This is Icelandic Indie Music

Magnús Hákon Axelsson Kvaran wrote a lot about the indie bands from the eighties and nineties for a British blog.

Adapted for publication by Wim Van Hooste.

Bag of joys

Bag of Joys

Bag of Joys were a quirky and funny band which never got the recognition I think they deserved. The band was formed in Iceland in 1994 when a few friends who’d been making music together at home decided to start rehearsing properly and put together a live band. In 1995 they released a cassette called “Minnir óneitanlega á Grikkaland” of rather poor recording quality. The name roughly translates as “Kinda reminds me of Greece”. It was limited to a total of 40 editions, and managed to get bad reviews which were then reprinted on the sleeve of their next publication, the 7″ single “Nú á ég vermand vini”. This single was released in 250 editions later that same year and the recording quality had improved somewhat. In 1997 Bad Taste ltd released a series of smallish cd’s with a few notable young underground bands, each CD containing around 7-9 songs, so these were kinda mini-LP’s designed to get the bands some starting point, but not distributed or promoted widely it seems. I think all of these bands disbanded pretty soon after those releases, and never properly got off the ground. One of them was Soðin Fiðla mentioned in an earlier post, and one of them was Bag of Joys. The CD “Eins og ég var motta” (“Like I was a rug”) was released in 1997, and here they had aquired a female vocalist named Lena. The recordings are great and the songs are sparkling with naivety and non-sensical lyrics, including a cover of “We like to do it” by a band I do not know called Avocado Baby. They had a well attended release party, and then promptly disbanded. Since then they’ve occasionally resurfaced playing one concert in 2002 and at a wedding last year, and one member named Sighvatur, also known as Musikhvatur, has been seen lurking behind keyboards as member of Apparat Organ Quartet along with Jóhann Jóhannsson of Daisy Hill Puppy Farm.

Daisy 2

Daisy 1

Daisy Hill Puppy Farm

Tom’s recent post about Celestial and The Crack Babies brought back memories of a wonderful band called Daisy Hill Puppy Farm who around 1987-88 made a few eardrums bleed profusely in various concert locations in Reykjavik, figuratively speaking. Their wall of noise and feedback, like The Crack Babies obviously heavily influenced by Jesus and Mary Chain, was released on two vinyl records and those I have ever since repeatedly dragged from their resting place during parties and blasted to high heaven. In fact, it’s absolutely mandatory to play this music as loud as humanly possible, and the recordings bear witness to the music having been recorded exactly like that. Since then Daisy Hill’s front man has moved on to become a respected composer, working with f.e. Marc Almond, Barry Adamson and Emiliana Torrini, and writing music for theater and films, though to all of us who lived to see Daisy Hill Puppy Farm play he will always be known as Joe Daisy.

PPPönk

PPPönk 2 PPPönk 4PPPönk 3

PPPönk

Here’s a blast from the Icelandic underground past. I recently dug this CD out of my collection and realizing I had not listened to it in many years, I gave it a well deserved proper listening to, and it’s a darn fun CD, so I wanted to share it with someone. Realizing I knew virtually nothing about the band I got the singer to answer a few questions, and without furter ado I present you with PPPönk (PPPunk). The band started in 1997 with an exchange student named Benjamin Jay Kline, who studied in Flensborg High School. He had agreed to partake in the school’s singing competition, with his own song. When the time came he decided to go to the movies instead and asked his “sister”, Laufey, to sing it instead, to which she agreed. The school band had one Freyr Gígja on guitar and Guðni on drums, and their co-operation proved so fun that they decided to continue, and recruited Nonni on guitar and Bjössi on bass. While waiting for the drummer on their first practice, a chap they knew named Kjartan was out walking his dog, and dropped in on a visit. He sat behind the drum-kit, counted in, and thus the band was fully formed. The band had one popular song, called “Surferboy” which got on some charts, and was released on a compilation CD called “Drepnir”. Then Freyr dropped out and Gísli Árnason took his place. The Sugarcubes’ label Bad Taste got wind of them and released the CD PP. ep. also in 1997. Apart from this the band released a CD named “Hvað” (What). Their 15 minutes of fame came when they opened for Skunk Anansie in what was then Iceland’s largest stadium. The singer, Laufey, is now an actress and a model, Freyr is a reporter and Bjössi the bass player currently drums with Singapore Sling. I wrote about the Icelandic band PPPönk earlier. They released an EP on Bad Taste in 1997, and while researching for the article I found out they had themselves released a second EP entitled “Hvað”, which means “What”. I got hold of what appears to be the last known copy which turned out to be a CD-R with no artwork except a stamp on the CD itself, and chock-full of fun, fast and melodic songs, characterized by Laufey’s frantic yelping. This EP was recorded and released in 1999, and only 50 copies were made. This CD is unlikely to be re-released any time in the near future. The first song is named “Untitled” simply because no one can remember what it was called back then.

Runk 1 Runk 2Runk 3

Icelandic indiepop from the vaults

Rúnk

Rúnk was a short-lived Icelandic band who released their only album in 2002, entitled Ghengi Dahls. The band’s name could be translated as The Jerk-offs, and the album went largely unnoticed by the general public. However, by those who actually did notice it, it is considered one of the finest pieces of indiepop released in Iceland. Rúnk’s members have since continued to create music in abundance, most notably guitarist Benedikt Hermann Hermannsson who now fronts the band Benni Hemm Hemm. He first made a name for himself as guitarist for an even less known band, Mósaík. Björn Kristjánsson currently writes music as Borko and released an album earlier this year. He and Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson also went on to form Skakkamanage. Hildur Guðnadóttir performs as Lost in Hildurness and released the album Mount A in 2006. Last time I checked she also played with múm. Drummer Óli Björn Ólafsson later joined bands such as Unun, Kanada, múm, Slowblow and Stórsveit Nix Noltes (Nix Nolte’s Bigband), as well as performing with Emiliana Torrini. His first notable appearance was however in 1993 when he, at the tender age of 14 , won the annual music competition known as Músíktilraunir with the band Yukatan.

Andhéri 1  Andhéri 2

Andhéri

If you google the word Andhéri you will get a lot of results about a suburb of Mumbai in India. You’ll have to dig pretty deep to find out it’s also the name of a now defunct Icelandic band which appeared in 1997. I have now been pondering this for quite a while and have come to the conclusion that their only album, released on Bad Taste that same year, is most likely my favorite icelandic album. The band first appeared at the local Battle of the Bands, which that year was won by Soðin Fiðla. Bad Taste picked them up for inclusion in a series of EP’s they released that year, and they also had a song in a movie which most people agree is the worst icelandic movie ever made. Apparently influenced by swedish band Bob Hund, Andhéri included Örvar Þóreyjarson and Gunnar Örn Tynes, who in 1998 went on to form a band some of you might know; Múm. The album was nominated as the years best album at the annual Icelandic Music Award, Gunnar was nominated as bassplayer of the year, the keyboardist, Guðfinna, as keyboardist of the year and Númi Thomarsson as drummer of the year. None of them won, and the album lost to Björk’s Homogenic. Númi had a few years before appeared in the band Mósaík, and is now a cook, Guðfinna is a designer and teacher. Sources disagree on wether the second guitarist was Eyþór or Einar, but in any case I have no idea what happened to him. Örvar and Gunnar are busy with múm as it is.

“Plútó” sings about it’s isolation and loneliness far out in the abyss; “I wallow in self pity, I am Pluto”.

 Mosaik

Mósaík

In 1995, when I was approximately 22 years old, I harbored the dream of having my own record label. I set about making it happen, and borrowed loads of money from my mom to make a compilation CD with various Icelandic indie bands. I had no idea how to actually make this work, how to promote and distribute and how to design artwork. I did it anyway and the project saw the light of day in the autumn of 1995. The CD release went largely unnoticed except in the very depths of the underground scene. It was called “Strump í Fótinn”, a play with words which also poked fun at hugely popular compilations which I absolutely loathed. Not many bought it, and I now have a few (hundred) copies piled away, awaiting the day it becomes a priceless collector’s item. Amongst the artists on the compilation were a band called Mósaík. At the time they were around 15 years old, some a year younger, some a year older. The band was formed in 1994 and took part in the Icelandic “battle of the bands”, Músíktilraunir, both in 1994 and 1995. They didn’t win but someone took a liking to them and offered them recording session in which they recorded the song, “Sjáandi”. “Sjáandi” can either mean “Seeing” or “Seer”. I’m guessing it has the latter meaning in this case. Hearing that “some guy” was going to release a compilation CD they offerd the song to me and to this day I frequently listen to it; it’s simply the very best of the lot, including the songs I played on myself. I still find it amazing that these teenagers cooked up this amazing song, awash with distorted guitars, violins and cellos. At that time Mósaík consisted of Benedikt Hermann Hermannsson on guitar, Ólöf Arnalds on violin and vocals, Hanna Ruth Ólafsdóttir on cello, Halldór Jónsson on drums, Andri Guðmundsson on bass and Guðrún Dalía Salómonsdóttir on keyboards. Not surprisingly many of these pimpled teenagers grew up to become respectable artists. Benedikt now fronts the band Benni Hemm Hemm, Ólöf Arnalds has played with múm for three years and she released her debut solo album to critical acclaim. Guðrún Dalía is now a classical pianist. Númi Thomasson, who took over the drums from Halldór in 1996, is now Björk’s tour-chef, and occasionally joins electronic artist Borko on stage. Mósaík however never released anything besides this song.

– Magnús Hákon Axelsson Kvaran