Iceland’s folk music scene gets little press at home or abroad compared to the exploding electronic and hip-hop scenes. The silence is not, however, due to a lack of activity, especially in the spring, when folk music mainstays and emerging artists come together at the Reykjavík Folk Festival for a cosy weekend of new and traditional folk sounds. The festival’s 2018 edition, which took place over three nights from March 1st-3rd, succeeded once again in showcasing the local scene’s breadth and vitality.
Hosted at KEX Hostel, this year’s event was held in the venue’s downstairs warehouse space, which allowed for a bigger stage for the musicians and better sight lines for the audience. Though it perhaps lacked the intimacy of last year’s venue, the performers more than made up for the space’s lack of polish.
One of the highlights of the Reykjavík Folk Festival is how it brings together Icelandic folk icons and contemporary acts, giving tourists a glimpse into what it might be like to attend an Icelandic country hoedown, and traditional folk fans a chance to hear new artists.
On the traditional side of things, four-piece band Kólga transported us to a countryside ball with lively traditional tunes featuring sing-along choruses. Featuring accordion, guitar, double bass, and violin, the band’s sound was a traditional treat for Icelanders and foreigners alike. A highlight was hearing all four members sing in tight yet spontaneous-sounding harmonies. Kólga was like a well-oiled machine.
Legendary Icelandic songwriter Bjartmar Guðlaugsson serenaded the closing night audience. His hit songs from the 90s, like Týnda kynslóðin (en. The Lost Generation), take many locals back to their glory days. There was no shortage of audience members who sang (or shouted) gleefully along to every lyric.
The festival’s opening night featured Myrra Rós’ well-crafted, dreamy songs. Myrra’s thoughtful lyrics and sincere delivery are rooted in folk but packaged in a contemporary sound. Accompanied by Erla Stefánsdóttir on bass and backing vocals, the two delivered a well-blended and supremely satisfying performance.
Pétur Ben closed the festival’s second night with his polished songwriting that goes straight for the jugular. A seasoned solo performer, he layers guitar playing and vocals to create a sound that is edgy, yet intimate.
Teitur Magnússon, backed by a five-piece band, was perhaps the act which most bridged the worlds of city and country. Teitur’s set offered traditional and original songs with a groovy feel: no surprise considering his membership in Icelandic reggae band Ojba Rasta. The quaint sounds of accordion and guitar were balanced by hip synths and flute solos (the latter two played by the same performer—kudos). Teitur’s is the kind of music that puts a smile on your face no matter what your mood.
A special mention should go to Syntagma Rembetiko, which presented a set of infectiously fun Greek music, with bouzouki player Ásgeir Ásgeirsson talking the audience through the music’s interesting and rebellious history.
Folk and Fun
This year’s Reykjavík Folk Festival brought together variety and quality, featuring seasoned performers and fresh new projects. The performances brought both intimate moments and lively merriment. A cosier venue would have suited the music better and encouraged a closer connection between musicians and audience members. Hopefully next year the festival will find a space worthy of the delightful musicians it invites to the stage.