R.I.P. Jóhann Jóhannsson

Music News
photo by Charina Pitzel

A favorite of KEXP, Icelandic artist Jóhann Jóhannsson passed away yesterday, Friday, February 9th, in his Berlin apartment. Cause of death is currently unknown, but authorities are investigating. The award-winning composer was 48-years-old.

KEXP's DJ Kevin Cole shares: "Jóhann was an extraordinary artist whose music reached deep emotional depths through blending electronics with classical orchestrations. For an artist whose music was otherworldly, sonically and intellectually, in person, he was down to earth, always genuine, warm, thoughtful, and kind. As a longtime friend of KEXP, we had the good fortune of working with him numerous times, and as an artist who worked scoring films and in the “modern classical” realm, I loved that he was open to performing live on the air and in intimate spaces like KEX Hostel during Iceland Airwaves.  I hosted him twice on my show, most recently in 2017, and during that transcendent performance, he told me that the inspiration for his latest solo album, Orphée, was Ovid’s interpretation of the Orpheus myth and that he personally connected to the 'idea of transformation, crossing a threshold, going from one state to another…change.' Fearless, experimental, yet never forsaking a profound emotional connection, Jóhann Jóhannsson made some of the most beautiful music on planet earth."

Kevin and Jóhann in 2017 // photo by Charina Pitzel


Jóhannsson was born and raised in Reykjavík and got his start in music playing guitar in rock bands like the feedback-laden Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, doom metal band HAM, electronic band Lhooq, and several others. In 1999, he co-founded the Kitchen Motors collective, an art organization/record label/think tank active. That same year, he launched his Kraftwerk-inspired project Apparat Organ Quartet, who dominated the KEXP airwaves in 2011 with the single "123 Forever." 

In 2002, Jóhannsson released his debut solo album, Englabörn. His innovative blend of traditional classical and experimental synthesized music earned him the title of "Iceland’s answer to Brian Eno." His ensuing work in film and television soundtrack composition garnered him many accolades, including a 2014 Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe win for his score to the film The Theory of Everything. The following year, he got his second Academy Award nomination for the score to Sicario, and then in 2016, he received Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Grammy nominations for his score to Arrival. This year alone will see three more film compositions for Mandy, The Mercy, and Mary Magdalene.

Jóhannsson is survived by his parents, sisters, and daughter. KEXP has felt privileged to share his music with the world.