A postcard from Iceland
The Observer, December 2006
Glacial landscapes, volcanoes and geysers - Iceland is widely regarded as a beautiful country. But do you really think an agitated adolescent like me gives a monkey's about such things? Foreign journalists get over-excited about the natural splendours of this land of ice and snow. And I could say the same thing about the local music scene. The story about the originality and purity of Icelandic music is the result of a misguided media frenzy. Before punk, Icelandic music was dull and sterile. In the Sixties, rock'n'roll bands mimicked the Beatles, and in the Seventies Pink Floyd. The only interesting pre-punk musician is a songwriter called Megas, who is always drunk, but very witty. He's written songs about child molestation.
In the Eighties there was an explosion of talent. Punk bands such as ...Theyr, Purrkur Pilnikk and Kukl felt like a breath of fresh air. Members of these groups formed Bad Taste Records and the Sugarcubes. I was only three when they split in 1992, but I gather there were lots of stories in the British press at the time about Icelanders eating puffin - as if that's weird. We think it's weird that the English eat fish from a newspaper.
Oddly, Björk isn't that popular at home. Her only record to turn platinum here is a jazz album she recorded with the Trio Gudmundar Ingolfssonar in 1990. The Sugarcubes reformed for a one-off gig in Reykjavik the other week, but I didn't go.
Nowadays, it's all about a music festival called Iceland Airwaves. It's held in downtown Reykjavík and journalists from across the world fly in for it. My band, Jakobinarina, got a rave review from Rolling Stone last year. Since then, we've signed a British record deal and hope to follow in the steps of Sigur Ros and mum. There are lots of bands around, but most of them are utter shite. If you want an exception, try art-core quartet Gavin Portland and rap sensations XXX Rottweiler. But Iceland isn't a musical utopia. It's like anywhere else.
Gunnar Ragnarsson is the lead singer with Jakobinarina.