Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen, PhD student at The University of Edinburgh, went to the Portugese Conference ‘Keep it Simple, Make it Fast! – Crossing Borders of Underground Music Scenes’ (KISMIF International Conference) at the University of Porto, 13-17. July 2015.

Arnar has a B.A. in sociology from The University of Iceland in 1999. Now he wants to put his music enthusiasm to academic use. He worked as a music journalist for Icelands most respected (then anyway!) daily newspaper Morgunblaðið for 13 years.

The home-made, amateurish CD‘s, put out by a real expressive need intrigued him. A “beautiful imperfection”.

Arnar allowed ROK to present you his presentation.

Arnar Porto 2015Iceland: What’s unique?

  • Small society that’s a micro-cosmos of sorts. Small but big enough.
  • This “village” aspect is a prominent factor in the reality of Icelandic music culture.
  • A relatively easy access to media for musicians that sustains and nurtures the culture.
  • Amateurs/Unconventionalists benefit from these factors. More visibility.

The Reality of Icelandic Amateurs/Unconventionalists

  • My work as a journalist enabled me to do “ethnographic” research, without me knowing it at the time!
  • A DIY stance that conveys a sense of purity and authenticity, coupled with a lack of awareness regarding the workings of the professional music world.
  • In interviewing and reviewing I was intrigued by this.
  • Sometimes, the practitioners are bent on solitary musicmaking (see Killick, 2006, and his term ‘holicipation’) but most of them do crave some kind of social connectivity with their endeavours, even if only through hard-to-get releases.
  • All kinds of music, but often male singer songwriters.
  • Artwork and music sometimes amateurish/naive that sometimes makes for interesting music, even good…
  • My interest: Not TOTAL madness (outsider music/incredible strange music) but not pro, conscious popular musician. Somewhere in between.


  • 60 year old plumber who finally realized his dream of putting out a record.
  • A rock-band of pensioners that practices every Sunday.
  • A loving grandmother’s home made cassettes which she posted to loved ones abroad.

PhD Research Question

  • My interest in the amateurs informed the general research question:
  1. Why do you make music?
  2. Refined: Why do you have to make music?
  3. Refined II: …and why do you have to release it … And/or play it live for an audience?

Pro/Amateur Parameters

  • Non-formal education <–> Formal education
  • Hobby <–> Profession
  • Unconscious <–> Conscious
  • Unskilled <–> Skilled
  • Ideological <–> Business
  • Non-Career <–> Career

Helgi og hljóðfæraleikararnir:

Fairly obscure rural folk-punk. Cult following. 10+ “homebrewed” CD’s and sporadic life performances. All with full time jobs, the leader is a farmer.

“The emphasis on creating is what keeps the band alive“ says

Helgi. “It has never been about business – it’s solely about fun.”

-Quote from Morgunblaðið, March 2008.

gylfiGylfi Ægisson:

Quirky sailor pop. Has written songs that Icelander’s know by heart. A bit of a “cheat” here as he makes his living solely by music and painting. A professional with amateur aesthetics?

sigridurSigríður Níelsdóttir:

Naïve pop, 70 years old when she started, released 60 CD’s. Hipster fandom ahoy. Probably the purest example here of an amateur musician.

Guðjón Rúdolf:

Post punk roots, obscure and lovely music. Cult popularity. Full time gardener in Denmark, his music co-hort a classically trained composer.


University teachers, writers, poets. “The smartest band in Iceland”. Self released cassettes and CD’s. Strangely popular. They run it like a Bridge club of sorts…

“I don’t want to be called a musician when Spaðar are interviewed. Because that’s not what I do.”

Pósthúsið í Tuva:

One man GP band. 30 CD‘s released under various names. Full time doctor, the music a hobby or rather a very “serious leisure“.

Björn Valur Gíslason:

Captain of a freezer trawler and ex-parliament member. Him and his crew released some CD’s and played in concerts.

“There was a strike and we got together and played. The crew really gelled and I was surprised how many were up for it. When we got “better” musicians to play on the CD’s with us, something was lost.”

Theories: Amateurs and professionals

  • Stebbins: Music among friends
  • Finnegan: Hidden musicians
  • Killick: Holicipation. Solitary music making
  • Prior: New amateurs
  • Tia DeNora: Music in everyday life
  • Hennion: The amateur experience

Theories: Music making in small communities

  • Core theories: Bourdieu (field of cultural production), Becker (Art worlds). Sociological approaches
  • Finnegan: The Hidden Musicians
  • Crossley: Network theories
  • Cohen: Rock culture in Liverpool


  • A portion of the PhD. A special book later? Social aspects + critical view of the music?
  • Does imperfection make these artists „purer“? My skewed romanticism?
  • A universal thing or local? Does Iceland have special characteristics in this field?
  • „Keep it simple, Make it fast“?

 I thank you from the bottom of my amateur loving heart…

Thanks Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen