“(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.

Iceland Airwaves 2016 – Day 2

If you read yesterday’s Day 1 post, you’ll know how Day 2 started for me – with about four hours of sleep and being unable to get more.  It didn’t hit me as hard as I expected until about midnight though, so Day 2 was pretty strong.  And I managed my first full night of sleep of the entire trip last night, other than that ten minute period when some massively drunk dude was being held down on the sidewalk by a bunch of tourists until the police arrived at 4:30AM which was, of course, right across the street from our place.  The mean streets of RVK 101.

Thursday opened with me back at Lucky Records, wrapping up my purchases for the trip.  I walked away with a motley collection of CDs, records, and tapes and a lot less kronur in my pocket, and I’m super excited to get this stuff home to start blogging about it all.  I won’t give you all the gory details as you’ll see them for yourself over the next few months.  As always, the guys at Lucky were great, and I want to give a big Icelandic TAKK! to Ingvar, Gestur, and Johannes for always making us feel more like family than customers.

After fortifying ourselves with some lunch from Noodle Station, it was off to KEX Hostel to see Samaris (below).  They’ve been regulars at the festival for a number of years but somehow we keep missing them.  And after that set, I’m now pissed at my past self for passing them up all these years, because their set of electronic-vocal sultriness was the perfect antidote for a rainy Thursday afternoon.  I hope everyone listening on KEXP, who were hearing the show just as they were waking up in the States, enjoyed it as much as we did.  I swear one of these years I’m just going to not buy a festival pass and do nothing but hang out at all the KEX off-venue shows.

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From there we headed back to Bíó Paradís to see the dream-pop duo Wesen, a pair featuring one of the dudes from Sudden Weather Change and the dudette from Oyama.  Their banter and the way they interact with the crowd was every bit as fun as their music, and their quirky songs fit perfectly in the more intimate environment of the theater lobby.

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Next up was the Icelandic PUNK Museum, which we finally found open on our third attempt.  And damn, I have to hand it to Dr. Gunni and Finni (of Dr. Spock fame… you’ll hear more about them later in this post) – they put together an outstanding homage to punk in Iceland.  Located inside a disused subterranean public bathroom right in the city center, the walls are plastered with old handbills, album covers, and factoids about Icelandic punk.  Perhaps the coolest feature is the listening room that has album covers on the ceilings each with a  pair of headphones dangling from them that play those actual albums.  Super cool.  Also cool is the pair of cassettes that are available for purchase, the first of which is a nice Icelandic punk comp while the other is filled with demos and live tracks, and they include download cards.  In classic punk fashion, they’re recorded on regular old cassettes, and each has an individually hand-written label on it.  A killer introduction to the punk scene here.

(Intermission – Holly just arrived with pastries from the new bakery Braud & Co.  Wow!  I’ll need to add them to my “recommended” list for next year!)

We then met some friends over at Slippbarinn to see Vök.  You know, what more can I say about Vök that hasn’t already been said?  They just get better and better every time we see them live, more confident on stage and tighter musically.  They’re working on some new material, some of which they played, and I’m very much looking forward to their next release.

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After an always-excellent Pakistani dinner at Shalimar it was a quick jog through the rain to Húrra to rock out with a trio of hard-hitting bands.  First up was a relatively new genre-defying group Hórmónar (right), who combined punk attitude and hard rock/metal music (and the occasional saxophone) and in-your-face Icelandic vocals.  I’m definitely going to keep tabs on these rockers, because I have a feeling we’re going to bearing a lot more from them in the coming years.

During our post-evening analysis, all five of us who went to Húrra agreed that when the next band set up on stage we were all fully prepared to dislike them – a four-man rock outfit with no vocals.  Booo!  Completely not in my wheelhouse.  But it didn’t take long for the crowd (and us) to fall in love with Slovakia’s The Ills, who flat-out crushed it with their blend of jams, intricate and slow to fast and thrash and all points in between.  They were obviously having so much fun up there on stage that it was infectious and by the end of the set they had us eating out of their hands.  I should have tried to track them down after the show to buy a CD, but at that point we were intent on securing a good spot on the floor for the next band, the one we were in Húrra to see that night. I speak, of course, of the good doctor.  Dr. Spock.

Sweet Jesus.

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There was a lot of tension in the crowd prior to the set as more and more people moved to the front and started to pack it in.  And a lot of those folks looked like they were going to be very serious about their Dr. Spock (left and below) experience.  Then the band walked on stage and we were greeted with what you see here, the massive Finni sporting a ski mask and Óttarr looking like, well, Óttarr, snapping on that yellow glove like a demented back-alley plastic (or some other type) of surgeon about to cut you open with a jagged and very unsterile blade.  And it didn’t take but a few second for things to get very real, very fast.

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Holly was hesitant about being that close to the stage, and her concerns proved well-founded when the moshing started.  As the show progressed we found ourselves edging backwards as the pit began reaching critical mass and started roiling like the water around the Kraken as it emerges from the water ready to destroy your city.  The crowd was into it; the band was into; we were into it.  By the time the reached the end of their set and “Sons of Ecuador” it was all just a mess of sweat and vape smoke and future hangovers as Dr. Spock took us to the finish line.  Fantastic.

We were drained after the Dr. Spock assault, but still headed over to Harpa where we caught the tail end of Singapore Sling‘s big-stage set and then hung around to see the post-punk of Fufanu, another band that is slowly turning into a powerhouse and one I think is better suited for a larger stage and room like they had last night as opposed to a smaller venue that doesn’t give them as much space and sonic depth.  They’ve got some great new material and we’re expecting an album soon.

Another killer night in the books!  Two down, three to go!

Iceland Airwaves 2016 – Day 1

It’s 7AM on Thursday morning in Reykjavik, and I can’t sleep.  For whatever reason this entire trip has been a blurry week of going to bed barely able to keep my eyes open, then snapping wide awake about four hours later.  I know this kind of thing happens to people this far north during the summer, when the daylight is endlessly long and you feel the urge to take advantage of the sun because you know that the dark season is coming.  But Reykjavik has been a nothing but gray, from the impenetrable blanket of clouds covering the city and the battleship gray of the ocean in the harbor.  I should be able to wrap a comforter around myself and sleep for days.  But my head is still buzzing from last night’s shows, so instead I’m in a dark room, looking out a window at a tree wrapped in white Christmas lights, and writing this, my first postcard to Airwaves ’16.

I started the day over at Lucky Records, where King Lucky and Gestur had a whole pile of tapes, CDs, and records awaiting my perusal.  Figuring out what I already had was the first step, and I’ve finally reached the point where I can’t conclusively do that without the help of Discogs, which thankfully I was able to access on the store computer.  I only had an hour in the morning for records, so my friends at Lucky put my growing “buy” pile in the back for me to return to later in the trip.

The reason I only had a hour at Lucky was because we were doing the Reykjavik Music Walk, a tour of the city led by music journalist and PhD student (and brother of Ghostigital’s Curver) Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen.  Arnar led us through a rambling tour of downtown, pointing out the Sugarcubes’ old rehearsal space, locations of long-forgetter venues, and Björk’s old apartment.  He’s knowledgeable and engaging, and despite having to dodge a few raindrops, our group of eight people plus a film crew shooting a documentary all had an enjoyable time.  These tours usually take place in the summer, so if you find yourself in town and want a taste of the country’s music scene, it’s a fun way to spend a hour.

From there we grabbed some burgers and our wristbands before popping over to Reykjavik Record Shop to visit our friend Reynir and, of course, buy some records.  I didn’t go too crazy, but did walk out of there with Wormlust’s The Feral Wisdom, Box’s Skuggahliðin, a 12″ by Sniglabandið that I didn’t have, plus a four song 12″ comp from Icelandic label Thule Records.  I’ll likely be back there again before the end of the trip once I see how full my record bag is.

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After that we headed to the movie theater Bíó Paradís to catch an electronic set in their lobby area by Lady Boy Records artist Andi (left).  I thoroughly enjoyed his self-titled cassette that came out back in May, and his live show was quite good.  It started a bit slow, but moved into some more danceable beats that actually had group of a half dozen or so people dancing by the bar before it was all said and done.  At times Andi subtly alters the BPM during the build-up, which can throw off your timing a bit but adds an interesting element to the music that keeps you on your toes.

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The drizzle became a bit more consistent, but that didn’t stop us from a quick stop-off at the new Icelandic PUNK Museum, which had it’s grand opening at 5PM.  Unfortunately we didn’t have time to hang around long enough to get inside and check out the cramped quarters, which are in an old disused public bathroom underneath a city sidewalk, but were were there to hear none other than Johnny Rotten (of Sex Pistols fame – right) address the crowd and talk a bit about punk rock and the current state of music (revelation –> Johnny isn’t terribly impressed).  He was an entertaining speaker, though you could tell he wanted to interact a bit more with the crowd, which was actually being quite quiet and almost looking at him as a curiosity, a museum piece in and of himself, which is too bad because he was quite witty and making a strong effort to connect.  I’m going to try to make it back there today to see the inside of the museum.

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From there it was a mad dash to KEX Hostel to catch Singapore Sling (left).  While we didn’t think we had a shot at getting a good spot, a table opened up in the front right at the corner of the stage area and we immediately took it over.  The position offered a fantastic vantage point for taking photos of the band’s droning psych rock set.  The only other time we’d seen Singapore Sling they were hamstrung by some horrible acoustics at the venue, but they suffered no such problems this time around, kicking out 25 minutes of killer music that was carried live by KEXP radio.  Look for some videos of the set online in the upcoming weeks, and give a listen to their latest album Psych Fuck.

After a delicious pulled pork sandwich and a beer at our fortress of a table we were treated to the OG garage rockers hailing from Tacoma, Washington, The Sonics (below), who have been blowing people’s minds since 1960.  Not only were we stoked to see this seminal band play in Reykjavik, but it was doubly exciting because our friend and old high school classmate Evan Foster now plays guitar with The Sonics when they tour.  It was obvious right from the packed soundcheck (after which the band remarked, “we don’t usually soundcheck in front of this many people…”) that this was going to be a high intensity show, and by the time 8:30 rolled around KEX was absolutely packed.  Right in the front just off to our right were the members of Seattle’s own Thunderpussy, who were obviously just as pumped as we were for the show.

And The Sonics rocked our faces off.

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When you’ve been doing rock ‘n’ roll for 56 years, you learn a thing or two, and The Sonics brought all that knowledge and all those lessons to the stage at KEX where they completely and utterly destroyed the room.  There was a heavy Seattle contingent in the crowd, which just increased the intensity level, and they band fed off of it from start to finish playing a blistering set that could have been a “How To” guide for rockers who want to start their own bands.  Yeah, I get it, Nirvana defines the Seattle sound and all that.  But just listen to some of those garage punk elements of The Sonics and you’ll realize that all that late 1980s/early 1990s grunge owes at a minimum a head-nod and a bro-hug to trailblazers like The Sonics.  And they’re still bringing it long after all those other bands have disappeared.  Long live The Sonics!

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We hung around after the show and had a drink with Evan before departing for Iðnó, where we arrived fairly soaked but were fortunately able to find a few comfortable seats in the back where we could relax a bit.  First up was a jazz rock type outfit called Ambátt, but the band we were really there to see was the darkwave trio of Kælan Mikla (left).  They totally blew us away at Airwaves last year, and their self-titled 2016 release will most likely make at least one of my year-end “Top 5” lists.  They brought intensity (and incense) to their set in front of a packed and appreciative room, and it was interesting to hear how much they’ve developed since the last time we saw them.  The electronic beats had more variety, the bass playing more confidence and power, and the singing… the singing… when Laufey Soffía Þórsdóttir decides to go off it’s startling that so much power can come out of that person, a mix of anger and rage and fear that is more cold and clinical than raw emotion, perfectly attuned to their style.

We only saw five bands, but it was a full and rewarding day.  We actually had a conversation about just that with our friend and ex-pat Leana – that there were times at Airwaves when seeing as many bands as was humanly possible seemed to be a goal in and of itself, but that over the years we’ve been able to step back and take Airwaves as it comes, taking the time to re-connect with friends and enjoy the ride.  And that’s definitely what we’re doing this year – enjoying the ride.

Well, I’ve been at the computer for just over an hour.  It’s a little after 8AM, and still as dark as midnight outside our apartment window.  I may just need to crawl back into bed and see if I can sneak in a few more hours of shuteye before hitting the mean streets of Reykjavik again for another day of music.  But probably not.  And that’s why they invented coffee.