“(SOÐIÐ) PÖNKSAFN” and “(HRÁTT) PÖNKSAFN” Cassettes (2016)

As always, I was very excited as Iceland Airwaves ’16 approached.  But I got even more excited when I found out that the festival would also see the opening of The Icelandic Punk Museum.  If you’re a regular reader of Life in the Vinyl Lane you’ll probably know that I am way into early Icelandic punk rock (♠), and the fact that Dr. Gunni teamed up with Finni from Dr. Spock to make this a reality gave it instant cred.  I knew it was going to be good.

In true punk DIY fashion, the museum is housed in a disused public restroom accessed via a set of stairs that leads below the sidewalk.  I mean, look at it.  If that isn’t punk I don’t know what is.

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Gunni, Finni and their team did an amazing job cleaning the space up, covering it with old gig posters, flyers, and photos, and adding some monitors to play video.  There’s a full instrument set up in one corner if you want to relive your days in a band back when you were fourteen, and a very cool feature of headphones hanging from the ceiling in different areas, each aligned with a specific classic Icelandic punk album.  Hell, this place is actually educational!

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The opening was officiated by none other than Johnny Rotten, who hung out under the tent for a bit on a drizzly early evening and answered questions for the 50 or so attendees.  I didn’t actually make it inside until a few days later, and I came away impressed.  I also climbed the stairs back to sidewalk level with a pair of cassettes in my pocket – (SOÐIÐ) PÖNKSAFN and (HRÁTT) PÖNKSAFN.  Both have a DIY feel, recorded on standard Maxell 60-minute tapes and with hand-written labels.  The J-cards are professionally done, however, and each comes with a download card for more accessible listening.

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(SOÐIÐ) PÖNKSAFN contanions 22 studio tracks, arguably the most complete early Icelandic punk compilation available with the possible exception of the Rokk Í Reykjavík soundtrack.  While the soundtrack is great, the tape gets a bit of a benefit by being further removed from the scene, opening it up to post-1982 bands and having a better understanding of which groups lasted the test of time.  No band has more than one song on the tape, though Bubbi Morthens appears all over the place including a solo number,  as part of Oxsmá & Bubbi, and with Utangarðsmenn.  A few other musicians also appear on more than one track because of their involvement in multiple groups, like the Pollock brothers, Mike (Utangarðsmenn, Bodies) and Danny (Utangarðsmenn, Bodies, Q4U).

Regardless, the curators did a good job in covering a range of Icelandic punk from 1980-83.  I was particularly happy to see some bands included that I haven’t heard before like Án Orma, Fan Houtens Kókó, Spilafífl, and Chaplin.  All four were limited in what they released, with three only having a single 7″ to their names, so it’s great that  some of their old material got dusted off and put out there into the world.

The track list is below (♦), which provides the name of the album the song originally appeared on and original release date as well.  Where there are hyperlinks, these link to posts on Life in the Vinyl Lane about the album or artist.

A:
01 Bubbi Morthens – Jón pönkari (af Ísbjarnarblús LP 1980)
02 Fræbbblarnir – Bíó (af Viltu nammi væna? LP 1980)
03 Taugadeildin – Hvítar grafir (af EP 1981)
04 Purrkur Pillnikk – Gluggagægir (af Ekki enn LP 1981)
05 Jonee Jonee – Helgi Hós (af Svonatorrek LP 1982)
06 Megas – Krókódílamaðurinn (af The Boys From Chicago LP 1983)
07 Kamarorghestar – Rokk er betra (af Bísar í banastuði LP 1981)
08 Án orma – Dansaðu fíflið þitt dansaðu (af 7″ 1981)
09 Sonus Futurae – Myndbandið (af Þeir sletta skyrinu… Mini-LP 1981)
10 Grafík – Videó (af Út í kuldann LP 1981)
11 Fan Houtsens kókó – Grænfingraðir morgunhanar (af Musique Elementaire kassetta 1981)

B:
01 Þeyr – Rúdolf (af Mjötviður mær LP 1981)
02 Q4U – Böring (af Q1 Mini-LP 1982)
03 Utangarðsmenn – Hírósíma (af Geislavirkir LP 1980)
04 Grýlurnar – Betri er limur en limlestir (af Mávastellið LP 1983)
05 Tappi Tíkarrass – Skrið (af Miranda LP 1983)
06 Baraflokkurinn – Catcher Coming (af Mini LP 1981)
07 Spilafífl – Playing Fool (af 3 – 30. júní 7″ 1982)
08 Chaplin –Teygjutwist (af 7″ 1981)
09 Vonbrigði – Ekkert (af Kakófónía Mini-LP 1983)
10 Bodies – Lonely (af 12″ EP 1982)
11 Oxsmá & Bubbi – Me & My Baby (af Biblía fyrir blinda kassetta 1983)

The second cassette is called (HRÁTT) PÖNKSAFN, and it consists of 24 live tracks and demos, which is very exciting since most if this material never appeared on any official releases.  Even better, a lot of the bands on this tape weren’t part of the other one, and as near as I can tell quite a few never formally released anything during their existence.  I’ve never heard of a lot of these groups, like F/8, Allsherjarfrík, N.A.S.T., Geðfró… being able to discover so many new-to-me bands at one time is truly eye (and ear) opening.  The inside of the J-card provides the recorded date and location for each song as well.

A:
01 Halló & Heilasletturnar – Amma spinnur galið (Læf á Kjarvalsstöðum 8. ágúst 1978)
02 Snillingarnir – Kids (Demó að Rauðalæk 1980)
03 F/8 – Bölvun fylgi þeim (Í bílskúr í Kópavogi haust 1980)
04 Taugadeildin – Íslandi allt (Læf í Kópavogsbíói 22. maí 1981)
05 Allsherjarfrík – Lögbrot (Læf í Uppsölum, Ísafirði, nóvember 1982)
06 Utangarðsmenn – Leiðinlegt lag (Læf í Kópavogsbíói 21. febrúar 1981)
07 Fan Houtsens kókó – Þriggja stúlkna rúmba (Læf í Kópavogsbíói 21. febrúar 1981)
08 N.A.S.T. – Anarkisti (Læf í Kópavogsbíói 22. maí 1981)
09 Sjálfsfróun – Allir krakkar (Læf í N.E.F.S. 16. des 1981)
10 Stífgrím – Dansskóli Heiðars Ástvaldssonar (Læf á Rútstúni 17. júní 1980)
11 Q4U – Menn (Læf í Háskólabíói 30. mars1983)
12 Fræbbblarnir – Bjór (Læf á Hótel Borg vor 1981)
13 Geðfró – Stundum (Læf í N.E.F.S. 21. okt 1981)
14 Vonbrigði – Holdleg atlot (Læf í Safarí 9. ágúst 1984)

B:
01 Jonee Jonee – Brot (Rúv 2007)
02 Haugur – Skuld (Æfingahúsnæði í Garðabæ, vorið 1983)
03 Þursaflokkurinn – Jónarnir í skránni (Demó 1981 fyrir kvikmyndina Jón Oddur og Jón Bjarni)
04 Baraflokkurinn – It’s All Planned (Demó úr Stúdíó Bimbó vor 1981)
05 Oxsmá – Rokkum og poppum (Læf í Tívolí í Hveragerði 17. júní 1985)
06 Purrkur Pillnikk – Flughoppið (Læf í Austurbæjarbíói 12. sept 1981)
07 Tappi Tíkarrass – Beri-Beri (Læf í Safarí 28.11.1985 – kombakk)
08 S. H. Draumur – Gryfjan (Læf í Hjáleigunni 24. nóv 1985)
09 Bruni BB – Dr. Rúnkbor (Tekið upp á Bala í Mosfellsveit 1981)
10 Þeyr – Life Transmission (Læf á Hótel Sögu 28. janúar 1981)

As you’d expect, the recording quality is a bit lower on the live/demo cassette given that a lot of these tracks weren’t exactly captured in ideal conditions.  They’re all quite listenable, however – the Punk Museum didn’t include anything of inferior quality.  I came away particularly impressed by the songs by F/8, Taugadeildin, and of course Tappi Tíkarrass.

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I’m not sure if you can convince the Museum to sell copies via mail order, but right now it looks like they have ’em there for 3.000 ISK apiece – about $25 US.  That’s the same price I paid during Airwaves.  I’m not sure if these are any kind of “limited” edition or not and I have no idea how available this will be in the long term, so if you want ’em, I suggest you try to get your hands on them now before you find out it’s too late.

And if you find yourself in Reykjavik, look for the sign (right) and head down the stairs… trust me, it’s safe.

(♠)  This always feels ridiculously pretentious to say/write, as if I’m intentionally into something just because it’s obscure and relatively unknown by most people.  I assure you that’s not the case (♥) – I just really like the music!

(♥)  At least not consciously.

(♦)  A big “takk” to Dr. Gunni for letting me copy these track lists with details from his blog.

Dr. Gunni – “Vessar” (1993)

gunnivessarI’ve written about Dr. Gunni many times on Life in the Vinyl Lane.  Frankly you can’t escape the guy if you’re into Icelandic music – he seemingly pops up everywhere!  And whether it’s Bless, or S.H. Daumur, or his solo work, I’m a fan of his music, because it always has a passion and a bit of an edge to it.

I’ve been slowly tracking down his various recordings over the years, and our trip to Airwaves allowed me to finally get my hands on the third of his solo 7″ records, the for-song Vessar EP.  The recording is raw, giving it very much a live quality; garage punk at its finest.  Gunni’s vocal styling is borderline deranged, giving an even more frenetic feel to what is already some pretty frenetic music.  “Slímhúdarpopp!” is the only track that moves even remotely towards the mainstream, with the tuned-down sound reminding me a bit of some early grunge.  Otherwise it’s just pure in-your-face-I-don’t-care-what-you-think punk rock.

S.H. Draumur – “Bless” (1988)

I had my hands on a copy of Bless last November at Lucky Records when we were visiting Reykjavik, but somehow I convinced myself that I already had it.  Needless to say when I got home and realized my mistake, I was pissed.  Pissed enough to make it a point of immediately finding a copy online and buying it.  That’ll show me (there’s nothing like getting back at yourself!).

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The infamous Dr. Gunni was the driving force behind S.H. Draumur, releasing material under that moniker during much of the 1980s, with 1988s Bless ending their run of new material (compilations followed in 1993 and 2010).  There are two different vinyl versions of Bless listed on Discogs, both released in Iceland in 1988 – a three song version, and a four song version (“Dýr Á Braut” is the additional tune).  Images of the front covers of the two versions show the three song copy with an “E 21” at the bottom right of the front cover, which is missing from the longer version.  It is also indicated that only the Erðanúmúsik label is associated with the three tracker, while the four tracker lists both that label and another Icelandic label, Gramm.  I wanted to get to the bottom of this so I went right to the source – Dr. Gunni himself.  According to the good doctor, the record only exists in a four song version.  Unfortunately there aren’t any photos of the jacket  reverse or center labels of the alleged three song version to offer any additional clarity.  So, much like the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and gin that actually tastes good, this three song version will remain a sort of myth, something said to exist but probably not real.

Musically Bless fits in with Gunni’s overall style – raw rock with doses of psych and even a little rockabilly.  Gunni’s vocals are higher pitched than you’d expect, sometimes even going into a falsetto, other times a shrill wail.  The music has an energy to it, played with both abandon and urgency, much like the other S.H. Draumur material I’ve heard over the years.  I’m glad I was able to find it online and didn’t have to wait another 10 months to get back to Iceland to buy a copy.

Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 4

Day 4 (Saturday) of Iceland Airwaves is the last day where you really make some tough decisions, and a lot of them.  The schedule is massive – 42 “official” venues compete for your attention with the first shows starting at 11AM and the last one at 2:30 AM.  Compare that to Sunday, the final day of the festival, when you’ve only got 13 venues up and running, and the main on-venue acts all packed into one mega-show at Vodafone Hall.  Often Saturday is your last chance to catch those bands you’ve seemingly been missing throughout the week.  Inevitably you will end up missing at least someone you really wanted to see, but that’s Airwaves.  All the more reason to keep coming back.

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One of those bands we wanted to see this year was Ghostigital.  We’d already missed their one on-venue performance, and on Saturday afternoon they were playing the little tiny Smekkleysa (a.k.a. “Bad Taste”) record store, owned by none other than Ghostigital vocalist Einar Örn.  We knew it would get packed so we went down early and posted up in the corner, and I’m glad we did because there were at least as many people watching the show from the sidewalk through the window (in the rain) as their were inside.  Even Rolling Stone contributor David Fricke, who we’ve seen at pretty much every Ghostigital show we’ve been to over the years, was relegated to the mean streets of Reyakjavik, on the outside looking in.  Electronics guru Curver was a bit late in arriving, which led Einar to spend some time telling the intimate crowd stories about growing up as a punk in Reykjavik, Icelandic politics, and how cool it was to get to meet his own personal idols from The Pop Group at this years festival.  The set was a four-song, intense stream of consciousness, as it generally is with Ghostigital, and we were as usual suitably impressed.  Plus, while looking at the window right before the show started, we made the obligatory Björk sighting as she walked down the street in front of the store.

From there we hustled up the street and back to the artist space Mengi to see the jazz/reggae/electro-ness of Kippi Kaninus.  I reviewed their Temperaments album in late 2014, and this was the first time we had a chance to see the collective perform live.  The room was packed and the band didn’t disappoint, performing a solid mid-tempo set in front of a truly appreciative and attentive crowd of a hundred or so people who crammed into the space.

After a nice dinner it was off to see some on-venue action.  We began the night at the beautiful Gamla Bíó, which I believe was added to Airwaves for the first time last year and has quickly become one of our favorite venues.  There we saw the absolutely outstanding female band Kælan Mikla who wove a tapestry of dark no-wave, made all the more intense by their intentional stoicness.  I LOVE what these women are doing.  I chatted for a second with one of the members and asked if they had released any music yet, and the answer was only a super limited (of 50) CD, but that they’re working on some new stuff.  I’ll be following them closely and keeping my eyes peeled for that when it eventually comes out.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

After that it was time for our friend Dr. Gunni (above – right), who opened his set with guest dj. flugvél (above – left) and all her pure positive upbeat energy.  Gunni’s new 10″ is a pretty solid record, and the band he surrounded himself with was quite good.  We were right in the front row for the show, a rarity for us, but something we felt comfortable with due to the generally chill vibe in the venue.

Next up was a walk over to Harpa with the intention of seeing Beach House and Gusgus, but our plans were thwarted by an insanely long line downstairs just to be allowed upstairs to get to the venue.  After covering maybe a quarter of the line in 15-20 minutes, the last 10 of which were spent unmoving, it was obvious we would never make it in in time to see Beach House, so we said forget it and headed over to NASA instead.  As Holly reasoned, “It’s better to be seeing bands than not seeing bands,” and as it turns out that was a spectacular decision.

First up was the electro-awesomeness of Vök, a major up-and-comer in the local scene.  The crowd at NASA was in love with their style and emotion, and I’m pretty sure the lead singer started to tear up just a little in response to the huge ovation they got right before they started their closing number.  Next was QT.  I won’t lie – I wasn’t sure what to make of this performance, and frankly I’m still unsure.  Consider this description from Pitchfork, which described QT as an artist “whose first release was a love song to a fictional energy drink and whose second was the actual, suddenly non-fictional energy drink itself.”  I honestly have no idea what is real any more.  The crowd seemed to enjoy her beats, though, so there’s that.  Given that the image on the screen behind here was just a rotating can of her drink, though, it kind of felt like a weird commercial, or like I was stuck in Max Headroom world.

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That brings us to East India Youth, who put on one of if not the most intense solo performances I’ve seen anywhere ever.  Electronics, keyboard, electronic drums, and a bass guitar, all played by one guy with the energy of 10 men.  His hands were so fast on the keyboard you’d have thought he was the Flash or something.  He was practically vibrating on stage, nearly toppling his keyboard setup multiple times.  Sometimes more traditional song structure, sometimes pure dance beats, the crowd loved all of it and he left the stage absolutely drenched in sweat, having left it all out there.  An excellent capper to the night, and way better than waiting in line at Harpa.

Dr. Gunni – “í sjoppu” (2015)

I love it when mail arrives from Iceland.  LOVE.  IT.  Because it invariably means I’m about to lay my hands on some cool-ass music.  So when I went out to get the mail today and found a package from one Gunnar Lárus Hjálmarsson, I knew I was in for a treat.  Because Gunnar Lárus Hjálmarsson was part of some of my favorite Icelandic bands, performing as Dr. Gunni, S.H. Draumur, and Bless.  You could say he wrote the book on Icelandic popular music.  Literally.  Because he did.  In Icelandic and English.  I even bought some cool records from his collection once, most notably a copy of HAM’s Hold EP.  He’s a cool dude, and a hell of a musician.

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So what does the Doctor of Icelandic Music do when he turns 50?  Well, he puts out a new album.  Duh!  And for Gunni that meant a lathe cut 10″, limited to 50 numbered copies, and launched with a live performance at arguably my favorite place in the world, Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  Damn I wish I’d been there for that show.  But I’ll have to make due with seeing Gunni and Ingvar and Gestur and our other Icelandic friends in a few weeks when Iceland Airwaves ’15 kicks off in early November.

So what about í sjoppu?  Well, Gunni has always liked to keep it weird, and this is no exception.  The album opens with a nine second track of a New York street vendor hawking his wares on “1$” and carries it through with some different types of rock and psych across side A.  Side B opens with some ukulele on “Hester” before suddenly changing things up and blowing your doors off with the hardcore punk rocker “Rollur.”  Then we get a dose of musical guest Dj. Flugvél go geimskip with her amazingly captivating and bizarre electro-j-popish storytelling on “Gúmmíönd,” which is just plain awesome.  “Sjöundi október” is the most classically Gunni sounding track, reminding me a ton of the songs on S.H. Draumur’s Goð.

Yes, you’ll have a hard time tracking down a copy of í sjoppu.  But have no fear – you can stream the whole thing online HERE, and even buy a digital copy for a fiver.  So go check it out, and wish the good doctor a happy birthday while you’re at it.  See you soon, Gunni.