Composer Béla Bartók once famously said, “Competitions are for horses, not artists.” The Iceland Music Experiments (IME) have proven him wrong many times over. A yearly competition for up-and-coming Icelandic musicians, IME have since 1982 been a stepping-stone to success for bands such as Mammút, Agent Fresco, and Of Monsters and Men. This year’s winning band, Ateria, says horsing around together is key to making good music.
“Most of our rehearsals have at least one break where we go out into the yard and mess around,” says Eir (15), the band’s cellist, bassist and lead singer. This playful spirit spills over into the rehearsals. “We have a glass with slips of paper that we draw from. Some of them have song titles on them, and if we pull one of those, then we rehearse that song. Some of them just say ‘compose’ or ‘jam.’”
Eir’s sister Ása (18, guitar, bass and vocals) and their cousin Fönn (13, drums) are the band’s other members. Despite their young age, the two sisters have been playing together for years. “When we heard that Fönn had started to play drums, we got very excited about starting a band with her.”
The group’s unusual instrumentation goes a long way toward creating their unique sound, which has been described as folk goth. Still, the trio is not particularly concerned with labels. “We just play what we play,” Ása says. “We find it more fun to just try out different things rather than tie ourselves down in a particular place,” adds Eir.
One thing that makes taking chances easier, the musicians insist, is knowing each other very well. “To write music you really have to have confidence to share your ideas, and it’s a scrillion times easier when you work with someone you know well,” confesses Eir. “I’m more daring when it comes to suggesting weird ideas,” Ása notes.
Outside of rehearsal, Ása, Eir, and Fönn have spent many summers at their grandparents’ cabin in North Iceland collecting down from eider ducks. The band’s name, Ateria, comes from Somateria mollissima, the Latin name for common eider. The three may have to duck out of meeting their feathered friends this summer, however, as their music schedule is filling up.
Part of the prize IME winners receive, is 20 hours of studio time in renowned studio Sundlaugin, just outside Reykjavík. “There are like 10 organs, and keyboards, and synths there,” Eir gushes excitedly. “It’s really awesome.” While the girls are clearly excited about the opportunity, they are still not sure if they want to be musicians when they “grow up.” “I’m just doing what I think is fun now,” says Fönn. “Maybe that’ll change.”
It’s easy to see that talent runs in the family, but the band is also quick to credit nonprofit organisation Girls rock! Iceland for giving them the skills to form Ateria. Not only did Fönn start playing drums at the association’s music camp, they all learned valuable lessons. “You learn all kinds of things there. What it’s like to be in a band, how to write music,” says Eir. “And about stage presence, and equal rights,” Ása chimes in. “It gives you a different perspective on making music. That you don’t have to be a genius to be in a band. You can just do it.”
This article appears in the current issue of Iceland Review magazine.
Iceland Review is the longest running English-language magazine presenting Iceland, in continuous print since 1963. Published six times per year, the magazine includes features and photographs on Iceland’s community, culture, and nature. Subscribers will soon enjoy digital access to Iceland Review’s back issues: a treasure chest of photos and articles.