Lecture on the History of Icelandic Music

The History of Music in Iceland
Sponsored by: the Department of Icelandic Language and Literature Pall Gudmundsson Memorial Scholarship and the Icelandic Collection at the University of Manitoba.
– hosted on the internet by the INL of NA as a cultural initiative.

Bjarki Sveinbjörnsson (RUV)
Lecture in mp3-format:
http://www.inlofna.org/UofM/Bjarki/Lecture.mp3

Source:
http://www.inlofna.org/UofM/Bjarki/Bjarki.html

Takk CD Album Reviews Sigur Rós



TAKK

Sigur Rós


I MUST CONFESS I HAD GIVEN UP ON SIGUR RÓS AFTER THE RELEASE OF THEIR UNTITLED () ALBUM OF 2003.
Following the dizzying heights and wrenching lows of Ágætis Byrjun, the () album seemed kind of lame, exhausted, pretentious. In short, I was disappointed. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes of its own destruction, Sigur Ros is back — and in a stunning and unprecedented way. The Icelandic’s band new album Takk… is an epic of monstrous proportions. Only two or three seconds into my first listening of this record, I knew this was it. Like a ray of scintillating sunshine, Takk… penetrates somewhere deep into your being, to lift you into a Higher Realm. I have heard there are holymen in India who can enlighten you just by looking at you, or uttering a couple of words to you. Sigur Rós also seem to possess this Shamanic power, and all you have to do is listen to their music, to be transformed. In this so-called “dark age” of gloom and terrorism and capitalist breakdown, most of it created by the media to keep us living in fear, it is so refreshing to have a band like Sigur Rós. They remind us that contrary to appearances, Good always triumphes over Evil. They remind us that there is an angel inside everyone of us.
After buying a copy of Takk… in Tokyo today I wrote: “I just listened to the new Sigur Rós album Takk… from Iceland — and oh my god, that was such an intense experience. It is not even music, it is beyond music — it felt like being injected with some mysterious drug which instantly transported me to another dimension. I never thought it was possible to convey that much emotion through music alone. From the opening seconds of the album, it sounds and feels like a sun or star starting to form in front of you — and the star starts to send out fluctuating waves of sound which just melt you, instantaneously. From that moment, you are hooked, and the music won’t let you go — or do anything other than give it complete attention, for the full hour and 20 minutes or whatever it is until the end of the CD. I couldn’t even get out of my seat, because I was floored by the power and intensity of the songs which followed.
“The classic Sigur Rós strategy of old was to build up songs over a long time to a devastating climax, like an Icelandic volcano eruption. Usually they used to start the songs slow and then at the 6th minute mark or so, the overwhelming climax would take place. That was well and good, but with this new album they have managed to take their style to the next level. Instead of doing slow rock songs which turn hyper at the end. Sigur Ros have amped up the intensity thus they can now manage multiple climaxes. And as any pornmaster will tell nothing beats milking that money shot multiple times… on TAKK you can milk it all night long. This is one serious mind trip and I am just gathering the courage now to give it a second listen.”
In an interview I saw recently on MTV Japan, band members claimed that this was their “happy album”. Critics have been quick to slam Takk as being too optimistic and orgasmic, and to question the band’s sincerity. I think they are missing the point. When the () album came out, the same critics probably complained that it was too funereal and downbeat. The thing about Sigur Rós is that they do emotional music — they enjoy flaunting their joyful side as much as they love plumbing the depths of melancholy. Think of Takk as a heavy dose of genetically modified ecstasy and spiritual joy. That is why I say this album is more of a drug than a collection of songs. If you ever want to bring a bit of ecstasy into your life, keep this record handy — it will take there, 100 per cent of the time!

LIKE THEIR COUNTRYFELLOWS BJORK AND THE BAND MÚM, SIGUR RÓS HAVE A KNACK OF CONSTRUCTING EPIC MASTERPIECES OUT OF THE MINIATURE OF EVERYDAY LIFE.
Their seminal track Ágætis Byrjun for example, from the album of the same name, brims with a cauldron of lethal emotions, and overflows with bigger-than-life sensualities. Translate the lyrics of this song into English, however, and what you find is the humdrum tale of a couple having a date in a cafe. Even the title of this song, which sounds so sublime to non-Icelandic speakers, loses all of its mystique when you know what it means: that’s right, Ágætis Byrjun means “An Okay Beginning” in English. There is something peculiarly Icelandic and Scandinavian in this ability to glorify the mundanest aspects of life, and turn the mundanest life into a Greek epic. It is not surprising that Iceland is a country infused with an epic take on life, and has been ever since its inception about 10 centuries ago. In the Viking era Iceland was the literary leader of Europe, poets penned Sagas and people lived epic lives fighting against the elements and each other. In Sigur Rós’s latest single Glósóli (“Glowing Sun”) and in the accompanying video, the band again blend epic musical delivery with a very simple, down-to-earth story. It features all the Icelandic cliches — steaming vents and lava fields (shown directly in the video, hinted at on the soundtrack via the storming, cavernous wall of guitar noises, and the musical volcano eruption at the climax of the song), elflike youth, flocks of bleating sheep — and surging all behind and through it is an incredibly Epic feel, a real Epic feel, the kind of feel you would find in an old Viking Saga or a Homer poem. Lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s strange, sometimes ghostly, sometimes soaring angelic falsetto completes the effect — and you couldn’t get a more Epic feel. As the video opens, it is like the End of the World is Come: the sun has disappeared (but maybe it is just winter in the land of the Midnight Sun.) A group of kids set out on a mission to find it. They meet up with some other kids on the way, traversing the breathtaking and alien Icelandic landscape, before they finally find the sun setting over what appears to be the black beach of Vík in south Iceland (although I could be wrong.) Suddenly the guitars kick into heavy mode, and at the crashing beat of a drum, the kids starts starting charging up a high cliff which overlooks the sunlit black beach. As Jónsi’s vocals return in a haunting, angelic hymn of spiritual enlightenment, the kids dive off the cliff — to find themselves not falling to their grisly deaths but rather flying, angelic, into the sunfilled sky. There is an angel inside everyone of us, that seems to be Sigur Rós’s most important message. That has been the theme of many of their songs, if you look closely enough. That’s why they make such epic songs out of mundane situations as people having dates in cafes. If we all are truly angelic, then everything we do is angelic, and worthy of epic treatment. That is true for everyone on the planet today.

a l i e n + s o u n d
LISTENING TO TAKK…, YOU MIGHT FIND YOURSELF WONDERING: WHAT PLANET DOES THIS MUSIC COME FROM?
I once met an American guy in Mumbai (India) who shared my love for Sigur Rós, and he commented that Jónsi’s voice was “out of this world, like an alien”. I agree with him — Jónsi’s voice sounds alien, like something from another world… but that ain’t even scratching the surface of Sigur Rós’s wierdness. The truth is that Iceland itself, if you ever get the chance to visit there, is an alien and otherworldly place. Going to Iceland is the next best thing to going to another planet. It is like a gateway between the Earth and the other worlds. If Sigur Rós have an alien vibe, it is only because they have grown up in and inhabit one of the more surreal pieces of the world. It comes out not only in Jónsi’s voice, but in every aspect of their music.
But there is more to it than that… as David Zeitlin has pointed out in one his reviews: “Jónsi’s singing belongs to a long Scandinavian tradition of priest-ridden choirboys that includes King Diamond – the former, angelic; the latter, satanic.”
Listening to Sigur Rós’s new album Takk…, the Scandinavian and Icelandic vibe is everywhere. The cover of the CD (pictured above), designed to resemble an old yellowed Victorian novel, recalls some of Múm’s album covers. Difficult to say though whether Sigur Rós directly imitated Múm in this respect, or whether both bands are merely reflecting the current fashions in Icelandic graphic design. Whatever, this is a very Icelandic album, and for lovers of Iceland such as myself, it is great to notice all the Icelandic touches on this production. As Bobster says: “If there is one thing Icelandic types do well, then it has to be ambience. Their gift for the ethereal is seemingly innate. Sigur Rós are no exception to this. Glósóli has wafts of sound, that can be hard to place as any instrument in particular, running below the sweeping sounds of the falsetto vocals. That is before the last third of the song kicks in with an almightly repeated crashing which build from nothing into a furious intensity before dissapating into nothing again. It is reminiscent of the most beautiful soundscape, imagine Múm throwing a hissy fit or M83 duetting with Clannad and you may get there mentally. Glósóli is taken from the new Sigur Rós album Takk…, due out on September 12 2005. “
Takk… is a classic, incredible album, and it also very reminiscent of some of the Múm albums I have reviewed on this site. Just like on a Múm album, each song appeals to the child/angel in each of us, and brings out the child angel in us. As one reviewer on the Amazon site remarked: “The lyrics are small adventures, maybe like children’s stories or something. I think the songs are quite simple and naive and they have a central character to them. There’s one called Glósóli, and he wakes up and everything is dark outside and he can’t see any light. He thinks that the sun is gone and somebody has taken it from the sky, so he makes a journey to look for the sun. He finds it in the end.”

IN A CYNICAL BUT NONETHELESS INTERESTING REVIEW, JOHN DORAN WROTE ON THE PLAYLOUDER WEBSITE:
“It’s like the boys have suddenly hit on the exact musical formula to make you feel slightly placid (For those interested, it’s this: glacial synth warble + major chord arpeggio played on xylophone + shimmering but exactly the same guitar line + enough sugary and synthetic sounds on top to induce hyper glycaemia = a drowsy yet unsatisfied feeling.) So tracks such as Hoppípolla and Með Blóðnasir blend seamlessly into one another and even if your life depended on it (and these are the sort of refrains that an average eight year old could master on their recorder given half an hour practise) you cannot recall them afterwards. They just evaporate into nothing like a brief smell of cheap perfume on a blowy day.”
I agree, there is something very whimsical about the music of this album, and it is very hard to remember its melodies and whistle its component tunes when you are in the shower or walking down the street, regardless of how many times you have listened to them. Just like smoke, these melodies drift away into the aether. But is this a negative thing — wouldn’t Fairy Music be exactly like this: intoxicatingly beautiful, impossible to recall? Or perhaps this a new kind of music which breaks away from the verse/chorus/verse simplicity of the past, and attempts something different. Scandinavian bands like Mew in Denmark are famous for breaking with the classic Rock format and mixing hard and soft, fast and slow elements within the same song. It just makes it more original and exciting.
Before I continue this review, a brief breakdown of Takk… track by track, courtesy of that amazing Reykjavík newspaper, Grapevine, and some other sources, and my own observations:
1+++ takk…Short dreamy intro just like the opening of Ágætis Byrjun, which leads into the next track. Someone has compared this opening to “Radiohead walking on stage in slow motion, soundtracked by Boards of Canada”.
2+++ Glósóli (Glowing Sun). This song has already been discussed enough above, but is a mighty anthem to hope.
3+++ Hoppípolla (Jumping In Puddles). An extraordinary song, and the story of some children splashing around in a puddle and having fun (once again, simple theme turned into an epic statement of humanity and life.) This is by far the most beautiful song on the album (or at least one of the most accessible), almost too beautiful for words. It is a heroic hymn to ecstasy and spirutal joy, and also the joy of everyday things. As the song breaks into the third minute, Jónsi balances with a chorus of his own voices, each hitting a similar rhythmic high melody line, which is eventually echoed by a trumpet.
4+++ Með Blóðnasir (With A Nosebleed.) The continuation of the previous song by other means, this is also a very powerful tune in its own right. According to the plotline, one of the kids playing in the puddle of the above song has injured himself/herself and got a nosebleed, but nobody cares because everyone is having so much fun. Played in keyboards and glockenspiel, with no clear vocals. Casper on the Sigur Rós message board said: “Með Blóðnasir is just wild! if it were an actual song it’d be the best thing they’ve ever done!” I just wonder whether by seperating this and Hoppípolla into two units, Sigur Rós have deliberatly tried to make it harder for both to get commercial radio playtime. Instead of selling out, the band seem to be trying to goad commercial radio into breaking a few of its own rules, and become a bit more experimental.
5+++ Se Lest (Train). Building straight off of Með Blóðnasir, the glockenspiel is isolated, playing a repeated melody that moves up in fifths all while bouncing in 16th notes. A slow vocal line comes over and is followed by a bass, percussion and strings all playing more drawn out chords. The light glockenspiel part drives the song and is eventually joined by what again sounds like a night-time music box. At this stage the song starts to sound very mid-1990s Bjork, as beautiful as a lullaby. Near the five-minute mark, multiple tonal instruments balance against each other, with on odd bowed instrument over the back, and light, layered vocal parts layered in, slowly joined by layered trumpets. At 6:30, incredibly curiously, we are full-fledged into a night-time polka. That’s right, a freaking polka! This is cool — only Sigur Rós could get away with putting a polka on a Rock album. Is there anything this band can’t do?Another opinion, from Launch: “Emphatically drawn-out at nine minutes, Sé Lest is like a vapour trail shooting across the sky from a flying glockenspiel, concluding with a marching band inadvertently trooping past the band’s recording studio.” And that polka band do literally troop past you as you listen, from your right to left headphones.
6+++ Sæglópur (Sea Nitwit). This is one of the most powerful songs… you could call it a power ballad with its piano intro, geysir eruptions of bowed guitar, multiple climaxes, and the endless plaintive cries of “þú” (“you”). A killer track, and one which deserves to subvert radio.Reviewer Andy Kellman has written: “A strange thing happens before the two-minute mark in Sæglópur. All the twinkling and cooing erupts, at what might seem like eight minutes earlier than normal, into a cathartic blast of tautly constructed group noise — or, as those who prefer songs and motion over moods and atmospheres might say, “The good part comes.” Sæglópur is emblematic of Sigur Rós’s fourth album, released nearly three years (!) after (). Nothing resembles a drone, and no part of it could be described as funereal.
7+++ Mílanó (Milan). According to one reviewer, “Mílanó to me is where the climax of the Takk… album kicks off. First it starts with a bit of piano, again, and soon between songs, the sound all rises and blows you away twice. You’ll be worrying about the eardrums of your headphones.”
8+++ Gong (Gong). According to one reviewer, this is the only song on the album that sounds close to modern rock, and close to defining the energy of the band. Grapevine agree that this is “close to a melodic rock song, until it breaks into the big drama after the four-minute mark.” In my own opinion, this is one kick-ass track — a new direction for the band, a climax upon a climax, and another highlight of an album so crammed full of highlights.
9+++ Andvari (Waft / Zephir). Other reviewers haven’t noted it, but I swear this is another version of the same song which is featured 11 times on the () album. This is the 12th version of the song if I am correct, and I in my opinion it is the best. It is also the most moving moment of a very moving album. In the middle of the song Jónsi actually sings in English, for the first time I can remember, the simple phrase: “I love you.” It brings me to tears everytime I hear it, for there is an honesty in these words, an opening of his heart — and you feel that he is addressing the declaration at the fans of Sigur Rós, at the listeners. Some other listeners, however, have claimed this song is a declaration of love to Jónsi’s new gay boyfriend. As gay love songs go, this has to be one of the best, and the most moving and powerful.
10+++ Svo Hljótt (So Quiet). The rock bible NME said of this song: “Choice cut Svo Hljótt sounds like the bit in Lord Of The Rings when Gandalf dies reinterpreted by operatic mythical winged beasts.”Meanwhile, from Grapevine: “As indicated by the title, this opens even more stripped down than earlier, but breaks into a bigger song around the five-minute mark, with busy drums over soaring vocals, then the break down to a soft chord, as we hear in the early tracks on the album.”
11+++ Heysátan (Haycock or Hay Stack).Again from Grapevine: “A refrain of key notes of one chord, we hear horns, plucked guitar and keyboards all combining for airy but understated effect. Jónsi is most clear in the vocals here, sounding, dare we say it, like an Icelandic Billy Corgan. A closing track, that sounds honest, though, again, with enough effects on the vocals that we can’t quite make out the words other than “I’ve hayed too much!” in Icelandic.

o t h e r c o m m e n t s
OTHER REVIEWERS HAVE HAD THIS TO SAY ABOUT TAKK…:
I forgot who wrote this, but this is a good comment: “As you could see I had trouble desccribing the album as separate pieces, because Sigur Rós’s music is only designed to be taken as a whole. As a masterpiece. Personally, I wish I can just say the music needs to be in your ears to hear the sound of life, grace, and unity, and the fact that the album reaches Ágætis Byrjun heights, especially on Principle alone, and throw in the mix a bit of Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do in the mix, but I wouldn’t be helping. Basically their albums are all on the same tone: Beauty, happiness, a bit of darknesss lurking in a corner, etc. All I know is that Sigur Rós’s music is music with life and as much heart as any other record. This one, like (), just has a bit of structure and much more to tell you about the realms you think you have been through.”
Writing for The Guardian , Ben Thompson wrote: “In a bold break with the self-conscious blankness of 2002’s (), these 11 songs actually have titles and lyrics. More important than that, they eschew the stately meander that has been Sigur Rós’s stock-in-trade for a bold commitment to the big pop chorus.”In the past, this group have sometimes exhibited an almost paranoid determination not to make demands on their listeners, but with this record they have started to make demands on themselves. Not in the way the final track on their last, stop-gap release (three songs for avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham to get people dancing to) suggested they might — by hiding Stanley knives in the frosted candy floss — but by tightening their happy-clappy focus so the euphoria generated by their music seems to relate directly to the world people actually live in, rather than some elvish fantasy realm.”
From another person whose name I forgot, but this is a good call: “I am trying real hard not to call Takk… (“Thanks”) a clue meaning that it could be the last album, or the last album like it they ever make. Orri now has a family and this could be the album sealing their fate with music, But of there is one thing I havve learned is to never judge a book by it’s title. (I would say cover, but the album is like the cover: looks bland and sounds simple, but has as much beauty in the cover, as well as meaning, if you were to look closer.) The album Takk… is kind of a storybook, but will take moments to understand in principle alone. One other detail is they kept the usage of the sounds from the other albums (“yo sa lo”, “tyoooo…”, etc.) But for you, I’ll try to describe the adventure. And on this album, Sigur Rós give their all to create a historic album.” Mr P from Tiny Mix Tapes.com had a point to make: “I do think, however, that Sigur Rós’ sound after this album will start shifting toward a new direction, especially because the string quartet they play with, Anima, are heading off on their own musical career. Consequently, Sigur Rós will have the choice of trying to replace them or trying to work without them. In either case, despite our meticulous gripes, I think Takk makes for an ultimately satisfying end to their work with Anima (their importance is shown in Andvari and Sé Lest), and I can only imagine that these songs will sound much better in a live setting.”
Bryan Chenault agrees: “At at its most dreary, it can be said that Sigur Ros’s music sounds like sad, sleepy alien music—weepy ballads from another planet—say, Coldplay from Mars. But at its most uplifting, Sigur Ros’s music washes over you as if sung by an otherworldly angel fronting the house band of Heaven just inside the pearly gates. Until now I’ve always wavered back and forth between to two schools of thought. They’ve always been well received by critics and have earned a hefty cult following, but I’ve never been totally won over by their simple and delicate Icelandic songs despite owning two of their three albums to date. For me, they’ve always just been Sunday morning music, either winding down in the early a.m. after a night out or easing into the day in the late a.m. But seeing them stun every single person in the building (save for the model wannabe bartenders) at this special LA show went a long way toward changing my opinion of them for good. They took the stage awash in a wall of red light, standing behind a thin curtain that–intentional or not–morphed their already lanky figures into almost freakish alien shadows with elongated arms and oversized heads. It was perhaps the perfect visual projection of the way their music sounds, and all in attendance couldn’t help but be captivated, including this curmudgeony non-believer. As the show progressed—and trust me, if Sigur Ros had recognizable or memorable song titles, I’d list them in set list flow—they made me recall why I love post-OK Computer Radiohead so much. Songs like the U.S. single “Saeglopurand my new personal favorite “Gong” off the new album Takk illustrate their ability to build a song from a basic piano or strings part, add guitar and high-pitched vocals and then come in with a drum-fueled but controlled cacophony to take it to a climactic crescendo, which is Sigur Ros at their best. Except for this unassuming bunch, it’s not a phase or direction that they’re exploring in reaction to an immensely popular album; it’s what they do. Surveying the crowd, as they stared stageward in an audio abyss, I joined in acknowledging music so beautiful and breathtaking that you don’t need to know the words, or wonder if they are even words at all. As they continued through their extended set, and as the audience was showered with images of shooting stars and distant galaxies on the big screen behind them, it became abundantly clear that if extra terrestrials/UFOs ever do arrive on Earth, we have no choice but to send Sigur Ros as the performer at their welcoming. Quite opposite from the musical tryptophine effect I feared might overtake me at some point in their two-hour trip through the stars, I found my eyes closing not for sleep but just to fully indulge in their epic but still fragile sound. Having dazzled us with the more upbeat songs in the their canon out of the gates (or out of the curtain, to be more specific), the last portion of the show took a slight dip toward the droning realm of funeral music (I half expected at one point for them a montage of Nate Fisher’s life and the credits of “Six Feet Under” to scroll across the screen), but by then the crowd had already surrendered to the marvelous mood and mind-altering experience. Walking out of the show, you couldn’t help but appreciate what a different and delicate dynamic that a band like Sigur Ros can deliver. No forced banter between songs. No playing “the hits as a crowd-pleasing encore. Just a band confident in their very specialized craft, a band that has been put on Earth here to overtake us with surreal soundscapes and dreamlike overtures.

Source:
http://www.angelfire.com/id/croon/iceland/takk.html

Icelandic music



ICELAND MUSIC – an evolving guide

A LOT HAS BEEN SAID ALREADY about Iceland’s creative and original music scene, and I don’t want to add to this bulging body of truisms and old cliches. I’m not out to convert people to the joys of the Iceland music scene, because frankly I’d prefer to see it kept a secret. In a world where rock music has become corporatised and homogenous and bland (“Planet MTV, Sponsored By Enron-Lite”), it is thrilling to find isolated, localised scenes where the old innonence and creativity is still alive. Iceland is one such place (Greenland is another). On the Internet there are websites where you can download music recorded by Icelandic bands which don’t even have a record deal, and probably never will — but which sound wicked and cool, with original styles and rocking energy. On this site I want to pay homage to some of these bands which have entertained me, enriched me, even though they got nothing from me in return (until now!) On this site I want to provide information for people who have become interested in Iceland music through their introduction to more established names such as Björk and Sigur Ros. The interesting thing is that the deeper you delve into the Icelandic rock scene, the better it gets. The creativity is bottomless, inexhaustible. There is definitely an Icelandic “sound” which is hard to describe in words — is it the jangly guitars? For such a small country, there is such an awesome array of good bands. I feel like an explorer, discovering a lost world, a world completely forgotten by MTV and Enron-Lite.
Listening to all the new Icelandic music on the Net, it is always interesting to listen for the influences, to see from where and from whom the new inspirations in Icelandic music is coming from. It becomes inevitable after some time spent listening to Icelandic music, to hear the influence of Mogwai coming through.

MUM
Finally We Are No OneFinally We Are No One by Múm
FINDING A GOOD NAME for something — or someone — is always the hardest thing. To sum up the spirit of a work of art with a short name takes real skill, and I always admire those who are able to do it. Recently I purchased a copy of the CD “Finally We Are No One”, by Múm — my first introduction to the Icelandic band. Within just a short time of listening I was overwhelmed by the strangest feeling (admittedly I had drunk a particularly strong batch of ginseng juice from the neighbourhood Korean shop, and was under its smart drug spell.) But anyway, the feeling was real, and in an abstract, intuitive way, I could understand what this rather strange title actually means. Finally We Are No One. Finally, after so much trying, we can annihilate ourselves — we can annihilate the ego — in a burst of Zenlike joy. The ecstasy of dissolving oneself. That is what this CD is about. Yoda or Buddha might have said that deep down, “we are all one”, but Múm take things even further, state things even truer — in truth we are not even “one”, we are no one. And this is a magnificent realisation to reach — the state the Japanese call “satori”.
According to Mark Richard-san’s review at pitchfork media, Múm’s sound lacks a “sense of struggle”. “They’re almost too good at making simple, pretty music at this point, and the tracks content to pursue these qualities alone come across as fluffy. With the digital aspect of the sound played down in favor of uncomplicated acoustic melodies, Múm seems just a bit less substantial,” he concludes. But I think Richard-san is missing something — there is a sense of struggle in this work, it is just a kind of struggle he doesn’t understand. There is a tension here, but is the tension of disappearance, dissolution — the heroic journey towards self-annullment. You can hear it in the song “Green Grass of Tunnel” in which the narrator rises up through the ground towards what? — Nirvana no doubt! The direction of this album is always up…

ULPA
Unlike some of the bands to be featured on this website, Ulpa does indeed have a record deal, and have built up a fan base. According to the StarPolish website, Ulpa is a “a hard-working foursome that serves up a healthy dose of guitar-driven indie rock that somehow manages to mix in elements of their many influences — everything from heavy metal to theatrical-style ballads — while keeping it all honest and, more importantly, unique and interesting”. I agree with that, and I will add that among Ulpa’s influences, I can discern an interest — which I share — with the Norwegian 80s band Aha. In fact, it was Aha which got me interested in Scandinavia and Iceland to begin with (or maybe I was there in a past life). Up until recently, on their website you can listen to a beautiful song featuring Aha’s former lead singer Morten Harket — “Mokkadur Madkur”, a haunting, slightly bluesy account of a failed relationship, with the vocies of the two male vocalists mixing together sublimely, Harket a little on the grizzly side. The song is at once folsky and rustic but shining with the electricity of the Aha of the early 80s, when the band dazzled the world with its cold Nordic pop. The lyrics in this song are also pure Harkett, once again demonstrating the Norwegian’s uncanny ability to bring out the etheral in the mundane.
Not only is Ulpa obviously infleunced by Aha’s frontman, but its lead vocalist Magnus Leifur Sveinsson can sometimes sound like him. On their perhaps most famous song to date, “Dinzl”, Sveinsson manages to recall the soaring angelic vocals of early Aha. The song itself is a driving, icy, killer track — Icelandic to its core, evocative of life in that gloomy and jagged and crystalline land, Sveinsson’s athletic voice rising like a ghost above the hard-eged guitar…
On their website Ulpa describe their sound as “space guitar driven Indie rock from the top drawer, that is influenced by everything, but still sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before.” I agree with that assessment, and can discern something of a David Bowie influence in their track “Attempted Flight”. The website continues to say: “When the debut album Mea Culpa was released in Iceland in the fall of 2001, Ulpa had already become a house-hold name in the music scene and shared stage with artists such as Stephen Malkmus, Blonde Redhead, Trans Am and The Fucking Champs. A limited edition single that preceded the full-length album was also a shock hit and was aired quite often on Icelandic radio in the following weeks. The album, recorded by Valgeir Sigurdsson (best known for his work with Björk) didn’t disappoint, although some had probably hoped it would be more mainstream. It took some time for it to sink in and, instead of fading away, it just became better and better to the listener-a true measure of a good album. They are now working on their second album which is in the final stages of completion.”
I can hardly wait until the album comes out, and provide a review here.

Source:
http://www.angelfire.com/id/croon/nikki/icemusic.html

Kimono Review Album Arctic Death Ship


Kimono
Arctic Death Ship
Smekkleysa
Label

IJsland, oh wondermooi IJsland, land van knallende geisers, Sigur Rós… en vanaf nu ook Kimono. Verwacht geen engeltjes die lief in je oortje komen pissen. Integendeel: ‘Artic Death Ship’ is een bruistablet voorzien van straf spul. Een verzameling van dertig jaar gitaarrock, samengebald in elf afleveringen. “Aftermath” is een eerste prachtdunk door de ring. Een Fugazi-intro gevolgd door onuitgegeven vlechtwerk van gitaren. We worden teruggeblazen naar het New York net voor het Sonic Youth-tijdperk, denk aan Television en het legendarische Mx80Sound. Het toffe aan Kimono is dat alles zo klaar en overzichtelijk blijft. Dat geldt ook voor “Hyla Grace” en “Sober”, dat naar het einde toe het melodramatische van Blonde Redhead in zich loswrikt. IJsland ontmoet Spanje in “Sonar”. Fantastisch, hoe Kimono het aandurft om dissonante rock te plakken onder de Spaanse taal. Het wordt stilaan duidelijk: Kimono gaat hard, gaat stil, verbaast en maakt je fan voor je het doorhebt. De band klinkt zo divers en toch lopen de songs, weliswaar na een aantal luisterbeurten, lekker in mekaar over. Kimono past aan, in welk rockbiotoop ook. Leven er dan toch kameleons op IJsland? Wie weet, maar één ding staat vast‘ Arctic Death Ship’ is nu al een collector!
Source:
http://www.soundslike.be/reviews/index.php?reviewID=1647

The Sugarcubes in Magazine Record Collector (1989)


Record Collector 6/89

Sugarcubes

In two years the Sugarcubes have gone from being a band unknown outside of their native Iceland to cult status in Europe and a contract with a major U.S. record company.

The band features Einar Orn Benediktsson and Björk Gudmundsdottir on vocals, Thor Fridrik Erlingsson on guitar, Bragi Olafsson on bass and Siggy (Sigtryggur) Baldursson on drums, and sometimes Thor Eldon on guitar. An organist called Melax has worked with then on an on-off basis, but more recently they have featured keyboard player Magga. The men are all in their mid-twenties and Bjork, who is married to Thor, is a couple of years younger.

Before they had any records issued in Britain the individual members of the Sugarcubes had already featured on several releases in their own country. Bjork’s early recording career included an eponymous LP in 1977 — when she can only have been around 10 years old! This album, with a great psychedelic cover but fairly dubious music within, is now a collectors’ item with a £20 price tag. Einar and Björk were both in new wave bands, Purrkur Pilnikk and Tappi Tikarrass respectively, and the letter outfit recorded two albums that are now worth at least £15. Björk has also recorded with her sister and their LPs are relatively easy to come by, costing £6-£7.

Einar and Björk worked together in Kukl, a new wave band associated with the Crass band and label. Their two albums, “The Eye” and “Holidays in Europe” are due to be reissued, and originals should not cost collectors more than about £5. Kukl later routed Europe with bands like Crass, the Fall and Flux Of Punk Indians. Eventually Kukl split and Einar and Bjork formed the Sugarcubes, managed by their friend, the Icelandic writer Johnny Triumph. Thor and Bragi were also poets, whilst Einar had had some of his prose published and was responsible for setting up Iceland’s first independent record show, label and distributor, Gramm. The Sugarcubes’ first Icelandic single was a pressing of 300 copies of “Birthday” on Gramm.

This article is mainly concerned with the Sugarcubes’ U.K. discography, but collectors who want to dig deeper can hunt for all the items mentioned above and others besides, including “Skytturnar”, a soundtrack recording featuring members of the group, issued on Gramm.

The Sugarcubes’ first U.K. release, “Birthday”, was one of the most idiosyncratic records of recent years. A `Melody Maker’ single of the week in August 1987, “Birthday” achieved instant cult status. Airplay courtesy of John Peel elevated the single to the indie top ten, thus earning it regular exposure on TV’s `The Chart Show’. The video employed obscure black and white visuals and featured the flipside Icelandic version of the song, helping to increase their cult status.

The appeal of this first single was enhanced by the band’s unusual origins, Iceland had never won the Eurovision Song Contest or even produced a pop group that had made the cross-over to English-speaking nations. In addition there was a sexuality in Bjork’s voice that was almost frightening. She had already become a sex symbol of the underground before anyone had any idea what she looked like! The backing, meanwhile, was inventive, and rumbled with menace; and the single will long be remembered as a pop classic.

“Birthday” was released in the U.K. on the One Little Indian label, which had been set up by Flux after the demise of the Crass label. Despite their success with “Birthday” and their subsequent releases, the Sugarcubes have remained with One Little Indian, and in other territories that have generally preferred not to sign with a major company. The exception has been the U.S.A. where their records are released on Elektra.

The Sugarcubes’ second single, “Coldsweat”, was initially a let-down. Firstly it was sung in English, which perhaps made it less than intriguing and it didn’t seem to be as powerful as their debut. Repeated plays confirmed that they were no one hit wonder band, however. The 12″ format of “Coldsweat” was a limited edition of 5,000 and several other limited editions have been pressed since then. However, One Little Indian still hold stocks of all formats of all the Sugarcubes’ singles, with the exception of the 12″ and CD versions of “Birthday”, so collectors are not obliged to pay over the odds for these items. Despite this, some dealers have been offering items like the “Birthday” 7″ and the band’s later collaboration with the Jesus & Mary Chain at inflated prices.

The third single is often the breaking point for new bands, but “Deus” was a potent fusion of menace and whimsy. Again, the solid and imaginative backing of the band allowed Bjork to use her voice to extraordinary effect. The lyrics first defied and then seemed to accept the concept of the Supreme Being, but a spoken section by Einar made it seem that God was more interested in soap commercials than humanity. Einar’s contribution to the band has often been underrated, but he comes to the fore in live performances.

“Life’s Too Good”, released in April 1988, was typical of many Debut LPs, mixing the best of what was already out on single release (all three A-sides were included, plus three of their flipsides) plus a few new songs, all sung in English. But the album is exciting and fresh and displays considerably more ability than most people would give the band credit for. The lyrics tend to be their biggest weakness: there is a tendency to dismiss them as naive and almost childlike, but in some ways this adds to the sexual menace of many of the songs. “Sick For Toys” is a good example of a song that makes you feel uneasy because of its sexual implications. Bjork herself has a childlike appearance and on stage she can come over as a mischievous, even evil, troll, at the same time exuding a youthful sexual appeal.

The summer of 1988 saw the release of the band’s much-rumoured collaboration with the Jesus & Mary Chain. Apparently the J&MC recorded their feedback version of “Birthday”, retitled “Christmas”, on their own and Bjork’s vocals were added later, so the collaboration was more of an electronic one than anything else.

Since last summer there have been no new Sugarcubes releases in the U.K., but a new album is promised and the band has toured extensively, resulting in several bootlegs featuring new songs like “Diesel”, “TV”, “Planet” and “Water”.

After almost a year’s silence it’s about time for the band to re-establish itself as one of the most inventive indie bands around and for them to prove that they can move beyond their initial naive image to create a lasting impression on the British rock scene.

Sugarcubes in Deutsch in Spex Magazine 1988

Spex (D) 5/88 pp 48-52

Lothar Gorris

Sugarcubes – Das Eiland des schwarzen Todes

Jedes Jahr gehen In der isländischen Wildnis diverse Abenteuer-Urlauber verschütt. Die Inflationsrate beträgt 100%, statt arbeitslos ist jeder Isländer doppelt beschäftigt und trinkt zur Entspannung ein Gesöff namens Black Death, das ihn auch wirklich tötet. Die Welt staunte, als aus diesen Verhältnissen eine Pop-Band entstand. Die Sängerin der Sugarcubes wurde zur Traumfrau des Independent-Wavers und Lothar Gorris zum Kunden der Firma Loftleidir, bis dahin nur für billige New-York-Flüge bekannt, um sich Reykjavik vor Ort anzusehen und die Edda im Original zu lesen.

“Mit mir verglichen, bin ich normal.” Wie bitte? “Mit mir verglichen, bin ich normal.” Was soll das heißen? “Ich versuche nicht, nicht normal zu sein.”
Björg ist die Sängerin der Sugarcubes. Björg ist eine Isländerin. Und wenn sie das sagt, hat man noch eine geringe Hoffnung, daß es hier vielleicht eine kleine Sprachbarriere gibt und einiges durcheinander gekommen ist Aber Björk sagt auch Sachen wie: “I’m a singers”. Und das sagt sie nicht nur so, das meint sie auch so.

Björg schreibt die Texte der Sugarcubes. Da werden kleine Mädchen von alten Männern verführt. Da legt Gott höchstpersönlich seine Hände auf ihre Schultem, läßt sie langsam nach vorne gleiten, über ihre Brüste, immer weiter runter und runter. Aber vielleicht existiert Gott doch nicht, und wenn, dann als Sexsymbol, ein Rock’n’Roller mit Koteletten und Tolle. Falls er existiert, aber, wie gesagt, da ist sich Björg nicht so sicher.

Sie fühlt sich wie ein Freak sagt sie, wenn sie durch die Straßen von Reykjavik geht. Und wirklich, der saubere, ordentliche, nach europäischer Mode gekleidete Isländer dreht sich nach ihr um, wenn sie in ihren durchlöcherten grünen Strümpfen unter dem blauen Rock, in ihrem schwarzen Pullover mit Ausschnitt, geschmückt mit einem Anhänger in Spermienform, darüber nur noch der Nordpol-Anorak mit Kapuze, über die Oxford Street von Island, dem Laugavegur, zum Proberaum schlendert

Björg ist einundzwanzigJahre alt und sieht aus wie zwölf Und weil sie nun mal aus Island kommt, meint man auch die Eskimo Linie in ihrer Familie erkennen zu können. Björg ist etwas anders. Björg, das ist die Traumfrau des Independent-Wavers.

Seit 870 nur ein paar Vokalverschiebungen

Vor einem Jahr haben die Isländer voller Stolz ihren neuen internationalen Flughafen 40 km außerhalb von Reykjavik eröffnet Er gilt als einer der modernsten, schönsten Flughäfen Europas: Ein architektonischer Remix des Skandinavien der 70er, Hydrokultur und Postmoderne. Und der einzige auf der Welt mit Teppichboden. Die Querachse des Gebäudes endet in riesigen rechteckigen, quergestellten Fenstern, die den Blick freigeben aufdie Landebahn und aufeine Lavawüste, die sich den ganzen Weg bis nach Reykjavik hin erstreckt. Das größte Bauprojekt in der isländischen Geschichte ist aber nicht nur modern, sondem be- zieht, wie alles was man macht auf Island, die 1100 Jahre alte Geschichte des Landes mit ein.
Glasmalereien zeigen alte isländische Mythen, und mittendrin steht eine Skulptur des Mannes, nach dem der Flughafen benannt ist: Leifur Eiriksson, der von Island aus eine neue W elt entdeckte.

Vor dem Flughafen sind große amerikanische Limousinen geparkt Eine Awacs steigt just in dem Moment auf, als der Bus sich gen Reykjavik in Bewegung setzt Zwei F-14 Bomber jagen hinterher.

Keflavik an der südöstlichen Spitze von Reykjavik ist der amerikanische Mittelatlantik-Stützpunkt mit größter strategischer Bedeutung für die Vereinigten Staaten. Der Beobachtungsposten genau in der Mitte zwischen Moskau und Washington.

Aber auf Island versucht man alles, um nicht den Eindruck eines besetzten Landes zu machen. Das Abkommen, das 1949 bezüglich dieses Stützpunktes mit den Amerikanern geschlossen wurde, klingt per fekt: Island ist Mitglied der NATO und wird im Falle eines möglichen Angriffs von der ganzen NATO-Streitmacht verteidigt, ohne selbst den üblichen Truppen-Beitrag leisten zu müssen. Die Isländer haben keine eigene Armee, und die einzige Bedingung für die NATO-Mitgliedschaft ist der Stützpunkt der Amerikaner in Keflavik.

Hier leben mehrere tausend amerikanische Soldaten, die bei einer Gesamtbevölkerung von 240.000 Einwohnern in Island eigentlich prägenden Einfluß hinterlassen sollten.Tun sie nicht, weil Island schon bei der Abfassung des Abkommens alles unternahm, um genau das zu verhindern. Inzwischen ist noch nicht mal mehr das amerikanische Soldaten-Fernsehen in Reykjavik zu empfangen. Und auch sonst sieht man keine Amerikaner in Reykjavik außer mittwochs. Das nämlich ist der einzige Tag in der Woche, an dem Amerikaner ihren Stützpunkt verlassen und nach Reykjavik zum Einkaufen dürfen.

Was sich allerdings wie schon fast übertriebener Anti-Amerikanismus gebärdet ist weniger politisch motiviert, als viel mehr Ausdruck der größten Angst der Isländer: Daß ihre Kultur, ihre Sprache irgendeinem kulturimperialistischen Druck von außen zum Opfer fällt So sind dann 40 Prozent der Bevölkerung strikt gegen den Stützpunkt und wollen dieAmerikaner am liebsten zum Teufeljagen. Lieber Pazifimus, als die eigene Identität zu verlieren. Das sah man schon 1949 so und ließ in das Abkommen einen Passus einarbeiten, der den Amerikanern sogar den – äußerst geringen – Prozentsatz von Schwarzen bei den aufIsland stationierten Soldaten vorschrieb. Nichts wäre schlimmer als eine Flut von Schoko-Babies oder HipHop, dachten sich die Isländer.

Auch mit der Sprache, die sich seit der Besiedelung Islands 870 bis auf wenige V okalverschiebungen nicht verändert hat, geht man äußerst pingelig um. Im isländischen Fernsehen gibt es jede Woche eine Sendung, in der Sprachwissenschaftler dem unkorrekten Umgang mit der isländischen Sprache auf der Spur sind und grammatikalische und sonstige Fehler in den Medien schonungslos enttarnen.

“Auf Island hält man uns für Verrückte, wir sind ihnen nicht ganz geheuer, weil sie glauben, daß wir ihre Existenz in Frage stellen” sagt Sigtryggur, der Schlagzeuger und Finanzverwalter der Sugarcubes. Aber nachdem seit dem Ende des letzten Jahres sich praktisch ganz Großbritannien ob der Originalität und Einzigartigkeit der Band geradezu überschlägt und reihenweise Titelbilder einer Band widmen, die immerhin schon eine Single veröffentlicht hat, und auch englische Plattenfirmen die Jagd auf die Sugarcubes eröffnet haben, scheint sich zumindest etwas wie Stolz auf die Sugarcubes zu entwickeln. Das Magazin von Iceland Air widmet der Band ein Farbphoto und hebt vor allem die Tatsache hervor, daß ihnen ein Vertrag für 6 LPs über 750000 Pfund angeboten worden ist, und sowas macht natürlich Eindruck in Island. Und selbst der Premierminister, Thorsteinn Pßlsson, liest bei der Ankunft in London voller Stolz in der Tageszeitung “The Independent” einen großen Artikel über seine Landsmänner. Trotzdem werden die Sugarcubes in einem Restaurant angeguckt, als kämen sie von einem anderen Stern.
BJÖRG: “Hier in Island hält man uns eben für eine internationale Band.”
SIGI: “Während Ausländer uns für eine typisch isländische Band halten.”

Im Einzugsbereich des Sky-Channel

Während also amerikanische Kultur, amerikanisches Leben, abgesehen von Filmen, die in Reykjavik ein halbes Jahr früher als in London anlaufen, auf Island kaum zu spüren ist, wirkt der Einfluß Londons umso bestimmender. Die jugendlichen kleiden sich entsprechend, man kann englische Zeitungen lesen und Sky und Super Channel empfangen. Und auch die Musik der Sugarcubes ist inspiriert von britischem Pop und Underground.
Ob das nun an Jaz Coleman liegt, der sich vor ein paar Jahren naiv von dem Nordischen Blabla angezogen fühlte und Reykjavik unsicher machte? Auf Jaz Coleman angesprochen, reagiert man allergisch und erklärt, daß man ihn rausgeschmissen hat, weil man es nicht mag, an der Nase herumgeführt zu werden und laufend für Telefonate nach England aufzukommen.

Auch Bands wie Psychic TV, vermutlich ein Fall wie Jaz Coleman, oder The Fall und Stranglers, hatte es nach Island verschlagen. Demnächst spielt Boy George in Reykjavik. Das ist dann eins von vielleicht drei großen Pop-Konzerten 1988 in Island.
SIGI: “Hier in Island lebt man natürlich in einer Art Isolation. Es gibt hier keine richtige Szene, man kann kaum zu Konzerten gehen und andere Leute treffen.”
BJÖRG : “Durch diese Isolation sind wir gezwungen uns selbst weiterzuentwickeln, ohne wirklich von dem beeinflußt zu sein, was in der Indie-Welt in England passiert”
EINAR: “Wir machen Pop-Musik.Isländer halten das für Underground, Europäer für isländisch. Aber so sehen wir das nicht. Natürlich sind wir Isländer, und wir leben auf einer Insel. Hier zu leben ist unser Alltag, diese Isolation ist die Realität, aber aufder anderen Seite tragen wir keine Zwangsjacken und leben auch nicht in einer Gummizelle. Wir wissen natürlich, was in der Welt passiert. Aber hier wegzugehen, würde einem Realitäts-Verlust gleichkommen, und wir würden stattdessen in einem Alptraum leben.”
SIGI: “Auf der anderen Seite ist es natürlich Blödsinn das zu romantisieren und unsere Musik in Zusammenhang mit Geysiren oder Gletschern zu sehen. Wir leben in einer Großstadt”

KATHEDRALE VON REYKJAVIK
Fast die Hälfte der Bevölkerung Islands lebt in Reykjavik. Großstadt ist etwas viel gesagt. Ein hübsches, kleines Städtchen mit einem Zentrum aus wenigen wuchtigen Steingebäuden und vor allen bunt bemalten zweistöckigen Häusern aus Holz und Wellblech wie aus einer Astrid Lindgren Verfilmung. Rund um die Stadt erstreckt sich ein riesiges Gewerbegebiet aus Beton, wie man das aus jeder anderen Stadt auch kennt. Nicht richtig idyllisch, nicht richtig alt, sondern einfach das politische, wirtschaftliche und gesellschaftliche Zentrum Islands.

Und obwohl Island weder eine den Staatshaushalt belastende Armee unterhalten muß und obwohl z. B. Reykjavik zu 80 Prozent mit dem Wasser aus den Dampfquellen um die Stadt herum beheizt wird, die restliche Energie mit relativ billigen Wasserkraft- werken erzeugt wird, sind die wirtschaftlichen Pro- bleme enorm. Eine Inflationsrate Anfang der achtziger Jahre von über 100070 machte selbst den in dieser Beziehung schon einiges gewöhnten Isländern zu schaffen.1987 lag diese Rate bei sensationellen20bis 30 Prozent, glücklich wäre man bei einer Inflationsrate von 10070. Wer dann also bei den laufend steigenden Preisen – ein ganz normaler Hauptgang in einem wenig exklusiven Restaurant kostet 40 Mark – ein vernünftiges Leben führen will, muß hart arbeiten.

Die meisten Isländer haben deswegen 2 Jobs und arbeiten fast alle mehr als 12 Stunden pro Tag, und weil das hartverdiente Geld schon am nächsten Tag wieder weniger wert sein kann, wird es auch sofort ausgegeben. Diese völlig inflationsgeprägte, einseitig ausgerichtete Volkswirtschaft (80 Prozent des Exportes besteht aus Fisch in jedweder Form) hat dann auch ihre guten Seiten: Arbeitslosigkeit trotz der Doppelbeschäftigung vieler Isländer ist unbekannt. Und wer wochentags hart arbeitet, sucht am Wochenende ein bißchen spaß. Wo wir dann wieder bei der Großstadt sind: Mehrere Discos, zahllose Kneipen und Cafes in den üblichen stilistischen Variationen.

Mit der Bierpalette durch den Zoll

Die Tatsache, daß der Flughafen in Keflavik der einzige aufder Welt ist, wo man nicht nur vorm Abflug, sondern auch bei der Ankunft im Duty Free Shop einkaufen gehen kann, führt direkt zu dem entscheidendsten Bestandteil und auch größtem Problem einer isländischen Freitag-Nacht Ganz skandinavisch versucht man den Alkoholkonsum in Grenzen zu halten. Seit 1933 darf zwar Alkohol in Form von Wein und Schnaps verkauft werden – auf Druck der Export-Partner, die nur dann auch isländischen Fisch abnehmen wollten, wenn sie ihrerseits Alkohol einführen durften – nur, Bier, und keiner weiß warum, sollte weiterhin keinen höheren Alkoholgehalt als 2,5 Prozent haben, und das ist, wie man weiß, eindeutig zu wenig. 55Jahre später gibt es immer noch kein Bier, und es ist üblich die sechs Liter vollwertigen Biers, die man einführen darf, auch voll auszunutzen. Der Kenner also passiert mit einer Palette Dosenbier den isländischen Zoll.
Neben der amerikanischen Präsenz auf Island ist diese Bier-Regelung das große, immer wiederkehrende politische Thema. Sozusagen der Gradmesser für den Zustand der jeweiligen Regierungskoalition, die in Krisenzeiten vornehmlich über Bier streitet, anstatt die sich dahinter verbergenden, grundsätzlichen politischen Differenzen auszutragen. Politische Differenzen gibt es genug. Die Koalition zur Zeit ist ein rechtsliberales Bündnis aus Unabhängigkeitspartei, Fortschrittspartei und Sozialdemokratie, wobei die stärkste Partei, die Unabhängigen, 1987 gerade mal 27,2% der Stimmen erhielten. Eine wacklige Sache und die fortwährenden Krisen haben schon bei den letzten Wahlen zu verstärktem Protest-Wähler-Verhalten geführt, wie es so schön heißt. Erfolgreich war zum einen die Bürgerpartei des von den Unabhängigen wegen Korruptionsverdachts rausgeschmissenen Finanzminister Albert Gudmundsson, der schon 1984 viel ärger machte, weil er trotz des immer noch gültigen Hundeverbots auf Island seine Lucy aufjeden Fall behalten wollte und sogar so weit ging, seine Emigration anzudrohen. Zum anderen die Frauenliste, die nach den neuesten Umfragen im März mittlerweile die stärkste politische Gruppierung auf Island bildet In einer sowieso eher matriarchalisch ausgerichteten Gesellschaft, in der Frauen schon im 11.Jahrhundert eigenen Besitz haben und Heiratsangebote ablehnen durften, in der eine Frau Staatspräsidentin ist, 40% der Kinder unehelich zur Welt kommen und es keine Prostitution gibt, lehnt die Frauenliste die Nato-Mitgliedschaft ab und zeigt sich auch ansonsten vage grün-linken Zielen verbunden.

4 Schnapsbudiken für 120.000 Säufer

Einzige konsequent-wirkende Folge der Alk-Politik: Auch wenn Wein und Schnaps erlaubt ist, der Zugang wird einem so schwer gemacht, wie nur möglich. In ganz Reykjavik, also für 120000 Menschen, gibt es vier Läden, in denen man wie normal in einem Supermarkt Alkohol kaufen kann. Die Preise sind heftig – eine Flasche besserer Rotwein für 40 Mark, Hochprozentiges entscheidend mehr. Ansonsten kann man in jeder Disco,jedem Restaurant, jedem Cafe, jeder Kneipe Alkohol trinken – wenn man bereit ist, entsprechend zu zahlen.

Luftgitar auf Cognac

Freitag, früher Abend. Thor, der Gitarrist, und Einar (bei den Sugarcubes gibt es zwei, der hier heißt Melax mit Nachnamen, ist Maler und erst seit kurzem als Keyboarder bei der Band) holen mich im Hotel ab. “Nein, kein Bier.” Ein etwas unverständlicher Blick und dann der Griff in die Jackentaschen und herauskommen eine Flasche Moskovskaya bzw. eine Flasche Hennessy Cognac, die sie am Nachmittag im Alk-Laden gekauft haben. Es wird erstmal getrunken. Ein ganz normaler Freitag-Abend in Reykjavik.

Dann machen wir uns auf den Weg zu Bragi (sprich: Brei-i) – und? Natürlich Cognac. Später im Restaurant der Aperitif, der Wein, der Cognac, dann bei einem anderen Freund wieder Cognac, dann mal Whiskey und zwischendurch einen Likör. Auf dem Weg nach “Downtown” begegnen uns schon Horden von vergnügungssüchtigen, meist jüngeren Isländern.

Eine Gruppe von blonden Teenager-Mädels singen “Luftgitar”.

Jeder ein Poet

Johnny Triumph, sagte man mir, sei einer der populärsten Lyriker Islands. Und Johnny Triumph hat zusammen mit den Sugarcubes eine bisher nur in Island erschienene Single, “Luftgitar” , gemacht Und wer mit den Sugarcubes bisher eher nur sphärische “Birthday”-Schönheit verband, sieht sich hier einem “richtigen” Rock’n’Roll-Stück ausgesetzt Johnny, der “Poet”, besingt isländisch die Unfähigkeit der Jungs zu tanzen und stattdessen immer nur HM-Gitarrenposen nachzustellen. Die Mädchen auf der Straße singen “Luftgitar”, während sie in die Hölle der freitäglichen Vergnügungen marschieren.

Punk trotz Vollbeschäftigung

Der isländischen Version von Punk, die sich etwas später als in Europa entwickelte, fehlten zwar entscheidende soziologische Komponenten – einfach doof, wenn jeder, der will, eine Lehrstelle haben kann – musikalisch allerdings war Island ein äußerst gesunder Nährboden, wo doch bis Mitte der siebziger Jahre isländische Musik wesentlich daraus bestand, daß man mit anderen Texten die Pop-Musik aus England und USA nachspielte. Das war langweilig und ließ Ende der siebziger, Anfang der achtziger Jahre 30 bis 40 Bands entstehen.
BJöRG : “Schon bevor es Punk gab, ging ich zujedem Konzert, das in Reykjavik stattfand – das waren unge- fähr zwei oder drei proJahr. Und plötzlich innerhalb eines Jahres gab esjede Woche ein Konzert mit drei oder vier Bands. Und jeder, den ich damals kannte, spielte in einer Band. Jeder.”
Der Bewegungsführer hieß Bubbi (sprich : Bübbi) Morthens, der eigentlich aus dem eher traditionellen Rock-Lager kam. Bubbi ist auch heute noch aktiv, und seine letzte LP hat sich in Island, obwohl es natürlich bei 240000 überhaupt möglichen Käufern keine intakte Plattenindustrie geben kann, 20000 mal verkauft – so gut wie noch keine andere Platte in Island. Aus dieser Zeit überlebte neben Bubbi auch Einar Orn, der früher einmal dessen Manager war und später seine eigene Band aufgemacht hat

Kukl – von den heutigen Sugarcubes gehörten neben Einar auch noch Björg und Sigi dazu – hatte das Glück bei ihrem zweiten Konzert die zufällig in Island weilenden Crass im Publikum zu haben. Die zeigten sich tiefbeeindruckt von der Anarcho-Punk-Attitüde und der Schwarzen-Messe-Atmosphäre. Auf d em Crass-Label erschienen dann auch die Platten von Kukl, eine Möglichkeit, die sich den meisten isländischen Bands dieser Zeit nicht geboten hat und die auch wieder in der Versenkung verschwanden.

Kukl existierte drei Jahre, hatte Indie-Charts-Erfolge in England und Konzerte in Berlin (mit Einstürzende Neubauten) und Hamburg.
BJöRG : “Wiir hatten mit der Zeit festgestellt, daß es am schwierigsten überhaupt ist, Spaß zu haben, sich selbst zu vergnügen. Denn wenn man das kann, dann kann man alles erreichen, und genau das versuchen wir jetzt mit den Sugarcubes. Wenn etwas keinen Spaß macht, dann stimmt irgendetwas nicht “

Der Mörder von Thors Opa

Tausende von wildgewordenen Teenagern haben sich anscheinend genauso wie wir gründlich auf das Ausgehritual des Wochenendes vorbereitet. Um kurz nach zwölf liegt überall schon Kotze auf der Straße, daneben die ersten Opfer, die für mindestens 100 Mark Alkohol gut sind. Und das ist kein besonderer Feiertag – ganz einfach nur die Freitag-Abends-Routine. Trotz der Preise ist das Verhältnis zum Alkohol völlig enthemmt, und man neigt dazu, den Befürchtungen recht zu geben, daß sich hier eine ganze Insel bei völliger Freigabe des Alkohols zu gemäßigten Preisen kollektiv in den Tod saufen würde. Entvölkerung.
Brenivin heißt der Beitrag Islands zur internationalen Spirituosen-Produkt-Palette. Ein Schnaps irgendwie auf Kartoffel-Basis, dem Wodka nicht ganz unähnlich, aber mit einigen Wundermitteln isländischer Vegetation aufgepeppt. Ein Höllenzeug, das nicht nur Thors Großvater zum V erhängnis wurde. Mittags um eins zum Kaffee und man glaubt die Welt geht unter und ein Vulkan bricht aus. Sowas saufen selbst Isländer nur in kleinen Zügen.

Für den internationalen Markt haben geschickte Werbestrategen den isländischen Kosenamen für dieses Höllenzeug ins englische übersetzt: Black Death – The pleasure of the north.

Seitdem die Sugarcubes Erfolg haben, ändern sich auch die Trinkgewohnheiten. Vor dem ersten Konzert in London leerte Einar, der Legende nach, fast eine ganze Flasche Black Death, mittlerweile beläßt er es bei Cognac.

Der große Bildhauer

Einar Jonsson, der 1954 gestorbene Bildhauer, gilt als einer der bedeutendsten Künstler Islands. 1909 bot der aufdem europäischen Kontinent lebende Künstler seiner Heimat an, ihr alle seine Kunstwerke zu schenken, im Austausch für ein von der isländischen Regierung nach seinen Plänen zu errichtendes Haus samt Garten, das er zu Lebzeiten als Wohnhaus, Atelier und Ausstellungsraum benutzen wollte, und das nach seinem Tod als Museum der Nachwelt die äußerst wuchtigen Bronze-Skulpturen als Beitrag zur isländischen Kulturgeschichte zugänglich machen sollte. Dieses Haus, die “Hnitbjörg”, ist ein wuchtiger Betonklotz, der in den zwanziger Jahren fertiggestellt wurde – sowohl mittelalterlich wirkende Festung als auch Vorläufer postmoderner LA-Tempelarchitektur, will sagen, das Ding sieht auch 1988 sehr modisch aus.
Hinter dem Haus ist ein Skulpturen-Garten angelegt. Die Skulpturen erinnern an Vorläufer der Dritten-Reich-Kunst, d. h. voluminöse Formgebung der Antike mit Figuren und Themen aus isländischer Literatur und Volkssagen. Einar Jonssons Religiösität verstärkt den mystischen Charakter der Kunst noch zusätzlich.

EINAR JONSONS HAUS AUS DEN 20ER JAHREN

In Einar Jonsons Skulpturengarten auf einem kleinen Hügel in Reykjavik sitzen nun die Sugarcubes : Björg, die Sängerin, Thor, der Gitarrist, Einar, der Sänger, Bragi, der Bassist und der Schlagzeuger Sigi. Es war Einars Vorschlag hier hinzugehen, das soll mir wohl etwas sagen.

Die Musik der Sugarcubes könnte man in einem ähnlichen, isländischen Kontext sehen. Die Bandmitglieder leben und arbeiten in Reykjavik und wollen hier auch bleiben. Zwar werden ihre Platten in Großbritannien mit englischen Texten veröffentlicht, die Songs aber entstehen in Reykjavik und in isländischer Sprache.

Der Welt führende Literatur-Nation

In Island heißt Kultur erstmal Literatur. Der Bereich der Bildenden Kunst oder der Musik ist durch die ›bermacht der 1000 Jahre alten schriftstellerischen Tätigkeit bis heute noch völlig unterentwickelt Grundstock für diese Tradition bilden die “Islendinga sögur” (Isländersagas), die im12. und 13. Jahrhundert entstanden sind und von den. Ereignissen seit der Besiedlung Ende des 9.Jahrhunderts bis ungefähr 1030 incl. Familiengeschichten, deren blutrünstigen Fehden, Totschlag, Blutrache und Helden erzählen.
Bedeutender noch sind die Edda-Lieder, die als die einzig erhaltene Quelle für den Glauben und die Welt- und Lebens-Anschauung der germanischen Völker gelten. Richard Wagner baute daraus den Ring der Nibelungen. In diesen Liedern mischen sich die von isländischen Siedlern mitgebrachten ›berlieferungen aus alten germanischen Zeiten mit Schilderungen aus der Völkerwanderung und isländischen Familien-Geschichten.

Das Verhältnis zu dieser Literatur ist völlig ungebrochen, selbst unter der jungen Generation von Isländern. In den Reykjaviker Punk-Tagen z. B. gehörte der mittlerweile 70 Jahre alte Beinteinsson zum festen Inventar von Punk-Konzerten, die er regelmäßig mit einem Vortrag von Edda-Liedern eröffnete. Eine Punkband vertonte ein katholisches Gedicht aus dem 16. Jahrhundert und selbst Gramm Records, Reykjaviks Independent-Label, widmet sich nicht nur neuer isländischer Musik, sondern läßt auf ihrer Anthologie isländischer Independent-Musik auch Raum für Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson.
BRAGI: “Die ›bermacht von Literatur in diesem Land hat auch damit zu tun, daß die Kirche im 15. Jahrhundert jede Art von weltlicher Musik und Tanzen verboten hat, so daß alles, was es davor gab, einfach in Vergessenheit geraten ist”
EINAR: “Nochmal, wir sind eine isländische Band, aber wir kommen aus Reykjavik, und wir verstehen uns als großstädtische Musiker. Wir singen keine alten isländischen Verse vor unseren Konzerten und opfern auch keine Schafe, obwohl wir das vielleicht mal versuchen sollten.”
BJÖRG : “Die Leute kommen hierher, heben irgendeinen Stein aufund gehen nach Hause im Glauben, daß sie andere Menschen geworden sind. Für uns Isländer ist das normal. Wir wissen, daß es Geister gibt und lassen uns dadurch nicht aus der Fassung bringen.” (55920 der Isländer glauben an Geister und gar 64070 haben eigene übersinnliche Erfahrungen gemacht). So besingen die Sugarcubes zwar keine alten Sagenfiguren, aber immerhin: Wer macht schon Pop-Songs über Drachen oder einen sexuell äußerst aktiven Gott (“Deus”, die neue Single) ?

Die Fünfjährige und der Fünfzigjährige

In Island werden mehr Bücher pro Person verkauft, als in jedem anderen Land auf der Welt. Auch der derzeitige Ausstoß an isländischer zeitgenössischer Literatur ist enorm, gemessen an der Bevölkerungszahl Islands.
Jeder zweite, mit dem man in irgendwelchen Kneipen bekannt gemacht wird, ist ein “Poet”, manchmal auch ein “mad Poet”. Ein “Poet” genießt ungeheures Ansehen, auch wenn er ganz offensichtlich verrückt ist, wie ein Freund der Band namens Jhamar, mit dem man eine ganze Nacht über Surrealismus hätte diskutieren können, wäre ich nicht von Thor gerettet worden.Wobei das Ansehen eines “Poets” nicht von Verkaufszahlen abhängt – einziges Kriterium für den Ruf als “Poet” ist eine Veröffentlichung.

Thor ist wie Bragi ein veröffentlichender “Poet” – er gehört zu den Gründungsmitgliedern der einzigen surrealistischen Schriftsteller-Gruppe Islands – “Medusa”. Bragi wartet samstags Mittags mit einem neuen Gedicht bei Brenivin und Kaffee auf, und auch Björg, die die meisten Texte der Sugarcubes schreibt, scheint derartige Ambitionen zu haben.

Björg hat zum Beispiel auch folgende Zeilen von “Birthday” geschrieben : “Today’s a birthday – they’re sucking cigars, lie in the bathtub, chain of flowers.” Einar erklärt solche Texte als völlig bedeutungslos, und die bisher von Björg gelieferten Erklärungen für diesen Text – eine Geschichte über die gegenseitige Verführung von einem fünfjährigen Mädchen und einem fünfzigjährigen Mann, bei der allerdings nichts passiert – seien nur entstanden, weil “Birthday” mittlerweile schon eineinhalb Jahre alt sei und sie Zeit genug gehabt hätte, sich irgendeinen Mist dazu auszudenken.

Schizo, aber friedlich

“Birthday” , die erste Single der Sugarcubes, löste in England eine Euphorie aus. In Island verkaufte man zwar nur dreihundert Exemplare, aber selbst die SPEX-Leser wählten diese Single, ohne daß Band oder Song 1987 in dieser Zeitschrift mit einem Wort erwähnt wurde, auf Platz 11 der siebenundachtziger Singles.
Und “Birthday” verdient diese Aufmerksamkeit, obwohl diese abstrakte Schönheit mit der unterschwelligen, bösartigen Originalität nur ganz kurz vor einem plumpen Novelty-Witz halt macht und Kollegen zu Vergleichen mit Kate Bush bis hin zu Liz Fraser hinriß – beides also nicht Einordnungskategorien mit Auszeich- nungscharakter. Aber glücklicherweise kann man stattdessen, dank Björg, immer noch einen aggressi- ven nordischen Unterton hineinhören.

Björgs naiv-tiefgründiger Gesang ist musikalisch das einzige Bindeglied zwischen den bisher veröffentlichten Singles: “Birthday”, “Coldsweat” (in zwei Versionen; einmal als Grufti-Rock und einmal als völlig unterschiedliche Remix-Tanz-Version – ein Experiment, das die Band als gescheitert betrachtet), “Luftgitar” (Rock’n’Roll) und “Deus” (ein fast ganz normaler Pop-Song). Auch die Debut-LP “Life’s Too Good” erweitert das stilistische Spektrum nochmal.
EINAR: “Auf unserer LP gibt es 10 Stücke, und vielleicht hast du recht mit der Annahme, daß jeder einzelne Songvon einer anderen Band sein könnte.Vielleicht hat das Wetter auf Island einen prägenden Einfluß. Das Wetter hier ist schizophren: Im Moment ist das Wetter noch sehr schön, in ein paar Stunden kann es schon wieder frieren oder schneien oder Sturm geben oder hageln oder eine halbe Stunde lang regnen, während die Sonne scheint Und wenn das W etter schizophren ist, warum nicht auch wir? Friedlich, aber schizophren.”
SiGi: “Wir kümmern uns nicht darum, ob sich etwas anhört wie die Sugarcubes – was uns gefällt, machen wir.”
EINAR: “Wenn wir sagen, daß wir spaß haben wollen, dann heißt das nicht, daß wir uns nicht selbst ernst nehmen. Aber es gibt eben eine Menge Widersprüche, weil viele unserer Songs selbstironisch sind, obwohl diese Selbstironie längst nicht so beabsichtigt ist wie z. B. eine bewußt verrückt ausgewählte Coverversion. Und diese Selbstironie betreiben wir ernsthaft, und weil wir sie ernsthaft betreiben, bekommt sie auch wieder eine völlig andere Bedeutung.” SiGI : “W enn wir unsere Stücke aufgenommen
haben, entwickeln sie ein Eigenleben, weiljeder die unterschiedlichsten, eigentlich nicht zueinander passenden Dinge einbringt. Dadurch entwickelt ein Song die unterschiedlichsten Bedeutungen: Selbstironie oder auch ganz einfach blöder Rock’n’Roll.”

Das Tor zur Hölle

GLETSCHER UND GEYSIRE Im Mittelalter galt Island als das Tor zur Hölle. Dieses Tor zur Hölle ist genau lokalisiert: DerVulkan Hekla, der zum ersten Mal 1104 ausbrach und seitdem 15 mal tätig wurde. 1947 stieg die Eruptionssäule fast 30 km hoch, und die Lava bedeckte über 65 qkm. Auf der ganzen Insel sind mehrere Vulkane aktiv.
Weil Island geologisch gesehen sehr jung ist und genau an der Schnittstelle zwischen der europäischen und der amerikanischen Kontinentalplatte liegt (an dem einzigen Ort, wo man an der Erdoberfläche die beiden auseinanderdriftenden Platten sehen kann, hielten die Isländer jeden Sommer zwei Monate lang ihr Parlament – das sogenannte Althing, die Schlucht, in der alle Männer Islands Platz haben – ab, seit 930), passiert hier auf der Insel geologisch alles, was nur passieren kann : Durch das Auseinanderdriften der Kontinentalplatten entstehen Geysire (überall im Land dampft es aus der Erde), die verschiedensten Formen von Vulkanen und natürlich auch Erdbeben. Alles andere als ein sicheres Pflaster. Außerdem ist die Natur bestimmt durch den äußerst symbolischen Gegensatz von heiß und kalt Jede Saison verenden mehrere Touristen bei ihren Abenteuerurlauben, weil sie entweder in den riesigen Gletschergebieten steckengeblieben oder einfach in heiße Dampfquellen getreten sind. Und wer einmal im Hochland steckenbleibt, ist verloren – keine Menschenseele, die einen retten kann. Ein hübscher Tod inmitten einer nahezu kahlen, unbewohnbaren, von geologischen Formungsprozessen zerrissenen, zerklüfteten Landschaft, wo Natur noch Natur ist – schön und fürchterlich – und zwangsläufig ein anderes Verhältnis zu ihr erfordert.
EINAR: “Wir leben in einem engen Verhältnis zur Natur, weil wirwissen, wie gewalttätig sie sein kann. Da spielt man nicht mit rum, aber viele vergessen das, weil für sie Natur nur aus Beton, Glas und Asphalt besteht Hier wird man immer daran erinnert, wo wir eigentlich leben.Vielleicht habe ich gerade deswegen mehr Angst vor Atombomben, als vor Erdbebenund Vulkanausbrüchen. Alle 80jahre gibt es aufIsland ein großes Erd- beben. Das letzte war 1908, also sind wir dieses Jahr wieder dran.”

Be true to your Landkommune!

Die Millionen-Angebote der Plattenindustrie, phasenweise wurde Reykjavik von A&R Leuten aus England überschwemmt, wurden abgelehnt Die Sugarcubes bleiben stattdessen auf dem kleinen englischen Label “One Little Indian”, das von den Landkommunarden Flux Of Pink Indians gegründet wurde. Auch in Deutschland werden sie voraussichtlich unabhängig vertrieben. Und alles in allem ergibt das doch ein hübsches stimmiges Bildchen: Die Band aus Island, einem Land, das wie vor jahrhunderten hauptsächlich vom Fischfang lebt, den aber inzwischen computergesteuert betreibt, die keine isländische, sondern eine internationale Band sein will und dennoch nicht verleugnen kann, wo sie herkommt und deswegen so merkwürdig und so originell ist, widersteht allen Lockungen des internationalen Kapitals und veröffentlicht ihre Platten bei Landkommunen-Spinnern aus England.

Vigdis Finnbogadottir

Vierundzwanzig Stunden vor meiner Abreise flogen die Sugarcubes zu Promotagen nach London. In ihrem Flugzeug saß übrigens auch Staatspräsidentin Vigdis Finnbogadottir. Sie haben sich vermutlich gut verstanden.
Bei meiner Abreise schneit es. Mein Souvenir aus Island ? Eine Flasche Black Death.

Sykurmolarnir

Den Auftritt der Sugarcubes (Sykurmolarnir) am 17. März im Reykjaviker Hotel Island sahen übrigens 600 Zuschauer. Zusammen mit zwei unbekannten isländischen Bands gedachten sie dem kürzlich verstorbenen Divine.
Während Einar mich zum Hotel fährt und wir uns eine Kopie von Prince’ Black Album anhören, antwortet er auf meine Frage nach neuen, interessanten isländischen Bands: “Nein, nicht wirklich. Wir sind die einzigen.” .

The Secret History of Björk in Record Collector (1994)

Record Collector 3/94

The Secret History of Björk

Andy Davis

Geographically and culturally isolated, Iceland has produced relatively few internationally famous individuals in its thousand-year history. While scholars may remember some of the country’s historical heros, name-dropping a character or two from its legendary Sagas, most people would probarbly struggle to pluck more than Magnus “I’ve started so I’ll finish” Magnusson’s name from the geothermally-heated ether.

Until recently, that is. With the accolades heaped upon her album, “Debut”, ex-Sugarcubes vocalist Björk (pronounced Byerk) looks set to overtake the ‘Mastermind’ host as the world’s most famous Icelander, and has probarbly done more to put her home country on the map in the last six months than any Nordic tour operator has managed in a decade.

Western infulences has obviously permeated Iceland’s cultural defences since NATO established a base there in the 1950’s, and although the island’s rich heritage exerts a strong influence over any creative artist born there, too much can be read into the power the nation wields over a performer like Björk. Just because they come from Iceland, the Sugarcubes once quipped, didn’t mean they had to sing about volcanoes and the aurora borealis.

Remarkable

Similarly, Björk is unique. Her exotic looks are more reminiscent of the peoples of Central Asia, or even neighbouring Greenland, than they are of the average Icelandic native. And her extraordinary vocal style is no hark back to a traditional form of folk singing either: it is her own distinctive creation. At the same time, it is British artists like Kate Bush (one of Björk’s teenage heroines) who seems to have influenced that remarkable voice we know today, although where that leaves her other childhood favourite, Genesis is anyone’s guess!

With Björk set to become Best International Newcomer and Best International Female Artist at the 1994 Brit Awards, and with a new single, “Violently Happy”, a live video and that long-awaited remix album, due later this year, interest in the ex-Sugarcubes looks, if anything, set to increase. What better time, then, for your trusty ‘Record Collector’ to dig a little deeper than the average mag to reveal the secret history of the ‘newcomer’ who has sung on more records, and has been in more bands, than Iceland has proverbial geysers. Worthy as it is, “Debut” is not quite what it purports to be: Björk’s real debut, as we shall see, happened a long, long time ago.

The First Debut – 1977

Björk Guemundsdottir (literally ‘Gudmund’s daughter’) was born on 21st October 1966, in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. From the age of six until she was 14, she attended a local music school, where she studied the classics, and learned to play the flute and the piano. The family home was a hippy commune, with a steam of artists and musicians among the constant human traffic. Björk’s stepfather, Saevar Arnason, was himself a guitarist, and played in a band called Pops, recreating Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and “all that hippy music”. This bohemian atomsphere laid down a firm musical grounding for Björk’s future vocation, and provided a stepping stone to the first, and most remarkable, aspect of her recording career: an eponymously titled solo album, released in Iceland in 1977.

Documentation about this record is scant. Although Björk often alludes to it, precise details are hard to come by. And with the singer on a promotionaly tour of Japan and Australia at the time of writing, I turned to one of the few people with first-hand knowledge of this early release: Hildur Hauksdottir – Björk’s mum.

“The record came about when Björk was at school,” revealed Hildur, on the phone from Reykjavik. “They used to have an open house every week where the kids had to entertain, read aloud and things like that. Björk sang a song called ‘I Love To Love’. She was born musical. She started to sing very early. She started singing melodies around seven months old.” Björk’s teachers were sufficiently impressed with her redition of Tina Charles’ U.K. No.1 from February 1976, to take the budding starlet along to Iceland’s Radio 1, then the country’s only national broadcasting organisation, who in turn seemed only too pleased to play the song on air.

“After that she was offered a record deal by a label called F`alkkin,” continues Hildur. “I knew two musicians here, Palmi Gunnarsson, a bass player and singer, and Sigurdur Karlsson a drummer, and they had already recorded some songs with Björk. We worked on the recordat the Hljdrijinn Studios in Reykjavik. Palmi and Siggi brought in some of the best players in Iceland. After that first record with all thouse grown-ups, she only ever worked with oeioke her own age.” Among the other musicians on “Björk” was stepfather Saevar Arnason, and Bjoergvin G`islason, one of Iceland’s most acclaimed guitarists. Björk would return the favour several years later when she sang on the track “Afi” on G`islason’s 1983 LP, “Oerugglega”.

The “Björk” album was released in time for Christmas 1977, with a cover designed by Hildur, and photographed at a local Reykjavik studio. In contrast to precocious recordings by singing kids like Lena Zavaroni, the tone of “Björk” mercifully falls short of the little-madam-wearing-mummy’s-make-up image(although who knows what she’s singing about!). Producers Gunnarsson and Karlsson constructed a perfect listenable, mid-70s pop album (albeit one sung by an 11-year old), which mixed a handful of standard Icelandic pop tunes, and a Björk orginal – the instrumental “Johannes Kjaval” (a tribute to a celebrated Icelandic painter) – with covers of Melanie’s “Christopher Robin” (with a decent approximation of Mel’s vocal growl), Stevie Wonder’s “Your Kiss Is Sweet”, Edgar Winter’s “Alta Mira” and the Beatles’ “Fool On The Hill” ( translated as “Alfur Ut Ur Hol”!). Despite her tender age, Björk managed to press her personality into the grooves, and this, her real debut, is as much her own record as it is her producer’s.

Perhaps succumbing toa little of the mythmaking which is an inevitable side- effect of stardom, Björk has recently maintained that the album went platinum in Iceland, indicating that she became an instant celebrity. Her mum is not so sure. “I have no idea!” replied Hildur, when asked how many copies “Björk” sold. “It’s sold out today, I know that. And they are playing it on the radio now in Iceland! But at the time, she was not exactly what you’d call famous. In Iceland it’s different from elsewhere. It’s such a small place, everybody knows each other already. But the record didn’t separate her from school or anything.” And what became of the F`alkinn label? “They have stopped making their own records. They only sell others’ records now, and bicycles”.

Exodus 1979-1980

Punk, and its musical aftermath, new wave, didn’t hit Iceland until the late 1970s and early 80s. But when it did, the teenage Björk was one of the first to get involved. Around 1979, while still at school, she formed her first band, Exodus. Remembered as a naive blend of new wave and pop, Exodus’ legacy apparently survives as a “garage recording” on a cassette, although few Icelanders claim to have ever heard it. The band did manage one appearance on local TV, however, which provided Björk with another feather in her local- celebrity cap. And outfit called Jam 80 was Björk’s next musical project, but its fleeting tenure on the emerging new wave scene extended to one gig, before expiring. It’s not known whether Paul Weller was an influence here!

Tappi Tikarras 1981-1983

In 1981, Björk, then aged 14, formed the band Tappi T`ikarrass – which translates as something like ‘Cork The Bitch’s Arse’! – and which featured at least one other member from Exodus, bassist Jakob Magnusson. Tappi was Björk’s most professional band so far, and went on to record two albums. On the evidence of the second, “Miranda”, issued in 1983, the band relied upon a repertoire of fairly standard new wave, spiced up by the occasional bout of Rezillos/X-Ray Spex-inspired thrash. Prior to “Miranda”, Tappi released a six- track mini-album, “Bitid Fast I Vitid” (something like “Bite Hard In Your Mind”), on the Spor label in 1981, which sold well, earning the band a solid repurtation. Björk’s vocal delivery at this point – save for the odd throaty punk bray – displayed few of the dive-andsoar gymnastics which would characterise both the Sugarcubes and her later solo work. She was more your average indie Icelander, while her guitarist probarbly owned every record the Cure ever made.
With Tappi T`ikarrass, Björk worked the same venues as future Sugarcube members Einar Örn (pronounced Ay-nar Urn), then with Purrkurr Pillnikk, and Sigtryggur Baldursson, drummer with the first Icelandic band known outside of its home territory. Peyr (pronounced Theyr) was first brought to Britain’s attention courtesy of errant Killing Joke vocalist Jaz Coleman, who abandoned his doom’n’gloomy mates in 1982 amidst much media interest, absconding north to work with these punky Icelanders.

Tappi T`ikarrass, Purrkurr Pillnikk and Peyr all appeared in the controversial 1982 documentary film, ‘Rokk I Reykjav`ik’ (‘Rock In Reykjavik’), which for the first time in Iceland, addressed ‘youth’ issues (no Killing Joke pun intended) like gluesniffing and drug-taking. The Sugarcubes’ label Smekkleysa (Bad Taste) recently reissued the ‘Rokk I Reykjav`ik’ double sound-track album, containing Tappi’s “Hrollur” and “Dukkl`isur”, sporting a new cover design and a free poster of the band’s young lead vocalist, Björk Guemundsdottir, rocking out in a fetching yellow dress. By the time the final Tappi T`ikarrass recordings, live renditions of “Speglar” and “Seieiur”, appeared on the compilation album, “Satt 3”, in 1983, the band had called it a day.

Kukl 1984-1986

After Tappi’s demise, Björk joined forces with Purrkurr Pillnikk’s Einar Örn and Peyr’s Siggi to form Kukl (imagine the word ‘cook’, with an additional ‘l’ stuck on the end, pronounced in a broad Scouse accent!). The name translated as ‘Sorcery’, and the band’s ethos questioned Iceland’s establishment, and the way it appropirated elements of the country’s pagan paaast to shore up its own belief systems. The criticism worked both ways, of cource, and it can’t have been a suprice when, following a TV appearance where the now anti-establishment Björk appeared with her hand bandaged after a minor accident, mailcious gossip- mongers spread the word she was concealing the scars of drug addiction.

Built upon the noisier elements of the three core members’ previous bands, Kukl plied a domineering allout punk-goth racket, indebted, stylistically at least, to the Fall, Killing Joke and Siouxsie and the Banshees (although there are will be those in Iceland who’ll dispute any Killing Joke influence!).

With each new enterprise came a new level of success, and with Kukl, Björk and her future Sugarcube partners Einar and Siggi achieved a degree of international recognition. This resulted in two albums, “The Eye” and “Holidays In Europe (The Naughty Naughty)”, being issued, via the anarchist Crass label, in the U.K.

While “The Eye” barely acknowledges that Kukl’s lead singer and the Björk of “Debut” fame are on in the same person, some of those delightful yelps of glee and characteristic touches of vocal magic make and early appearance on “Holiday In Europe”. Both LPs were re-pressed at various intervals throughout the 1980s, after the international success of the Sugarcubes.

Kukl lasted until 1986, when after three years of anarcho-punk sincerity, Björk, Einar and Siggi split the band (leaving half-a-dozen tracks unreleased) to form a new group whose concept would turn Kukl;s political activism – and eventually the U.K. indie scene – on its head. Their new trademark would be nothing more radical than “mischievous fun”, and their new name was Sykurmolnarnir, or the Sugarcubes.

Sugarcubes 1986-1992

In the mid-80s, the Sugarcubes went from being independent Icelandic oddballs to, some said, the best band since the Smiths. And with their debut single, “Ein Mol A Mann” (“One Cube Per Head”), which contained “Ammaeli” (“Birthday”) and “Koettur”(“Cat”), Björk suddenly came of age: That Voice had arrived. With precocious little shrieks, and knowing, earthy growls, her exquisite, other- wordly tones wailed with wild abandon, seemingly fit to burst with impish delight. Underpinned by the menacing, beckoning rumble of Einar, Siggi and the crew, with “Birthday” the Sugarcubes created one of the few genuinely orginal sounds of the decade.

Unwittingly paraphrasing the Kinks’ Ray Davies, Björk annonced “We’re not like everyone else”, and proved it too, wih the Cubes’ critically acclaimed debut album, “Life’s Too Good”. Now elevated to the status of Indie Press Darlings 1987, the majors began vainly offering the band huge sums of money (&pnd;750,000 for instance) to sign up and sell out. Naturally, they refused.

The Sugarcubes second album “Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week!” didn’t fare as well, and almost impaled the band on its own exaggerated motto of ‘World Domination Or Death’. The third, “Stick Around For Joy”, was considered a return to form, although poppier and less experimental than previous efforts. And then there was Einar’s continued role as the band’s rapping court jester -the (im)perfect foil to Björk’s vocal majesty – which attracted an unfair degree of critical backlash, where reviewers, pulling no punches, branded him superfluous irritant, even urging the band to sack him.

After six years of varying fortunes, the band which had been founded as a joke, had become very much a serious concern. “I realised that it was now or never”, said Björk recently. “Either I record all those songs which had been floating in my head for years, otherwise I’d never do it.” In 1992 she left the Sugarcubes to go solo.

Solo 1990 & 1993

Tales of the Sugarcubes’ disintegration are probarbly inaccurate, but what is certain is that the group’s various members returned to more or less a ‘normal’ life in Iceland, with Björk, for her part, reportedly working either on a market stall, or if you will, in an antique shop, to help pay off some of the band’s debts amassed throughout the late 80s.

But this period was also musically productive, and yielded Björk’s second solo album. In 1990, consolidating what had been an established, if occasional, relationship with the veteran be-bop ensemble the Tr`io Guemundar Ingolfssonar, Björk recorded an album of jazz standards, “Gling Glo”. The band’s leader was the late pianist Guemundar Ingolfsson (he died shortly after the album was completed) – Iceland’s only professional jazz musician – and accompanied simply by a bassist and a drummer, his trio provided Björk with a platform for an accomplished set of jazz and popular standards. Björk’s jazz delivery was very much in the classic Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan mould – although she tackled the songs in an orginal (and Björk’s unique!) way. Don’t be put off if you’re not into jazz. If you like Björk, you’ll love this.

And there was more jazz to come on the streamlined and sophisticated “Debut”, Björk’s rebirth as a mainstream artist, issued around the world in July 1993. In fact there was more of everything on “Debut”: house rhythms, a 20-piece Indian classical orchestra and Arabic influences – a multi-cultural work of music, no less, through which Björk appears as wide-eyed and exuberant as she was on her first solo album back in 1977. With the pace of her new success obliging a permanent move to London, it appears as if the first 17 years were only just the beginning for Björk. “I’ve come a long way,” she said recently. “Much of it has been in Iceland, but here it’s just the same. Only a hundred times bigger.”

Collaborations 1982-1993

In addition to Tappi Tikarrass, Kukl and the Sugarcubes, which form the bulk of Björk’s discography, in between and sometimes running concurrently with those bands were numerous other musical projects involving Björk. Some of these produced vinyl evidence, others survive only as memories.

In 1982, Björk fell in with Stifgrim, a freeform rock-jazz (as oposed to jazz- rock) duo, comprimising guitarist Steinn Skaptason and vocalist/stand-up comedian Kristinn Jon Gudmundsson. Her sole gig with the band was a part of Iceland’s bid to get into the ‘Guinness Book Of Records’ for the longest ever continuous live performance. Nearly one hundred bands took part in the event, which lasted several weeks, each playing for anything up to twelve hours. Björk’s effort was recorded for posterity, and a choice 90-minute ‘Best Of’ recording of Stifgrim’s world-record bid apparently survives on cassette. A week after this occasion, Björk was involved in one other Stifgrim-related event, where she accompanied Kristinn Jon Gudmundsson on guitar as he crooned his way through “Love Me Tender”.

Between 1982 and 193, Björk earned a crust playing a Jupiter synthesiser in Cactus, a bar-room cover version group, which survived two summer seasons playing 70s hits to Iceland’s heavy weekend drinkers in the south of the country. No known recordings exist.

In 1984, she signed up with Rokha Rokha Drum as a backing vocalist and drummer. Rokha’s lead vocalist was one Sjon, alias poet Johnny Triumph, who went on to collaborate with the Sugarcubes in 1987 on “Luftgitar” (reportedly their best-selling record in Iceland). Alternating on guitar and bass in Rokha Rokha Drum was Thor Eldon (later in the Sugarcubes, Björk’s future husband, and father of her son Sindri), and future Kukl and Sugarcubes keyboardist Einar Melax (not to be confused with the rapping Einar Örn). Rokha Rokha Drum survived long enough to play their “arty-farty” music at four or five gigs between 1984-85 in “galleries and snobby cafes”, and also to record an eight-song demo tape, apparently lost forever in 1986.

The Elgar Sisters were active around 1985, and featured Thor Eldon, Sigtryggur Baldursson (the Sugarcubes’ Siggi) and the modestly-named God Krist (ex-Kukl) on guitar. Björk was their vocalist. Although the band never performed live, the Elgar Sisters wrote and recorded 11 songs, all of which remained unreleased until 1993, when Björk resurrected three reflective numbers for her solo B-sides: “S`idast Eg” and the instrumental “Glora” on “Big Time Sensuality”, and “Stigdu M`ig” on “Venus As A Boy”.

In the late 80s, Björk appeared as backing vocalist with veteran singer- songwriter Megas (Magnus Thor Jonsson) – the Icelandic Bob Dylan and “grandfather of punk” – on three of his albums, “Loftmynd”, “Hoefudlausnir” and “Haettuleg Hljomsveit Og Glaepakendid Stella” (the latter having something to do with “The Criminal Woman Stella”). Also appearing on Megas’ melodic “Loftmynd” is ex-Strawberry Switchblade Rose McDowell, and Björk’s sister, Ingar Guemudsdottir. (Ingar, incidentally, also played in the noisy new wave band Blatt Afram, whose only recorded legacy is two songs on the 1897 live cassette “Snarl 2”, otherwise notable for its two Sugarcubes songs “Mykjan” and “Skalli”).

The traditional Icelandic carol, “Jolakoetturinn” (“The Christmas Cat”), is Björk’s contribution to the difficult-to-pronounce “Hvitt Er I Borg Og Bae” Christmas compilation, issued on the equally challenging Hljoeaklettur label in 1988.

While the Sugarcubes were taking a sabbatical between 1989-90, bassist Bragi and keyboard player Magga formed a cabaret duo Caviar. This later developed into a lighthearted big-band, Hljomsveit Kondr`ads B, which played Icelandic versions of popular British and American standards (“Wonderful World” was one). Various Sugarcubes and members of Reptile and HAM (two groups signed to the ‘Cubes’ Bad Taste organisation), swelled the ranks to nearly a dozen, with each musician alternating on each other’s instruments. Björk played clarinet.

‘Cubes drummer Siggi later took to the microphone as his alter-ego, Bogomil Font, to record an album of Latin standards. Although Björk wasn’t involved, the poject wasn’t a million miles away from the singer’s own “Gling-Glo” album.
Bless, a band featuring Bad Taste’s Gunni Hjalmarsson, issued its “Gums” mini-LP of “hard-hitting rock and wimpy ballads, recorded under the influence of the Pixies” in 1990. The album features Björk on backing vocals on two tracks.

Björk, Einar Örn, Thor, Siggi and/or Bogomil Font, in addition to ‘Cube cohorts like God Krist and Johnny Triumph, all feature on “Island”, a collaborative album between David Tibet’s post-industrial outfit Current 93 and Icelandic musician HOH (Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson). Björk signs backing vocals on the album’s lead track, “Falling”. (HOH, incidentally, is now working with Einar’s new band, Frostbite.)

In 1992, Oskar Jonasson, director of some of Sugarcubes’ videos (and Björk’s boyfriend at the time), made his feature film, ‘Sodoma Reykjavik’, (re-titled ‘Remote Control’ outside Iceland). For the soundtrack to this comedy about the Icelandic underworld, Björk guests with rockabilly outfit KK Band on a cover of the local 50s standard, “O Borg Min Borg”; and with DJ Porhallyr on the techno track, “Takk”. The CD is still available.

Here in Britain, Björk scored her biggest hit single to date (No. 12) as a collaborative effort with David Arnold. “Play Dead”, a song taken from the film, ‘Young Americans’, is now available as a bonus track on cassette and CD copies of “Debut”. Prior to that, Björk’s first venture into dance music was also a joint effort. “Ooops”, a 1991 signle by Mancunian dance masters, 808 State, featured Björk’s distinctive vocal tones, and is also featured on their album, “EX:EL”.

Finally, and perhaps inspired by Sugarcubes drummer Siggi and his “Nordic death metal group” the Human Seeds, in several interviews in 1990, Björk talked excitedly about forming – of all things – a speed metal band to be called Scud. Her co-conspirators in this venture were members of Bad Taste outfit HAM, whose forte Björk revealed to be “Gothic heavy metal with a comic twist”! Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Scud never progressed beyond the realms of Icelandic fantasy!

Many thanks to those Icelandic `infoerm`at`ionme`isters Alsie (Asmunder Jonsson) and Gunni Hjalmarsson at Bad Taste; and special thanks to Björk’s mother Hildur Hauksdottir. Thanks also to Dave Wilson for his help and for supplying the bulk of the illustrations, and to Phil Deere, Derek Birkett and One Little Indian Records.

Many of Björk’s Icelandic recordings are still available (including “Gling-Glo” and Tappi Tikarrass’ “Miranda” LP – although not her 1977 solo debut!). For more details, write to Bad Taste Mail Order, P.O. Box 1263, 121 Reykjav`ik, Iceland.