A site by the German Zeitgeist for everyone who is interested in the Icelandic music scene and for punk and new wave fanatics too:
The Icelandic Rock-Phenomenon 1979 - 1983
When you think of Punk or New Wave you probably do not think of Iceland first. But what made this "hidden place" so special is the fact that many bands of that period created their own sound based on the DIY (Do It Yourself) principles.
The flowering of this rock-szene in Iceland was brief and only lasted from about 1979-1983 but during that period many of the greatest bands emerged of which the true punk an new wave lovers could dream of..
Many of the nowadays well-known and innovative Icelandic artists played in punk and new wave bands before and Björk is one of them.
Some of the most important bands of that era were:
Fræbbblarnir (The Stamen) formed in 1978 were probably the first punkband to arrive on the scene, they played melodic songs fast and raw with a jolly undertone. Their sound was very inspired by the Ramones and the Stranglers.
The 1981 released record "Bjór" (The Beer EP) was the band's statement for the right to drink beer which was prohibited in Iceland at that time.
Utangarðmenn (The Outsiders) was the band of Bubbi Morthens, the man who made this style of rock-music popular in iceland.
Utangarðmenn played rock with influences of reggea music. Bubbi Morthens left the band after the fourth album, and formed a new band called Egó, the other band members continued playing, but under the name of Bodies, which was a tribute to the Utangarðsmenn song "We are the bodies".
Bubbi Morthens' second band Egó was like Utangarðmenn more rock-orientated, their first album "Breyttir Tímar" is one of the most successful albums in the Icelandic music history; it also includes imo one of the best Icelandic rock songs: "Stórir Strákar Fá Raflost".
After her first LP in 1977 Björk was fascinated with punk and began to play in several short-lving punk band's like Spit and Snout and Exodus.
This band with the strange name Tappi Tíkarrass, meaning “Cork the Bitch’s Arse”, was Björk's first record releasing band, they played a quirky style of punkish rock added with elements of funk, disco and jazz. The band's only song in English is called "London" and it's one of their punkiest songs too.
Before The Sugarcubes Einar Örn Benediktsson and Bragi Olafsson played in this punk band. They were Iceland's most active punk band as they released quite a lot in the 17 months of their existence. The band played an excellent blend of spiky riffs and catchy melodies which are accompanied by Einar Örns distincive singing style.
Þeyr (also known as Theyr) where a lot darker and at times more agressive than other bands. They played various styles of music often compared to those of Killing Joke and Joy Division. The band members had a deep interest in wisdom and occultism. Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson acted as an ideological guidance for the band. In 1981 they recorded the music for Brennu-Njálssaga, an early short-film of Iceland's famous film maker Friðrik Þór Friðriksson. In 1982 they even got the chance to record three songs with Killing Joke's frontman Jaz Coleman, which still remain unreleased. After the split of the Band in 1983, some of the band members went on to take part in the Icelandic "Supergroup" KUKL..
Vonbrigði (Disappointment) were besides Þeyr the darkest punk band of the scene; the bandmembers, who were only 13-16 years old at that time, played a distinctive dark style of punk.
The band split in 1985 after releasing two records but in December 2004 they reunited and released a new record called "Eðli annarra", which contained re-workings of their old songs and new recordings as well.
Live @ Reykjavik "Sexy"
Q4U was fronted by the powerful female singer Elly. They started out as a raw punk band in 1980 but evolved into a syntheziser- powered chic-rock that brings to mind Siouxsie & The Banshees and the Electro-clash movement of today.
Baraflokkurinn was a great new wave band from Akureyi, they started as a glam-punk band but soon developed to a eighties pop-band, as far as I know they played all their songs in English.
Grýlurnar (The Witches) were the first Icelandic group exclusively with female members, they played a pop-style kind of new wave. After the split of the band, the singer Ragnhildur Gísladóttir became a member of Stuðmenn, a nowadays successful and well-known band in Iceland.
In the late 70s Þursaflokkurinn were one of the most ambitous progressive rock bands, playing a mix of Icelandic folk music and great progressive rock, which was on its peak at that time. In 1980 they released a live LP called "Á hljómleikum". This band is for both the progressive rock lover and the passionated rock fan. After the split of Þursaflokkurinn some of the band-members formed together with Ragnhildur Gísladóttir (ex-Grýlurnar) the band Stuðmenn.
Well, despite the only song I know of this group "Talandi Höfuð", which is a really great rock song which perfectly captured the atmosphere of that time; I know almost nothing about this group, this one song of them is featured on various compilations; the future KUKL-member Birgir Mogensen played bass in this group, but I don't know if this group did release any official recordings or had other live stuff.
The Experimental Side of Iceland 80s
During the early years of new wave and punk some of the more experimental sounding bands and projects developed in Iceland, whose attention was not to attract the wide audience but to express a certain level of creativity and individually.
Amongst the more experimental projects of Iceland were:
Fan Houtens Kókó
Future KUKL and part-time Sugarcubes member Einar Melax and Þór Eldon Jónsson played in a project called Fan Houtens Kókó, whose sound was very experimental as they played improvised guitar riffs overlayed by distorted voices and sound manipulating effects. To my knowledge Fan Houtens Koko work was only released on cassettes which will make it almost impossible to find any of their stuff today.
Þorsteinn Magnússon, guitarist of the legendary band Þeyr, released his only album "Lif" under his alias Stanya in 1982.
The record has 6 songs but it can be said that there was only one song on each LP side, as there were no intervals added. The two "long-tracks" sound like a Þeyr-Kraftwerk fusion which resultant from dark electronic music added by voice distortion, electric guitar riffs and industrial-sounding drums. Truly a gem.
Well, everything must come to an end someday, so the year 1983 marked the end for so many of the greatest Icelandic Punk and New Wave bands. However, some of the bands do still exist or played at anniversary gigs , such as Fræbbblarnir and Q4U, who both reunited in 1996 for a series of retrospective concerts. While Vonbrigði released a record in December 2004 with new material and re-recorded songs.
"Rebirth" and Second Wave
In 1983 Asmundur Jonsson from Gramm Records wanted to put together an Icelandic "punk-all-stars"-band:
KUKL (Witchcraft) was without any doubt the most experimental and uncompromising band ever came from Iceland, all the bandmembers previously played in early punk bands, namely: Björk Guðmundsdottir (ex-Tappi Tikkarass), Einar Örn Benediktsson (ex-Purrkur Pillnikk), Siggi Baldursson and Guðlaugur Kristinn Ottarsson, both ex-Þeyr, and Birgir Mogensen (ex-Spilafífl).It is very hard to put KUKL's music into words but Björk herself descibed the music as "Hardcore existential punk jazz...energy music!"
A Video performance with the bands KUKL, Tappi Tikarrass and Purrkur Pilnikk
Formed in late 1982, S. H. Draumur, the band of Gunnar L. Hjálmarsson (aka Dr. Gunni) played straight forward punk rock which later evolved into something that was strongly infulenced by "Blues-Rock" as the use of harmonica and cello back ups that impression. S. H. Draumur supported Einstürzende Neubauten at a gig in Reykjavik in 1986. After the split of the band in 1988 Gunnar formed Bless following a similar pattern.
Sogblettir (Kissbite), were active around 1986 to 1988, the band included Björk's halfbrother Arnar Sævarsson (gitar) and Ari Eldon, who's Thor Eldon's brother. They have released two notable records:
The selftitled EP "Sogblettir" (1987), containing three great dark punk songs.
After the relase of that EP the band underwent a change and got a new singer Grétar who replaced Jón kvefpest.
Their second release was a six-song mini-album called "Fyrsti kossinn"(First kiss) in 1988, the album cover had a very strong picutre and might caused a scandal. The music got even darker, a crossover of punk and gothic rock.
Bleiku bastarnir was a band playing in Reykjavik circa 1987-1990, they did quite a few warmups for the Sugarcubes and even had good critics in mags like Rolling Stone, they played what they called punkabilly, quite a lot of blues and rockabilly influenced but also influenced by bands like KUKL Cramps, the Fall, psychedelia etc.
They released a selftitled EP with six songs, another album was planned with the help of HÖH but the sessions did never finish as the band prefered their live sound.