“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.

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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.

Egó – “Breyttir Tímar” and “Í Mynd”

I’m getting to the last of the records I bought on our trip to Reykjavik about six weeks ago.  Finally!

Here’s that pesky Bubbi Morthens again.  The bottom line is you can’t talk about Icelandic pop and rock music in the 1980s (and probably the 90s as well) without Bubbi Morthens coming up at some point.  He fronted a number of incredibly popular and influential bands like Utangarðsmenn, Das Kaptial, and Egó, plus he was prolific as a solo artist and working on joint projects with other musicians.

Morthens formed Egó after allegedly being fired from the Utangarðsmenn, and it didn’t take him long to show up his old bandmates.  Egó’s 1982 debut Breyttir Tímar (Changing Time) was a mainstay at the top of the Icelandic charts and was one of the best selling albums ever by an Icelandic artist.  I have to say after giving it a listen that it’s a solid album.  The music could best be simply described as “rock”, though Morthens and the boys mix up the styles a bit.  The title track actually remind me a lot of Icelandic metal masters HAM, not in that it’s a metal track but due tot he slowed down, plodding, ominous sound – about 10 seconds into hearing I was wondering if HAM possibly covered this song at some point because it sounded that familiar.  The closing track, “Jim Morrison”, shares this heavy sound, while “Vægan Fékk Hann Dóm” is probably the hardest rocking cut on the record.

Immediately after listening to Breyttir Tímar I plopped Í Mynd on the platter.  Impressively Egó released both these full length albums in the same calendar year, 1982, which is a good thing because they basically broke up shortly thereafter, but still fulfilled their contractual obligations to produce a third LP which came out in 1984.  I don’t hear a lot of stylistic differences in the second album when compared to the first, though I was taken in by the last song on side A.  It’s got a cool ska feel to it, and when I looked at the jacket to see the name I found, “Dancing Reggae With Death”.  A closer listen and I suddenly realized this song was in English, the only song on these two albums that’s not in Icelandic.  Which I think is just further proof that when I hear vocals, I generally focus on their sound and not the words, something that drives a lot of people I know crazy but probably explains why I don’t have any problems listening to music that’s not in English, whereas a lot of my friends really struggle with that.  Regardless, “Dancing Reggae With Death” kicks ass and is a great song, and not because it’s in English.

Egó is good stuff, and it even got the Holly Seal of Approval.  Bubbi Morthens is one of those talented musicians who is good enough and original enough that pretty much everything he puts out is at the very least decent, and often excellent.  He’s still churning out solo material and appears to be collaborating with half of Iceland, which is great to see.  I may have to track down some of his more recent solo work on our next trip and see what he’s up to these days.