Preview: Icelandic Labels are Making Waves

By Emily Harbaugh

Iceland may be a tiny European island just outside of the Arctic Circle, but that is not all they are. Reportedly rich in culture and beautiful landscape, Iceland also has a dedicated, local music scene comprising labels committed to maintaining their culture and music. 12 Tónar, Ching Ching Bling Bling, and Kimi Records are just several labels making their mark within the Icelandic music business.

Founded in 1998 by Lárus Jóhannesson and Jóhannes Ágústsson, 12 Tónar has become a staple within the Icelandic music scene. 12 Tónar was solely a record shop until 2003 when they expanded their business by also operating as an independent record label, releasing albums from a variety of genres. By being a label and a store, the owners pride themselves on “[being] able to follow the product all the way to the consumer.” And despite the noticeable shift from physical to digital, 12 Tónar remains strong. “There [are] a lot of music lovers left to buy the old way to keep a few of us going,” Jóhannesson explains. “Amazingly, people still buy music which means it’s somewhere high up on the list.” 12 Tónar also is a frequent host of off-venue shows during Iceland Airwaves. “It’s been a party to be able to welcome so many people,” Jóhannesson confided. “Some come over year after year [and] you meet people you have not seen in a long time; it can be emotional.” They incorporate Icelandic artists, indie artists, up-and-coming artists, and more. “It’s not only a job,” Jóhannesson admits. “It’s my life.”

Airwaves Watch: Hosting off-venue shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 5pm (17:00); Jóhann Jóhannsson, 13 October @ Fríkirkjan; Ólöf Arnalds, 14 October @ Harpa Norðurljós

Ching Ching Bling Bling, an Icelandic label created in 2007, started out as a label to keep track of the albums the founders made themselves. CCBB quickly realized physical sales were not going to do anything for their label, which resulted in them switching to 100% digital. “We would rather spend our money on studio equipment, recording gear, [and] helping our artists record,” says CCBB founder Péter Úlfur. “It’s known that digital music sales will surpass the physical CDs any day now.” Using their family-oriented ideals, CCBB is “disregarding the dishonesty” frequently found in major label practices. “We love being involved in the process from A-Z,” Úlfur remarks. And in the process he is. As co-founder of gogoyoko, an online music store and social networking site, Úlfur has been able to help artists sell their music directly to the buyer, while also offering tools to “promote the living hell out of [the music].” Be sure to check out CCBB at 2011’s Iceland Airwaves and watch out for their stickers on ATMs around Reykjavík.

Airwaves Watch: 12 October 2011, Ching Ching Bling Bling Showcase @ Café Amsterdam featuring: Rafgashaus, Pornopop, IKEA SATAN, Hljómsveitin Ég, and more.

Since 2007, alternative Icelandic label Kimi Records has been run by Baldvin Esra Einarsson, along with his girlfriend (the “money-man” of the label). Kimi, which means corner, focuses on bringing in music from “all corners of Icelandic culture.” In 2010 alone, they released 15 albums, bringing up their total releases to 25. However, a year earlier, Kimi began operating an underground label, BRAK Records. They released an album every month, mostly consisting of underground, lo-fi bedroom recordings. Despite being created in the midst of the economic crisis, both labels were able to stay in business, which may be due to the CD-release mentality much of Iceland’s local scene still has.

Airwaves Watch:  Náttfari (12 October); Retro Stefson (13 October); Hellvar (14 October); Miri (15 October); Stafrænn Hákon (15 October)

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