Vonbrigði – “Vonbrigði” 7″

My acquisition of the 1982 Vonbrigði 7″ revisits two former themes on the blog… buying Icelandic, and meeting and buying records from Iceland’s pop music historian Dr. Gunni. I was super lucky enough to get first crack at Gunni’s vinyl while visiting Reykjavik a few years back and picked up some fantastic gems. None of those, though, were from Vonbrigði… surprisingly the two records of that band that I’ve bought over the years both came to me via eBay. Go figure. But somehow the other night I found myself looking for Icelandic vinyl on Discogs (I blame the wine…), and who did I find selling a few more choice slabs of wax but none other than Dr. Gunni. The record I was actually on the prowl for was a metal album by the band Bootlegs (which I also bought – review forthcoming), but once I saw Gunni was the seller I had to go through all his listings, and that’s how I came to own this very reasonably priced, acceptable condition copy of Vonbrigði’s first (and only) 7″ release.

Icelandic musician and sometimes Life in the Vinyl Lane reader (and subject!) Þórir Georg posted on my Facebook page in response to seeing a photo of this, “…So good,” which confirmed what I already suspected. That I was in store for a punk rock treat.

OK, so the opening track of this four-song nugget “Sjalfsmorð” was not at all what I expected – very post-punk, with emphasis on the post! This has that weird Þeyr-esque quality about it that I find so hard to describe other than to say “I know it when I hear it” or “it sounds like downtown Reykjavik on a windy day.” Certainly not the agro of “Ó, Reykjavík” for which Vonbrigði are so deservedly famous. This and the other side A song, “Eitthvað Annað,” have more in common with perhaps early Talking Heads than anything else I can put my finger on. The B side tracks, “Börnin þin” and “Skitseyði,” both appear on the 2010 compilation mini-album Ó, Reykjavík and are more punish with faster tempos and more attitude. There’s still a post-punk/early new wave element at play, but the B side has a certain sneering quality about it that seems to fit.

There’s just something about the Icelandic music that was coming out in the early 1980s… there wasn’t a lot of punk/new wave, but what was there was outstanding, so any time I get to add something new from them to my music library I’m a very happy boy (and reminded why I work for the man…). Thanks Dr. Gunni!

“Rokk í Reykjavík” Documentary DVD

I’ve written before about the amazing double album Rokk í Reykjavík, which is actually the soundtrack to the 1982 music documentary of the same name. Originally aired on Icelandic television, the film is now available on DVD in an all-regions format with English subtitles, something I’d been waiting on, not so patiently, for quite a while. It’s incredibly fortunate that director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson decided to take an in depth look into the country’s growing punk and new wave scenes way back in the day, as his documentary has to be the cornerstone of any attempt to understand the development of the popular music scene in Iceland.

The film actually opens with footage of Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson performing rímur, the traditional Icelandic style of chanted poetry and a form of singing that many punks cited as an influence, being that it is so ingrained into the country’s social fabric. From there, though, it’s moves straight into the contemporary scene with live concert footage of Vonbrigði performing their classic hit, “Ó Reykjavík,” the opening salvo in a barrage of punk, rock, and new wave performances. The roster of bands featured is a veritable who’s who of Icelandic music – Purrkur Pillnikk, Q4U, Tappi Tíkarrass, Egó, Þeyr… the list is long, with most bands having at least one complete song filmed live at various venues, studios, and basements. If there is a downside, it’s that sometimes you can’t figure out which band is playing unless they happened to have been interviewed immediately prior to their song footage (which isn’t always the case) or you’re already well versed in the history of Icelandic music.

Bubbi Morthens gets a lot of screen time, both singing and being interviewed. His renowned contrarian streak is on full display as he criticizes the government and society as a whole and advises, “I think people should use as much dope [as] they possibly can.” Perhaps even more powerful than the Morthens footage, however, are the interview clips featuring Bjarni Þórir Þórðarson, the then 15-year-old singer of the band Sjálfsfróun (“Masturbation”) who talks about the difficulties in coming of age in what he sees as an overly structured, rules based, and boring society. He smokes as he talks about sniffing glue and how when that’s not available he resorts to paint thinner or gasoline, even if he has to steal it from a car. He is totally matter-of-fact, clearly aware of the dangers huffing poses as he describes the permanent damage it has done to people he knows, and you can’t help but be struck by the hopelessness he sees in his situation (Þórðarson died in a car accident in 2005 at the age of 39). Sjálfsfróun’s three live songs are sloppy but packed full of raw energy and anger, culminating in Þórðarson completely demolishing his bass on stage with a hatchet.

A handful of the performances stick out, and my favorites include Vonbrigði’s high energy, live rendition of “Ó Reykjavík” and Egó’s basement recording of “Sieg Heil.” Some of the footage veers off the rails, however, most notably a famous live “show” by Bruno BB that involved killing birds using what looked like a large table sized paper cutter, an incident that actually resulted in the police showing up to shut them down, all of which was captured and included in the film. They also wrapped someone up in shrikwrap and lit him on fire before putting him out with a fire extinguisher.

Þeyr have a distinctive and important place in the film primarily due to their performance of Rúdólf, a song about the Nazi Rudolph Hess. What’s unique here isn’t so much the subject matter, which is typical punk fare, but that the band is actually shown in a full-blown music video, one that mixes both footage of them performing in a basement and scenes they shot outside dressed in Nazi regalia doing a sort of storyline about an arrest and execution. They also incorporate a couple of quick clips of two dancers in the footage of their other song, “Killer Boogie,” placing themselves outside the norm by more fully exploiting the visual aspects the filming opened up to them.

The most famous “image” is undoubtedly that of a 16 or 17 year old Björk dressed like a little girl and performing with the band Tappi Tíkarrass, a still of which appears on the front cover of the DVD and the soundtrack CD booklet in order to capitalize on Iceland’s most internationally famous citizen. It’s an iconic image of the young and seemingly innocent singer, but one that clearly belies her immensely powerful voice and punk rock attitude.

If you’re even remotely interested in the rise of the Icelandic punk and new wave scenes, Rokk í Reykjavík is a much see. It’s gritty and edgy, offering no narration other than the interviews of the people who are part of the scene. Even if you’re not specifically interested in Icelandic music it’s still an intriguing look into a very young, rapidly changing local music scene, one in which a lot of different bands and performers are trying to find their place and ways to express their own individual ideas. The entire thing is posted on YouTube, though without the English subtitles, and many of the individual songs are broken out into their own vides. Well worth the look.

Vonbrigði – “Ó, Reykjavík”

It’s been a while since I posted about an Icelandic band, and I don’t want my Icelandic readers to feel neglected! With that in mind I flipped through my shelf of Icelandic vinyl to see what gems in there I haven’t written about before, and I got pretty deep into the selection before pulling out Vonbrigði’s Ó, Reykjavík, a killer record I haven’t listened to in quite a while.

I wrote about the Vonbrigði album Kakófónia a few months ago, but this was actually the first of their records I acquired, in large part because it was a compilation of early material that was put out by German label Mauerstadtmusik in 2010 so it was still available new and I got it off of eBay. At seven songs it’s more of a mini-album, but no matter. Vonbrigði pack a lot of power into their music, which is straight forward, early 1980s style punk rock (all the songs are from 1981 and 1982).

The title track “Ó, Reykjavík” is the strongest and certainly most well-known of their songs, having been chosen for inclusion on the seminal Rokk Í Reykjavík documentary and album, where it holds down a place of honor as the very first track (and the only one the band had on the record). “Skitseyði” is another great song, with it’s driving bass line and chanting vocals sung by multiple members of the band, almost giving it that soccer chant quality that defined the Oi! subgenre. It’s not all fast, though. The band can slow it down as well, as they do in the song with the same name as the band, “Vonbrigði”, which means “disappointment” in Icelandic. The plodding pace and disjointed guitar sounds actually give it a musical feeling that matches its title, making you feel down and out of sorts. The sound quality of the entire record is great, though the last track, “Ný Friðþæging”, is from a demo tape and sounds like it, but that’s cool since it’s still decent and has a live feel.

The record comes with an insert that features the lyrics to “Ó, Reykjavík” in both Icelandic and English on one side, and a solid write up (in English) about the history of the Icelandic punk scene from 1978-1983, something I hadn’t noticed before but will now make sure to read. Vonbrigði was a great punk band, and given how limited their early 1980s output was (new material started to be recorded in 2004, about 20 years after the band disappeared from the scene) and therefore very expensive today, this new compilation is a very approachable way to experience the band’s music, and one I highly recommend.

“Rokk í Reykjavík” Soundtrack/Compilation

I got back into vinyl in the summer of 2011, and when we went to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves later that year I brought home some old school Icelandic punk and new wave records. Over the course of the next year my vinyl collection (damn I hate that word… makes my records sound like things that just sit inert on a shelf!) grew and my musical interests widened, and I decided to do some online research on Icelandic music prior to our 2012 trip to Reykjavik so I could arrive with a list of bands to look for. Needless to say, if you don’t speak Icelandic there’s not a whole hell of a lot out there, but fortunately musician and historian Gunnar Hjálmarsson (aka “Dr. Gunni”) wrote an entire series of 20+ articles about the history of rock music in Iceland that appeared online on the Reykjavik Grapevine. In English. Thank you, Dr. Gunni! It’s also worth noting that Gunni has written two amazing coffee-table type books devoted to the Icelandic music scene though these are unfortunately (for me, and probably most of you) in Icelandic, but totally worth the price if for no other reason than all the great photos.

So… armed with Gunni’s writing I began poking my way around the web, unearthing various bands here and there, taking notes, and being generally obsessive. My list of “bands of interest” was probably around 25 or 30 when we went to Airwaves in 2012, and I picked up vinyl (and some CDs) of a number of them at Lucky Records, meaning the work paid off. But there was one record that the guys at Lucky didn’t have, one that pretty much was the seminal collection of early Icelandic punk and new wave – Rokk í Reykjavík. I really, really wanted a copy of it. The double album is the soundtrack of a television documentary of the local music scene that aired in Iceland in 1982 (and I believe can be found in its entirety online in various places, though I confess I haven’t watched all of it yet), and one I was obsessed with finding both because of its importance and the fact I could get a lot of music that doesn’t exist on CD without having to buy a dozen or so separate, relatively expensive albums.

Seemingly thwarted in my search through Reykjavik’s record stores, I decided to take a stroll over to the flea market. After all, used records are the sort of thing one expects to find in places like that, though my hopes weren’t high. But there was one vendor there who, in the midst of box after box of albums by the Eagles and David Bowie had a small section for Icelandic artists. And it was there that I came face to face with Rokk í Reykjavík. I quickly counted out what cash I had left (no credit cards at the flea market, man!) and had just enough for three albums, including both this one and Bjork’s early Tappi Tikarrass LP Miranda. Score!

So what of Rokk í Reykjavík? Well, for one thing it’s packed with music – 19 different bands contribute a total of 33 tracks and most of the heavyweights are here, including a number of groups I’ve written about in the past like Tappi Tikarrass, Purrkur Pillnikk, Þeyr, Grýlurnar, and most recently Vonbrigði. It also has a bunch of other great artists like Bodies, Q4U, Fræbbblarnir, and Egó. There was a double CD version released which is probably a more affordable option if you can find it, though I’m not sure if it’s still in print (but I’ve seen copies online in the $25-35 range, a bargain compared to the vinyl). Quite a few of the tracks were recorded either live, or live in studio, which I think is great because it keeps the sound raw and maintains the energy of the music.

I was certainly familiar with many of these bands prior to playing Rokk í Reykjavík for the first time, and they often stick out. I mean, you simply can’t miss Bjork’s vocals on the Tappi Tikarrass tracks, and both Purrkur Pillnikk and Þeyr have distinctive sounds. But I was really excited impressed with some bands that were new to me. The low, plodding sound of Bodies’ “Where are the Bodies” stands in stark contrast to the energy and frenetic stylings of many of their country-mates; prog rockers Þursaflokkurinn stick out like a sore thumb with a much more standard style rock fare, but one that style sounds like it has that weird, twangy guitar tuning that I associate with so much 1980s Icelandic music; Friðryk almost sound like they’re channeling Meat Loaf with their live track “Í Kirkju” (“Paradise by the Northern Lights” anyone…?). My favorite new-to-me band is probably Q4U, since I’m a sucker for punk bands with female singers, and of their three tracks on the album I probably like the straight forward “Creeps” the best.

While most of the songs are sung in Icelandic, don’t let that scare you away from Rokk í Reykjavík. It’s the perfect time capsule, a snapshot of the Icelandic prog/new wave/punk/rock scene in 1981-82, a scene that was surprisingly varied and rich given the small population and relative musical isolation of the country at that time. The CD is absolutely worth the price if you can find a copy, especially if you just want to get your feet wet and see what this stuff was all about. Maybe after that you’ll start to get obsessive about it like I am. Who knows? Maybe it will even inspire you to visit Iceland!

“Geyser – Anthology of the Icelandic Independent Music Scene of the Eighties”

If you want to check out the Icelandic punk/new wave scene from the early 1980s, and get exposure to as many bands as possible, you really have two primary choices: the Northern Lights Playhouse and Geyser compilations. Of the two, Geyser appears the most available, and has the added bonus of having the greater number of bands featured (11 in all). Northern Lights Playhouse features more songs, but less bands with only six… though four of these do not appear on Geyser, so in a perfect world you’d have both. However, with Norther Lights Playhouse costing $60+ on vinyl compared to maybe $10 for Geyser (or cheaper), the later is the overall winner. Northern Lights Playhouse does get points, however, for being available on the Icelandair music channel on their flights… or at least it was this summer. Good work Icelandair! Pretty gutsy for an airline.

I find it ironic that the subtitle of this album indicates it is an anthology of the “Icelandic Independent Music Scene”. As if there is really a music scene in Iceland that isn’t independent.

Most of the classic Icelandic punk and new wave bands are here. Theyr, Purrkur Pillnikk, Bubbi & Das Kapital, Vonbrigdi… even the Bjork/Einar Orn project KUKL. Two of the tracks are previously unreleased elsewhere. As an added bonus the reverse of the album cover also includes 12 paragraphs on the bands featured. Geyser was created in 1987 for release outside of Iceland, intended to draw attention to the Icelandic music scene.

Perhaps the most intriguing track on the album is “Edda” by Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson, described as “a farmer and the official head of the heathen sect of Asatru”. What he does isn’t what we today think of as music. Instead it’s the Icelandic style of poetry chanting. It’s haunting and soulful.

Your introduction to Icelandic music awaits! Get some!