Daði Freyr on Iceland Airwaves, Hot Chip’s influence and next year’s Eurovision song

The Icelandic electro-pop star might have missed out on Eurovision glory, but he tells NME he'll be back next year. First up though, is Live From Reykjavík online festival

Having a breakout period in 2020 as an emerging artist is tricky, but not impossible. With housebound audiences, minimal live shows and shift in the way music is consumed and promoted, right now a song has to be really great to get on people’s radar.

Daði Freyr’s ‘Think About Things’ is one of them. A funk-laden electro-pop banger by way of Breakbot and Hot Chip, the song was originally set to be Freyr’s and Iceland’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest back in May. Cancellation of the event meant there was no big performance from Freyr in Rotterdam, but the song still travelled. It’s since been streamed over 75 million times, spawned TikTok crazes and been lauded as the defacto winner by Eurovision fans. It’s proof that a brilliant song remains pretty much unstoppable.

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Freyr’s rise to fame has been a recent one, but he’s keen to make sure he’s no one-hit-wonder. Freyr is planning a worldwide tour for next year and has been selected to compete again at next year’s Eurovision Song Contest for Iceland. He’s also preparing to perform at Iceland Airwaves’ upcoming live streamed ‘Live From Reykjavík’ festival, taking place this weekend (November 13-14). He’ll be joining artists like Of Monsters and Men, Ólafur Arnalds, Ásgeir, Hatari, Júníus Meyvant and more in what’s billed as “one of the biggest ever celebrations of Icelandic talent”. Get full details on how to tune in here.

In preparation for his performance, Freyr took us through the impact of Iceland Airwaves on the local scene, recruiting Hot Chip for a banging remix and what comes next.

What impact did Iceland Airwaves have on you?

“Iceland Airwaves is my favourite music festival. If people tell me that they want to go to Iceland, I tell them to either go in the summer when it’s super nice or go for Iceland Airwaves. It always feels like a celebration for Icelandic musicians. You meet everybody because they’re all playing and it’s an amazing place to network and meet people and socialise. If you hear about a new Icelandic band or artist, you’re probably going to get a chance to see them play at Iceland Airwaves.”

Is it a goal for every new artist to play?

“Everyone goes through Iceland Airwaves. I don’t know of any band that’s gone to become successful without them also. I first went in 2008 as a spectator and in 2012 was the first chance I got to play with my band. It was the first time I felt like we were a part of the community and in the scene, and not just on the outside looking in.”

Has the Reykjavik scene been hit hard by the lack of live shows during the current pandemic?

“It’s tough everywhere. There are so many artists that rely on the income from live music who are having a really tough time right now. I was super lucky with ‘Think About Things’, because I would be kind of fucked if that wouldn’t have gone through. In general, I think that Reykjavik has lost a lot of venues that made the scene what it was. There were so many tourists, so every venue had to be replaced with a hotel. We now have about three decent venues where everyone can get a chance to play, and then we just have big concert halls that you have to have a huge following to be able to play.

There’s such a rich history and music community in Iceland – there’s a different sound coming from Iceland and a huge variety of interesting artists. I wish that there was more focus on that when Iceland is being promoted and to get people interested and involved with the scene, not just ‘look at this amazing waterfall’.”

You’ll be performing at the Iceland Airwaves live stream this weekend. What can we expect to see from your set?

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“I’ve put together a band, actually. I’ve usually played alone with synthesiser, vocals etc., but after things blew up I started selling a lot of tickets for tours, and it felt like I would be playing bigger stages where I would not be taking up as much space as I would want and it wouldn’t be as much fun to watch. But my band members are also amazing friends so I’m excited to play and tour with them. They’ll be playing with me for the stream and I’ll be playing from Berlin, where I’m based. I’m really proud of what we’re going to be showing.”

You released a handful of remixes last week for ‘Think About Things’ – was that meant as a chapter close for this release?

“I’ve been releasing remixes and acoustics and doing performances on TV, but ‘Think About Things’ isn’t done by all means though – it was on Strictly Come Dancing and then the Masked Singer in Belgium last week – I have no control over it really. I can’t just say ‘oh that chapter is done’ because it’s not. But a lot of my focus has been on that song and to try and get it as far as I can to get myself in a better place when I release the next thing.

It’s been so much work promoting this song. Before, I thought that a song gets this many streams and goes viral that it’s just the song and people talk about it and that’s how it goes, but there is so much work that goes into keeping the momentum going with a song.”

There’s even a remix from Hot Chip. Are they a big influence for you?

“For such a long time when I was mixing, I would put on ‘These Chains’ by Hot Chip as a reference as that was the mix I aspired to. After I stopped using that, I started using ‘Need You Know’ which is from a later album of theirs [2015’s ‘Why Make Sense?’]. When I started working with distribution company AWAL it was a joke who I would want to work with, and those were the first guys that came to mind.”

Were you nervous to hear what came back?

“I was pumped! I’m not too serious about those kinds of things. So whatever they had done I would have been happy with. I was excited either way.

The first week when the song was starting to pick up it was a bit overwhelming, but you get used to it so fast. It’s weird how fast you get used to it. Back in May when we were supposed to be doing Eurovision there was loads of promotion to do anyway, but I remember the moment I saw the Jennifer Garner video on Instagram – the first thing I thought when I saw it was like ‘oh no. It’s super cool that she’s done this, but could she wait like two days?’ As soon as that came out the ball started rolling again which I’m obviously very happy about but at that moment I felt a little overwhelmed.”

You’ll be competing for Iceland at next year’s Eurovision. What’s the process looking like right now?

“Right now, I’m trying to get the Eurovision track done. I’m making around 11 rough demos and ideas, then I’ll pick one and focus on that. I want to release an EP somewhere around Eurovision, but I’m not going to promise anything because I have to go on tour and do a bunch of stuff for Eurovision. Competing in Eurovision is so much more than just writing the song and doing the performance.”

Had playing Eurovision ever been a goal?

“It’s weird to think at this point how big a part Eurovision has played in my life, because that very much wasn’t where I was going. In 2017 I wrote a song and sent it to the Icelandic committee but with no real intention to sing it. I was on the demo and didn’t really want to sing it, but they said I should stick with it and then it kind of went from there.

After 2017, that was the moment where music became my first job. It went way further than I ever thought. In the past few years people are starting to see Eurovision as a different thing. To me, it’s the biggest platform in Europe to promote a song. You have three minutes, a song, a whole production team around you to make a condensed thing, I just see it as an opportunity to make a really cool performance which I would never have done if it wasn’t for Eurovision.”

Daði Freyr will perform at Live From Reykjavik by Iceland Airwaves this weekend Nov 13/14 (Nov 14/15 Australasia) www.icelandairwaves.is/live

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