Not since the Sugarcubes (and afterward Bjórk) has the Arctic country of Iceland exported a pop band so celebrated the world over as Sigur Rós. Their music—not entirely rock, somewhat ambient, and sung in a made-up tongue they call Hopelandic—is what bassist Georg Holm defines as “in the middle of a lot of things, “as quoted by Rolling Stone magazine reviewer David Fricke. Through the combination of trance and psychedelic elements, as well as the feminine-styled vocals of singer/guitarist Jón Por Birgisson, Sigur Rós, also comprised of keyboard player Kjartan Sveinsson and drummer Orri Pall Dyrason, manages to produce a melancholy sound that is surprisingly commercial and accessible.
In addition to their international debut and third album, Agœtis Byrjun, which translates as “Good Beginning, “reaching number one in Iceland and holding atop the charts for two months, Sigur Rós sold out concerts throughout the United Kingdom and won rave reviews from critics throughout Europe and America. The British website Milk Factory, for example, called Agœtis Byrjun “one of the most intense albums ever recorded, “concluding, “It is a masterpiece.” Likewise, Rolling Stone’s Pat Blashill commented: “Sigur Rós are the most bizarrely beautiful import from Iceland since Bjòrk—Fairport Convention playing with new fuzz boxes, singing in what sounds like Latin and drowning in psychedelic syrup.”
And while the music press regularly compared Sigur Rós to bands like My Bloody Valentine (minus the arty complexities) or Spiritualized (without the drug undertones), the band members themselves claim that their ideas for their compositions spring from their own intuition, rather than from a specific musical reference point. “It was just from our heart, “Holm revealed in an interview with Stuart Bailie of the BBC (British Broadcasting Company). “A lot of the bands that the press has been comparing us to, we haven’t even heard them. Until recently. We don’t discuss it we just do. When we write the songs, it might start with a drum beat or a bassline or something and just slowly develops into a song. The song is never finished until we release it on the album and the singing just goes with the flow.” Moreover, Sigur Rós adopted a mission that differs from most other rock/pop acts. “Let us add one more thing about Sigur Rós, “stated the fourpiece on their official website. “We are not a band, we are music. We do not intend to become superstars or millionaires, we are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music. And don’t think we can’t do it, we will.”
Sigur Rós (“Victory Rose”) formed on January 4, 1994, when high school friends Birgisson (known for creating rapturous guitar noises with a violin bow), Holm, and original drummer Ágúst/Evar decided to enter a small, run-down studio in their hometown of Reykjavik, Iceland, to record a tape. Managing to complete one song before their billed time ran out, the threesome next sent the demo—a recording that Holm later insisted was “maybe too floaty, “as he told Fricke—to Smekkleysa Records, a local label run by the Sugarcubes. Impressed by the trio’s obvious talent, Smekkleysa immediately released the song on an Icelandic compilation titled Smekkleysa í hálfa old alongside tracks by similar artists.
Feeling inspired by this initial break, Sigur Rós hatched plans for a debut album. Von, meaning “Hope, “arrived in 1997, introducing the band’s distinct style to European audiences. “Great soundscapes with raw ambient influences, sounding maybe like My Bloody Valentine and Neu in a cement mixer watered down with fresh Icelandic originality, “wrote the Bad Taste website to describe the trio’s debut, as quoted on the Sigur Rós Homepage. “We sometimes rock out, “Holm further explained to Fricke. “But it takes a long time to build up to it. Then suddenly, we rock— and do that for a long time.” Critics also marveled at the vocal stylings Birgisson, crediting the singer with much of the group’s appeal. “Just as impressive and powerful is the highflying voice of singer Jón Por Birgisson, “said the Milk Factory.” In turn masculine, feminine or asexual, his gravity-defying voice puts him in the same league as Liz Fraser.”
The following year saw the release of Von brigoi/Recycle Bin. One song off the album, “Leit af lifi, “entered the charts straight away in Iceland and soon reached the number-one position, where it remained through the entire summer of 1998. That same year,
Members include Ágúst/Evar (left band in 1999), drums; Jón Por Birgisson, vocals, guitar; Orri Pall Dyrason (joined band in 1999), drums; Georg Holm, bass; Kjartan Sveinsson, keyboards, guitar.
Formed band in Reykjavik, Iceland, 1994; released Von, 1997; released Agaetis Byrjun, 1999; signed with British label FatCat Records, 2000.
Awards: Icelandic Music Awards, Band of the Year, Album of the Year for Ágaetis Byrjun, Best Vocalist and Best Guitarist of the Year (Birgisson), December 1999.
Sigur Ros enlisted a new member, keyboard player and second guitarist Kjartan Sveinsson, who the rest of the band believed helped lift their music to a new level.
Subsequently, the foursome began writing songs for their third album, Agœtis Byrjun. Sigur Ros began recording in the summer of 1998, booking time at Reykjavik’s Studio Ssdyrland with Ken Thomas, well regarded for his work with the Sugarcubes. Unfortunately for the group at the time, longtime friend/Evar decided to leave soon after Sigur Ros completed the record. However, they found a skilled replacement in drummer Orri Pall Dyarson. In the meantime, Smekk-leysa released Agœtis Byrjun in the summer of 1999, and the group celebrated with a live performance at the Icelandic Opera House. The record slowly climbed the charts in Iceland before peaking at number one. In addition to holding the top position for two months, Agœtis Byrjun garnered rave reviews and prompted music fans and record labels outside the band’s homeland to take notice. Then, at the Icelandic music awards held in December of 1999, Sigur Ros was named Band of the Year, Agœtis Byrjun won the Album of the Year honor, and Birgisson took home the award for Best Vocalist and Best Guitarist.
While playing live at a Gus Gus show in Reykjavik, Sigur Ros, the opening act, happened upon a significant opportunity when they were spotted by the London-based British label FatCat Records, who were deejaying the event. By the spring of 2000, Sigur Ros were negotiating a deal with FatCat and heading into the studio to record a follow-up album. That summer, the group played several festivals in the United Kingdom before launching their first British headlining tour to coincide with FatCat’s world release of Agœtis Byrjun. Next, Sigur Ros released the CD single “Sven-G-Englar, followed by the four-track EP NyBatteri. Two tracks from this record were chosen for the soundtrack of Englar Alheimsins, or in English Angels of the Universe, a film by the Oscar-nominated Icelandic director FridrikThor Fridriksson, based on the book by Blixen Prize for literature winner Einar Mar Gudmundsson.
Despite acclaim in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States, Sigur Ros have yet to record an English-language song, feeling most comfortable writing lyrics in their native language. However, international acclaim does indeed pose a language problem. “We will try, “Holm told Fricke about writing lyrics in English. “If it’s not right, then we will skip it.” Regardless of whether or not Sigur Ros decide to continue singing exclusively in Icelandic and Hopelandic and forget about English altogether, most predict the band’s future is only just beginning, both at home and abroad.
Von, Smekkleysa, 1997.
Von brigoi/Recycle Bin, Smekkleysa, 1998.
Agœtis Byrjun, Smekkleysa, 1999; reissued, FatCat, 2000.
Melody Maker, November 10-16, 1999; December 1-7, 1999; August 9-15, 2000, p. 49.
Rolling Stone, September 14, 2000, p. 144; September 28, 2000.
BBC Online, http://www.bbc.co.uk (November 29, 2000).
FatCat Records, http://www.fat-cat.co.uk, November 29, 2000.
Milk Factory, http://www.themilkfactory.co.uk (November 29, 2000).
Sigur Ros Homepage, http://www.sigur-ros.com (November 29, 2000).
"Sigur Rós." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sigur-ros
"Sigur Rós." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 13, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sigur-ros
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