Punk Is Dead But the punks live on
- well most of them anyway
Published in Grapevine, July 2004 www.grapevine.is
For the true punk, self destruction often seems to be the ultimate form of self expression. True punks, it seems, rarely live long. Punk bands that live long are even rarer. Of course, the debate still rages as to what constitutes a true punk. The bands that have subsequently been called punk appeared in the US in the late 60´s, bands such as the Stooges, The Velvet Underground and the MC5 being a very dark undercurrent to the peace and love generation. Punk first became a movement in New York´s CBGB´s music venue, just at the time the old 60´s supergroups were stagnating in a world of cocaine, lightshows and stadiums. Transported to the UK around 1976, punk became a mass movement. Whereas in New York it had been a small group of artists who espoused punk, in Britain it was picked up on by working class kids who through it voiced their anger at an unjust class system. But politics and punk have never made easy bedfellows. The Clash were one of the most political of groups, whereas the Sex Pistols seemed to stand for more general nihilism.
The first Icelandic punks
It took punk a while to come to Iceland. It wasn´t until 1979 that Fræbbblarnir, probably the first Icelandic punk band, began appearing. Hótel Borg, which for a previous generation had been an entertainment hall for the US army, among other things, now became the most exciting live venue in the country. At one of these concerts, a band called Utangarðsmenn opened up for Fræbbblarnir, and immediately became a sensation. Headed by Bubbi Morthens and the Pollock brothers, they were a raw blues rock outfit that, almost by accident, landed at the forefront of the rising movement. In their mid twenties, they were almost a decade older than the punks. Although they became by far the most popular of the new groups, something of a rift developed between their left wing politics and the punks’ nihilism.
By 1982, they had split up into two bands, Ego, fronted by Bubbi, and Bodies, of whom the Pollock brothers were members. Bubbi was the obvious star, and a young director, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson, set about making a documentary about him. But as he got involved in the punk movement, the film expanded to take in all the leading bands.
One of these was Purkkur Pillnik, fronted by Einar Örn Benediktsson, who had been the Utangarðsmenn manager even though only 17 at the time. Another was Tappi Tíkarass, whose singer was a certain Björk Guðmundsdóttir. Probably the most musically accomplished of the groups was Þeyr, who appear in the film in full Nazi regalia, marching outside the president´s home at Bessastaðir. They were close to making it in Britain, but apparently most people didn´t get the joke of their outfits.
On the other end of the scale is Sjálfsfróun, the punk band most true to the spirit of punk, right down to being barely able to play their instruments. Being barely 14 at the time, they sport Mohawks and smash their instruments. Their song Lollipop, as catchy as it is simple, was the first (and in some cases only) song many succeeding punks ever learnt to play.
The punks conquer the world
It is interesting to note that none of the bands in Rokk í Reykjavík, barring reunions, lasted very long. Within two years all of them had disappeared from the scene, many into a haze of drugs. It is interesting to note that here, initially, the punks drug of choice was hash, probably because it was the most easily accessible. Punk in Iceland reeked of hash and fish, giving it a very Icelandic quality. It was perhaps the highpoint of Icelandic music. Whereas the hippies here copied foreign bands and at times made embarrassing attempts to conquer the world, the punk generation eventually succeeded in doing just that. The leading members of the punk scene eventually formed the band The Sugarcubes together, the first Icelandic band to make an impact abroad. Björk then became an international superstar in her own right. The director, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson, went on to win an Oscar nomination and has become probably Iceland´s most esteemed director both here and abroad. Bubbi, the star of the film, failed to become an export product, but he´s certainly made his mark here, being Iceland´s most consistently best selling artist. He´s also a boxing commentator, Idol judge and children´s book author. As for how he´s doing, turn to page 28. But how is everyone else?
Rokk i Reykjavik: Young Björk in Tappi Tíkarrass "Dúkkulísur"