Yesterday I went downtown Gent (aka Ghent in English) with my friends M&M.
In a 2nd hand shop I found an issue of the Dutch Music Magazine Vinyl Year 6, # 1, published January 1986 (ISSN 0169 – 6130). This issue contains an article by Stan Rijven.
The title of the article is Stadsgezichten (translation: Town Views)
It covers the music scene of the following towns: Leningrad, Johannesburg, Warschau, Reykjavik, Shanghai, Toronto & Winschoten (Oost-Groningen) in the year 1985.
The publication about Reykjavik contains interviews with Einar Örn Benediktsson (aka EÖB), Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson (aka HÖH), Ásmundur Jónsson & Friðrik Þór Friðriksson (aka FTF).
Here is the translation I made today for all of you who don't understand Dutch (I've corrected the obvious/expected mistakes in Icelandic names):
Who’s expecting life in a climatological and geographical isolated place as Iceland?
Popjournalist Stan Rijven found a heavy punkscene in this awfully cold, sparsely populated pole area, between America and Europe.
The opening scene of the latest James Bond movie “A view to a kill”, shows us a scene with 007 running for his life in a glacial landscape ... in Iceland. Once again it suggests that the island is build up of ice. That’s only the truth for 10%, but yes, what do you expect by its name? Better to describe it as a desolate moon landscape, interrupted by mountains and geysers.
On an area three times as big as The Netherlands, 225,000 people, with among them Miss World ’85, and half of them live in Reykjavik. The beating heart of the polar area, because the music scene, fashion and nightlife are more lifely than many a man would expect.
The hottest disco is Hotel Borg, populated with a fauna putting Mazzo and Fizz far behind. Also here the punk wave brought redemption. Next to other drugs as alcohol and sniff to survive the long, dark winter nights, the punk music made things hum. On a place where beer consumption is forbidden by law, with only one television channel, with even a Thursday evening without TV broadcasting, and two radio stations, a punk movement leaves traces.
Three years ago,the Icelandic society came brutaly out of hibernation. The movie "Rock in Reykjavik" was broadcasted, a moment that loosed the tongues for a long time.
The same things happened in Iceland as in England, with the introduction of punk movement. Director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson opened the situation under the Icelandic youth as with a tin-opener. Punks with mohawks, a lot of black leather, but above all agressive music played by 19 bands, with names as The Masturbators, Egó, Purrkur Pillnikk and Þeyr. Teenagers as young as 14 were talking about how sniffing glue, a girls band about sexual pleasure of making music. Another band mixed protest against the American military base with Nazi Germany symbols (note by WVH: Þeyr). Even after removing some scènes before the screening, censorship by the government to prevent worse.
Friðriksson can laugh about it now.
FTF: “The first reaction is always: punk in Iceland!? Do they make music in Iceland at all? Of course, just like all other West-European countries. In the sixties the bands copied their American idols. In 1974 there was a ban on life concerts, at that time mostly organised in schools, because there were no specials clubs. Discotheques were allowed. In 1979 everything changed with the arrival of punk. Bands ignored the ban on concerts, and after a while the situation normalised. We are lying inbetween America and Europe, so many groups travelling around can perform here . Records were terribly expensive, but many Icelandic monsters travelled to England and brought music with them. Just like a lot of artists went to school in The Netherlands."
Six years later, you can see how the law of the retarding lead (note by WVH: theory of the Dutchman Romein) leaves its marks. Gramm, thé record store of Reykjavik, has everything in stock what you can call independent. The shop is also the headquarter of Gramm Records, the national independent music label with a growing catalogue. Most of them local talent, but also Psychic TV are on this label.
Ásmundur Jónsson, doing a weekly 2 hours radioshow, started the label.
Asmundur: “First I worked at the Icelandic representation of the EMI label, and I noticed they were not in touch with the music scene of 1979. We didn’t got the imported records of the English indie labels, that friends brought for me. In 1981 I started with a couple of friends Gramm. The first record was made by Purrkur Pillnikk. Now Gramm is an important katalysator in the creation of an Icelandic music scene. We sell a couple of thousand LPs of one band. And the album “Those who do not” by Psychic TV was our biggest succes, more than 20,000 albums were sold. Our bands all had the same energy and power, but 2 years ago a lot of bands split up, etc."
KUKL, who played at Pandora ’84 (note by WVH: music festival in The Netherlands), and did a tour in The Netherlands in december 1985, can be called the completion of the Icelandic musical revolution. The members came from Þeyr, Purrkur Pillnikk, Tappi Tíkarass and Medusa. Some of these bands supported bands like The Fall, Psychic TV and Killing Joke when these groups played in Iceland. Þeyr had a No. 1 hit in the Japanese independent charts.
EÖB: “In our music you can hear Iceland, this is the sound of mountains, combinated with all waterfalls, geisers and volcanoes. You get a wonderfull symfonie, a kakophony of all these elements. That is our inspiration. When we travel across Europe, people always expect a bunch of eskimos in disguise, but when we sart playing they get thunder and storm."
In contrast with the local situation, KUKL has a cult status in Western Europe. The Icelandic music scene collapsed 2 years ago.
EÖB: “I have the idea that a lot of things are happening now, it’s like a sort of natural circle. After a raw and heavy period in the beginning of the eighties, the things stopped and bands split up.”
A final word about the Icelandic connection of Psychic TV. Hilmar Örn is now a fixed member of the band and lives both in London as in Reykjavik. The new 12” is called “Heartbrak Hotel” ....
HÖH: "Einar, the singer of KUKL, joined us in London. We get drunk with David Ball, once a member of Soft Cell. We booked a studio and recorded 2 songs: "God Star", dedicated to Brian Jones and The Rolling Stones; and "Heartbreak Hotel". All disco clichés are in the lyrics, but are extremely sharp. Einar sings in Icelandic about Hotel Borg, the Heartbreak Hotel of Reykjavik. The meeting point of all Icelandic teenagers, spending a dark winter night in this asylum of dispair and misery. Youngsters come, get drunk and wait til something happens. Now they can dance in misery on music about their misery.”