meet sturla atlas, the fashion-forward icelandic hip-hop act opening for justin bieber
Having already won big at the Iceland Music Awards and scored the ultimate support slot, these Downtown Reykjavik kids are the coolest things in the land of ice and fire. After hiking through Reykjadalur valley, they fill us in on everything 101.
Sigurbjartur Sturla Atlason aka Sturla Atlas fell into hip-hop just a year and a half ago when he and friends Logi Pedro and Johann Kristofer aka Joey Christ made a parody concept album for their friend Jón Pétur's birthday. It ended up sounding pretty great and the group quite rightly decided that they were onto something. With Logi (also part of successful Icelandic band Retro Stefson alongside his brother) on production, Sturla takes the lead, while Joey brings back-up vocals, occasional verses, and good-looking good vibes. Like an early Odd Future from just south of the Arctic circle, the boys call on their wider friend group — 101 Boys, named after the Downtown Reykjavik zipcode — to manage, design, promote, photograph, art direct, and feature. In doing so, the project has become more than just a band. It's a collective bound by the desire to create its own visual world, soundtracked with smooth, auto-tuned R&B vocals atop well-produced synth whirlpools and stuttery electronic drumbeats.
Having already won big at the Iceland Music Awards and scored the ultimate support slot opening for Justin Bieber next month, there's no denying the group is one of the coolest things in the land of ice and fire. After hiking taking i-D hiking through Reykjadalur valley, the fashion-forward Sturla Atlas and Joey Christ jump into the natural hot springs and fill us in on everything 101.
Where have you brought us today?
Sturla: We've come an hour from Reykjavik and then we walked an hour to these hot geothermal pools which are all natural, and the source of the vape behind us. We can't be taken liable for these geofacts.
Joey: Justin Bieber came here earlier in the year and filmed a video, that was cool. We like Bieber.
Sturla: You know, we recently stopped smoking weed and instead we go and take a sauna for half an hour and then go and spend some time in really cold water. You get the same kick.
That natural high. So, tell us about the history of Sturla Atlas and 101 Boys.
S: Me, Joey and Logi, our friend who produces and mixes all the music, are just childhood friends. He isn't here with us today, but he's been a pretty huge figure in Iceland's music industry for the past ten years because he and his brother are in a really popular band called Retro Stefson. It was sort of random that we came to make music together. We were all very enthusiastic about pop culture and rap music.
J: Logi lived with our friend JP, who listens to a lot of Drake and The Weeknd, and we had this idea to make a Weeknd-esque album that was inspired by JP's life for his birthday. It was kind of a practical joke, but when the EP was finished, the realization was that the music was not that bad. So the next step was to do it again but this time do it seriously and not as a joke to our friend.
Is that online anywhere?
S: No, that would've been really bad for us I think.
J: Yeah, that's off the grid. But some of the songs actually made their way onto the first mixtape we made, in a slightly different, more developed form.
Nice. Where do you think you fit in the music scene in Iceland?
J: People like to put us in the group as all the other hip-hop acts here. Sure, we belong there, but at the same time I think we have a different style to most of the rap groups. You know, because we actually sing more than we rap, which I don't think a lot of Icelandic rappers do. And of course we do it in English, which I don't think anyone does.
Why did you decide to use English?
J: I think it was because of what we were listening to at the time, our inspiration, and also just to be able to reach to a wider audience.
S: I was talking about it last week with a friend actually. I don't think it really occurred to us at any moment to do it in Icelandic. I don't think it would've been the same.
J: It's a part of the brand that it's in English.
Can you talk us through your latest mixtape, Season 2?
S: We did our previous mixtape in October 2015, and then right away we started making more and more songs. Me and Joey graduated from University this spring and we basically just used up our free time to be in the studio and record. I think we're definitely evolving in terms of our sound and style and we're heading towards less rapping and more singing — you can hear that on Season 2.
And you made a zine as well?
J: Our friend Kjarten Hreinsson is the visual director of the project. He's a photographer and he's been making zines for like four years now, so the latest zine isn't our first. Also with the Sturla Aqua merch we did last March, we also did a lookbook. The visual element was really clear there.
S: Yeah, we did one for These Days, our second mixtape, and then we did a zine in collaboration with a shop in downtown Reykjavik. And Kjarten, he is really productive in doing them and of course we do most of the modeling for him. So every time he puts something out, we're just working together. It's a collaboration.
J: With the whole brand and idea of what Sturla Atlas is, the music and the visual identity of the whole concept is really intertwined, so that's something we'll continue doing.
S: We're really into expanding the whole idea that it can be music as part of this visual world.
J: And product as well. We don't release physical copies of our mixtapes, so we make merchandise and zines instead, so you can download the music and buy a t-shirt or something that connects you to both the music and the idea.
S: I think we're gonna end up having businesses all around Iceland; 101 restaurants, 101 foodtrucks, a 101 theater.
And according to your recent merch drop, 101 reusable water bottles?
S: Definitely! What was the slogan? Source of an epic life... 101 boys.
Perfect. Back when you played the i-D stage at Iceland Airwaves last year, I'm sure you featured in other sets too?
J: Yeah, we joined Gisli Pamli on stage and did the 101 Boys remix.
S: Actually, when we did Secret Solstice recently, Gisli Palmi came out and did his verse on a remix he did of one of our songs. And Logi's brother as well, because we remixed one of his songs. It's nice when people come out and we have a party on stage.
Are you both from Reykjavik originally? What was it like growing up here?
J: I was born and raised in Downtown Reykjavik, and actually we met because my step-mother and Sturla's dad are siblings, and Sturla moved from Denmark where he lived with his mother. It was really fun growing up in Downtown Reykjavik. Tourism is taking over Downtown Reykjavik now, but when we were like 10-years-old we made short Icelandic versions of American action films, where we were trafficking drugs and stuff. These short films really summarized what it was like for us. We were just running around all day, taking inspiration from American pop culture and wreaking havoc.
S: But it's probably unique in the way that you can just let your kids go out and not really worry about them because I guess the crime rate is pretty low around here; people don't get kidnapped or anything.
J: Yeah, it's safe. It's safe on the block.
You said you were really influenced by American culture. Was it the same with music?
S: Definitely. We mainly listen to US music.
J: We also spent a lot of time watching an Icelandic music video channel called Pop TV. I guess like most people our age living in Western countries, we grew up with the internet and less of a connection to our own country.
S: We're surrounded by Western pop culture which I think it's a really good thing because it gives you perspective.
J: It also gives you a really huge database of inspiration that we can take somewhere else and in our own direction. Because living in Iceland is so different from living in America, so the inspiration becomes something totally different when we then do our stuff.
Do you find that it's hard to make the jump from being known and respected in Iceland to expanding a fandom further afield?
J: Yeah, and I guess it's kinda random sometimes how you get picked up out in the world and what opportunities you get to play abroad or get your songs played on the radio in other countries. But on the other hand, getting opportunities to do your thing here in Iceland is really easy. There's loads of access to playing festivals. Networking isn't really a thing in Iceland because you practically know everybody. So that is definitely a plus. And when you play a festival like Airwaves or Sonar, you get promoters from other countries that will maybe pick you up.
S: Que sera, sera!
J: It's just about being enthusiastic and pushing yourself to get media coverage which, like Joey said, it's easy to do here if you just make some phone calls.
It's there if you ask for it.
J: It is. It's also so funny that when people come here from abroad, the first thing they think is that Icelanders get their inspiration from the countryside and the beautiful landscapes and stuff, but you know, we just grew up in the city and we don't even see as much of the countryside as we should do.
S: When we do come out to the countryside it's beautiful though and we do appreciate it.
Iceland did incredibly well in the Euros this year which got a lot of media attention. Do you think that will carry across into music?
J: I think Iceland's potential internationally is always growing and when something like this happens it gives you a lot of eyes from the world.
S: It's an opportunity. I think it's funny because I've never seen the country unite like it did like after the games against England and Austria. But it's much harder with art or music because people aren't as united with their tastes.
J: They're much more enthusiastic about sports than they are about Sigur Ros or Bjork or a new play or something. And I feel that with artists and the art that is made in Iceland, it's always like preaching to the choir; you don't get people who aren't already interested to really consider a new movie or a play or mixtape or something. Especially independent art. We're involved in the independent theater scene in Iceland and it's just like a bubble because there are two big theaters and the general mass goes there and isn't even aware that there's other stuff going on.
Musically, you guys are very independent. Is that important to you or more of a necessity because of lack of other options?
J: I think if we wanted to there would be the option for us to sign with an Icelandic label or whatever, but the biggest label in Iceland hasn't released a physical album in over a year so I don't really see the point because we have the connections and everything that a label would acquire you. It just gives us the freedom to have our own label, you know? We can basically do what we want without having to get permission or anything, and we get to do it with our friends without any production companies or anything so we really couldn't be in a better situation than we're already in.
Agreed. So last night, when we were at Reykjavikurdaetur's album launch with you guys, the sun was setting at midnight. What's that like to live with all the time?
J: It's probably the weirdest thing about living here, this sun and darkness contrast between the winter and summer. It's kind of hard to describe because it's not something that you can put into words, that feeling in March when it's been dark for basically four months. It definitely affects your mood.
S: Seasonal affective disorder, the whole of Iceland has it. But then when the summer comes, everyone gets really, really happy. It's just something that's a part of who Icelanders are.
J: The darkness certainly feels a lot longer than the brightness. But then, when the winter starts to come, you're pretty thankful that you're gonna get some darkness in your life, because you need that at times! You're pretty happy that it's not gonna be sunny 24/7 anymore, but then when Christmas is over and it's dark and windy and cold and there's nothing positive on the horizon, it can get really frustrating.
S: I remember when we were like 20, we went to California in August and traveled through Mexico and Central and South America. We came back at the end of December when it was the darkest season and we were really tanned and beautiful looking and we saw all the other people here and they were so pale! It looked like they were dying.
J: Like a haunted house.
S: That was pretty shocking because you don't see it when you're in the midst of it all — everybody depressed and pale and as if all the happiness in the world had been removed. Like dementors had arrived.
Sounds like London! Finally, what's your overall message or a statement you guys want to make with your music?
J: We just want to spread the good vibes and encourage people to do what they love and have a good time. This project is just us doing what we want, what we enjoy, and by doing that we aim to inspire other people to do the same; not to fall into a rut and work at a job you hate for the rest of your life, waiting to die.