Krugman and Kevin Drum have a couple of different takes on Iceland, where GDP is recovering nicely and the central bank is pursuing anti-inflationary measures.
But here’s my deep and pressing question about Iceland: How does a country with 320,000 people produce so many good bands? KEXP in Seattle broadcasts live from Iceland yearly with a bunch of great bands. This one, Of Monsters and Men, which was featured on that show last year, just released a really good first album.
Inbreeding. Iceland has the least genetic diversity of any country in the world.
Hmmm. Nobel-winning economics professor or professional concern troll? I just can’t figure out which one to trust.
How does a country with 320,000 people produce so many good bands?
Climate – lots of time spent indoors practicing.
Meanwhile, Faux Rage Over Game of Thrones
Ya think Iceland’s economy might be doing okay because Iceland threw bankers in jail?
I read crime fiction from Iceland.
It’s really good.
@Maude: Seen Jar City? Based on the book by Arnaldur Indriðason.
Since they all sound and look like Bjork’s offspring, we can thank whichever fairy/alien/human breeding experiment is responsible for her.
Because there is nothing else to do there so you sit in the garage & plunk on your guitar until you get pretty good at it.
I got the Of Monsters and Men album after hearing it on Luke Crampton’s Sunday show. It’s really good (and has a lot of tracks, which I like)
Kevin Drum professional contrarian
I’ve visited Iceland. Gotta agree with commenter above that there’s not a lot to do there apart from make music. Choose your method of making music, as well as your (possibly x-rated) definition of music.
Lovely place, but so stark. And Reykavik (spelling? can’t be arsed to look it up) is small, even though it’s the biggest city.
Most beautiful northern lights that I’ve ever seen in my life, though, and I’ve seen them hundreds of times since I was born & raised in Alaska.
And yes, as noted by someone above, eerie similarity between this group, Bjork, and also Emiliana Torrini. I have this song, but didn’t find anything else on the album that I loved enough to buy. Maybe I’ll give them another listen.
What was the completely insane Icelandic band from about 10 yrs ago that had quite a following? I listened to them often and now cannot imagine listening to them volunarily ever again. They were just bizarre. My head must have been in a bad place…
No, but I have read all of his books when they were published in the US. They are wonderful.
The writers from Iceland write about the dark, snow and cold. I love it.
One thing I noticed with Swedish translations is a lot of exclamations points at the end of regular sentences.
Reminds me of the movie Hype about the Seattle. In this part a dude explains that the weather is so shitty that sitting in the basement making music was one of the only choices!
Was it Sigur Ros?
@cosima: please tell me you’re not thinking of Sigur Ros, because they’re awesome.
@cosima: Sigur Ros, most likely
I’ve always wanted to go. Changed planes at Reykjavik once, IcelandAir to Luxemborg. They had like a four hour layover so you could buy sweaters (which I did!).
Only crime fiction I’ve read set there is Robert Bernard’s Death in a Cold Climate. I’ll keep an eye out….
J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford
I went to Reykjavik in 2007 for Iceland Airwaves. I wish I had the cash to go every year.
If you have an extra $1500-$2000 burning a hole in your pocket go to Airwaves for a week.
They produce an astonishing number of good soccer players as well. Is it all the seafood?
Very small gene pool and lots of time to be creative–both, of course, might lead to such a conclusion. Only 64% of Icelanders aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a HS diploma and it makes you wonder exactly how they managed to achieve 7th in rank in worldwide productivity since there is little industry in this predominantly service industry country. Even fishing is only 7% of its economy and there are probably far more bureaucrats than any other occupation. Incidentally, the teaching of Christianity in the public schools is mandatory, although exceptions can be granted.
Along with the crappy weather, Iceland is a pretty insular society.
Haven’t heard that many Icelandic bands (how many are there?) so can’t make an informed judgment on the music.
I lived in Iceland for a while and believe that a lot of what makes Icelanders able to write great songs and tell great stories is that they were isolated for so long. Because of that isolation and their small population, the Icelandic language barely changed from the days of the vikings. This makes them much more connected to their past, its myths and its ideas than we are. Imagine how different our culture would be if we could still read old English as easily as we do the newspaper. Add to that a location covered by geysers, glaciers and the northern lights and Icelanders’ quirky playfulness seems easy to explain.
By the way, you should have shown the video for this song. Most metal video for a jangly pop song in history.
There’s a website with all the “northern” writers on it. I have to look it up. It gives all the popular writers and is very good.
I have no memories for names.
I have never been to Iceland, but I’d love to see it.
I’ve always wanted to go to Luxembourg.
I’ve been to Lichtenstein and saw the most awful, gruesome art.
The name of the website is Scandinavian Books.
I can’t do links, I’m dumb that way.
The site has the writers and the books.
The night is dark and full of terrors, and they have to do something to pass the time in those long winter months.
About 20 years ago there was a book by somebody who traveled the world’s circumpolar regions. In a bar in Iceland he and a man got into an argument about Hemingway. The man went to the bathroom, and another guy said, “I see you’ve met our murderer.” The writer said, “What?” “Oh, yes, he killed a man. He’s serving a 20-year sentence.” The writer said, “But he’s right here, in the bar.” And the Icelander said, “Oh, well, it’s the weekend.” There’s a shaggy dog in there, I suspect, but it’s a very Icelandic story: drinking, literature, low crime, quirkiness.
J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford
Besides Eidur Gudjohnsen, who else makes up this astonishing number?
@Rafer Janders: Mostly they drink and make love. They’re much more successful at the second than the first.
I lived with an Icelander here and spent some time there. Loved everything except the absence of trees over much of the terrain. But I’ve only been there in the black winters, when the sun doesn’t rise until 10:00 and goes down at 14:00. Someday I’ll go back in the summer and see what the flip side is like.
Iceland is known for strong chess players, too–9 grandmasters in that population of 320,000 . . .
I’ve been listening obsessively to this song for weeks. And yes, I highly recommend you guys check out the music video linked above. It has a steampunk-vibe and is definitely one of the best videos I’ve seen in a while.
Some of my favorite Sigur Ros songs
@FoxinSocks: Oops, yes, I forgot to touch on the actual topic of the post. OMAM are great.
Nudging the topic away from Icelandic music (Sigur Ros, no one better) and crime fiction to recommend fervently the novels of Icelandic Nobel Prize winner, Halldor Laxness.
His novel, Independent People, is quite simply one of the greatest masterpieces of the 20th century. If you read fiction, you must read this. (Other favorites of mine are World of Light and Iceland’s Bell.)
Tolstoy and Dickens are often invoked by critics to illuminate Laxness’ scope and vision. By turns grim and hilarious in his accounts of Icelandic life, Laxness conveys compassionately the resilience and spirit of human endeavor in the face of a pitiless environment, both landscape and social. His narratives, though set mostly in the 19th and 20th century, are steeped in the tradition of iceland’s medieval sagas.
Alsotoo: been to Iceland, been to Luxembourg. Preferred the former, but the latter is much easier to get elsewhere.
Like others have said, Iceland has a highly educated population without a corresponding number of jobs that require a high level of education, which I think leads a lot of people to explore creative outlets. Nitpicker makes an interesting point about the language not changing much from Old Norse times, so it’s not even all that close to the other Scandinavian languages — I know a fair amount of Danish, and I can look at Norwegian and Swedish and see how the grammar, vocabulary, and to some extent pronunciation are similar, but Icelandic is almost another world.
Mostly it’s the fairies, though.
Archaeologist have determined that when the vikings first got there, there were trees everywhere. They cut them down to build houses and boats.
ETA: Except where there was ice or lava, of course.
@handsmile: Right you are. “Independent People” is bizarre, bleak, otherworldly, and, in a very odd way, thrilling.
One might ask how does a city of 500,000 like Seattle create so many good bands? Sometimes a place supports and appreciates good music. But also one might argue the fact that since Iceland is so isolated, a distinctive and original style is more easily developed in the absence of outside culture saturation. I don’t know.
@Origuy: Right…there’s quite a bit of lava, though!
Summer in the high latitudes is wonderful. I’ve spent summers in southern Finland (Iceland is at the same lat. as central Finland), and there is nothing nicer than sitting on the patio/deck, drinking beer as the evening passes. (Of course, evening lasts like 6 hours)
What’s weird is when you get well north of the arctic circle. Getting up at 2 am and realizing that the sun is nowhere near the horizon is disconcerting.
One might ask how does a city of 500,000 like Seattle create so many good bands?
The thing is, people move to Seattle from places like, say, Aberdeen, because of the music scene. Anyone moving to Iceland to play music?
pseudonymous in nc
Yep: also the fact that the population has to double and triple-up on jobs and creative outlets just to function as a country and not a medium-sized city. I remember reading a piece back in the 1990s about someone who was in a band, making films, working shifts on a fishing boat and also serving as an MP. (The other suggestion was that you needed to work three jobs just to pay for booze.)
KEXP is the best station in the history of the world.
Yes! It was Sigur Ros! Obviously some people here love them… but as I said, my head was in a different place then, and they’re not my thing today. But I do have this song. I will give Sigur Ros one last listen before passing on my SR CDs to someone younger and more angsty or existentially or somethingy.
BJ commenters may raise their hands and ask for them and I will pay for the postage.
At one time Iceland’s economy was so bad that they sold Bjork to a Bulgarian circus.
@Mayur: Yes. Yes they are.
Spent a total of 4 years in Iceland during my Air Force days. Would go back there in a minute if I could. Yes, it would be day light until August.
High social equality creates more good bands.
(It’s just a hypothesis. But it’s a serious one. You can come up with your own possibilities for causality.)