Iceland, as you may have heard, is a long way away from California – nine hours by air, give or take. I mention this because each and every one of my friends who’s been describes their trip in basically the same way: it took a long time for us to get there, but when we finally got there it was just overpoweringly beautiful. That’s a pretty good description of how Iceland’s music works, too – categorically not for the impatient, but overflowing with the kind of singular aesthetic riches you can’t get anywhere else on earth.
This isn’t exactly a secret. Iceland’s share of Western cultural capital has been disproportionately pronounced over the last thirty years; whether in the form of Bjork rewriting the rules of art-pop in front of a MTV audience or Sigur Ros turning post-rock into a festival staple, American ears haven’t had to strain to hear Reykjavik’s call. Reviews of albums like Homogenic or Agetis Byrjun almost uniformly mention the trivia fact that Iceland is, geologically speaking, the youngest country on earth as a way to explain how the pleasures these records contain are notable for their sheer newness – that they literally sound like nothing on earth.
Not coincidentally, Bjork and Sigur Ros occupy the most visible positions within the Reykjavik Festival, kicking off April 1st; the latter, with their three-day stint at the Walt Disney Concert Hall April 13th–15th, might even be considered this series’ “headliner,” while the West Coast premiere of the former’s VR experience marks the slow-onset end of the series. Feel free to go to either of those shows in isolation; I am one hundred percent certain that they will deliver. But the pleasures they promise are (relatively) known quantities, and as the rest of the Reykjavik Festival’s lineup makes clear, Icelandic music prizes novelty over familiarity. Even the festival’s poppiest act, the former Kylie Minogue collaborators mum, are as notable for the obliqueness of their sound as for their melodic gifts.
More importantly, the further you get from the marquee names, the higher the chance that you’ll encounter something uniquely beautiful. Consider the show on April 17th, to my ears the most exciting night of the entire festival: a two-headed showcase for both Iceland’s most famous composer (Johann Johannsson) and coolest record label (Bedroom Community) in a night billed as a celebration of the liminal space between electronic and traditional music. Considering how many world-class film-score composers will be present on the stage – Johannsson, obviously, but also Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurdsson, and Daniel Bjarnason (among others) – I’m expecting a borderline-transformative instance of sweepingly beautiful music. I’m just not exactly sure what it’s going to sound like yet, which is as high a compliment as I know how to give.
Tickets for select engagements throughout the month of April are still available, so peruse the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s calendar and let yourself be swept away into the beauty that Iceland’s musical minds have to offer.