Bubbi & MX-21 – “Skapar Fegurðin Hamingju?” (1987)

bubbimx21skaparI ordered this record along with an album by the Icelandic metal band Bootlegs from my buddy Reynir over at Reykjavik Record Shop.  Normally stuff from Iceland takes about 10 days to get here, but this one was a no-show for close to a month before it finally hit my doorstep.  Which would have been a great ending to the story had the postman not put it on my front porch exposed to the rain during a storm.  Fortunately both records seem to have dried out with no obvious damage.

Bubbi & MX-21 only released a handful of songs, all of which came out in 1987.  They contributed one track to the Skytturnar soundtrack, and then followed that up with this two song 12″ Skapar Fegurðin Hamingju?  The title track is a kind of soft rocker, but the B side is the gem, the rockabilly number “Búgí-Vúgí Elskhuginn” with its great guitar work and Bubbi’s excellent and raspy vocal flow.  Check it out.

Ultimately this one is more of a collector’s record given the cost, but “Búgí-Vúgí Elskhuginn” could be worth the price if rockabilly is your thing.

“Skytturnar” Soundtrack (featuring Bubbi Morthens and The Sugarcubes) (1987)

I think it’s safe to say that Icelandic films are completely unknown in the United States, and probably most of the rest of the world as well.  Don’t confuse being “unknown” with being “bad” though – I’ve seen a few Icelandic movies over the year, and they’re generally decent.  But if there’s one thing that most Americans hate, it’s subtitles, and given the breadth of English language films being pumped out of Hollywood, there’s never a shortage of non-subtitled movies to watch.  When we’re feeling exotic, we’ll watch something from the UK (and at times wish their were subtitles to help us with accents when they’re particularly thick).

bubbimx21

The movie Skytturnar came out in 1987, and it’s about a couple of whale fisherman who come to Reykjavik, run into some trouble, and end up having some problems with the cops.  I haven’t seen the movie, but that didn’t stop me from buying the four song soundtrack that I found on eBay a few weeks ago, which had actually been on my want list for some time. (♠)   Why, pray tell, was the soundtrack for a 1987 Icelandic movie about a couple of pissed off whalers that I’ve never seen before be on my want list, you might ask?  Well, because of who performs on it – Bubbi Morthens (with his band MX-21) and a little band that were just getting started named Sykurmolarnir.  A band you might know better as The Sugarcubes.

Bobbi formed the short-lived MX-21 in 1986, and they only released three songs together – the one on Skytturnar and a two-song 12″ called Skapar Fegurðin Hamingju? (a copy of which I finally tracked down and bought, and should have in my mailbox any day now), both of which came out in 1987.  It was a powerhouse of a band though, including not only Bubbi but also former members of Þeyr and Tappi Tíkarrass.  The song on the soundtrack, also titled “Skytturnar,” is classic Bubbi from this period, sort of lite-rock bordering on adult contemporary.  Musically it’s clearly rock, probably with a bit of a blues influence, and it sounds like there are strings in some parts as well.  It’s decent, but nothing to get overly excited about other than for some decent guitar work.

The B side is given over to three songs by The Sugarcubes.  This is early stuff, the band having only released a few singles in Iceland up to that point.  I believe the soundtrack came out a little before The Sugarcubes’ breakthrough single “Birthday” on the UK’s One Little Indian label, so they pretty much weren’t known outside of their homeland.  The three songs are, for all intents and purposes, instrumentals – there are some vocal sounds, but not any kind of actual singing.  The first, “Drekinn,” has some elements that might remind one a little of the band’s later material, but the other two are more like traditional movie scores than songs.

All in all Skytturnar is an interesting record, though one that probably only appeals to the Bubbi Morthens and/or The Sugarcubes completist, or the Icelandophile like me.

 

(♠)  I always assumed, based on the small and low quality pictures of this record cover I’d seen prior to owning it, that the dude on the front was playing a violin or something.  Turns out he’s aiming a shotgun.  Not even close.

Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 2

This is the seventh consecutive Airwaves I’ve attended with Holly and our friend Norberto. Counting the first two nights of this year’s festival, that means we’ve seen 32 nights worth of official, on-venue performances – over a months worth.  And last night as we walked home, tired but fortified with late night street hot dogs, we all agreed on one simple fact:

The line-up at NASA last night (Thursday) was the the BEST full slate of bands, start-to-finish, we’ve ever seen playing together at the same location.  Ever.

russiangirls2015

But NASA wasn’t our first stop of Day 2 of Iceland Airwaves.  Instead it was Mengi, a small space created and managed by artists used for intimate musical and other artistic performances.  It was a great little location, and on this night hosted a showcase of artists associated with one of my favorite labels, Lady Boy Records.  The first two hours were given over to a menagerie of individuals working together, moving in and out of the performance area, including Nicolas Kunysz, Sindri Geirsson, and Frímann Frímannsson (a.k.a. “Harry Knuckles“) that yielded a range of experimental electronic sounds, some beat driven and others not.  Next up was russian.girls (above), a side project by Guðlaugur Halldór Einarsson of Fufanu fame.  His set was exceptional – some heavy beats, at times moving into industrial, and also utilizing his guitar and effects pedals to contribute to the music in some very un-guitar-like ways.  Holly and I are big fans of the tape he put out with Lady Boy, and his performance last night just solidified russian.girls as a band to watch in our minds.

nasaposter2015

Then it was off to NASA.  I wrote yesterday about our excitement that NASA is back open and part of Airwaves, and while we were certainly going to make sure to see some shows there, it was just kind of a scheduling fluke that we found ourselves posted up there for both of the first two nights.  Norberto and I really wanted to see Bubbi & DIMMA and HAM, while Holly was stoked to see Operators, so we figured we’d get there early and stake out a good location.  The fact that Börn was opening the night made it that much of an easier decision.  We’ve seen them live before and I’ve reviewed some of their music on the blog.  Börn’s style of raw punk rock has attracted some international attention, with a nice interview by Noisey and a recent month-long US tour as evidence.  They played a high-energy set that seemed to be over before it began even though it ran a good 25 or so minutes.  Next up were Icelandic post-metallers Kontinuum.  I’d heard of them before and seen them on various Airwaves schedules, but for whatever reason we’d never caught them live.  And after last night I’d like to travel back in time to some of those past Airwaves and tell myself to stop being a douche and to get out and see Kontinuum, because I dug their set.  The five-pieces includes three guitar players and they make full use of everything that offers, putting up a wall of dense and at times intricate guitar sounds.  A very pleasant surprise.

bubbidimmanasa2015

Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

That moved us into the heart of the night’s line-up, starting with the relatively recent partnership known as Bubbi & DIMMA (above), which last night featured most of the members of Icelandic metal band DIMMA (minus lead singer Stefán Jakobsson), with the man who is one of the originators of punk rock in Iceland, Bubbi Morthens, doing vocals.  We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from this pairing, but figured with this much musical talent in one place it had to be good.  And it was outstanding.  Bubbi burst out like a caged animal, rocking a Ramones t-shirt and looking more than a little like Stone Cold Steve Austin, and he exploded all over stage throughout the set with his energy and intensity.  I believe most of the songs, if not all, were from Bubbi’s extensive catalog, and the fans, both young and the not so young, sang along throughout.  Musically I stand by my assertion that Ingo Geirdal is probably the absolute best guitarist on the planet who you’ve probably never heard of, and his shredding was all over the music, so much so that at times I found myself watching him and not the prowling Bubbi.  The three of us agreed, without any need for detailed discussion or debate, that this set was one of the five best individual musical performances we’ve ever seen at Airwaves.  Period.

That brought us to the American/Canadian group Operators who are all the rage right now, and after their set I can see why.  A little bit of the Kills, a little Bloodgroup, and a lot of great beats and synths had the crowd dancing throughout their 30+ minutes.  I will definitely be checking out more of their music when we get back home.

hamnasa2015

Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

All of which led us to the apex of the night, the inverted pinnacle of hell that is the doom metal of HAM.  We are HAM!  We’d secured a spot up on one of the side risers just to the left of the stage, which was the perfect venue for watching the band, watching the crowd, and going deaf.  They opened with one of my favorites, “Dauð Hóra,” getting the head banging off to an aggressive start and the floor ate it up.  From there it was a ten-ton metal assault on our ears as the band tore through a briskly paced set that ran roughly 40 minutes.  The crowd seemed to wane a bit at the half way mark, and it felt like they would be running on fumes across the finish line… at least that is until HAM began their final song of the night and played the opening chords of their arguably all-time classic “Partýbær” (in English – “Party Town”), a song prominently featured in the popular Icelandic movie Sódóma Reykjavík.  A mosh pit immediately erupted on the floor in front of the stage which quickly engulfed roughly 30 or so active participants as well as a number who were in-and-out at various times.  It got somewhat intense, but showing all the characteristics of a classy pit when two people hit the floor late in the song a space immediately opened up and others reached down to pull them onto their feet.  We are HAM.  You are HAM.

We left NASA spent by happy, and partially deaf in our left ears.  Day 2 of Iceland Airwave is in the books, and it was a doozy.  I can’t wait to see what Day 3 brings.

“Tvær Í Takinu” Compilation

tvaeritakinuThe Reykjavik flea market, like flea markets everywhere, is a hit-or-miss affair.  There are a couple of regular full time used music sellers, but there are also random boxes of CD and vinyl scattered among the stalls.  I’ve done well there in the past, but this year only came away with a few mediocre odds and ends.  One of which was a $3 copy of Tvær Í Takinu, a 1984 comp of various well known Icelandic performers.  Sure it wasn’t in great shape.  But hey, I’d heard of most of the artists, so why not.

Turns out this is actually the second record of a two record set.  Volume 1 was all non-Icelandic acts like UB-40 and Culture Club, while Volume 2 was all the Icelandic stuff.  I’m not sure if the lady had Volume 1 somewhere in that box too… though if she did, I probably wouldn’t have assumed it was part of this and would have passed it by.  Doh!  Such is life.

Now supposedly this set is kind of rare, something to do with it being pulled due to the failure to secure rights to the Megas song “Fatlað Fól.”  I of course have no idea how true this is, or how someone online arrived at the estimate that maybe 500 copies of this exist.  But whatever.  Still an interesting story.

A lot of bands and artists I’ve previously written about here are among the 12 performers on Tvær Í Takinu:

Bubbi MorthensMegasBjörk, BaraflokkurinnEgóGrýlurnarÞú Og Ég… they’re all here, making this a pretty solid compilation.  The songs are pretty poppy overall, much of it in that 80s schmaultzy way, but it’s still decent.  If nothing else, it’s a nice cross section of the most important popular musicians in Iceland during the period, so if you can find a cheap copy, pick it up.  And hey, if you find a copy of Volume 1, let me know!

“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.

rokkireykjavikdvd

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, Q4UTappi TíkarrassEgóÞeyr… 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.