We didn’t do much on the final day of Iceland Airwaves this year. A big storm blew through town so it was both rainy and windy, and frankly we were all a bit spent after the marathon session at the Art Museum the night before. We caught a few songs by the synth-punk performer Rex Pistols over at Lucky Records early in the day before hunkering down for a bit to hide from the weather. Finally we got a bit stir crazy and popped over to Dillon to catch a few early evening sets.
In keeping with the old school Icelandic punk vibe the first show we saw at Dillon was by Fræbbblarnir, who may very well be the first punk outfit ever in Iceland. The band was tight and played a fun set. It felt like most of the folks crammed into the upstairs room at Dillon were locals, because they seemed to know the words to most of their songs. After their set I finally connected with Life in the Vinyl Lane reader Paul, which was cool – it’s always fun to meet IRL with blog readers! Next up was the UK two-man Revenge of Calculon (above), who describe their style as “luchador fat-bass & dirt-synth duo”, which pretty much summed them up perfectly. With nothing but synths, bass, and samples they absolutely crushed it B-movie funk style. I picked up a couple of their 7″ records from the guys after the show and I’ll be ordering the others online as soon as we get back to Seattle. It was a perfect way to end the festival.
I think the final count for me was 44 shows by 43 different artists. A lot of folks hit Airwaves and try to make as many shows as humanly possible, and I totally respect that. Had we gone that route we certainly could have seen more bands. But at the same time Airwaves is also a vacation for us so we don’t want to force ourselves to see stuff when we’re not feeling it. And after eight Airwaves in a row we’ve figured out how we like to experience the festival, so we did it our way and enjoyed it. Due to some work commitments in 2018 we’re not sure we’re going to be able to come back next year… we’ll just have to wait and see. Fortunately we’ll have some positive memories to carry us through!
I never got much into the 7″ scene, but recently I’ve been buying more early Icelandic punk 7″ records, probably because I have most of the EPs/LPs at this point. As for Fræbbblarnir, last year I picked up their first one, 1980s False Death, and 1981s Warkweld in the West 12″ EP, and at Airwaves I got the chance at the third, Bjór.
Bjór feels a little less tongue-in-cheek than Fræbbblarnir’s other 1981 release, Warkweld in the West, though it does include songs called “Critical Bullshit” and “Masturbation Music for the Future,” so it’s hardly serious. Musically, however, it’s clearly in the punk/post-punk realm, a bit on the darker side for punk but not quite morose enough for post-punk. Probably the best of the band’s three early 7″ records.
I’ve reached a point with my Icelandic vinyl collecting that I’ve acquired most of the scarce stuff, at least most of the scarce stuff that interests me (I’m not a prog rock guy, and I’m not interested in anything like big band or “popular” music from the 1960s and earlier…). That leaves me digging deeper into some of the lesser known artists, or looking somewhat longingly at the stuff that I think is just too expensive to justify like Drysill’s Welcome to the Show or Sororicide’s The Entity. But there were a few still affordable outliers I need, one of which was the recently reviewed No Time To Think 7″ by Purrkur Pillnikk, and another was this 1980 7″ released by Fræbbblarnir called False Death. I’d recently bid on and failed to win a copy on eBay, so when I saw this signed copy over at Lucky I decided to use some of my hard earned kronur to pick it up and cross it off my want list.
Unusual for the time both for its white vinyl and the prominently displayed ass shot on the front cover, False Death has a bit of early pop-punk flair to it. Don’t get me wrong, the title track “False Death” is all punk sneering in its vocal delivery, but with a very up-and-down poppy bass line. The B sides “True Death” is a bit more standard punk fare, but Fræbbblarnir pops it up a bit again with a cover of the classic 1978 hit from the movie Grease, “Summer Nights,” a classic piece of punk rock snottiness and a perfect song for the band to cover. I love punk covers of classic pop tunes, and this one is no exception.
Ah, Fræbbblarnir. You crazy Icelandic punks, you.
Warkweld in the West is a funky little four song EP from 1981, right smack dab in the middle of Fræbbblarnir’s first incarnation. And it’s… well… it’s something, let me tell ya. It opens with “Oh, Sally!,” a tongue-in-cheek country song. And I do mean country. Not like cow-punk, or a sped up version of a country tune. Country. Even spinning at 45 rpms it sounds like everyone had a bit too much cough syrup.
Fortunately the other song on side A, “Where Were You?,” gets us back on track with classic style punk rock flavored with a dash of high-collared new wave. The B side gives us more of that early Icelandic punk rock that I enjoy so much. The pace on “Boys” is brisk, with sharp backing vocals and a simple but quick structure. And then it gets weird. “Jerusalem Lights” opens with a jazzy bass line but a bluesy guitar, along with what sounds like a Vox Continental organ (think Ray Manzarek of The Doors). It’s an instrumental, sort of free form jazz kind of thing. Not bad, but certainly not what I was expecting.
Fræbbblarnir bookend the two punk songs that are more typical of their sound between a pair of disparate tunes. If I were from the UK I might say that I thought they were “taking the piss” a bit with Warkweld in the West, though that’s not always such a bad thing. Maybe “Oh Sally!” and “Jerusalem Nights” were done as jokes, or maybe the band just got tired of doing the same stuff and wanted to screw around a bit. While I do like the two punk/new wave tunes, this is an awfully hard to get (i.e. expensive) record, so unless you’re an Icelandic punk-o-phile nutball like me, it may not be worth that much of your hard earned cash.
One of my “bigger” acquisitions at this years Airwaves was the 1980 LP debut by Icelandic punks Fræbbblarnir, Viltu Nammi Væna? I’d passed on it once before due to the price, but this copy was of a bit lesser condition, or at least the jacket was, so it was more appealing. The vinyl was in great shape, though, so I pulled the trigger on it.
Fræbbblarnir are one of those important bands in Icelandic music, one of the handful of pivotal groups that formed in the late 70s/early 80s and embraced punk/new wave. Like many of their peers, Fræbbblarnir too appeared in Rokk Í Reykjavík and on the film soundtrack, a work that may be the most definitive representation of any music scene anywhere.
Viltu Nammi Væna? isn’t straight forward, old school punk. It embraces some of the more experimental directions music was headed with new wave/no wave, but kept it within a punk framework. Songs like “Look Out” offer a blend of punk rock and something outside of it, a sort of weirdness for the sake of being weird, like how kids sometimes act – we’re just doing this because we can do it and we feel like it, not because it’s necessarily part of any grand plan. Others like “Dauði” feature drumming that feels like a military march on speed and vocals that reminiscent of old 1930s newsreels of dictators shouting at huge crowds. It’s a vocal style that appears on a number of songs, including tracks like “Fífl” where it doesn’t seem to fit with the relaxed bass driven structure.
Did Valgarður Guðjónsson’s vocal style pave the way for HAM / Dr. Spock singer Óttarr Proppé with his growls and raspiness?
One of the most unusual songs is undoubtedly the punk cover of the Beach Boys’ “Then I Kissed Her,” which in turn, of course, is a modified cover of “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals. Not at all what I was expecting, but a cool version nonetheless.
All in all an enjoyable record. It’s held up pretty well and still sounds good to my ears.