“Northern Lights Playhouse” Compilation

I figured since my last two posts were about Icelandic compilation albums I should just keep that train rolling and spin the last of the comps we brought back from our recent trip. My own Icelandic vinyl great white whale. Northern Lights Playhouse.

Now, back when I made the somewhat ridiculous decision to get back into vinyl, I knew I wanted to take advantage of our international travel to hit record stores in far-flung places and pick up discs by local bands I’d never heard of before. So with that in mind, before our trip to Iceland for Airwaves in 2011 I did a bunch of research online and came up with a list of old school Icelandic punk and new wave bands to look for. I trotted down to Lucky Records with my list, and that visit yielded not only a healthy stack of records but also sparked a friendship with my buddies Ingvar and Gestur.

One of the records on my list back then was the Northern Lights Playhouse compilation. Released in 1981, it included some of the earliest and most influential punk and new wave bands of the time – Þeyr, Utangarðsmenn, Purrkur Pillnikk, Fræbbblarnir, and oddly Iceland’s own Bob Dylan, Megas (also included is a band called Taugadeildin who I literally will be hearing for the first time in a matter of moments when the song currently playing ends and they kick in). This had all the bands I’d read about and was right up there with Rokk Í Reykjavík. Lucky didn’t have either during that 2011 visit, nor again when we went back for Airwaves in 2012… but I did find a nice copy of Rokk Í Reykjavík at the flea market which I quickly scooped up as I high-fived myself in the aisle like a total dork.

But Northern Lights Playhouse continued to elude me. On our third trip to Reykjavik following my foray back into vinyl I hit up all the local shops again, and still no Northern Lights Playhouse. I was beginning to think it was just another Nordic myth like valkyrie or that fermented shark meat makes suitable food. But then I made my last record store stop at a small shop called Geislandiskabud Valda. I didn’t find anything that really excited me, but figured I’d pick up at least one local oldie that looked interesting because if for no other reason it’s a good way to strike up a conversation with the guy running the store. And lo and behold… he has some “good stuff” behind the counter if I was interested (I was). And it was good stuff… though I had everything in that small stack… everything that is except this copy of Northern Lights Playhouse! Turns out it wasn’t a myth after all.

Technically speaking there are 17 songs on this album, which seems like a lot at first blush. But… our friends Purrkur Pillnikk contribute the first 10 songs of side B, which range from 30 seconds to 1:50, so that certainly allows you to cram more tracks onto one LP. That being said, this is a great mix of post-punk and new wave tunes by the bands that ruled the local scene at the time. Turns out this was never released on CD and it’s actually a pretty rare record, so chances are if you find it, it’ll cost you. Realistically if this period in Iceland music interests you, you’d be much better served by picking up Rokk Í Reykjavík – it’s a double album, and while it’s more expensive on vinyl, you can get it on CD for a pretty reasonable $20-25. But if you’re a vinyl junkie like me, you’ll have to buy it. If you can find it. Just call me Ishmael.

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