Hafdis Huld is an internationally renowned singer and songwriter from Iceland. She started her musical career as a teenager with electronic collective GusGus, and since then has released six albums and had numerous collaborations. Now working on a secret covers album due out by Christmas 2018, Hafdis is still bringing “Storytelling through folky pop music with an Icelandic twist” to the world.
Born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1979, Hafdis was influenced by her parents’ vinyl collection, particularly Whitney Houston’s voice, Dolly Parton’s stories and the theatricals of Queen. Of this eclectic mix, Hafdis says, “I don’t think you can hear any of those influences in my music but all of it must have influenced me in some way.” She grew up singing Icelandic folk songs and learning how to harmonise with her mother, “Growing up in a small and safe place like Iceland meant I had a lot of freedom to explore… that definitely makes you think in a more creative way.”
World tour at 15!
Exploring her freedom included joining quirky electro outfit GusGus at just 15 years old, and playing on two world tours. Despite this adventure and the band’s success, Hafdis felt she left at the right time. When asked what she learned from the GusGus experience, Hafdis replied, “How important it is to work with like-minded people. Even though there were nine people in the band, GusGus was a lonely experience for me.”
After GusGus, Hafdis collaborated with British duo FC Kahuna. She co-wrote and sang on singles “Hayling” and “Machine Says Yes”. Hafdis was also involved creatively with dance producers Ewan Pearson and Tom Middleton. She starred in two movies; The Icelandic Dream and Dramarama and modelled for Extreme Sports. Hafdis admits that after music, acting would have been a close second career choice.
Albums, Festivals and Tours
Beyond acting and dance music, Hafdis was also a student at the London Centre of Contemporary Music. She graduated with distinction in 2006, and in the same year she released her debut solo album, “Dirty Paper Cup”. Billed as “quirky lo-fi Icelandic femme folktronica” by Music OMH, the album received rave reviews from The Fly, the Independent, and The Guardian. The BBC gave the album national radio play, and it won Best Pop Album at the Icelandic Music Awards in 2007.
Following the album’s success, Hafdis toured the UK with Scottish artist Paolo Nutini. Hafdis also played at festivals such as Glastonbury and The Big Chill. A headline tour was arranged for early 2007 but had to be cancelled due to Hafdis developing a severe infection. The tour went ahead in May and allowed her to preview some material from her upcoming second album. Speaking of how she feels about playing live, Hafdis says, “I tend to be very relaxed before going on stage and other performers sometimes find that strange backstage.”
Between her first and second solo albums, Hafdis collaborated with Tricky on the 2008 album, “Knowle West Boy”. Pitchfork described her performance on “Cross to Bear” as “a hauntingly chirpy Christ stand in.” Later that year, Hafdis appeared in a Mercedes TV advert, singing an unaccompanied version of Sam Brown’s classic, “Stop!”. The track was later released as a single, firstly in Iceland then worldwide via iTunes.
Building on her success, Hafdis’s second album, “Synchronised Swimmers”, was co-produced with Grammy award-winning producer Calum MacColl, and Alisdair Wright, Hafdis’s partner. Two singles went to the top spot and the title track was only prevented from reaching number one by Michael Jackson. When asked how it feels to have a number one hit, Hafdis replied, “I always feel very grateful when people like the music I create, and I can’t imagine that feeling ever changes.”
A change of musical emphasis
Key life events played a role in her musical development as Hafdis started to explore a different style of music. In 2012, Hafdis recorded an album of Icelandic lullabies while pregnant with her first child. Recording this album was a different kind of experience for Hafdis, and she described the process as “relaxed and soft.”
In keeping with this relaxed theme, Hafdis’s third album, “Home”, was recorded at her house in the mountains near Reykjavik. Working with renowned songwriters like Ed Harcourt, the result was a more laid-back sound. A review via Iceland, Defrosted, noted that Hafdis seemed to be moving away from pop, and called track “Lucky” a “slice of lovely folksiness.” Hafdis said she felt that recording the album at home was cosy, and it’s important to be cosy in a country with so much darkness: “…”We lit some candles and recorded vocals with the baby in the room and our dog sleeping by my feet…”
This cosy feeling continued with a further album for young children being funded via crowdsourcing in 2015. 2016 was spent writing and recording material for the 2017 album “Dare to Dream Small.” Speaking of her most recent solo album, Hafdis says it’s about “…enjoying the little things, they sometimes turn out to be the really important things.”
At this time Hafdis’s fanbase spans 45 countries and her songs have been streamed over 5 million times via Spotify. She’s collaborated with some of the world’s top artists, and strides the media from music to movies. Hafdis is hoping to break into Japan over the next year: “People keep telling me I would like Japan and Japan would like me, so I want to check it out.”
Some of Hafdis’s most popular singles include Stop!, Queen Bee, Synchronised Swimmers, Kongulo and Action Man. Regularly hitting the top spot in Iceland and appearing in advertising campaigns for global brands have turned Hafdis Huld into an international phenomenon. With fans who love her enough to send her dolls and knitted cacti, Hafdis Huld is one of Iceland’s most beloved exports.