Sonic Iceland: A portrait of Iceland and its music

We found Sonic Iceland by chance. We love Iceland and we love music so we send Marcel and Kai few lines to have some more details. Here is our interview.

Sonic Iceland is the story of a trip of two friends to an island up north. Armed with camera and notebook, they met many musicians and artists and fell in love with this island. Kai Müller takes photographs and runs one of Germany’s most read blogs, Marcel Krueger writes for magazines and blogs and also works on his second book at the moment. While living in different cities and abroad for while, they both now find themselves in Berlin.

A portrait of Iceland and its music, created by two fans and the internet, Sonic Iceland is a fresh approach to travel writing and music journalism. Kai and Marcel are fans and bloggers, who used the power of the web to create a portrait of the Icelandic music scene: research, financing, live documentation, publication everything is done with a DIY-mindset.

Sonic Iceland combines music, photography and written words into a very personal, yet informing travelogue about the Icelandic community and its music today.


NBM: Let’s start introducing yourself and how this project started.

SI: We are Kai, a photographer, and Marcel, a writer, currently both based in Berlin. It was Kai’s idea to go to Iceland and document the journey and the local music photographically. The idea lay dormant for a while, but in  then started talking about it again, and the meeting described in the introduction (Chapter 0) on our website was the starting point. It also became soon clear how we’d divide the work for the finalised website – Kai provides pictures and web design, Marcel would contribute the English texts. We are both Germans, and with Kai’s blog being one of Germany’s biggest, it would have been easy to make it all a complete German project with German texts. But we want a global approach, and of course the Icelanders we met to see and read what came out of those meetings.


NBM: I know that you’re going to print a real book, since then we also are trying to print a book, why, in your opinion, there’s such a need to go back to printing in a digital era?

SI: In all fairness, Sonic Iceland is pretty dormant at the moment. We still aim to revive it again in the near future and publish the final chapters (online), but as we still have to make a living in the meantime and generate no income from the site we have put this on hold at the moment. We are still pretty active on our Facebook-page, where we keep posting our favourite Icelandic music vides and infos about our favourite Icelandic bands.

I don’t think that will ever not be a need for printed books. While digital publishing really advanced the way we buy & read books today, I feel that there will always be the need for the haptic and sensual experience of printed words and images. I always feel weird when I shove my tablet reader into my friends’ hands and tell them ‘You need to read this!’

NBM: How long have you planned to complete your project?

SI: See above. We have no concrete current plans, but maybe (maybe) 2014 will be a better year for us 😉

NBM: What was your idea of Iceland before you start and what is now? And about the music?

MARCEL: In my head I’ve been to Iceland many times – I loved to read about the Vikings when I was a kid, and as a role-playing fantasy nerd in my teens stories about Odin and Loki and Midgard were just the right stuff to help me forget the girls who did not pay any attention to me, haha. But the trip in the summer of 2010 was my first ever real trip to Iceland (I’ve been there again since), and while the incredible landscape was exactly like I imagined it to be, my experiences with the locals were much different. The Icelanders still like to compare themselves to Vikings, but thankfully the pillaging and murder of innocent villagers had stopped at some point in the past. They still drink like berserkers, though.


I knew before our trip that the Icelandic music scene was pretty diverse, but the amount of different styles and bands and genres really blew my mind. For example their metal scene might be only a few thousand people strong, but they produce some incredibly widespread sounds – you should check out Angist or contemplate a visit to Eistnaflug, the only metal festival on the island and annual gathering of the whole scene. Such a festival would be impossible on mainland Europe.

NBM: Did you ever get lost?

SI: All the time, in our heads and on the roads. It seemed like getting lost became the overall theme of our trip.

NBM: How did you organize your trips around and to Iceland?

MARCEL: As I said, both of us have other jobs and realised Sonic Iceland in our spare time – Marcel used his annual leave to go to Iceland and Kai as a freelancer had no income during our stay. So we thought it would be nice to have some kind of compensation for our efforts, and tried to on-board a couple of advertising affiliates. Basically we tried to sell a travel/lifestyle concept. But that did not work out (we had underestimated the influence of the football World Cup that was taking place at the same time), so the only help we received was from Icelandic partners like IMX and Iceland Express who helped with transport and accommodation. We also asked for donations in exchange for a handwritten postcard from Iceland, filled out by whoever we would meet. These donations helped us a lot! And the postcards were great icebreakers as well – not only did we send out cards written by musicians, there were also a couple done by the guy at the checkout in the Bonus supermarket and by some pretty girls we met at parties.


NBM: Did you meet a musician that really impressed you? Why? Any advice to keep an eye on someone?

MARCEL: My personal highlights of that trip, and I’ll only pick two, were the summer-concert of Reykjavik! at Kaffibarrin complete with free beer and free vodka and crowdsurfers, and the one concert we attended at the Hotel Djúpavík next to a disused fish factory from the 1920’s. That concert was actually an Abba-cover evening, performed by Icelandic troubadour Svavar Knútur and blues-diva Kristjana Stefánsdóttir. We had driven 8 hours on gravel roads to reach Djúpavík (an almost deserted fjord in the Westfjords region of Iceland) and polished off three beers before the show, so it felt pretty surreal to listen to “Mama Mia” being performed on Ukulele while the summer sun was lighting up the fjord outside.


The one name surfacing in all discussions about Icelandic music at the moment is Asgeir Trausti, and you should definitively watch out for Halleluwah.

NBM: Did you get disappointed in some way?

SI: Only in a way that the Icelanders did not play along our rules, haha. We kept sending them email after email to make interview appointments, and they only kept telling us: ‘Ok, just ring me.’

NBM: What’s the greatest difference, in your opinion, about living in Iceland and being a musician in Iceland instead of living in continental Europe?

MARCEL: I guess living on a small island where everyone knows everyone forces you to interact more with other musicians. That is the one main difference we realised there: there are no boundaries in Icelandic music, both for musicians and audience – a metal band might play with a electro outfit at the same show and the audience would stay to watch both. This would never happen in mainland Europe, I guess. The individual music scenes here can be pretty ignorant, I’d say.


On the other hand is it hard for upcoming Icelandic bands to leave the island at the first place – they just can’t pack a van and drive to Holland to play a show. While Icelandic music and musicians are pretty well-known around the globe, it’s still mostly krut-bands like Of Monster and Men that seem to represent the Icelandic sound abroad. Your average indie band will not be able to leave the country to play abroad without some sort of support from outside.

NBM: Your favourite place in Reykjavik? A must see? And generally in Iceland?

MARCEL: I really liked the Hjartagarðurinn, or Heart Garden, in Reykjavik, a nice park and skating area which will now be demolished to make place for a hotel. It seems gentrification has reached Iceland by now, and while it will take a while for the many new hotels they’re building to have an impact on a city like Berlin, for a small place like Reykjavik that might be devastating. Other than that I still like good old Kaffibarinn.

One of my favourite places in Iceland outside of Reykjavik, because of its intense natural beauty and literary connotations is the area around Snorri Sturlusson’s pool in Reykholt in the Borgarfjörður area. They’ve got lava waterfalls.  

NBM: How many hangovers did you count???

SI: We stopped counting at the some point when it all became a bit blurry.

all photos by Kai Müller