A sugar cube for everybody?
“Einn mol’á mann”, translates as “One Cube Per Head”, was released by the band Sykurmolarnir on 21. November 1986, singer Björk’s birthday by the way. It was the third item for sale made by the recently established ‘Smekkleysa s.m. s.f.’ company (Bad Taste), in collaboration with the British ‘One Little Indian’ record label.
Mastering was done at the Town House in West London. The pressing was done at the company ‘Alfa’ in the town of Hafnarfjörður. But one problem arised: only half of them worked and were sellable. After listening at Bragi’s home to all of them to check each one of them, they had to glue the record covers by hand and on top of that colour the eyes of the sugar cube man on the cover red because this had been over-looked when sending them to the printers. They sold the singles from the back of Friðrik Erlingsson’s car on Austurstræti in the centre of the capital. Unfortunately the 7 inch didn’t sell well and it was not until both Melody Maker and NME put them on their front covers that the Sugarcubes’ popularity increased (escpecially in England). The ‘Do It Yourself’ methods that found their roots in punk, certainly came into play when producing their first single. They also showed a confidence in themselves that they could just go out and produce a record without going into business relations with anyone else. As Ólafur Engilbertsson (2004) said, there was a surrealist anti-rational sentiment within Smekkleysa of just going out and doing it, rather than thinking too much about things.
On the back of the cover for “Einn mol’á mann” stands the logo for Dansukker, a registered trademark for sugar and a ubiquitous household product in Iceland. This caused the response from the Reykjavík underground “jæja, þá eru þau búin ad selja sig líka” (Gestur Guðmundsson). With this they were suggesting they had been sponsored by the sugar company. However it was just one big joke. They were playfully undermining the idea of sponsorship. They were suggesting that sponsors have so much power that they even determine the name of the band, ‘The Sugarcubes’. They took it one step further by using a picture of a sugar cube to identify the band. The graphic design for their first single was playful, farfetched and ambiguous. People could take it seriously and think that the Sugarcubes had in fact “sold out”, however the underlying message is the complete opposite. The design was from the hand of Friðrik Erlingsson. There was not the same anger or intensity as in the designs for punk albums in the UK by f.ex. Reid, but nonetheless the Sugarcubes were sticking two fingers up at sponsorship by poking fun.
The money had been raised by the sales of one postcard. It was a kitsch, tasteless postcard, using the idolatry aesthetics of the Stalinist era, celebrating the Gorbachov/Reagan peace meeting in Reykjavik in October 1986. Friðrik Erlingsson painted it in an evening and 2000 postcards were printed and sold in various shops around Reykjavik. As well as poking fun at the souvenir frenzy due to the peace meeting, they decided to jump onto the bandwagon and use the opportunity to make some money too. The tone of the postcard was “að rembast við ad gera eitthvað vel sem tekst ekki alveg” (Friðrik, 2004) to make fun of the souvenir frenzy. The point of departure was ‘if this is good taste I prefer bad taste.’ The postcard sold so well that Smekkleysa raised enough money to create Einn mol’á mann. DIY financing worked like a treat and showed big business that the ‘little men’ did not need them.”
Essay by Phoebe Jenkins about Smekkleysa
The book “Sykurmolarnir” by journalist Árni Matthíasson (Örn og Örlygur, 1992, ISBN 9979-55-038-4)
Ammæli (Birthday) (3:56)
Köttur (Cat) (2:57)