I’ve been thinking that Iceland is “the next big thing” for music for quite a few years now. After Sigur Ros proved that Bjork wasn’t the only musical genius hailing from the island country, it seemed pretty obvious that something was going on with the music scene in Iceland.
Screaming Masterpieces (or is it “Masterpiece” singular — SIFF seems to have the name wrong?) starts with the same premise. It’s somewhat of a “Who’s Who” of the Icelandic music scene. Bjork is definitely covered (and interviewed) pretty extensively — which makes sense, since she is probably the most famous musician to come from Iceland.
The documentary also gives us some insight into other Icelandic bands such as Johann Johannsson, Mum, Bang Gang, Apparat Organ Quartet, Slowblow, The Sugarcubes, Ghostigital, Mugison, Amina, Minus, and a few others. (I found that list of artists from the Screaming Masterpiece soundtrack web page. After hearing some of these bands perform in the film, I am definitely going to find out more about Bang Gang, Apparat Organ Quartet, Ghostigital, and Amina. As for Mum, it’s kinda funny that they were in the film since I’ve been looking for their remix of Goldfrapp’s “You Never Know” from one of the “Fly Me Away” singles.
One thing the film definitely confirmed for me about Icelandic music is that it’s very majestic, intense, and ethereal. Even the heavy metal and punk bands created beautiful noise (at least, more so than their American and European counterparts). A bunch of the musicians also commented on the role that the landscape plays in their music. Granted, I haven’t been to Iceland, but pictures of it are pretty amazing, and I can totally understand how the mountains, the ocean, the sky, the northern lights, etc. would encourage one to make such beautiful sounds.
Although Screaming Masterpieces managed to cover a pretty wide variety of musical styles, I was surprised that the electronic group Gus Gus wasn’t included in the film. Their song “Ladyshave” was pretty popular and they’ve released three albums, so I’m fairly sure they are not some totally obscure group. Also, one of the members of one of the bands in the film noted that a sense of family and collaboration was one of the main defining characteristics of Icelandic music. Gus Gus, from what I understand, is something of an artists troupe, so it seems to me that they exemplify this perfectly. Oh well.
Ultimately, it seems to me that the main reason music from Iceland is so interesting and unique is the fact that the population is fairly small. Not even 300,000 live in the country. As one guy explained, if you are a small band you might hope to sell 200 albums or so. You can’t make much money from 200 albums, so rather than trying to make something marketable and whatnot, you just go ahead and make whatever sounds good to you. And for whatever reason, “whatever sounds good to you” in Iceland is better than anywhere in the world?
(As a final side note, I also learned that most of the people who live in Iceland don’t consider it to be part of Scandinavia. I’m debated whether I should edit the Scandinavian playlist on my iPod by removing Bjork, Gus Gus, etc. For now, I’m going to keep it there…)