Iceland is no stranger to music, but it has been in the last century or so that Iceland heard a rapid musical development beyond its traditional sound. Today, Icelandic musicians grace top charts across the world and new talent is being discovered every year. If you are looking to broaden your musical horizons, look no further than our guide to the hottest Icelandic bands. Put together a playlist as inspiration while you plan your trip with us to the stunning Land of Ice and Fire!
#1. Björk and The Sugarcubes
A native of Reykjavík, Björk first gained recognition as the lead vocalist of The Sugarcubes, a band that formed in 1986 but disbanded 6 years later. Rolling Stone described their alternative rock sound as “a collision of extremes,” which is very much representative of Iceland itself with its diverse landscapes. From there, Björk rose as a prominent solo artist in both the Icelandic and international music markets. She is well-known for her avant-garde music style and her distinctive voice.
#2. Of Monsters and Men
Of Monsters and Men is one of the more well-known Icelandic bands in the United States. This five-piece indie folk/rock group found their start after winning their country’s nationwide battle of the bands competition. They have topped the charts in many countries since the release of their debut album, My Head Is an Animal, in 2011, and they have even made a musical cameo in season 6 of the hit HBO television series Game of Thrones.
#3. Retro Stefson
Retro Stefson is an alternative-pop family band formed by the Stefánsson brothers and five school-aged friends in 2006. The group provides listeners with a happier sound, most likely stemming from the young age of the band members. After four albums and 10 years of creating music together, Retro Stefson decided to call it quits in 2016, but we will always have their upbeat hits to remind us of their mark on Icelandic music. You can still find members of the band active in the music industry today; the group’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Unnsteinn Manuel Stefánsson, was a judge on seasons 1 and 2 of The Voice in Iceland.
Kaleo is another prominent Icelandic band that gained international recognition fairly quickly. The four-man rock band formed in a garage in Mosfellsbær, a small city in the southwest of Iceland known for its outdoor recreation, thermal activity and greenhouses, in 2012. While the members signed an American record deal and have resided in Texas since 2015, they’ve been known to showcase their Icelandic roots in a few of their music videos. Kaleo is still active in the music industry today and is releasing their third album in December of 2020.
#5. Sóley & Seabear
Seabear started as a one-man project in Reykjavík in 2003 but grew to a seven-piece folk-pop group in 2006. They have enchanting and intimate arrangements that, while singing in English, still embody the magic of Iceland. Each member also works on their own musical projects outside of Seabear, the most notable of projects belonging to Sóley Stefánsdóttir. While Sóley predominantly provides backing vocals and piano for Seabear, she shines as a solo artist under the same record label as the troupe. Seabear released a new single, “Waterphone,” in 2019, which was their first song as a group since their nine-year hiatus.
#6. Sigur Rós
Sigur Rós is arguably the most popular band that hails from Iceland. This post-rock group has been active since 1994 and is known for their experimental and ethereal sound. The three members met in school in Reykjavík and named the band after lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s little sister, Sigurrós, or “victory rose.” If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you may recognize Sigur Rós from their cameo appearance as the minstrels at Joffrey Baratheon’s wedding in season 4 or from their recurring song “The Rains of Castamere.” Their music has also been featured on shows like The Simpsons and Black Mirror.
Vök is relatively new to the Iceland music scene compared to the other bands on this list. The dream-pop and indie-electronica band formed in Reykjavík in 2013 to compete in and ultimately win Músíktilraunir, an Iceland music competition. Vök currently has two albums and two EPs under their belt, with the promise of more alluring melodies to come.
Written by Tenon Tours Sales Coordinator, Leah Schilling