For many travellers, the foremost motivation is to see scenic landscapes, which are of course to be found in Iceland. But for others, the pulsating beat of a city, dancing lights, and interactions with the musicians will be the most intense memories. Music lovers travel the globe from one festival to the other in quest of new sounds and encounters.
Those visiting Iceland have a wide variety of music styles and festivals to choose from. These festivals being geographically spread all over the country, it is easy to plan your trip accordingly. They also happen at different periods of the year, so you can decide whether to party indoors, and have your after-party under the northern lights, or party all night (all day?) under a warm midnight Sun.
Iceland Airwaves festival first edition goes back to 1999, in one of Reykjavík airport hangars. The crowd has since increased and diversified, but the focus remains unchanged, to showcase both Icelandic and foreign music. For four days, the city lives at the rhythm of the festival with store windows turning into concert stages, and churches and museums making space for drums.
Every year, the festival offers a top-notch line-up, previous venues including Florence and the Machine, Ratatat, Fat Boy Slim, Vampire Weekend, Mumford & Sons, just to name a few. The off-venues are also worth checking out, offering a chance to discover musicians before their career kick off. Tickets usually sell fast, so do not miss out!
In the footsteps of its big brother Sónar Barcelona, the Icelandic edition has succeeded in becoming a must-attend event for all electro music lovers. Festival attendees are often pleasantly surprised by the venue. All concerts take place in different halls of Harpa, the capital’s cultural centre, whose architecture and excellent sound and light installations will blow your mind. Since its creation in 2013, such prestigious artists as Major Lazer, Paul Kalkbrenner, Jamie XX, or Skrillex, have been taking part along with promising emerging talents.
As the Iceland Airwaves, Sónar is held at the darkest times of the year, so it is not rare to spot Northern Lights on your way to or from the venue. Look up!
Source: Aldrei fór ég suður music festival
As a Westfjords native, the singer Mugison created with his father the Aldrei fór ég suður (“I never went South”, in English) music festival. Started in 2004, the festival has become one of Icelanders’ favourite way of spending their Easter weekend, giving life to the town Ísafjörður and significantly increasing its population. The only thing you have to do is to get yourself there, Ísafjörður being located around 500km to the northwest of Reykjavík. Once there, it is all about free music for three days. Yes, you read it right, this is the only festival of the list with no entrance fee, and where bands playing do not get paid. A celebration of music and good vibes only!
In Iceland, we held outdoor music festivals in the Sun for 96 hours in a row, just because we can! Because Iceland is flirting with the Arctic Circle, the Summer solstice (21st of June) is strongly marked, as the sun remains above the horizon and is visible for 24 hours. Nothing to do with the 24 hours of darkness in winter! The festival takes place right at the heart of the city, in Laugardalur Park, that turns into a joyful music temple for four days. Festival attendants can live the experience at the fullest by staying at the dedicated campsite or in the city. Some of the venues take you to a glacier, a magma chamber, or to geothermal lagoons. You said surreal?
Drangey Music Festival (Reykir, North Iceland)
Drangey Music festival is named after one of the iconic islands of Skagafjörður, the fjord where it is held. Created in 2015, the festival is quickly finding its place among Icelandic music festivals. The event intends to be simple and intimate, with a stage made out of recycled materials, a family-friendly environment, and a limited number of tickets available. For its two first editions, the festival has showcased exciting talents from the vibrant Icelandic music scene such as Mugison, Emilíana Torrini, Retro Stefson or AmabAdamA. The festival offers unique settings as songs played live echo off the spectacular nearby mountains and attendees can relax in the on-site natural geothermal pool, Grettislaug.
Bræðslan (Borgarfjörður Eystri)
Photo by Mareike Timm (Source: Bræðslan)
Bræðslan music festival takes you to a remote fjord of the East, at the heart of an otherworldly landscape, in the town of Borgarfjördur Eystri, 110 inhabitants throughout the year. Created in 2005, one of the festival singularities is its venue: an abandoned fish factory that appears to perfectly enhance the live music. Renowned Icelandic artists such as Of Monsters and Men and Ásgeir have joined but international artists have made their way to the East fjords too! What will struck you is the friendly atmosphere of this unpretentious festival. The party is just beginning when the performing musicians join the crowd on the grass and start to sing along classical songs of the Icelandic register.
The beginning of August is something Icelanders always look forward to and there is a good reason for that, we named Þjóðhátíð festival in the Westman Islands. If the islands count around 4.000 inhabitants throughout the year, a huge migration from mainland inhabitants happens on that weekend. The festival, that cannot be defined as a real music festival, starts on Thursday and end on Monday. The focus is on gathering people and having them have fun. The first two days you can assist to a giant bonfire and fireworks, and then on Sunday comes the concert night, when everyone gathers into the valley and sing along in their lopapeysa, your must have Icelandic sweater. A song is specially created every year for the festival!
As you see, there is a wide variety of festivals, from the big well-established events to smaller local festivals, but they have in common to offer a full immersion into Icelanders’ culture and soul. Music is and has always been the soundtrack to our lives, so when are you getting your ticket?