who fuse elements of hip hop with pop and rock.
As I strolled towards the other side of the city two things become apparent: Reykjavik is tiny, and there is a lack of large music venues. The city seems to favour intimate venues such as my favourite, Mokka; a cramped but cosy veteran coffee house. This makes for unique, exciting gigs, and the small size of the city also leads to a close knit artistic community with a feel similar to Glasgow’s West End. Combine this with Iceland’s naturally haunting Lunar Landscape and it’s not surprising that there is such a diverse range of styles and over 300 bands within the little frozen city. I have to say I enjoyed the music more than anything else in Iceland; it’s about the only thing in the county that doesn’t reek of sulphur.