sunnudagur, ágúst 12, 2007

20 years into Icelandic Music - Generation Ice

Getting Personal - Giving it a personal touch
Some people told me, there's nothing on this site You wrote about Icelandic music or even what you think of the Iceland Airwaves Festival.
So I'll give it a start this sunday ...
Eg elska Islensk tonlist- I love Icelandic music
A bad taste in music?
I am interested in Icelandic music since 1987. It all started when VPRO Dj's in the Netherlands were playing the first song by The Sugarcubes "Birthday" on the Dutch radio. These Dutchmen were earlier to pick them up then the Belgians (as it is often the case by the way). DJ Lotje IJzermans went to Reykjavik to interview Sykurmolarnir, and VPRO also broadcasted a special about Reykjavik & The Sugarcubes. So I went to the local library to pick a travel guide (the only one they had @ Stekene) about Iceland called IJsland-Oerland. Iceland was getting "hot": MTV discovered the island, 2 times a Miss World, the Strongest Man contests, attending the Eurovision Song Contest in the eighties, and so on. For years I was reading a lot about Iceland through the publications of Iceland Review (e.g. News from Iceland, a montly newspaper in English). I wrote some articles about Icelandic matters for the Vinafelagid Island-Nidurland in the nineties. I ordered a lot (?) Icelandic music by mail (that day there was no e-mail yet !) using the service provided by Mail Order slave Dr. Gunni for Smekkleysa/Bad Taste. So my collection of CD's (and vinyl too) was growing, first everything Sugarcubes related like KUKL or Tappi Tikarrass or Theyr or Purrkurr Pillnikk, or just later on everything Icelandic (Bubbi, Megas to name a few). And I tried to get as often to Iceland (Reykjavik) as possible as a "poor' student. I saw The Sugarcubes live @ The Vooruit venue, Ghent (October 1989). The year before, I didn't see the show, I had to do some final (important) exams. After that concert, Björk was beaten up by the bouncer @ The (famous c.q. notorious in 1988) Boccacio Club and got to see the doctor @ ER. 1999 was the year I started @ Medical School @ Ghent University (called RUG in the past). After the concert, I was waiting to get in touch with the band members. I got the signature of all of them (Magga was not on tour with them in 1989). I showed Siggy my black bike with Sugarcubes painted in white letters all over it, and also the message "Iceland NATO free" I bought a black T-shirt, that I was wearing @ nearly every student party I went. Everybody in Medical School (and others) knew my fascination for Iceland and Icelandic music since then. Years later after the concert at the AB aka Ancienne Belgique (Brussels), I was very lucky to get a drum stick of Siggy. I bought the red badge, the red baseball cap and the red T-shirt, all they had for that tour. Couldn't get a tour badge onfortunately ... Now people sell these items on Ebay.
Stick around for joy ... forever or not? Then one night, listening to the VPRO Radio again the message: No more The Sugarcubes ...
R.I.P. Sykurmolarnir But Viva Björk!

Björk went solo in the nineties: So I bought 7 different T-shirts over the years: one for every day of the week?!
After the Björk concert in Vorst National (near Brussels), after waiting with a bunch of people to get a signature, we (my sister and her friend and me) followed the singer's tour coach for one hour. Finally she arrived @ her hotel in Brussels, she signed my T-shirt and her "Post" CD.
In the summer of 1996, I was the first Flemish Med student @ Landspitalinn (University Hospital). I arranged it myself, 'cause the University of Ghent was totally not involved (like the rest of Belgium) in Iceland despite my efforts for 7 years! Blame on you Prof. Johan Kips, for not knowing anything about Iceland. I had an apartment arranged by other students, near the old harbour, were the Whaling boats were waiting to go hunting again ... Somebody told me: but that where Björk had an apartment. Couldn't believe it, but it was true: same address, same block, but another apartment audvitad. Now Sindri Eldon Thorsson, her son with Thor Eldon, is living there in Tryggvagata. I went to a punk revival concert @ Rosenberg together with a German exchange student. We got in for free, because we were the first to show up! That night Q4U, Fraebbblarnir and Unun were on the program. I was sitting next to the singer of Q4U, when she suddenly went to the stage and started to perform with the band. Fraebbblarnir are the sometimes called the godfathers of Icelandic punk scene. Unun were quite new then, with band members like Thor Eldon (ex-Sugarcubes, ex-Björk ;-)), Dr Gunni (ex-S.H. Draumur, world famous in Finland) and the young singer Heida (Ragnheidur Eiriksdottir) with mohawk in 1996. A too dark photograph published in the national newspaper Morgunbladid catched me while I was pogo dancing. What an atmosphere in this too small place, normally the place to be for all bikers around Reykjavik. Unfortunately this place got fire years later, and disappeared to create shops and apartments together with Tunglid (The Moon), another music venue with a great history (e.g. The Sugarcubes).
2 years later in 1998, I was the first Belgian medical doctor practicing in Iceland, but not in Reykjavik. I couldn't manage that 'cause every Icelander wants to be in the hot spot R'vik. So I had to go to the North of Iceland, @ FSA, the hospital of Akureyri: the beautiful capital of the North, with the longest fjörd of Iceland and the best weather of Iceland (sun in the summer and snow in wintertime).
I also went to the HAM tribute concert in the basement of the National Theatre. Some youngsters hanging around downtown, told me I got to see them, Spitsign performing. The artists of that time (1998), also Spitsign, were brought together on a CD and Video called Popp i Reykjavik. This is a reference to Rokk i Reykjavik, the documentary of Fridrik Thor Fridriksson (an Oscar nominee), about the punk scene in Iceland in the early eighties (also 2xLP and Video available). Now 2 of them, Bjössi and Bjarni are in the rock band Minus. I left to study occupational health in Belgium in 1999, the year Iceland Airwaves were launched. My last night in Reykavik in August 1999, just before getting the FlyBus to Keflavik Airport, I was eating a kebab @ Kebabhusid (now gone into flames) and suddenly Björk joined by a crowd of 10 people passed by. On her way to Kaffi Thomsen, she hadn't to get into the line like other people had to do. Björk had reached world famousness. Björk had become an Icon, a Synonym with Iceland, or even a Trademark.
Björk and also The Sugarcubes put Iceland on the map. I put Iceland on the map in my home country, Belgium. Just like me, others were travelling to Iceland. Some of them, tried to get a job in Iceland. Or worked there. Just like me. Over the years, I met people coming as far as from Australia, to get in touch with Icelandic music.
After Björk and The Sugarcubes, and nearly reaching World Domination ;-) or Death, other bands and artists got attention from all over the world. Sigur Ros got a record deal 'cause of Sugarcubes (thank you Thor Eldon) and their Label Smekkleysa. Studmenn, Egill Olafsson's band, were the 2nd band to play in China, only George Michael's Wham! was there before the longest existing pop band in Iceland. Studmenn, like Megas and Bubbi (and all of his bands he played wiht), were Big in Iceland, but never were or became big abroad. Many others tried to get a record deal, but none of them are or were as successful as Björk yet. In the past, Iceland had some internationally known artists and bands like Mezzoforte (first UK hit with Garden party), Jet Black Joe (deal with Indisc/CNR), Quarashi and GusGus. Some bands tried in the footsteps of The Sugarcubes on the British One Little Indian or 4AD labels. HAM, Bellatrix, Reptile, Lhooq, Unun were in the slip stream of the 'Cubes. Some went solo ... Daniel Agust, Hafdis Huld, Magga Stina, Emiliana Torrini, or they started new bands, Apparat Organ Quartet, Steintryggur and Ghostigital just to name a few, or they just quit the music business and became a teacher. Some bands don't sound typically Icelandic (does this exist?) anymore, like Nylon just make music like in the States or in the UK.

Iceland Airwaves Festival gave on opportunity to all artists (solo, groups or DJ's) to play for foreigners and the foreign market (record labels, journalists, tourists ?). The bands didn't went abroad, instead many people were invited to come to Iceland and see them play in their habitat, Reykjavik. Although many bands were from the outside 101 area, or even from Keflavik (the Icelandic music town, with a Museum about Music), Isafjördur or even Akureyri. It also was an opportunity to fill the hotels outside summertime, and to fly people to Iceland (so to fill the airplanes of Icelandair), as well as to give a boost the tourist industry (2nd largest industry in Iceland !). The festival is these days focused on the American market, just like Icelandic society is (Little America you know?!). Bardi Johannsson of Bang Gang (not the best name for a pop band) is trying to get famous in the USA, outside France and Iceland were everybody knows him. Nowadays many bands are trying to do it after they settle in the UK. The Airwaves gave and gives a chance to bands like Jakobinarina (record deal in Engeland), Jeff Who?, Minus, Trabant, Kimono, Pétur Ben, Lay Low, Skatar, Worm is Green, Eberg, Petur Ben not to be popular only in Iceland, but maybe Europe, the hole world.
This year, I'll join the Airwaves for the third time (2005, 2006). 2005 was the year of the documentary Screaming Masterpiece. I saw it twice, 'cause I visited Iceland twice that year, a second time with the American couple Joe and Betty (who get married in Reykjavik after the festival), just to get in the mood for the Airwaves Festival. The Iceland Airwaves Festival gives the opportunity to see a lot of band performing live. Most of them in small venues, and even many off-venue places (12 Tonar Shop, Smekkleysa Shop). Charming is that you can get in touch with most artists (some just are standing in the crowd before or after their own performance !), not to much security necessary (yet?), possibility and acceptance to take pictures and make short movies and the different locations are not far away (you just walks for 5 minutes or so). But it is sometimes hard to get into the venue when the artist is very popular (in Iceland and/or abroad), not performing often on Icelandic ground, or just because the venues used by Iceland Airwaves are not the "biggest" in the capital. Just be very early, Icelanders themselves are always just in time (or too late!).
It is a great opportunity to see and meet a lot of persons who like lcelandic music, just like you?
Keep on listening to (good) Icelandic Music forever!
by Wim Van Hooste

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