A special tour on Iceland’s musical history is on its way to Airwaves!
Dear Airwaves visitor, chances are you’re going to have several dozen drinks, eat a bunch of hotdogs and possibly take a Golden Circle tour and/or go to the Blue Lagoon party. You may even take a picture of a cat or two. But don’t you want to do something a little bit different from the standard tourist fare? Discover the rich musical history that layers this town like a benevolent ash cloud, perhaps?
The people behind the alternative guidebook ‘Reykjavík Rocks’ think you might. This year they’ve teamed up with KEX hostel to create a KEX ROCKS, a tour that aims to shine light on the alternative history of Iceland’s chaotic, fertile music scene.
“We wanted to do something more with the ‘Reykjavík Rocks’ concept in line with the Airwaves festival,” says the book’s publisher Guðlaugur Agnar Guðmundsson. “We wanted to create a special spectacle for people coming to Iceland.”
The book, which was published last year, details some of the lesser-known history and culture of the city through photos accompanied by words and short passages written by famous Icelandic writers such as Hallgrímur Helgason, Örn Úlfar Sævarsson and Jón Atli Jónasson. And Jón Atli will be narrating the tour, which he co-wrote with famed Icelandic musician and journalist Dr. Gunni. “He’s been heavily into the music scene and has been a part of it for 30 years now,” Jón says. “Together we’re going to make things interesting with the “unofficial” story.”
This unofficial story, Jón says, will look to include places such as famous records stores, concert halls, bars, as well as the locations of seminal moments in the city’s music scene. “For example, there’s Kaffi Hljómalind, which used to be a record store. Kiddi, who used to be the manager for Sigur Rós, would bring in four boxes of new records from small, independent UK labels every week. Then there’s the studio for the former Radio X station. When that started in the ‘90s, there was no real outlet for playing electronic music on the radio, and this was all pre-internet.”
Jón says the size of the city is what makes Iceland’s music scene so unique. “Take a band in London for example. There really isn’t that much of an impulse to just “do” stuff because the size of the place means that it takes hours just to get anywhere. Whereas here you could go “let´s make a band” on Monday, and you’re having your first gig by Friday. It’s the size of the Reykjavík that allows this to happen.”
While Iceland’s size allows it to be nimble, it’s a problem when it comes to larger concerts. “Going back before Harpa was built, even before NASA, it’s always been difficult problematic to find a venue for 1,000 people. I remember when the DJ Andy Weatherall came to play, there were 300 people attending, but there could have been so many more,” Jón says.
Guðlaugur hopes that with KEX ROCKS, festivalgoers will be able to get a better understanding of what makes the Iceland music scene tick. “We just wanted to do something that would give people a better feel for the place and this tour will ensure that they will be able to see it instead of reading about it in a book.”
Dr. Gunni’s Thirteen Significant Pop Locations In Iceland!
(In no particular order)
Sigur Rós’ recorded their album ‘Ágætis byrjun’ here. The building has since been demolished.
It opened in 1930 and was for decades a main concert and dance venue in Reykjavík. It featured prominently in the 1982 documentary film ‘Rokk í Reykjavík.’
It opened in 1946 as Sjálfsstæðishúsið and regularly hosted cabarets and concerts until about 1960. It reopened as Nasa in 2001 and served as a big music venue in Reykjavík until it closed last summer.
Jónsi, Georg and Ágúst met in the cantina in 1993 and decided to “try something.”
It opened in 1948 as Austurbæjarbíó and has been home to many great events, including the The Kinks concert in 1965 and Of Monsters and Men winning the battle of the bands contest in 2010!
Sundlaugin (“The Swimming Pool”)
This is Sigur Rós’ studio, which was built in 2001. It used to be an indoor swimming pool, hence the name “The Swimming Pool.”
This was a legendary small club in the eighties. Bands like HAM and The Sugarcubes played their first gigs here and in 1991 The Sugarcubes played here for the French President François Mitterrand. The house has since been demolished.
A big club in the late eighties/early nineties, which eventually burned down.
This was a popular club in the sixties. It burned down.
The seminal record shop/record company of the ‘Rokk í Reykjavík’ movement—the Icelandic “Rough Trade,” if you will.
This was the main record store during the nineties. The owner, “Kiddi the rabbit,” was Sigur Rós’ first manager.
This has long been popular bar in Reykjavík. It was owned by Damon Albarn for a while.
This was the main hangout of the 21st century for cool bands and hipsters. It closed in 2008.