The History of Icelandic Rock Music
Life Outside The Mainstream (1982–1985)
Dr. Gunni in Grapevine Magazine (Issue 15, September 2010)
Bubbi Morthens and Utangarðsmenn hit the dull sugarcoated Icelandic pop scene in 1980, spreading raw excitement in their wake. Almost overnight all the seventies pop stars seemed passé.
In 1981, the new rock scene exploded with bands such as Þeyr, Purrkur Pillnikk, Tappi Tíkarrass, Fræbbblarnir and Jonee Jonee doing their best stuff. The wave was perfectly captured in the documentary film "Rokk í Reykjavík", which was premiered in April of 1982. After that, things started to fade out. The rise and demise of Kukl has already been documented in these pages, and next time I plan to tell the story of my own band, S. H. Draumur, which struggled on in 1982–1986 to little fanfare.
The ‘mainstream ’ returns - Disappointment
Things were getting seriously "mainstream" all over again. Rás 2, a “pop" branch of Icelandic State Radio, commenced broadcasting in December 1983. Up to that point, "pop music" had not been a priority on the only radio station in Iceland, ‘The Steam’, as it was nicknamed. Some people thought the new station would tend to fresh sounds, but soon it was obvious that it mainly took care of what was already popular.
The seventies fun rockers Stuðmenn - who had been dormant since 1976 - had a massive comeback with their musical comedy "Með allt á hreinu" (aka ‘On Top’). It premiered before Christmas in 1982 and more than half the island’s population would eventually go see it at the cinemas. Stuðmenn would go on to be the nation’s darlings during the eighties and nineties - often referred to as "The band of the people". Stuðmenn lay the foundation for the "Icelandic pop sound," a well that many bands have drunk from ever since. Vonbrigði (“Disappointment”) were four young guys that came from the Breiðholt suburbs. Brothers Tóti and Árni on drums and guitar, bassist Gunni and cocky singer Jói. They had gained some fame belting out the opening tune of Rokk í Reykjavík - the anthem "Ó Reykjavík" with lyrics by poet Didda, who wrote many of the band's lyrics.
Vonbrigði leaned towards the Gang of Four/Killing Joke-school of hard post punk and were furiously excellent. The band released two records during their eighties life span, a 4 track 7" EP in 1982 and the seven track "Kakófónía" EP in 1983. Neither managed to capture the true essence of the band as they recorded the newest songs in their repertoire and were too in awe of the studio effect possibilities to just keep it real. Vonbrigði split up in 1985 but reformed in the ‘00s.
The band has released two CDs of new music and new, almost heavy metal versions of their old songs.
The rise of "Killembilly"
Oxsmá was about the most exciting thing in Iceland from 1982-1985. The group had formed in the Reykjavík Art School in 1980, but didn't start to play live until 1982. Hrafnkell "Keli" Sigurðsson sang, Axel "Seli" Jóhannesson played guitar, and Óskar "Skari" Jónasson occasionally blew a sax and behaved like an idiot. When drummer Kormákur "Kommi" Geirharðsson was added to the equation the band finally clicked. Kommi had played with a cool new wave group, Taugadeildin (“The Neurotic Ward” – one fine EP released in 1981), and punk group turned new romantic band Q4U. Lead by singer Ellý this fine group released a 12" EP in 1983 and is in the midst of a comeback right now.
Oxsmá took their cue from The Cramps and the other punk rockabilly acts of the early eighties and at first tended more to their looks than to their music. After doing ultra slow versions of "Fire" and other rockabilly classics, original material started to pop up in Oxsmá's program. They called their music "Killembilly," and tellingly their lyrics (written by Keli) were tongue in cheek funny, often about horrible stuff and sex with titles (in Icelandic) like "Bibi's Tits" and "Bits of Elsa". More members joined, Danny Pollock fresh from his Utangarðsmenn stint played guitar for a while, and bassist Jón Skuggi and Hörður "Popcorn" Bragason on Hammond organ became steady members.
“Clever Kitty, drunk in a bathtub”
The Oxsmá guys were multi talents. They made two films, first the sci-fi horror short "The Oxsmá Planet" followed by the ambitious feature "Suck Me Nina" a drama comedy that was set in the Icelandic hippie years. The "feel" of this film would some years later be repeated in Óskar Jónasson's much loved "Sódóma Reykjavík" comedy. Besides "normal" concerts Oxsmá would stage arty theatre shows and make environmental sculptures.
Oxsmá released a cassette in 1983 entitled "Bible For The Blind". It had sixty minutes of exciting lo-fi killembilly, including a song sung by an uncredited Bubbi Morthens, who just happened to come by the rehearsal space. A cassette of the "Suck Me Nina" soundtrack was also released (Oxsmá doing their own take on Icelandic hippie rock). 1985 saw the band's only record, a 3 track EP called "Rip Rap Rup".
On the A side Keli sang once more about a girl, this time she was called Kittý (in Icelandic, of course): "Thirteen years old / kinky costume / what a perfume / clever Kitty / drunk in a bath tub / chocolate."
Oxsmá's final concert was at Hótel Borg in July 1985. Soon afterwards, Keli and Skari went to London to attend art and film schools. The coolest looking Icelandic band ever hasn't returned since, and unfortunately none of their
music or films are available to the general public. You can hear some of it on YouTube, though.