The eight colours of the rainbow – Ólafur Arnalds (part I)

I would describe the Icelandic music scene as a rainbow, if you just put the black in the rainbow and it would be perfect the Icelandic music scene. Because it’s everything. I mean there’s a guy playing in a black metal band, playing keyboards for some electronic bands and everybody knows each other and the competition is healthy. There’s always bad-talk and all that stuff. The music is great, everybody puts everything into the music. There are very individual artistic needs in every band. It’s different, nobody is copying another Icelandic band. You just have to find your root and grow your flower – something like that (Krummi Björgvinsson)

Those words of Krummi, spoken in Iceland Airwaves – A Rockumentary, moved me some Saturday morning. They show in a wonderful way, how I perceive Icelandic music. There are not bands anymore. They are just people, who put all their hearts into what they do and by the way they are very flexible while they move between genres. Actually those people are literally sounds. Their various combinations make another melodies. That is why I decided to show you some of Icelandic music scene’s representants.

First of them is Ólafur Arnalds. He’s well known of his solo career. He mixes sounds of piano with strings’ music in touching way and sometimes adds soft pieces of electronic. For me he is a person, who changed a lot in my perception of music.

A story began in Mosfellsbærthe green town famous of a woolens industry, house of Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness or music studio Sundlaugin. Ólafur Þór Andrésson Arnalds was born there on November 3, 1986.

He is able to play not only one instrument. His adventure started from a piano. After one year of learning he changed his plans and got into drumming. Ólafur‘s teachers from state-owned music school wanted to send this 13-year-old musician to a private conservatory, but then Óli was fascinated with playing drums so he didn‘t take the opportunity.

When Ólafur was in his teens, there wasn‘t in Iceland anything like hardcore music scene. It barely started to roll. Why hardcore? What doest it exactly mean for the young composer? In the interview for Ox-Fanzine from 2010 he mentioned that hardcore is mostly a matter of emotions. He‘s a big fan of honestly saying own opinions and a fact, that someone agrees with them or not, doesn‘t actually play a huge rule. The most fascinating thing in hardcore for Óli is full dedication of people to what they do.

His first band was Mannamúll. It was formed in 1999, when Ólafur was only 15 and it was a first sign of a new genre, which rose then in Iceland. The group took part in Músíktilraunir – Battle of Bands competition for young talented musicians in 2000. That year, except for Ólafur’s band, also such artists like Dikta or Búdrýgindi (hailed as the brightest hope of that edition) competed for a prize. Mannamúll didn‘t win, but the boys performed at final gig on March 26 and was one of three bands, which played hardcore. Their music attitude was really punk – they didn‘t have any idea how to do it, but just enjoyed playing. Signs of their existence are still visible on

Following Músíktilraunir you can find another band in which Ólafur Arnalds played. In 2001 Fake Disorder appeared in the competition. This time Óli was a guitarist. Except for him the bandmembers were also: Páll Ingi Guðmundsson (vocalist), Þorgrímur Kolbeinsson (bass guitar), Egill Þórkelsson (drums) and Axel Þór Axelsson (guitar). Unfortunately they didn’t reach a lot but they took part in the competition also next year.

An appearance at Músíktilraunir in 2002 turned out to be the last one for Óli but also very busy and productive one. He perfomed not only with Fake Disorder, but also with another project – Reaper. You can easily guess that members of this band were also interested in hardcore. Four boys of the group made a good impression on listeners, especially a crazy drummer – our 16-year-old hero. He was chosen for the best drummer of Músíktilraunir 2002. How he played? You can hear on (on your own responsibility).

Year 2002 brought a lot of consequences. Ólafur took active part in Fake Disorder and Reaper, but apparently he had enough energy to get into another music project. Very important one. Not only for Icelandic music scene, but also for his own music career. Now it’s time to say something about I Adapt. When in February 2002 a drummer of I Adapt couldn’t go to Húsavík with the band because of his duties in his other project, Óli was called for help. His friends from this hardcore band knew him from their gigs, where – according to their stories – he danced like a crazy. The first evening, when he played with I Adapt as an official band member, took place later that year on August 9. They were promoting then a newly released EP called Why Not Make Today Legendary.

Like Óli said in the interview with Sonic Iceland, he started playing music, which he composes now since time, when he was supporting with I Adapt a German metal band called Heaven Shall Burn. When he was chatting backstage with the guitar player Maik Weichert, Óli gave him his own demo (A Fateful Eve recorded in 2002 as Soulfire – the first solo project). A few months later Ólafur received an e-mail with a question if he will make an intro for Heaven Shall Burn’s album titled AntiGone. So he thought he can’t do the prog rock this time, like it was on the demo (really worth to listen to that – click!). He took out guitars and drums – it stayed only a piano and synths and I need to mention that all instruments were recorded by him without any help (maybe except of strings parts, which still have been performed by his talented friends). Then he wasn’t actually planning on doing this, but a little bit later Maik asked him if he wants to record a full album. Luckily Óli agreed. So without Weichert we couldn’t know today this neo-classical face of Arnalds because thanks to this collaboration 18-year-old Ólafur came back to studying theory of music and composing.

To be continued…

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