Yesterday I found an interesting article about the music business in Iceland, responsible for 1,2% of the GDP.
Icelandic music tops world
by Christopher Barrett
On the back of increased investment in Icelandic music and the industry’s domestic framework, an impressive array of artists look set to emulate the international success of Björk and Sigur Rós. Just as Iceland’s breathtaking volcanic landscape has been successfully used to drive both tourism and geothermal power stations, so its tiny 300,000 populous has proved a hot bed of creative energy, emitting a stream of international successes such as The Sugarcubes, Björk, Sigur Rós, Múm and Gus Gus.
With a number of Icelandic labels, publishers and distributors touting a fresh array of talented signatories, Icelandic music is set to be stronglyrepresented at Midem this year under the umbrella of the recently-created Iceland Music Export Office (IMX).
Set up in 2007 as a privately-funded and government-backed joint venture with 85% of the finance coming from government ministries and Iceland’s largest bank Landsbanki, IMX’s key aim is to promote Icelandic music overseas. IMX managing director Anna Hildur says that the organisation, which is also backed by Icelandic rights organisation Unison, aims to provide a “one-stop shop for Icelandic music.”
In collaboration with the Trade Council of Iceland, IMX’s Midem stand (R34.13) has been created to celebrate the organisation’s firstanniversary and will be the site of a reception hosted by the Icelandic Minister of Culture Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir on Monday, January 28 at 5pm.
“The Icelandic domestic market is one of the smallest in Europe but internationally our music industry is punching far above its weight,” says Gunnarsdottir. It is estimated that the music industry accounts for 1.2% of Iceland’s GDP and the creation of the Iceland Music Export Office reflects a period of increased investment to generate improved international exposure of home- grown music, and came shortly after Icelandair and Rekjavik City Council announced a four-year agreement tosponsor one of the country’s leading music events, the annual Airwaves festival in Reykjavik.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary between October 17 and 21 this year, Airwaves has developed swiftly from its debut in a hangar as a showcase for local DJs to, in 2007, an international event featuring 237 acts across a number of venues in the downtown Reykjavik 101 district.
“It’s an extremely important showcase for Icelandic music, an international meeting point which is inspiring for the whole scene,” says Ásmundur Jonsson, managing director of pioneering independent label Smekkleysa, which was set up in 1986 by former members of The Sugarcubes.
“It’s extremely encouraging for artists,” agrees Mugison, a hugely-successful artist in his homeland, who will be performing at the IMX reception. “I owe a lot to Airwaves; my first gig was in a small bar in front of 100 people but after that I got loads of gigs across Europe despite being a complete unknown.”
Mugison, who will be in Cannes looking to sign international distribution deals to complement the one already in place with Lowlands for Benelux, released his third album Mugiboogie in Iceland at the tail end of November to a rapturous response, generating domestic sales in excess of 10,000 units.
Mugison, representing the independent label he set up with his father in 2005, also called Mugiboogie, is a veteran of festival organisation himself. Now in its fifth year, the free festival Aldrei, located in Ísafjordur in the heart of the West Fjords, takes place every Easter and provides a platformfor fresh talent while also allowing established actsto try something new
“It’s just a matter of plug in and play for 15 minutes,” says Mugison. “The first year, Sigur Rós played an acoustic set, changed their name to Lonesome Traveller and performed country songs, múm have appeared and played techno tracks and Gruff Rhys played with some old boys from a local factory. Everyone donates their time and we supply the fun.”
One of Iceland’s longest established events is the Dark Days classical music festival. Launched in 1980, it celebrates Iceland’s long dark winter nights and starts this year on February 3 with scheduled performances by the Reykjavik Band Orchestra, with conductor Lárus H Grímsson. Organised by the Icelandic Composers Union, the festival attracted around 3,000 people in 2007, with more expected this year.
Longer established still is the 20-year-old annual jazz festival Egilsstadir which takes place in June throughout the east of the country, then there is the Jasshatid RKV, the high-profile Reykjavik Jazz Festival featuring international artists across the capital city’s old town in late August, with numerous sponsors including City of Reykjavik, Saga Capital, Eymundsson and Icelandair.
With a thriving local music scene attracting the eyes and ears of music fans around the world, a contingent of more than 30 Icelandic companies will be making themselves heard at Midem including Sena, 12 Tónar, Smekkleysa, Zonet, Dimma, KGEM, D3 and Blánótt, Mugiboogie and Nína Margrét Grímsdóttir. Owner of the 12 Tónar record shop and label Larus Johannesson says that while the domestic market is incredibly healthy for homegrown talent, it remains imperative to establish links with distributors in other territories. “Icelanders are overwhelmingly buying Icelandic music; imports are going down and sales are around 65% to 35% in favour of Icelandic music. We have a lot of very promising young artists on the label. We are working with around 20 acts, so it’s quite a large percentage of the Icelandic people,” laughs Johannesson. “But most of the albums we release need to be exported because the market is so small in Iceland.”
Johannesson says that there has been a lot of interest in his label’s music, particularly in Germany where it is distributed via Cargo. “We are getting a great response and will be in Midem with the target of getting more physical distribution particularly in Asia, Australia and North America.” Smekkleysa’s Jonsson will also be looking to strengthening his label’s international set-up via licensing partners for several new and established Icelandic acts such as Minus, while also looking for international distribution for its first foray into non-Icelandic music. The project is a result of the reunion of legendary West-African band Super Mama Djombo, who recorded their new album Ar Puro (Fresh Air) at Sigur Rós’s Studio Sundlaugin in Mosfellsbær. With 10 songs sung in Creole and one in Balanta – including a collaboration with popular Icelandic singer Egill Ólafsson, the project is certainly something of a departure for the label, and one that Jonsson is confident will raise interest internationally.
Having seen a widening of the musical pallet at home, with hip-hop, rock and electronic music becoming increasingly popular, Mugison is among many in the domestic music business confident that the eruption in Icelandic music is set to make an increasing impact abroad.
“There is definitely an uphill thing going on in Icelandic music,” he says. “I don’t think there is anyone yet that you can point a finger at and say they’re the next Björk or Sigur Rós but there are dozens of maybes.”
“The Icelandic domestic market is one of the smallest in Europe but internationally our music industry is punching far above its weight”
– Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir, Minister of Culture
TOP 10 BEST-SELLING ALBUMS IN ICELAND 2007
Páll Óskar Allt Fyrir Astina (POP)
Laddi Hver Er Sinnar Kæfu Smiour (Sena)
Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson Myndin Af Pér (Sena)
Ymsir 100 Islensk Barnalög (Sena)
Álftageroisbræour Tvítugir; Skála Og Syngja (Álftageroisbræour)
Gardar Thor Cortes Cortes (Believer/Sena)
Ymsir Íslandslög 1-6 (Sena)
Eivör Pálsdóttir Human Child/Mannabar (Sena)
Ymsir Slandslög 7 (Sena)
Mika Life In Cartoon Motion (Universal)
TOP 10 MOST-PLAYED SONGS IN ICELAND 2007
Mika Grace Kelly (Universal)
Sprengjuhöllin Verum í sambandi (Sprengjuhöllin)
James Blunt 1973 (Warner)
Páll Óskar Allt Fyrir Astina (POP)
Eiríkur Hauksson Ég les I Lófa Pínum (Sena)
Take That Patience (Universal)
Travis Closer (Sony BMG)
Magni If I Promised You The World (Samyrkjubúio)
Jógvan Rooftop (Sena)
Hjálmar Leioin Okkar Allra (Sena)