There might be no country on the planet with as many bands per capita as Iceland, and if there is, they’re almost certainly not as international as Iceland’s bands. I met Sigtryggur “Siggy” Baldursson, the one-time drummer for the Sugarcubes, Björk’s first band. Now a cultural ambassador for the country, he has a theory on the band thing. One, because Iceland’s so small, it has to import a lot of its culture generally, and has a knack for adopting and adapting it. And two, again, because absolutely no one gets huge in Iceland unless they can export themselves, the goal for any serious band has to be to go international.
For all its outward-facing charms, it’s still that small town at sea. At the Harpa, I met a couple of Icelandic women who’d moved to Los Angeles to get music industry experience, then come back to represent Icelandic bands. We started watching a band, Ambátt, whose sound reminded me enough of Sigur Rós to mention that I'd interviewed the lead singer, Jónsi, earlier in the States. “Ah!” one woman replied, in what by then I understood was the national refrain: “He’s my cousin!”