sunnudagur, september 30, 2007
As of July 2007 they have released three albums and a best of compilation. Singapore Sling have supported the Brian Jonestown Massacre on their North American tours and covered Dirty Water a 1966 garage rock hit by The Standells in their debut album. They have also covered The Monks' I Hate You in the 2006 compilation Silver Monk Time: A Tribute to the Monks.
Their Neo-Psychedelia sound has often been compared by the medias to acts such as The Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Raveonettes, BRMC and Serena Maneesh. Although in a tongue-in-cheek the band's frontman Henrik Bjornsson defines it as "a cross between Simon and Garfunkel".
In January 2007, Singapore Sling's frontman Henrik Baldvin Björnsson had declared the band was writing and recording a new album through his Myspace blog. They have performed new numbers during concerts in Europe in 2007.
Despite the band's frontman Henrik Björnsson works in a bar as a bartender, the bands name doesn't come from the Singapore Sling cocktail but from an infamous black and white B movie by Greek director Nikos Nikolaidis.
In a June 2003 interview with VRT Radio 1 (Belgium, Flanders), Henrik Björnsson stated:
“We had a first gig. It was booked and we didn't have a name and I had been looking for a film called "Singapore Sling" for a long time. I couldn't find it anywhere. It sounded cool, so that became the name of the band. It's some kind of dark, perverse Greek film from 1990. I haven't found it yet, so if you know someone who has it, please let me know. I hope it's good. A dark perverse noir film and a guy who has sex with a corpse. And he's called Singapore Sling.”
The movie has been described by most European and American professionals as "disturbing", but director Nikolaidis declared he had been inspired by Greek tragedy, European film noir and Kammerspiel. Main cast includes Greek actor Panos Thanassoulis (as Singapore Sling), French actress Michèle Valley (as the mother) and American actress Meredyth Herold (as the daughter). Despite being forbidden in United Kingdom, it has been premiered in Canada in 1990 and was released in DVD in the United States in 2006.
Singapore Sling was formed in Spring of 2000 in Reykjavík, capital of Iceland with the reunion of Henrik Bjornsson (singer, songwriter, guitarist) and Einar Kristjánsson (lead guitarist). Henrik had some 8-track demos and wanted to create a band, one of these demos was Overdrive that surfaced online in the Iceland Airwaves 2001 official website and that would later become Overdriver, the opening track for the debut LP.
The band evolved to a sextet formation with changing lineups performing at Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavík's main music festival created in 1999, before getting a record deal with the local label Hitt Records (Edda) in 2002.
The lineup was then as such:
Henrik Björnsson: vocals / guitar / keyboard
Einar Kristjánsson: lead guitar
Þorgeir Guðmundsson: bass
Helgi Örn Pétursson: guitar / keyboard
Bjarni Jóhannsson: drums
Sigurður Magnús Finnsson aka Siggi Shaker: tambourine / maracas
Recently the lineup changed, as of July 2007 current members are:
Henrik Björnsson: vocals / guitar / keyboard
Einar Kristjánsson: lead guitar
Hákon Aoalsteinsson: guitar
Bjorn Viktorsson: drums
Sigurður Magnús Finnsson aka Siggi Sniff: tambourine / maracas
Debut album (2002-2003)
Main article: The Curse of Singapore Sling
Singapore Sling released its debut album The Curse of in August 2002, then the band performed at Iceland Airwaves 2002 music festival.
The album has been licensed by New York indie label Stinky Records for a North American release in 2003. Why this record is been released in America is because a guy came here on a festival and then he let some people hear it in America explains Henrik Bjornsson. Einar Kristjansson adds "The whole idea of the Airwaves Festival is like a festival for Icelandic bands to export or be spotted. Iceland is so isolated and they have this festival. Icelandair sponsors it and they give flights and stuff like that to journalists and label people so they can come and see us. The whole festival is sponsored by Icelandair and the government to get Icelandic music to be heard outside of Iceland."
About the record's name Henrik Björnsson explained in a June 2003 interview: "We ran into a lot of obstacles while recording the record. We turned on the lights and the light bulbs would explode. On the first day of recording the tape machine broke down. There were just endless things like that. And then we were depressed one day and Einar checked his bank account. There was 666 krones. And the curse seemed appropriate.
The band toured the United States and Canada in summer 2003.
Second album (2004)
Main article: Life Is Killing My Rock 'N' Roll
Although their home label Edda left the music business and shut its branch Hitt Records, Singapore Sling released their second record Life Is Killing My Rock 'N' Roll in Iceland through Sheptone Records a vinyl records store where Einar works, and in the United States with an American support tour.
The track Curse, Curse, Curse has been picked up by British actors Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman to be featured in the 2004~2005 TV documentary series Long Way Round (LWR). Virgin released the soundtrack CD in 2004.
Third album (2005)
Main article: Taste the Blood of Singapore Sling
Sheptone Records released the third album Taste the Blood of Singapore Sling in 2005. Although it was distributed in Denmark by Reykjavik / Copenhagen based indie label 12 Tónar, it has not been licensed for the United States by Stinky Records yet.
In 2007, German label 8mm Muzik bought the rights for an European release and sold a best of anthology featuring 4 tracks for each one of the two first albums, plus two tracks taken from this third album.
Singapore Sling appeared in the 2005 feature documentary Screaming Masterpiece  which is dedicated to the Icelandic music scene.
In 2006, German label Play Loud! Music released a 2-disc tribute compilation to The Monks. Singapore Sling covered the track I Hate You. All songs were especially recorded for this project between September 2005 and May 2006, they were mastered at Faust Studio by Hans-Joachim Irmler from the Faust.
European Record Release Tour (May 2007)
Main article: The Curse, the Life, the Blood
In May 2007 German label 8mm Musik Ltd managed the European Record Release Tour in support to the release of The Curse, the Life, the Blood, the band's anthology especially dedicated to the European market.
Touring band supporting the release was a quintet including a female bassist called Bibi. European venues were located in Germany, France, Benelux, Denmark, Austria, Italy and Czech Republic.
Fourth album (late 2007)
In May 2007, German label 8mm Muzik announced on its official website that "Singapore Sling are currently working on a new album to be released end of 2007"..
The Curse of (2002)
Life Is Killing My Rock 'N' Roll (2004)
Taste the Blood of (2005)
The Curse, the Life, the Blood (2007)
2002: The Curse of Singapore Sling
2004: Life Is Killing My Rock 'N' Roll
2005: Taste the Blood of Singapore Sling
2007: The Curse, the Life, the Blood
2006: I Hate You - 4:34 (covered from The Monks) on Silver Monk Time: A Tribute to the Monks (CD-pl-02)
2001: Overdrive (8-track) - 4:45 (demo version of Overdriver) hosted in Iceland Airwaves 2001 official website.
1. Official Myspace
2. Singapore Sling's official myspace blog, January 23 2007
3. The Curse of Singapore Sling, Cucamonga, 6 June 2003
4. Singapore Sling (1990) profile in the IMDB
5. The Curse of Singapore Sling, Cucamonga, 6 June 2003
6. Singapore Sling profile on ED Distribution
7. The Curse of Singapore Sling, Cucamonga, 6 June 2003
8. The Curse of Singapore Sling, Cucamonga, 6 June 2003
9. The Curse of Singapore Sling, Cucamonga, 6 June 2003
10. Screaming Masterpiece overview at allmovie guide AMG
11. Silver monk time – a tribute to the monks (Play Loud! Music website)
12. 8mm Musik official website (bands)
When do they ever learn to pronounce the name of their idol/icon properly/correctly?
Go to my blog: http://bjorkgudmundsdottir.blogspot.com
"Americana" by Björn Thoroddsen
Lee Hazlewood in Memoriam @ Organ - 5th of October 2007
Óttarr Proppé, Ólöf Arnalds, Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Megas, Unun, Singapore Sling, Páll Óskar, Magga Stína, dúóið Ellen Kristjánsdóttir og Siggi í Hjálmum.
Last song that Lee worked on was a song by Amiina!
Unun (back together for once !) are going to perform 2 songs (according to Dr. Gunni on his blog http://this.is/drgunni).
"It's oh so quiet"
Learning from scratch
Brúðarbandið is formed on the principle that curiosity is the greatest virtue. We all had at one point or another played an instrument and some of us had even gotten so far as to be in a band. However, when Brúðarbandið first came together we decided that each of us had to play an unfamiliar instrument. They say that ignorance is bliss and we had great fun discovering new things together as was our goal. We usually had a clear idea of what we wanted to do but no idea how those particular sounds were made so we just kept on trying to play that string or bang that drum differently until we had what we wanted. Just being able to make lots of noise was deeply satisfying and being able to drop hints to people that you were in a band also made us feel extremely cool.
Luck is a Lady
Apparantly people around us were enjoying the process too as we had only been rehearshing for 3 weeks when we were asked to play at a friend's birthday party. At that point our repertoire consisted of two original songs only but we managed to bang the third one together before this first gig of ours and performed with great bravado even though our knees were trembling. Next thing we knew we were being asked to perform on Mósaík which is an established Icelandic tv-show that covers culture and related matters. We were thrilled to get to be a part of something like that, not to mention getting to sit in front of lit up mirrors and having pink makeup put on us by professionals, ... oh, so chic! Few days later we got to open for that amazing riotgirlband Harum Scarum. And then everytime we thought that wow, this is as lucky as we.re going to get, oppertunities just kept throwing themselves at us: offers from radio stations, tv-stations, newspapers and magazines, bands asked us to play with them, barowners and promoters craved us. On our first sweet spring we got offered a record deal with 12 Tónar, which a really nice label and an independent record store in Reykjavík. We countered our amazing karma by writing a heap of songs in a very short time and became more confident as gigs went by. Our debut record was released in July 2004 and is called Meira! which is Icelandic for "more!". It has 13 lovely songs and you can check it out here.
The wedding dresses
Yes. That's right! We always perform in wedding dresses and our name can be translated as The Band of Brides. The idea originally was Melkorka's. When we started she was writing a screenplay about a group of girls who play in a band and are dressed as brides. We were supposed to star in the film and thus we needed to aquire the minimal rockstar skills. Ironically, he film was supposed to be about a cruel world and the band's crushed dreams. Now that doesn't really describe us does it? Anyway, the filmproject got abandoned because the real thing was so much more fun and the band, like Frankenstein, claimed it's independence from it's master.
We like our dresses very much and we like being the Band of Brides. There's something inherently naughty about playing punkrock in a dress that is the symbol of a feminin gentleness. But our fondness for the dresses also has lots to do with the fact that they're covered with pearls, lace and things that sparkle. Having a dresscode like this for the whole band also means that we never have to worry what we're going to wear on stage which gives us more time to concentrate on preparing our actual performance.
Very different girls
"There are seven girls out here and they all have different coloured hair!" was what the receptionist at Sir in Nashville yelled out to the guy in the back when we came there to pick up the gear we had rented. But it's not just our hair that's different, our interests and taste in music vary greatly. Brúðarbandið includes an historian, a dramaturg, an anthropology student, a journalist, column writers, two mothers, an artist, kindergarten employee, a receptionist at a car inspection company,... Most of us have lived for extended periodes outside of Iceland, but of course in different countries! We like to think that this diversity only makes us stronger and it is an undisputed fact that our music is indeep a curious mix of influences.
More women rasing hell on stage!
Our manifesto declares that we'd like more women to rule the stage. This is not just some token declaration, we actually think that since only half of mankind feels free to turn them amplifiers on, there must be great rock 'n' roll resources still untapped. Today we obviously only have half the rock 'n' roll we could have had and we want that to change! We want more madness, more noise, more amazing songs to shake our asses to and we want it badly!
We have organised and hosted two events where groups consisting primarly of young women performed. Both nights rocked! We'd like to see women unite around this cause. But as with many passionate matters this is a two edged sword: sometimes it annoys us when the media focuses on our gender. Of course we like the thought of other women, of young girls, reading about us and thinking, hey! I'd like to do this and obviously I can!. But then again when bands are comprised of males their gender is not an issue and journalists never ask them how it feels to be a guy and play in a band.. We tend to solve any frustration resulting from this with either some loud playing or by purifying our minds with distilled liquids. Or both.
The position of Brúðarbandið's drummer is more perilous than bungee jumping. Sunna, our original drummer took a temporary leave in January 2005 as her pregnancy didn't allow her to go with us the USA. Dísa, a charming dreadlocked chica, took her place and worked wonders with us for a few months. Eventually though we wore her out and three weeks before the Roskilde festival her doctor forbade her to play the drums for an uncertain time: she was suffering stress injuries to her shoulder. Our third drummer turned out to be male but he's still very talented and super cute in that wedding dress!
When on our third drummer in the same year, we started to joke that we were the Spinal Tab. Luckily Sunna is coming back to us after Roskilde, allowing us to break this viscious cycle of chewing up drummers and spitting them out.
In august we will open for Sonic Youth when they play in Reykjavík. We are extremely honoured as they chose us from the miriad of icelandic bands who desired that spot. Otherwise our goal for the next months is to focus inwards. We're anxious to work on new material but all the fun travelling has been very time consuming as has training new drummers. A documentary about out USA tour is in the works.
Band of Brides demands more punk! More rock! More women raising hell on stage! More women producing loud noises through amplifiers!
Band of Brides demands men shirts with exceedingly low necklines! Tighter male trousers! More groupies!
Band of Brides demands less bullshit! Band of Brides demands a better government! Band of Brides demands diamonds and pearls! And free drinks at the bar!
Band of Brides opposes the specialization of society! Band of Brides supports people taking charge of their own fate, becoming their own king, their own priest! Band of Brides supports the act of making your own music instead of simply sitting still listening!
Band of Brides demands more love! Band of Brides demands more frequent sunsets, brighter Northern lights and bigger halos! Band of Brides demands that all swimming pools be filled with pink water! Band of Brides demands more weddings for everyone!
Band of Brides demands that the Icelandic public be alert and regain their innocence! Band of Brides is aware that that there is no saviour in waiting! Band of Brides is aware that the emperor is naked! Band of Brides is aware that those who only do what they know spend their life treading the same path! Band of Brides demands the disallowance of import taxes on pink lipstick!
Band of Brides does not have the patience to wait for tomorrow! Band of Brides is already a part of the future! Band of Brides will straight out start with the dessert!
Album Review of Brúðarbandið First CD "Meira!"
Published in Grapevine Issue 6, May 2005 www.grapevine.is
We thought we’d take another listen to Brúðarbandið after being informed that they had recently broke the bank on a tour of the Bible Belt in the US. Everyone wants to like Brúðarbandið: they have seven members who wear wedding dresses, they have an accordion player and they have a manifesto. They also have a song with the refrain “Sid Vicious so delicious.” On most songs, despite the seven members, the music is curiously thin, with commendable punk bass and less commendable snare-heavy drums and a vague guitar presence.
Over the year since its release, I have revisited this album repeatedly trying to figure exactly what goes wrong. The singing is often flat, the lyrics intentionally grating but apolitical, (unless you think a girl saying a boy is cute is political), and the music, despite reaching for obvious hooks, kills any momentum... or will to live. As I said earlier, we want good things for this band. They seem to have the right material: namely, chutzpah. And an accordion. A CD that features seven women in bridal gowns playing punk has to be really really bad for us not to recommend it. This is dangerously close, but we openly acknowledge that Reykjavík is a better town for having this band here. We just hope they release a better cd soon. Please buy the cd so they have the money for studio time. Give it to a friend, what could be a better souvenir?
Worth two beers. Cost three beers.
laugardagur, september 29, 2007
Genre Punk rock/New Wave
Nælur, which in Icelandic means Safety Pins, was a compilation released in 1998 to the Icelandic market through Spor, a local record label. Nælur revives the work of several Icelandic artists from the early to mid eighties when Iceland was being influenced by the Post punk and New Wave music.
This compilation features Utangarðsmenn, a group led by singer Bubbi Morthens playing “Hiroshima”, one of their hits taken from Geislavirkir (1980) and “Where are the Bodies”. Egó, with “Stórir Strákar fá Raflost”, was another group featuring Bubbi and he also appears here with one of his solo songs: “Jón Pönkari”. There is also the presence of Þeyr, one of the most important groups at that time with three tracks: the title song of Life Transmission (1981), "Rúdolf" from Rokk í Reykjavík (1982) and "En..." from Þagað í Hel (1980).
Another important band included is Tappi Tíkarrass, a post-punk/pop group led by singer Björk, and they appear with two tracks: “Iltí Ebni” and "London", both taken from their EP Bítið Fast í Vítið (1982).
Other important bands are Vonbrigði, and Fræbbblarnir among others.
1 Hiroshima 02:38 Utangarðsmenn
2 It's All Planned 02:36 Baraflokkurinn
3 Life Transmission 03:44 Þeyr
4 Iltí Ební 02:20 Tappi Tíkarrass
5 Æskuminning 02:07 Fræbbblarnir
6 Böring 02:32 Q4U
7 Where are the Bodies 04:45 Utangarðsmenn
8 Ó, Reykjavík 02:32 Vonbrigði
9 Jón Pönkari 02:31 Bubbi Morthens
10 Talandi Höfuð 03.05 Spilafífl
11 Rúdolf 02:52 Þeyr
12 Matter of Time 04:36 Baraflokkurinn
13 Stórir Strákar fá Raflost 02:53 Egó
14 Jón var Kræfur Karl og Hraustu ... 03:02 Þursaflokkurinn
15 Bjór 02:16 Fræbbblarnir
16 London 02:10 Tappi Tíkarrass
17 Fljúgum Hærra 03:51 Grýlurnar
18 En... 04:50 Þeyr
Utangarsðmenn: Bubbi Morthens - vocals. Michael D. Pollock - guitar. Daniel Pollock - guitar. Magnús Stefánsson - drums. Rúnar Erlingsson - bass.
Songs: “Hiroshima”, taken from Geislavirkir (1980). “Where are the Bodies?”, taken from 45 RPM (1981).
Baraflokkurinn: Ásgeir Jónsson - vocals. Þór Freysson - guitar. Jón Arnar Freysson - keyboards. Baldvin H. Sigurðsson - bass. Árni Henriksen - drums.
Songs: “It’s All Planned”, taken from Baraflokkurinn (1981). “Matter of Time”, taken from Gas (1983).
Þeyr: Magnús Guðmundsson - vocals. Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson - guitar. Þorsteinn Magnússon - guitar. Hilmar Örn Agnarsson - bass. Sigtryggur Baldursson - drums.
Songs: “Life Transmission”, taken from Útfrymi (1981). “Rúdolf”, taken from Rokk í Reykjavík (1982). “En…”, taken from Þagað í Hel (1980) featuring only Jóhannes Helgason in guitar.
Tappi Tíkarrass: Björk Guðmundsdóttir - vocals. Eyjólfur Jóhansson - guitar. Jakob Smári Magnússon - bass. Guðmundur Þór Gunnarsson.
Songs: “Ilty Ebni” and “London” both taken from Bítið Fast í Vítið (1982).
Fræbbblarnir: Valgarður Guðjónsson - vocals. Stefán K. Guðjónsson - drums. Steinþór Stefánsson - bass. Tryggvi Þór Tryggvason - guitar. Kristinn Steingrímsson - guitar.
Songs: “Æskuminning”, taken from Viltu Nammi Væna? (1980). “Bjór”, taken from Bjór (1981).
Q4U: Elínborg Halldórsdóttir - vocals. Gunnþór Sigurðsson - bass. Danny Pollock - guitar. Árni Daníel Júliusson - drum machine and keyboards.
Song: “Böring”, taken from Q1 (1983).
Vonbrigði: Jóhann Vilhjámsson - vocals. Gunnar Ellertsson - bass. Árni Kristjánsson - guitar. Þórarinn Kristjánsson - drums.
Song: “Ó Reykjavík”, taken from Rokk í Reykjavík (1982).
Song: “Jón Pönkari”, taken from Ísbjarnarblús (1980).
Spilafífl: Sævar Sverrisson - vocals. Birgir Mogensen - bass. Örn Hjálmarsson - guitar. Halldór Lárusson - drums.
Song: “Talandi Höfuð”, taken from Rokk í Reykjavík (1982).
Egó: Bubbi Morthens - vocals. Bergþór Morthens - guitar. Þorleifur Guðjónsson - bass. Ragnar Sigurðsson - guitar. Magnús Stefánsson - drums.
Song: “Stórir Strákar fá Raflost”, taken from Breyttir Tímar (1982).
Þursaflokkurinn: Egill Ólafsson - keyboards, vocals. Þórður Árnason - guitar. Tómas Magnús Tómasson - bass. Ásgeir Óskarsson - drums. Julíus Agnarsson - Mix.
Song: “Jón var Kræfur Karl og Hraustu ...”, taken from Á Hljómleikum (1980).
Grýlurnar: Ragnhildur Gísladóttir - vocals. Inga Rún Pálmadóttir - guitar. Linda Björk Hreiðarsdóttir - drums. Herdís Hallvarðsdóttir - bass.
Song: “Fljúgum Hærra”, taken from Fljúgum Hærra (1981).
Song selection and publication supervisors: Eiður Arnarsson and Arnar Matthíasson
Cover design: Ísleifur B. Þórhallsson
Text: Arnar Matthíasson
Published in Grapevine Magazine, July 2004 www.grapevine.is
Rokk í Reykjavík band: Bodies
Best known for: Having fistfights with his brother on stage when the latter tried to trash guitars
Danny Pollock was around from the beginning of Icelandic Punk, guitarist for Utangarðsmenn, the biggest band on the scene, and then Bodies, the band that appeared in Rokk í Reykjavík.
“When we were in Utangarðsmenn we went to the manager of Hótel Borg and asked if we could play on Thursday nights as there was nothing happening then. We advertised and 800 people showed up...that got the ball rolling right there. Me and Einar Örn went out and found all these garage bands to play with us.”
How would you explain the popularity the movement here had, whereas in America for instance punk was a very marginal movement?
“Mostly because of it’s size. I mean if you fart in this corner over here they’re gonna smell it over there. It had a tremendous impact on the society. What we sang about began to be discussed in the newspapers and analyzed in the University.” Mike Pollock, Danny’s brother and fellow guitarist, is still a working musician. Maggi, Bodies drummer has recently joined up with a newly formed Ego and has also found God and has been working with the church. Danny has dedicated his life to rock and roll and is currently running a rehearsal space for bands located in an old fish factory.
Current profession: Rehearsal space manager
Interview with Michael Dean Odinn Pollock
Viking Hillbilly Musician Poet Michael Dean Odinn Pollock has lived in Iceland for the past 28 years. That's where his Mother is from. He performs solo, with his brother Danny, as The Pollock Brothers, and with Iceland's greatest living poet Megas. Michael is the author of the chapbooks Bohemian in Babylon and The Martial Art of Pagan Diaries, both published in Iceland, and a new book, No Shortcut to Paradise, published in the USA by Wasteland Press. Michael Dean says "the best place to hide is in the open" and true to form he is boyishly wide open about everything, which is part of his charm. He goes on to say "I am a several thousand year old child. This carnation?
A lesbian trapped in a man's body. I am more about emotion, touch, passion, intuition, intimacy rather than cocksman, gunman, rocketman. As an artist, shaman, unholy/holy scribe I naturally gravitate to the feminine aspect and respect it while, all the while keeping my yin firmly placed in my yang!"
Michael Dean began writing poetry at age ten but soon after, when his teacher gave him a copy of Silver Pennies, the same book that inspired Patti Smith, as a young girl, to write, his love affair with poetry took off. He reached another epiphany when he saw a picture of Rimbaud. He was taken in and swept away by Arthur Rimbaud's poetry. Not feeling accepted by his high school peers he attributes Rimbaud's influence for making him feel more at ease with himself. Discovering Rimbaud changed his life forever and he says "Bob Dylan's 'Blonde on Blonde' was inspired by Rimbaud and Baudelaire who were, metaphorically, one person strapped on to Dylan's electric guitar." Michael preferred to listen to poetry rather than read it.
Michael Pollock was born in California on an Air Force base and was influenced musically by his Father's side of the family. They were from Kentucky. Michael heard a lot of hillbilly music, what he calls "the white man's blues," before he heard Elvis. He says "seeing Elvis perform, for the first time, was comparable to having a religious experience" and that impact moved him into the direction of music.
After seeing the film A Hard Day's Night "at least 24 times" John Lennon became Michael's next big influence. Captivated by Lennon's intelligence and cynicism he picked up the guitar and taught himself to play. He says "music and poetry saved my life" and that "I learned lessons the hard way. By going over my limits I learned my limits."
The next turning point was in 1989 when Michael went to study at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at The Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He studied with Alice Notley, Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. It was at Naropa that Michael had a sense that the torch was being passed to him. And that it was his obligation to light other torches as well. He believes "artists should inspire each other, and others, to create." He was inspired by Burroughs who commented to him "no such thing as a genius, but some people open themselves up to genius."
In 1998 Michael met Ron Whitehead at The Allen Ginsberg Central Park New York City Tribute. Like two long lost brothers finding each other, even sharing the same birthday, they became steadfast friends. They've been working together ever since. They recently collaborated on their first CD, From Iceland to Kentucky and Beyond." Whitehead says "Icelandic poet and musician Michael Pollock's electric words and songs leap off the stage of the page and kick start the heart of the listener. He is passionate compassionate punk saint of the global literary renaissance."
Michael Dean played with and recorded with Utangardsmenn, Outsiders, for 18 months but soon decided he was not interested in the Rock n Roll business. This in spite of the fact that Utangardsmenn, Outsiders, were recently named "Best Icelandic Rock Band of The 20th Century." Michael chose the bands name from British writer Colin Wilson's book The Outsiders.
But he had enough. He continues to write and play music on his own, with The Pollock Brothers, Megas, and to preserve the oral traditions of Kentucky and Iceland. He sees himself as a creative warrior and has a benevolent need to infiltrate the soulless airwaves with soul. He ends our interview by saying "everything is a gift, one breath, one step at a time."
by Michael Dean Odinn Pollock
Out on the desert
I been here for days
I've lost my compass
I'm in a daze
I feel like I'm in
the twilight Zone
can't even remember
if i have a Home
Have I lost my senses.......out Here?
Can I trust my senses.......out Here?
Only the strong survive
when the river runs dry
I dig in the sand
bone in hand
I see an ocean
on the Horizon
Is it me
or just a mirage?
Have i lost my senses.......out Here?
Can i trust my senses.......out Here?
YouTube Video @ LIPS 2001 Afterparty
Interview with M. Pollock
A punk rock guitarist grows up
Grapevine Magazine, June 2004 www.grapevine.is
The week after another great American punk guitarist, journeyman and soloist, Robert Quine, dies of heroin, I am told that Iceland’s great punk guitarist is in town. Michael Pollock’s vague reputation as… as a man who’s done a lot of drugs preceded him. In fact, Icelanders warned me that he may not be able to form coherent sentences.
They would have been surprised that I found Michael Pollock, guitarist for Utangarðsmenn and returning solo artist, at the city library. We talked briefly and agreed to conduct an interview at the Dubliner over a beer. One beer.
Punk rock pro´s don´t drink
“It’s great to speak in English. Icelandic really isn’t my native tongue,” Pollock tells me as soon as I sit down.
He doesn’t have the Ozzy Osbourne stutter I was expecting. He doesn’t smell of booze, or lack attention span. He is clean cut to a degree only a fifty year old man can get away with - hair impossibly short and gelled at the same time. He speaks English with a slight suburban California grate to his accent.
I can’t help myself. I ask him how comfortable he is with the bar, with an afternoon beer. You expect a fifty year old punk rocker to drink a lot or be 12-step.
“I drink a glass of wine a day. My profession doesn’t allow heavy drinking.”
But a good punk rocker has to have a history, right? I haven’t even heard stories about this man, people just shake their heads. I ask him how he got his reputation.
“One of Icelander’s favorite hobbies is gossiping. If they can’t find anything, they’ll make it up.”
He gives a brief laugh. “I did go out when I was younger. But you grow up.”
Pollock stands to take a break from the interview. He goes to the bar, orders a pack of cigarettes and asks to borrow the 700 krónur from me.
The greatest troubadour in Iceland
Pollock has a tendency to launch into exhaustive speeches instead of straightforward responses. He does not throw up at the table, shout obscenities, disappear to the john and return with dilated pupils. He is the great anomaly, a punk rock guitarist who has grown up.
We talk briefly about Megas, “the greatest troubadour in Iceland,” Pollock states. Pollock hopes to introduce Megas’ works to the rest of the world in English translations.
Then we get to the duty of the interview, to talk about his new CD's.
“I always enjoyed just being an accompanist, never a solo artist. But last year I was turning fifty. A friend started pushing me… and I decided to make a CD that touched base with every kind of music that has influenced me as I’ve gone through life.”
He goes on. Not to describe chords or influences, but to describe life in the way healthy fifty year old men tend to do in Irish pubs. “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad,” he states. I nod.
“Good music is honest as it is straight from the heart, passionate.”
Fifteen minutes later he’s still talking about honest music. He by now has mentioned that art “got divorced from the tribal community.”
He looks down at my notebook over his cigarette to make sure I jot this down correctly.
“Anybody can be clever.”
Another speech follows about great music and the Garden of Eden. More about being real and being honest. An attack on the publishing industry. An attack on the music industry. A slight to Britney Spears.
“Nothing is to be taken for granted. I could go in a minute. Heart attack on the table,” he says.
No, that is not possible. Michael Pollock won’t be going in a minute. He has been speaking for an hour, and he is every bit as full of energy as he was the second I came in. He could go on for hours.
He gives his manifesto: “Too many writers are too clever. Anybody can be clever, very few people dare to be real.”
Whatever complaints might be made against Pollock, he lives by this credo. Every word he speaks he believes. In his music and in his live performances, unguarded honesty can make up for a lot.
Confessions of an Art-Terrorist, Part II
Sveinn Birkir Björnsson
Published in Grapevine Magazine Issue 15, September 2007
Few Icelandic musicians remain as active as former Þeyr, KUKL and Sugarcubes drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson. Last issue, Sigtryggur talked a Grapevine journalist through his career up to and including the Sugarcubes.
This week, we find out what happened after the Sugarcubes disbanded.
I remember being in Austria as a small kid, probably in 1988, and I saw the cover of the album Birthday by the Sugarcubes in a storefront window in Vienna. For me it was probably the first manifestation that someone from Iceland could actually become world famous, and that you [The Sugarcubes] had probably done it. It was a strange feeling It was for us as well. Very surrealistic. But still, we were such a strong group, and we had our own philosophy, which helped us a lot. We were pretty determined when it came to negotiating with companies; obviously we were working with a very good man in England, Derek Birkett [founder, One Little Indian], who had similar ethics when it came to negotiating with major labels and distribution companies: just take them as far as you can. The tougher you are in negotiations, the more they will respect you. So, we were able to negotiate for creative control over our work, which was uncommon in those days. We could just make music the way we wanted. Obviously, the pressure on us was subliminal, and eventually it all became a game between the record industry and us. There is always the pressure to take it to the next level, that the next record should sell more than the previous one, all that bullshit. Suddenly we found ourselves listening to lectures on marketing in America, which we had no interest in. This was all pretty surreal. But we tried to laugh it up, for a long time. The cleverness of what we decided could probably be debated in some cases, obviously we learned a lot. This industry is based on advances. You get an advance on your publishing; you get an advance from the label to make your next album, and so on. You better not take that money and spend it on houses and cars, cause then you have no money to make the record. But we didn’t necessarily realise that, so when we quit we didn’t have a god damn cent. That was a lesson.
The Sugarcubes disbanded in 1992, shortly after the release of Stick Around For Joy, but since then you have kept quite busy. I would almost go so far to say that two musicians could hardly come together with out you joining them on drums.
Heh, well, it is not that serious. I’ve been a part of many projects. Most notably probably is this crooner, the Bogomil Font character that I have maintained. He is a lounge lizard, and a mambo dude. It started as a joke really. It was a part of the art-terrorism concept surrounding Bad Taste Ltd.. Probably the last art-terrorism project we did was Kormákur B’s Jazz Band, which was intended to be a 14-15 people jazz band that knew nothing about playing jazz. It was made out of rock musicians around our own label [Bad Taste] but it was more like a theatre, so every one dressed up in fine clothing and played their own character and then we went on stage and absolutely slaughtered these famous jazz songs. But it was still sort of charming, beautiful kind of ugly really. This was an idea from [former Sugarcubes bass player] Bragi Ólafsson actually, and it was a lot of fun, probably the last big project we did as a group together. Anyway, the concept was that you gather a lot of interesting people and each one of them gets to create their own character to play, then we rehearse some songs, only not too much, and eventually we would play these large dance halls like Hótel Borg. That’s when Bogomil Font came about He was this crooner, with a huge Bulgarian moustache. Later, after the Sugarcubes disbanded, I was broke and needed money, so I thought I would form a small pub-band with some friends. First, I asked Bragi Ólafsson if we should put together a mini-version of Kormákur B’s Jazz Band so we could afford some food. He told me he had given up on music and had decided to become a writer instead. But he told me to gather some people who knew how to play and create a mambo band, which I did, more as a joke really. But then it became a runaway hit in 1992. I had never intended to be a ball king in Iceland, so when my wife told me she wanted to go study in the US in ’93, I was just pleased to leave this behind. But since then, I have always tried to joke a little with this theatrical character Bogomil, and I revive him every now and then to earn me some money, although it has nothing to do with creative integrity when it comes to music. Obviously, he only sings cover version, jazz and mambo, something that is just fun to croon. But the strange twist is that people always want to pay money to listen to him, but when I try to do something creative, like [percussion duo] Steintryggur, that is an uphill battle all the way. But luckily, I still have a humour for this.
So, again, like the Sugarcubes, this starts out as an art-terrorism project, that becomes hugely successful.
So, is it entirely possible for you to be a successful art-terrorist?
No, you just have to keep the teeth sharp. It helped me a lot when the band Flís approached Bogomil to do a calypso record with them. That allowed me to revive this concept with him, to do a calypso record with sharp, straight cutting lyrics. I was getting a little tired of being stuck in this family entertainer role. Even if I had humour for it, and it created money, it still needs a blood transfusion every now and then to stay fun. The record Bogomil made with Flís is a cross-over. I am not singing Fly Me To The Moon anymore. We wrote our own lyrics, and that changed the whole concept. It became a bit political, calypso music is so much fun, it is very jolly music, but it always has this political undercurrent and very sharp lyrics. That’s where I found a new path for Bogomil, and was able to do something that I felt mattered. I was able to reconnect him with myself when I started writing lyrics for him.
So are you more willing to be accepted as a political musician then you were before?
Yes, I am doing this consciously now. When I was in KUKL, I never expressed myself much politically. My politics was more on a personal level. I was trying to create revolutionary music. That was my politics back then. Now I am not trying to create political music, with [Bogomil Font], but I regard Steintryggur, Parabola, and these other projects as an extension of what I was doing in KUKL. I am trying to create music that I don’t hear anywhere else. Something that is unique to me, which is something I believe every creative artist tries to do, to create something they think matters, something that is an original creation. This sounds very formal, but I think that it is still true. But you’ve been a part of many different projects lately, apart from Bogomil, Parabola, and Steintryggur? Yes, I enjoy playing with young musicians. I have been playing with Sammi’s Big Band; Ben Frost, a very avant-garde musician; and Pétur Ben. These are all different things, but I have such a wide musical palette, I enjoy the variation, I need to stay busy with many different things.
Do young musicians seek advice from your experience?
I try not to give much advice. I am not sure I am the right person for that. But I enjoy working with young musicians and I am very happy to have had that opportunity. Usually they have come to me, but if you are open and seek out new things in what you are doing, that will happen. I’ve been lucky in that aspect. But I have no grand master plan at work. I just try to stay open to new things and to keep busy. I am very happy with my career, and I think it has been very colourful and varied. I read somewhere that you were a part of a project with [Type O Negative frontman] Peter Steele, something called Icelandic Ancestry?
Did you see this on Wikipedia?
I have seen this on Wikipedia also, and I have no idea what this is. I found some guy on Wikipedia called Peter Steele and I have no idea who he is. I have been associated with many projects on the web that I have no idea what it is. But I have a likely explanation. When I lived in the US, when my wife was studying there, I was working in some studios there. One of the things I did was to release three CDs with beats. I know that people have used the beats from these CDs in their music, but this was sold as copyrighted material and used with loop programs like Acid. I have found people that have credited me as a drummer in their projects when they have used these CDs. Maybe they knew who I was, or enjoyed the Sugarcubes or something. But even if they use my beats, that is not the same thing. I was also working as a session player in a studio called Smart, which is owned by Butch Vig. I recorded albums with many musicians there. That’s how I think I became associated with these different projects.
Since we are on US turf, it is probably best to ask you about a consistent rumour that you were offered a position as a drummer in Pearl Jam.
I knew Eddie Vedder before he was a rock star (Eddie Vedder roadied for the Sugarcubes), and I met him again after he became a rock star when we played a festival with them. He had changed a bit; he became a very artsy reclusive type, instead of the happy bouncy kid he used to be. This is just when they are becoming famous, back in ’92. He was already into that part he plays with Pearl Jam, the serious worried type, a character that he has cultivated very well. But they had some problems with drummers in the beginning. Dave Abbruzzese played with them on the first album, but quit the band in ’94 or ’95. At that point, they were looking for a drummer, and I get a call from their agent’s office and some woman tells me that Eddie had mentioned me as a possible replacement and asked if I was interested in auditioning. But I knew Eddie, and I thought this was just so much bullshit, so I told her I was ready to audition and said she could tell Eddie to call me himself if he wanted me to come in. But he was very sheltered, and kind of paranoid, so I never expected him to call me. Which he never did, this was just hyperbole. This is probably just as good. I am not sure I would have fit into that group, I mean, they were playing grunge music, I would have had to get an all-new wardrobe.
föstudagur, september 28, 2007
UK release date 15 October 2007
The Track listing
1. Empire Fall
3. Deep Blue
5. Change My Name
6. Return To Me
7. Queen Of Solitude
8. Secret Landscape
10. Still Water
11. Stone Heart
Sometimes, simple as it may seem to deliver, a hack wishes in vain for a press release that doesn't promise the earth. A press release that manages expectations rather than launching into a fantasy land of half-truths that you just know will be completely impossible to deliver.
In other words, a press release which, rather than claiming that Eliza Newman has "sparkling melodies calling up the barren and heartbreaking delivery of '60s songstress Nico", explains honestly that she is offering us decent but essentially unspectacular Scandinavian pop of a type not too far away from The Sugarcubes or The Cardigans?
Admittedly, more people have probably heard of The Velvet Underground than The Cardigans but (a) it would be closer to the truth and (b) the fantasy does Eliza a terrible disservice in that Nico - uber cool and chiselled of cheekbone as she was - couldn't actually sing, whereas Eliza can.
Former singer with Bellatrix and Skandanavia, she has spent much of the time since Bellatrix's 15 minutes of fame at the turn of the century studying opera in London, but what Empire's Fall really reminds you is that Newman and her Bellatrix cohorts were the darlings of the indie press at just the same time, moments before The Strokes and The Libertines would emerge from the wilderness, when we really did think Coldplay were the best thing since sliced bread.
A lot has changed since then. A plethora of latter day mope rockers from Keane to Athlete have shown us that turning the piano up to 11 and sounding miserable isn't automatically a good thing, while Sigur Rós and Amiina have shown us what glacial musical landscapes can really be inspired by living further north than Alaska. Eliza's addition to the genre can't really compete anymore, even on songs such as Return To Me, which is the album's strongest, or the haunting closer Stone Heart.
Empire's Fall also suffers from being too disjointed. There's post punk bass lines on the title track, Hjartagull and Island, tinkling indie la-la pop on Diamond and Secret Landscape, and post rock on Deep Blue and Return to Me. The latter in particular is waiting for a polar bear in need of a soundtrack. And okay, for a few bars at the beginning, Queen Of Solitude does sound a little bit like Venus In Furs, but not for long enough.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the music, but it's all a bit old hat, tipping here and here into death metal riffs, here and there into ambient chill out. In the end, it leaves you not entirely sure whether or not it was actually any good. It probably is, evidenced by the way it grows on repeated listenings, but it would have been nice not to have had to make so much effort.
Reykjavik Grapevine Magazine - Album Review. www.grapevine.is
Having travelled on one of Europe’s most celebrated musical journeys spanning 15 years, fronting three acclaimed bands, and perhaps best known as former lead singer of Icelandic rock band Bellatrix, Elíza Newman now launches her debut solo offering ‘Empire Fall’ (Lavaland Records, 15 October).
‘Empire Fall’ written and arranged by Elíza, echoes haunting vocals, which lead to sparkling melodies calling up the barren and heartbreaking delivery of 60s songstress Nico, punctuated by power pop reminiscent of Debbie Harry’s Blondie; all the while exploring themes of troubling relationships, the status of independence and female strength, not unlike the work of another major influence, Kate Bush.
Lead track ‘Empire Fall’ is a feisty statement of intent, showing how easily Elíza is able to take command of her vocal delivery. ‘Change My Name’ is a fine example of the melodies and driving basslines Elíza is able to produce and deliver with strength. By contrast, ‘Return to Me’ is subtle and fragile to the point of desolation, conveyed in a way that only someone with the depth of talent as Elíza can.
Elíza was just sweet-sixteen when she formed the all-girl punk rock outfit Kolrassa Krókríðandi/Bellatrix. The four teens released four albums on Björk’s Bad Taste label and in the process earned the tag of hottest female band to come out of Iceland; as well as signing to Fierce Panda for the release of their fourth album , and a co-headlining UK tour with Coldplay. Kerrang! described Elíza as being a ‘spectacular vocal talent!’, while NME praised her as a ‘exhilarating, unhinged, untutored rough pop Diamond’. The media focus was unrelenting, and after headlining the Carling Stage at the Reading Festival 2000, Elíza took time out to further her musical armoury and embark on an intense course of study in operatic arts in London. Eventually finding herself wanting to connect both worlds and ‘create something epic’ Elíza formed her third band – Skandinavia. Tagged by many as being reminiscent of The Breeders and early Flaming Lips, Skandinavia picked up where Bellatrix had left off, receiving major critical acclaim.
The first single Change my name will be released November 5th on digital download and a tour of Britain will follow . Dates to be announced soon.
Elíza has spent the past four years weaving her amazing journey into a representative body of work, presented on ‘Empire Fall’, set to be one of the breakthrough albums of the year.
Elíza has arrived, again...
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.
fimmtudagur, september 27, 2007
Guardian Unlimited August 9, 2007
Just watch out for the low-flying noise ... Jakobinarina
Hometown: Hafnarfjordur, Iceland.
The lineup: Ágúst Fannar Ásgeirsson (keyboards), Björgvin Ingi Pétursson (bass), Gunnar Bergmann (vocals), Hallberg Dadi Hallbergsson (guitar, backing vocals), Heimir Gestur Valdimarsson (guitar), Sigurdur Möller Sívertsen (drums).
The background: All hail the new teen punk revolution! From the home of puffins and alien-techno queens! Jakobinarina are Iceland's finest contribution to pop culture since Björk apologised to the British press for being late with the immortal words, "Sorry, I've been shitting." Jakobinarina are six Reykjavikishly rakish garage-hands, surf dudes and punk pranksters whose ramalama guitar anthems with the sardonically angry vocals belie the rapier intelligence of their lyrics, which mainly comment on consumerism, the brainwashing effects of advertising, the generally fucked-up nature of modern society and how everyone apart from them - and Chris Tarrant, allegedly - is having sex. The overall impression from their wryly withering assaults is that being young and penniless is no better or worse amid the breathtaking frozen tundras of the north than it is anywhere else on earth. Aurora Borealis? Same to you with brass knobs on.
The titles of the dozen tracks on their forthcoming debut album The First Crusade are actually better than the music: Monday I'm In Vain, His Lyrics Are Disastrous, (I've Got A Date With) My Television, This Is An Advertisement, Nice Guys Don't Play Good Music. No wonder lead singer Ragnarsson, with his journalistic eye for a good neon banner headline, was invited recently to write an article for the Observer about the Icelandic alt.music scene. "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?" he wrote, tongue firmly in 18-year-old-cheek. "I was only three when the Sugarcubes 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." Touché.
Jakobinarina claim to love the Wu-Tang Clan, the Velvet Underground, Kraftwerk and Justin Timberlake but they sound more like the Fall in a clinch with the Wedding Present, if you can stomach the unappetising image of Messrs Gedge and Smith making whoopee. They formed at school aged 14, out of the ashes of heads-down, no-nonsense punk loonies Lufthansa. It was at the South-By-South West festival that the band gained the attention of Rough Trade, who in the summer of 2006 released their first EP, His Lyrics Are Disastrous, recorded with Sigur Ros producer Ken Thomas. Dates in Britain followed with Love Is All and Brian Johnstown Massacre, during which gig-goers either fell for or fell foul of the band's coruscating guitars and paint-stripping vocals. Pro-Jako flag-wavers included the Klaxons and Simian Mobile Disco. After one triumphant show in early 2007, the band were picked up by Parlophone, and recorded their debut album with producer Stan Kybert and engineer Mike (Arctic Monkeys) Crossey. Now you, too, can marvel at the wit and wisdom of Jakobinarina. Just watch out for the low-flying noise.
The buzz: "It's irritating, it's whiney, it's bloody annoying, to be quite honest. But honesty is the intention."
The truth: They've got a Moz-ish eye for a pithy couplet, if not Marr's ear for a poignant melody. Most likely to: Carve out six separate careers as newspaper sub-editors.
Least likely to: Work for the Icelandic Tourist Board.
File next to: the Fall, the Wedding Present, Bogshed, the Ramones.
What to buy: His Lyrics Are Disastrous is re-released by Regal on September 24, with The First Crusade to follow on October 1.
Band members were on
Vocals: Magnús Guðmundsson
Guitars: Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson & Þorsteinn Magnússon
Bass: Hilmar Örn Agnarsson
Drums: Sigtryggur Baldursson
In 1982 Þeyr did a TV performance that has been considered as their first and unique clip. This hilarious video shows the band playing on the set accompanied by red-colored war footage that is intended to highlight the lyrics of the song. Magnús Guðmundsson, the vocalist appeared wearing make up and a cap, while bassist Hilmar Ö. Agnarsson is twisting around out of control. Guitarist Guðlaugur K. Óttarsson was frenziedly dancing at left of screen wearing a nightgown, while the other guitarist, Þorsteinn Magnússon was absent and replaced with a dummy. Drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson appeared in the back.
"Rudolf" (in movie Rokk i Reykjavik, 1982)
"Killer boogie" (in movie Rokk i Reykjavik, 1982)
miðvikudagur, september 26, 2007
Director was Ragnar Agnarson; Dop. by Bergsteinn "Besti" Björgúlfsson & the Editor was Guðni Halldórsson (www.sagafilm.is)
Producer was Magnús Viðar
"Just a little bit"
þriðjudagur, september 25, 2007
THE BIRTHPLACE OF ROCK, PUNK AND SNOBBERY
Published in Grapevine, April 2005 www.grapevine.is
Would you believe the cheapest way to spend a night at Hótel Borg is as dear as renting a student’s room in downtown Reykjavík for half a month? Unless you sneak into the hotel and change lifts every other minute to escape the bouncers, that is. But while Hótel Borg has always been an elitist upmarket place since its opening in 1930, it has also hosted Iceland’s first musical revolution – a fact not quite as paradoxical as it may seem.
Originally, only the most elite hotel in Iceland could afford a good band. “In the beginning, most of the in-house bands hired by the hotels were Danish and later English, because there were no professional Icelandic musicians”, says drummer Guðmundur Steingrímsson, who played with many bands and singers including Bubbi’s uncle, the first 50s pop-star Haukur Morthens. “Before World War II people had to go abroad to receive a professional musical education, as there were no such facilities in Iceland at that time.”
The situation changed totally with the arrival of the American army and the following economic boom. “Being a musician was suddenly a regular job. The bands played at the airbase, at schools and at Hótel Borg, and could make a living of it”, explains journalist Árni Matthíasson. Prior to that, the whole nation consisted of farmers who traded goods in order to survive, and of the small upper class. When the army came, people were paid in money for the first time, and an affluent middle class evolved. “All of a sudden”, says Árni, “we stepped from the past into the present.”
Too Stinky to Dance
But the present did not only bring prosperity, it also introduced snobbishness and discrimination. People from the countryside were not admitted to the dances at Hótel Borg on grounds of their attested simpleness, poor financial situation - and because “they simply smelled bad!” Árni pins it down. While “the past” was excluded, “the future” was experiencing a revolution not only in terms of rock music, which had been imported by the Americans and soon spread like wildfire among Icelandic musicians, but also in terms of professionalism.
After imbibing foreign influences for decades, it was now Iceland’s turn to export their musical elite. A jazzgroup called KK Sextett (with Guðmundur on drums) was the first Icelandic band to go abroad in 1954. “For our gigs abroad, we would either translate our lyrics into English, or, if possible, in the respective language of that country”, says Guðmundur. “Sometimes, new songs would be written in Danish or German.”
More and more bands began to consider the Icelandic market merely as a stepping stone for international success. Instead of addressing the national audience, they sang in English about things that English-speaking bands would sing about, dressed like them and thus alienated their Icelandic followers. With the conversion from dried fish to baked beans, the musical activity at Hótel Borg declined in the 60s. The opening of places like Glaumbar and Thórscafé and the coming of the discotheque in the 70s made things worse. The lure of the new was to celebrate its victory... but for how long?
Disco to Punk Under Chandeliers
As people from the countryside were still forbidden to enter Hótel Borg in the 70s, “the place opened up for city and university people. So the audience was already there when bands started to reclaim the stage”, says popologist Dr. Gunni. However, when Fræbbblarnir, one of Iceland’s first punk bands, played at the hotel in the early 80s, they were confronted with an almost hostile crowd, as Valgarður, the singer, explains: “The hostility was due to people being used to disco and other mainstream music, but what was acceptable soon changed and the punk movement took over.”
While Fræbbblarnir were rather unconcerned about political correctness, many of the bands had a very political, and, as Árni argues, nationalistic touch. “The first song on Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s classic documentary Rokk í Reykjavík (which was mainly shot at Hótel Borg) is self-explanatorily called Ó Reykjavík!. The songs were mostly in Icelandic and dealt with working in the fish processing factories, hanging out at Hlemmur, et cetera.” Valgarður, on the other hand, dismisses this argument as an oversimplification and distortion of a great era and points out that bands like Fræbbblarnir, Q4U, Purrkur Pillnik and Þeyr certainly did not reduce their music to “what-a simple-life-we-are-leading” flatness.
Hótel Borg thus regained its status as an intellectual rock-club, “it even had a ying-and-yang-meaning for the crowd”, says Dr. Gunni. But while he remembers the ying, his memories of the yang are somewhat blurred... “I just remember standing in the line outside in the cold for hours. I don’t have any clear memories of the place, but I suppose I was just doing the things all Icelanders do – maybe drink a double vodka and coke or martini bianco, as there was no beer back then.”
Despite all this rock’n’roll, the Icelandic punk scene was not as unified as the British scene that was its predecessor. According to Valgarður, “We just played concerts without setting conditions – everybody in the scene was different, and this built up a special spirit.”
From the beginning there had been a few bands that were not really into punk, and this openness towards other kinds of music slowly triggered a change which went hand in hand with the decline of the punk movement. “When the punk/ New Wave movement started to fade, the same happened to Hótel Borg. It was the club you went to play at in 83, 84, 85. After that, there were other venues.”
Dyslexic Crooks and the Decline
For example a club originally called Safari, which changed its name almost every month, along with the owner’s kennitala, to escape tax payments. As the club turned into Zafari into Casablanca into Roxy into Rocxy, Hótel Borg made some faint but failing efforts to reopen as a music venue.
In the 90s, the hotel was sold and the new owners were determined to turn it into THE upmarket place in Reykjavík. Ironically, “when the cocaine-scene took the place in about five years ago, they renamed it Skuggabarinn, because Hótel Borg had a negative connotation for them”, says Dr. Gunni.
Today, there are occasionally bands who come to play at the hotel, but the atmosphere could not be further from any sort of musical revolution. Which might, in fact, be a sign that it is indeed just around the corner. According to Hótel Borg’s natural schedule, be prepared for the next big thing to break through at the end of this decade. Be there, or hide under your cover for another twenty years!
KK - Blús
Over the last 15 years KK has been one of Iceland’s most popular musicians. He is a master guitar player with a soft but sometimes husky voice. His roots lie in the blues and rockabilly and this time around he brings us a colourful blues album, the first one to be all sung in Icelandic. However the songs are not new but by master bluesmen like Willie Dixon, Walter Jacobs, Lowell Fulson and many more.
More news @ http://www.kk.is/
Photograph of Kristján Kristjánsson and his sister Ellen Kristjánsdottir, also a singer.
- 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"