Icelandic Escapades

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Here’s a fun fact about Iceland that you probably didn’t know. Despite having a land mass of about 130,000 square kilometers, Iceland has a sparse population of around 330,000 people. About two-third of the population are situated in Reykjavik, while smaller towns and cities typically have a population size in the tens of thousands or even smaller.

Of course, music fans would probably not be oblivious to the prolific music exports of Iceland, Bjork and Sigur Ros being the most famous of them all. Being the innovator that she is, Bjork had made a series of music videos showcasing the geographical beauty of Iceland. Stonemilker, from 2015’s Vulnicura, even featured an amazing 360 degrees virtual reality. It really has to be seen to be believed.

Inspired by the glacial beauty of the Icelandic landscape and the really lovely music it inspires, I decided to make the trip to Iceland during March, which coincided with the end of winter. Strangely (or perhaps not), even near the end of winter, snow and hail storms are not uncommon. The weather is a bit cold for someone like me who has spent his whole life near the equator. Cold weather aside, I must say that Iceland is a very lovely place to be. My trip takes me to such fantastic places such as the geothermal sites of Geysir, the very popular Blue Lagoon and the breathtakingly beautiful Vatnajökull Glacier. While lovely, the glacier is retreating due to global warming, leaving behind pieces of ice in the lagoon.

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Back in Reykjavik, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Reykjavik Folk Festival was taking place during my stay. For the uninitiated, the Reykjavik Folk Festival is an annual event that featured some of Iceland’s best folk artists. Previous instalments included a little band called Of Monsters and Men.

I was able to catch the first night of the Reykjavik Folk Festival at the Kex Hostel, which featured Elin Ey, Valdimar & Orn Eldjarn and Soley. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Icelanders have a strong grasp of English, since pretty much everyone I met can converse very well in English. While I am very used to hearing Bjork speak with a distinctive accent, what surprised me was that some Icelanders do not have any accents at all. Check out the video of Elin Ey below. She may very well pass off as an English or American folk artist.

A very pleasant discovery for me was Soley, who started off her set with a disclaimer that she was a folk artist only in the sense that she used songs to tell stories. While she primarily played the piano, Soley also made use of accordions and sound loops to create a more experimental, layered sound. Her songs are often sung in a breathy, delicate manner that serves to invoke a dreamy surrealism.

Another band that seemed to be fairly popular in Iceland is Agent Fresco, a band that is more geared towards math-rock and metal. Its inventive use of sound textures and atmospherics elevates the band above the usual suspects that indulge in such genres. Still, it’s not quite my cup of tea these days, but the band is very mich worth mentioning.

Overall, Iceland is a really cool place to visit, but my advice for people who are more used to tropical weather to go in summer, where the temperature is a nice temperate weather of 10 to 20 degrees Celsius.

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