Grindverk – “Gesundheit Von K” (1999)

For whatever reason I got on an Einar Örn Benediktsson kick the other day, and thanks to the internet that meant in short order I had a number of records and CDs on their way to my house. I first became a fan of Einar through his current band, the industrial power surge that is Ghostigital, then backtracked to his more well-known earlier projects, notably Purrkur Pillnikk, KUKL, and the Sugarcubes. Not a bad resume. I find him to be one of the most forward thinking artists in music, and wide ranging at that – punk, pop, electronic, and industrial. Einar was also involved in a number of one-off projects, which recently led me to H3ÖH, Frostbite, and today’s selection, Grindverk.

Released in the late 1990s, Gesundheit Von K was a four song EP of some downright odd music. Einar wasn’t the only band member with a broad and experimental pedigree, however, so this makes some sense. Joining him in Grindverk were Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, who previously worked with Einar on Frostbite and the electronic H3ÖH. Also Siggi Baldursson, former bandmate from KUKL and the Sugarcubes, and member of the seminal Icelandic punk band Þeyr. These were guys who knew how to get out there into some different musical space and weren’t afraid to do something unusual. Since I’ve pretty much enjoyed every project all these guys ever worked on, Grindverk seemed like a safe bet to me.

The band’s label, Fatcat Records, describes Gesundheit Von K like this:

This 12” showcased the band’s diversity – ranging from the post industrial
funk to sublime jazz-exotica and forming a space that draws on the soundworld
of ‘80s funk/post-industrialism (PIL, Liquid Liquid, ACR, etc.), yet rewiring it
into a ‘90s context.

I’m not sure I understand what the hell that means. So how about we take a look at it song-by-song.

Side A opens with the title track, “Gesundheit Von K,” which has certain elements of industrial – pulsating, almost tribal drum track, with some disjointed horns and strings (violin?) that punctuate it throughout. The tempo rises and falls pretty quickly, and it sounds a bit like a some kind of demented score for an old black and white movie showing factory workers or something. In fact it reminds me a lot of Alloy Orchestra’s musical score for the 1927 movie Metropolis, something we were lucky enough to see live once and that I highly recommend. That is followed by “The Twit & The Tower,” which is a near total departure – it’s kind of like easy listening electronica. Is that a xylophone I hear pinging out some medium to high pitched soothing tones? Could be. The drumming is very light jazz, with some organ thrown in for good measure. There’s also a sort of strange vocalization that runs through most of it, sounding like some kind of a high pitched humming and devoid of any actual words, the voice as musical instrument.

Flipping this sucker over, side B begins with “Gesundheit Von K9,” which has a lot of similarities to the title track and is most likely a remix. The other track, “Kastrato,” it’s sort of somewhere in the middle. The drumming is faster paced and again has that tribal element, though mixed in with some other percussive elements – sounds similar to steel drums and someone playing the spoons come to mind. Over the top is what can best be described as a high pitched electronic whistling that changes pitch and comes and goes at different points of the song. This track is really all about percussion.

So maybe Fatcat had it right and Gesundheit Von K is jazz influenced post-industrial funk. I guess I couldn’t really conceptualize that until I gave it a listen (twice all the way through, actually). Regardless of what type of genre labels used to describe it, what I do know is that Grindverk makes some kick ass music, and this one is worth seeking out.