BHH is Big in Iceland

Bart Cameron, also writer for the Reykjavik based Grapevine Magazine, wrote an article for the American market about BHH, Benni Hemm Hemm, also called the Icelandic Brian Wilson or even the Icelandic Kajak (the Dutch band).
Big in Iceland
Benni Hemm Hemm Can’t Screw Up Enough
Bart Cameron

Every summer in Iceland, about 1,000 countrymen and a few foreigners pile into the Idno, Reykjavik’s oldest theater, to participate in an anti-music-festival music festival called Innipúkinn. The name translates to “Indoor Devil,” a pejorative aimed at the mischievous, idle Icelandic kids who, when the summer months and their 24-hour days of sunlight come, can’t shake off the darkness of the long North Atlantic winter.
A few years back at Innipúkinn 2004, a bleary-eyed librarian stepped onstage with a six-piece brass band. The festival was his idea, and he had some folk-pop songs to deliver. “I can love you in a wheelchair, baby,” he sang to a packed, stunned house. He delivered a range of other sardonic mantras backed by a cheery, up-tempo horn section and raucous drummer. The set closed out with a healthy downpour of balloons.
With that auspicious beginning, Benedikt H. Hermannsson—better known as Benni Hemm Hemm—became the newest darling of Icelandic music.
The momentum’s only increased. In 2005, his self-produced first album won the Icelandic Grammy for album of the year. Shortly later, Rolling Stone wrote of a live performance that Benni Hemm Hemm “evoked the sunshine prospect of Brian Wilson conducting a troupe of Salvation Army horns at a 1967 Smile session.” Soon Hermannsson found himself in a modest bidding war for international distribution.
The result of three years of constant hype in the Icelandic scene? A few months ago, he gave up his day job in the library.
“Everybody’s far too cool to say they’re impressed,” Hermannsson says of his hometown fans. “They might ask, ‘Who do you know to get to do that?’ But they play it cool.”
Cool, but not too cool—Benni Hemm Hemm is one of the most popular bands in Iceland. When you sell 30,000 records in a country of 300,000, you’re reaching a hell of a lot of your people. You must be at the top of the pops. Or not.
“Best-selling doesn’t do you that much good in Iceland,” Hermannsson says. “There was a singer in a really popular but horrible local band and he got chosen to compete in an American reality television show called Rockstar: Supernova. Well, before he flew to America, when he was the third biggest band in Iceland, he was working all day in a glass factory.”
Hermannsson’s first, self-titled album was written half in English half in Icelandic, usually a sign that a band is preparing to leave the island. His second album, Kajak, produced with the help of acclaimed German label Morr Music, is entirely in Icelandic, with arrangements based strongly in Icelandic pop of the 1930s and ’40s. If he once channeled Brian Wilson, Kajak, with complex countermelodies and a dedication to the minor keys, creates its own genre: full-orchestra baritone folk.
“I was working on this album, and I wanted to write in English, but I just was more comfortable in my native tongue,” he says almost as an apology, acknowledging how the choice could hurt album sales.
Defying expectations has long been Hermannsson’s MO. Before playing the antifestival he created, his only musical venture had been to drum with the comically vulgar, Iceland-mocking hiphop act Mothafuckers in the House. After he won the Icelandic Grammy, he invited the most controversial playwright in the country, Hugleikur Dagsson, to rap explicit lyrics over a mellow, fully orchestrated pop song.
Throughout his brief career, Hermannsson hasn’t made a single decision that makes commercial sense. The antifestival he started became a nationwide success and he promptly dropped out. His band gained a reputation as the best live show in Iceland, so he hired more members. He got great reviews abroad, then released an album in a language spoken by 300,000 people. Now, in the height of European festival season, a touring circuit most Icelandic bands covet, he is hitting the American highways with an 11-piece band.
Only two other Icelandic acts in the last few decades have acted with so little consideration for publicity and commercial interest: Sigur Rós and Björk.


Song of the 20. Week: "Fjöll Í Austri Fagurblá" by Steindor Andersen & Sigur Ros

Finally, each song comes to an end. Also the good song by Lada Sport, a band getting popular in their homeland these days. After 3 weeks time for a new song “Fjöll Í Austri Fagurblá“: a product of the brilliant collaboration of Sigur Ros with the rimur singer Steindor Andersen.
This track can be found on Steindor Andersen’s 2001 self-titled EP.
More information on Steindor can also be found in the book “Waking up in Iceland” by Paul Sullivan, a must read for everybody who loves Icelandic music.
Or more of this collaboration can be found online @

Website of Smekkleysa Label refreshed

The website of the Bad Taste aka Smekkleysa hf Label is online again.

Sigur Ros New Stuff to come

Sigur Ros Readies Tour Documentary
Entitled Heima (Home) the upcoming Sigur Ros documentary will feature the band during all moments of their world tour for 2005’s Takk. Icelandic newspaper, Morgunbladid, has an exclusive trailer for the film:

Source NME: A compilation album, titled ‘HvarfHeim, will also be released.
Split into two sections, the first, ‘Hvarf’, features three unreleased tracks from the band’s works, and a fourth, ‘Von’, which is a radically reworked track from the band’s first album. Drummer Orri Pall Dýrason said: “We are having a clear out, really! One of the songs even dates back to 1994! We picked the ones we really like. It’s not like a normal album. There are a lot of good songs on there, but they didn’t fit when it came to putting the albums together.”
The tracklisting is:
‘I Gaer’
Heim‘ is made up of six acoustic versions of songs taken from Sigur Ros’ four studio albums to date.
The tracklisting is:
‘Agaetis Byrjun’

Jakobínarína Live Videos (Glasgow, July 2007)

Videos Jakobínarína Live @ Glasgow (July 2007)
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His lyrics are disastrous

Who’s the next Björk? New stars arising? World domination or death?

A critical article about the music business and scene in Iceland in the latest number of Grapevine, the best free magazine of Iceland in English.
Are We Ever Going to Find the Next Björk?
Helga Þórey Jónsdóttir

Published in Grapevine Magazine Issue 10, July 2007

In the late eighties, The Sugarcubes became closer to what can be called international stardom than any Icelandic band before them. The band wasn’t famous in the same way as U2 or Michael Jackson, but they gained respect from the major players in the industry as well as music enthusiasts.
For years Icelandic bands had tried and failed. The extremely popular sixties-band Hljómar called themselves Thor’s Hammer in their failed search of international fame. The late-seventies saw the much talked about disco installation, Change, but they never found the success they were looking for. Many others tried but most didn’t even get close. The ones who did, notably the fusion band Mezzoforte, didn’t get close enough.
After the breakthrough of Björk in the early nineties, Icelandic musicians realised that being from Iceland did not necessarily mean that it was harder to gain recognition. The mid- and late-nineties saw an innovative landscape of talented young men and women reaching out for the stars that had eluded them for so long. With Sigur Rós, the music scene of Iceland broke even further into the sphere of underground music and finally it was safe to say that Iceland was on the map. Others had some success; Múm and Bang Gang found their place in international markets and the same can be said of the popular techno band Gus Gus.
Looking to further the country’s reputation abroad in the new millennium, the music festival Iceland Airwaves became an important meeting point for everyone interested in the music the country has to offer. But what has happened since the early ‘00s? Is Icelandic music getting ahead the same way as it did before? Is the drive the same now as it was only a few years ago?
Iceland Airwaves: Serving Their Purpose
When taking part in a music festival like Iceland Airwaves, as someone who’s a part of the music industry, you realise that there are international journalists waiting for the next Björk to happen. Magazine writers, record executives and television crews are scouting the venues in their search for the next big thing. The city sizzles with people running between different locations, listening to music and interviewing anyone who they feel might be it. Many of the international artists that play at the festival have been successful. Some have played here as relatively unknown bands in October but by spring have become international stars. A good example is the band Hot Chip, but they enjoyed considerable popularity in Iceland before the rest of the world acknowledged them. Whether it’s because of Iceland Airwaves is not clear, but I feel confident that bands like Hot Chip would never have been picked to play here if there wasn’t a certain something to them.
The Icelandic bands are, however, not making particularly big waves now. Many of them are very skilled musicians, others have the look and the attitude, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Yes, I know, some of them get gigs in other countries, but let’s face it – they aren’t becoming the next Björk or anything close to her widespread popularity.
One of the bands that has gotten serious attention is Jakobínarína. They play fun rock and roll, not too complicated and never boring. They are certainly no innovators in music but they’re not trying to be. Many others have generated a buzz but their music never seems to reach the ears of the crowd that might embrace them properly. Mínus is a good example of this. A fantastic band with a strong presence but they never found the right market for their music – at least not the market that would buy their albums in the serious amounts I believe they are capable of selling.
The Professionals: In It for the Long Haul
Some bands have found a small market and chosen to stick to it. They are not looking to conquer the world in the same way a newcomer would. But if it happens – it’d be a great bonus. Nevertheless, they are not serious contenders to Björk’s throne – at least not for now. But all of them have something that has granted them longevity.
Gus Gus have been around for more than ten years. They’ve found their scene and therefore know where they can find their fans. They’ve toured religiously and have a strong fan base throughout Europe, even if they started out as a pop band – not a dance act. Gus Gus is a band that understands its limitations and doesn’t try to be anything other than a disco oriented techno band. That way they can survive as long as they care to cater to their fans as well as they do. Musically they are good, their sound is impeccable and most certainly their own despite a shift in style.
Bang Gang is another example of a band that knows its audience. Playing easy going chamber pop without letting current flavours interrupt the sound is working for the band. The same can be said about Singapore Sling and other bands that have embraced a strong but particular sound. They are not out for world domination; they’d rather play for their crowd without having to be something they are not.
Múm is one of the bands that has found the most success abroad, but they have changed a lot since their critically acclaimed Finally We Are No One (2002). Their sound has evolved with new members and their long awaited fourth studio album will be released this fall. What the new line-up has to offer is an unanswered question.
Where is the Original Sound?
While watching a newcomer on stage or listening to new music at home, I can’t help wondering where and when I get to hear a new original sound. An original sound was what Björk and Sigur Rós brought to the scene a few years back. The main reason for their notoriety is their originality. Björk’s success resulted in a period of blooming creative freedom and for a short while a window opened for bands that had just that. We saw artists like Emiliana Torrini, Sigur Rós, Gus Gus and Múm flourish because originality became popular.
The music business of today has become so money driven that only a few executives are connected to what should be an artistic exploration of sound. Many prefer to sell their certain 5000 copies and call it a day. Originality is not celebrated in the same way it was ten years ago. This is evident when looking at decent but unoriginal bands like Nylon, who are being groomed for international success, without any luck as of yet.
Thankfully, I’m convinced the cultural climate will change again, as it always does. One day some artist or a band will struggle against all odds and then burst on to the scene sounding like no one else before them. And we will give them the standing ovation they deserve – that is, if we’re keen enough to realise they’ve arrived.

Outkast "Hey ya’ Cover by Þórir (aka My summer as a salvation soldier)

Þórir (My summer as a salvation soldier) doing a cover of the Outkast song “Hey Ya“. A video shot in one take. Director was Elvar Gunnarsson.