Sturla Atlas
On culture shocks, rejecting politics, and supporting Justin Bieber...

“I can play you Sturla Atlas, an up and coming Icelandic hip-hop artist,” said Bravó bar’s DJ in Reykjavik earlier this year.

In October, Atlas and his childhood friends aka the 101 boys were supporting Justin Bieber for his Purpose Tour. The next month they played at The Jazz Café in Camden and supported Nite Jewel.

After seeing them perform in London, in front of 17,900 less people, in comparison to Bieber – Clash DM’d Sturla to find out more.

He replied during a shopping spree in Selfridges, London and agreed to do an interview, but only if it was via Skype; he’s bored of Q&As via email…

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So, despite your music career kicking off, you still went to Uni, is that right?
I just graduated from the arts academy in Iceland. Me and Jóhann (collaborator) were in the theatre and performance department. I always planned going to an arts uni during high school. I also applied to some schools in the UK, but when I got accepted in Iceland I just decided to bail on the auditions in the UK because it was so convenient.

So you still spend a lot of time in Iceland?
Yeah, definitely. I lived in Copenhagen for two years when I was in 1st and 2nd grade and San Diego in California when I was 16 for a year. Besides that, I've lived in Iceland my whole life and went to school the majority of the time here.

Why California?
My mom did her PHD in UCSD and she lived there for five years with her husband. I lived there for the first year but after that I moved back to my dad in Iceland.

What was California like?
It was very different to everything I was ever used to. I discovered a lot of things about myself that I maybe didn't know before, which was difficult to understand whilst it was going on, but now I look back and think it was really healthy and a good experience.

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I discovered a lot of things about myself that I maybe didn't know before...

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Was it a culture shock?
I had been to the US a couple of times before I lived there so I thought I knew what I was going into - but when I moved there it was completely different. It was so strict, it was like being an animal in a factory waiting to be slaughtered. The individuality wasn't as strong as I had experienced before.

So are schools in Iceland pretty laid back?
I guess they're pretty normal, compared to other European schools or whatever but the thing about Iceland is that it's so small so it gets really tight and people are really familiar with each other. It's maybe like living out in the countryside in the UK. Not as formal as the US, I remember always being surprised that you had to call your teach by his or hers last name and you had to stay in the class right up until the bell rang, you could never go early - so everything was super strict in that matter - it isn't like that around here.

Conversation fades, interrupted by a bad connection…

The connection here is really good actually. Every time I go abroad, like to the UK or the US it's much worse. I just found out about this recently but Iceland is a hacker paradise, people come here from all over the world to hack - there are no strict regulations in regards to hacking.

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Iceland’s one of the healthiest countries in the world. What do you eat?
[Chuckles] It's funny, like we're really privileged, so it's really easy to have a healthy diet if you want to. I would like to have a healthier diet than I have right now. It takes time, a month of planning and producing if you're going to have a perfect vegan diet or whatever. I eat out everyday. I like Asian cuisine, like dumplings and gyoza and falafels. I even considered ordering online, like a powder which you can mix with water, which has all the nutrition, you need - I would like to try that one day if it's healthy. I explain that I don’t think these drinks are healthy and he agrees…

Any food you have to take with you when touring?
The Icelandic diet is not healthy - it's a great lie that people have just discovered a few years ago. Icelanders eat a lot of dairy products, we produce a lot of Skyr and drink a lot of milk. Generations have believed that this is really good for you and will give you strong bones, but it's not true.

So, are you vegan?
I wish I was vegan but I don't have the motivation to go through with it. But traditional fish dishes, I just don't really fuck with.

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As a kid, born in the 90s, you spent a lot of time just on the internet and trying to see something fresh.

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Tell me about your style…
I think we have a unified style. I'm not the biggest fashion freak, I don't know the most about fashion out of my friends but Jóhann (collaborator) is a huge fashion fanatic. I'm probably influenced mainly from my friends and things we look at and see. As a kid, born in the 90s, you spent a lot of time just on the internet and trying to see something fresh. Over the years you gather a lot of styles and a lot of culture from different places, which merge into who you are.

A huge disadvantage of buying clothes in Iceland is because it's such a small place, so the odds of seeing someone you know wearing the exact same thing is likely - that's why you want to buy clothes when you go abroad. Now I'm focused on buying really expensive brands or super ugly clothes, which stand out. I’m no longer psyched about minimalistic or vintage clothes.

How did touring with Bieber happen?
So the person who booked Justin Bieber to play in Iceland, we were playing at his wife's birthday party with a couple of other artists. Then they announced Bieber was going to do shows in Iceland and six months later, I woke up one morning and was like we're gonna do the Bieber show, fuck. We've never done such a big concert, there were 18,000 people per show - it's the biggest concert, which had ever been held in Iceland. It was a crazy experience to stand up on the stage and see all those people, it was definitely one of the top moments of this whole thing.

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I’d want to collaborate with some epic soul singer.

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Who would you like to collaborate with?
It would have to be someone really unorthodox. I like the way we work together at the moment. Of course we're doing hip-hop and R&B music, which is pretty popular in the world, but at the same time I don't really think we're doing what every one else is doing. We’ve done straightforward rap songs, R&B and soul songs. It’s a lot of fun, experimenting and figuring out what your sound is like. I think we're always moving in the direction of getting to know ourselves a bit more and what kind of music we want to do. We're always narrowing it down. I’d want to collaborate with some epic soul singer.

Are you scared of anything?
It's a hard question because you don't want to seem weak. I sometimes get like paranoia about the insides of my body, like organs and stuff. It's something which comes to my mind and leaves right away. We’ve been vaping a lot, like e cigarettes and I sometimes get anxious just because of that.

Your song ‘Vino’ quotes “you’re sick and tired of these phony ass politicians…”
It was recorded a year ago and a month before it dropped there was a huge political scandal in Iceland. The prime minister and many of the ministers of the government in Iceland were discovered to be keeping all the money in tax paradises in the Caribbean ocean. Our prime minister had to resign and it was a really big deal and sad for Icelanders. At the time when we released the song, it was a comment on what had been going on here.

Politics is nothing more than people trying to get more power and get what they want. I find politics interesting, but if I put my efforts into it I just get disappointed and annoyed, so I try and stay away from it.

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Words: Laura Allbones

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