Go back to main page

The festival founder

Grímur Atlason


The Iceland Airwaves director tells us how nature has affected Icelandic culture.

Skip back
Play or pause
Skip forward

Grímur introduces us to Iceland's music scene

“My name is Grímur Atlason and I’m the managing director of Iceland Airwaves festival. I also book the festival, so I have loads of hats. Oh, and I’m also a grandad. That’s a big role, in fact it’s probably my biggest role.”

“The thing I love most about my job is being able to listen to music. I love that it’s my job to discover bands in Iceland and all around the world. As I said, I’m a grandad and usually people my age stopped listening to music in the Sonic Youth era, but with this job, I have an excuse to follow music without anybody saying grow up. I can still love new bands even though I’m getting old.

Iceland’s music scene has changed a lot in my lifetime. When we grew up, Iceland was a really closed country, I mean there was no television on Thursday and no television in July. We only started getting TV in July in 1986, so my first 16 years I wasn’t really raised by TV at all. Beer was also prohibited. We didn’t have any beer until 1st March 1989, all you could drink was strong liquor. Nothing was happening – we didn’t have any bands touring outside of Iceland and only a handful of bands would play here.

Then, in 1981, a film came out called Rock in Reykjavik, a documentary about the music scene over the winter. There used to be a bus stop where all the punk rockers used to hang out, and out of this scene came Tappi Tíkarrass, which was Bjork’s first real band. That changed everything, it launched this amazing era in Icelandic music which saw bands like Sugarcubes, Múm and Sigur Rós break through.

Maybe Icelandic music is different, maybe it isn’t? If you’re raised on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it makes things kind of difficult. It’s claustrophobic here – you look out and see these mountains and the clouds and they see that they’re not that friendly. It’s like the landscape always have a headache or something. "I believe that there is something different here. Not elves so much, but some kind of power." I mean, you are so close to this awesome power - everyone knows someone who has been killed by nature here – so it’s really difficult not to believe in something. Nature has always been a big influence on Icelandic music.

Whatever the reason, Icelandic culture is really special. We were really lousy bankers, but we are really good at culture. I mean in the 11th century Icelanders were writing the sagas trying to survive in this really harsh environment, but they were writing and they were reading. Literacy has always been really strong here. I’m kind of proud about that.”

Tappi Tíkarrass recorded in 1981 for Rokk í Reykjavík

Sigur Ros – Olsen Olsen

Múm, live at Iceland Airwaves in 2013

Sugarcubes live in Reykjavik 1989