Reykjavík Music City
Reykjavík has long been known for its vibrant music scene and massive creative output. Internationally revered musicians such as Björk, Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Rós, Ásgeir, Emiliana Torrini, múm, Kaleo, Ólafur Arnalds, and Gus Gus along with composers like Hildur Guðnadóttir, Víkingur Heiðar, Anna Thorvalds, and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson have all played a part in establishing Reykjavík’s reputation as a unique place to enjoy live music. The city is home to an eclectic collection of genres, venues, events, and performers that makes any music experience memorable. No matter what time of year, a visit to Reykjavík is not complete without exploring its unique music scene!
Thousands of concerts are held every year at traditional and alternative concert venues around the capital area. Reykjavík’s award-winning concert hall Harpa is a city landmark and home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera, and the Reykjavík Big Band but many music festivals of various genres are also held in the house. For smaller and less formal live music events, Reykjavík offers a wide selection of historical venues such as Hannesarholt (the former home of writer and Iceland’s first prime minister, Hannes Hafstein), Gamla Bíó (the first cinema in Iceland), or Mengi (where the first record in Iceland was recorded). Gaukurinn, Röntgen, Hard Rock Café, Prikið, Salurinn in Kópavogur and Bæjarbíó in Hafnarfjörður are just some of the other places that organize concerts on a regular basis.
Iceland Airwaves and Secret Solstice are the biggest music festivals in the city but Reykjavík boasts of festivals in a wide variety of genres throughout the year and new ones are regularly added to the mix. Dark Music Days, founded by the Icelandic Composers’ Society, takes place during the long Icelandic winter months and focuses on contemporary and new music, Extreme Chill and Raflost are festivals of experimental electronic music and sonic arts, whereas Reykjavík Jazz Festival, Reykjavík Blues Festival, Melodica Festival,
Opera Days and Reykjavík Metalfest hardly need any further explanation.
Children and youth
For the younger audiences, events like the Children's Culture Festival and Big Bang! provide immersive experiences and opportunities to engage with others through music. Músiktilraunir (En. Icelandic Music Experiments, the Icelandic battle of the bands) and Upptakturinn are popular platforms for young people taking the first steps in creating and performing their own music. Of Monsters and Men and a number of other Icelandic bands like Mammút, Mínus, Agent Fresco, Samaris, and Vök have all participated in Músiktilraunir and gone on to become popular international acts.
Beyond live music, Reykjavík is home to a handful of world-class record stores that all release music on their own labels. Make sure to stop by Lucky Records, Smekkleysa, Reykjavík Record Shop, or 12 Tónar whether it is for a copy of the newest Icelandic release or gem from the archives. In 12 Tónar you can even enjoy a cup of coffee or locally brewed beer from the in-house bar while browsing their selection!
Reykjavík Music City
To ensure an ongoing vibrant and diverse music sector, the City of Reykjavík supports the local music scene in several ways. Public funding secures that a high number of music schools are available across the city to children of all ages – from toddlers to high school students wishing to pursue a career in music. The city also runs four school bands across the city to secure access to music education to even more children. Hitt húsið is a youth centre run by the city that organizes the Icelandic Music Experiments and features a stage for concerts and a studio for young musicians taking their first steps. The city also backs rehearsal spaces and under-age concert venues, currently in three locations around the city: Tónhylur, TÞM, and Stelpur rokka. Reykjavík’s yearly cultural funding supports a wide variety of music projects and the Festival City project currently features two music festivals (Iceland Airwaves and Dark Music Days) that receive generous funding from the city.
In 2018, the City of Reykjavík established the Reykjavík Music City project whose aim is to create favourable conditions for musical activities throughout the city. During the first years of existence, the project has established an Improvement Fund for venues that wish to upgrade their facilities and/or equipment, created a workshop series for the finalists in Músiktilraunir to prepare them for a career in music, hosted a music tourism symposium during the 2019 edition of Iceland Airwaves, mapped Reykjavík’s music infrastructure and collaborated on the music business startup program Firestarter to name a few examples.
Read more about the Reykjavík Music City project here.