Review: Blue Eyed Pop by Dr Gunni

Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland

Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland by Dr. Gunni

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Named after the Sugarcubes song of the same name, Blue Eyed Pop covers the start of ‘popular’ music in Iceland which evolved early 20th century, through to the books publishing year of 2013, it covers everything from how various instruments were introduced to the country, to the influence of the American airbase at Keflavik and the inimitable country balls that so many artists have cut their teeth over the years.
For me the pace really picked up covering the period of the late 70’s as this is when recognisable names start to come to the fore (artists that are still playing live, releasing records such as Bubbi Morthens).
Obviously there’s a lot about Björk in the book, given that she released her first album at the age of 11, and being arguably Iceland’s most successful artist, but it also gives plenty of weight to newer bands such as Sigur Rós and múm etc..
The book has a lot in the way of facts: how many records each artist/album sold, venue history, who was in what band when and some amazing photos to go with them! It really shows what I think is the uniqueness of Iceland’s music scene, that an artist can be involved in multiple bands/projects at a time which can appear strange in a world of Western pop music where there is usually some acrimonious split in a band caused by creative differences. I’ve witnessed this phenomena myself at Iceland Airwaves, seeing a performer 5+ times across the festival, in 3 or 4 different bands/line ups. Airwaves of course gets a fair mention, being the Glastonbury of Iceland, sans mud of course.
The only thing missing from this book is a 2018 update, the music scene and artists of Iceland finally getting the attention and success they deserve abroad.
My only niggle with the book is that particularly in the last 4-5 chapters there are several mistakes missed by the publisher/proof reader, but I think they could be overlooked for the sheer joy the book brings. In the back there is a list of useful websites for experiencing some of the artists mentioned, and it was good to see that Dr Gunni’s website is still holding the fort with these




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Handknitting Association of Iceland

Day 22/100 – Back in the zone

Today was hard, being back at work after a jam packed 4 to 5 days in Iceland. So I relaxed by getting back into my crochet, after lovingly stroking all the yarn I brought back with me. I make a point of visiting the Handknitting Association of Iceland, located a stone’s throw from Hallgrimskirkja on Skólavörðustígur. It serves as both a store where you can buy handmade (and some machine made) knitted/woollen clothing along with being the best place (in my opinion) to buy the yarn to knit or crochet something yourself. It’s certainly the cheapest place I’ve found in Iceland and certainly cheaper than back home in the UK – the shawl I’m currently working on will cost less than £14, which for pure wool is fantastic.

The association was set up in 1977 by women who were supporting their familes making garments,  establishing standards and guidelines for the production which are still in use today

Whilst the flagship store is on Skólavörðustígur , there used to be another, smaller store on the main shopping street in Reykjavik – Laugavegur, however that seems to be closed now that I have also visited. There has been quite a few pieces in Icelandic media over the last couple of years about the influx of chinese made ‘lopapeysa’ you know the infamous Icelandic sweaters – that the stores are ironically charging even more for! If you buy from the Handknitting Association, you will find a tag inside the sweater with the name (and sometimes contact details) of the person who handknitted your item, how cool is that?! You can also buy from their website (see link above) and they will customise the size and colours for you – because it’s being made for you (the only thing to consider is that as iceland is not in the EU, you’re liable to import taxes, which for the UK is 20%).

So if you’re a yarn-a-holic like me, you should definitely visit when in Iceland.

 

 

 

Day 21/100 – Heading Home

This was oringially entitled ‘a couple of hours in Reykjavik’ however we didn’t end up having a couple of hours wandering as usual. Our plan of leaving our apartment to do our traditional last-day-in-reykjavik-enourmous-breakfast at Prikid, was scuppered in part by tiredness and hangovers and also booking onto an earlier bus home than usual (airport disaster last year made me cautious), so we decided to just head straight to the bus station and eat at the cafe there. Except it was closed. Around 10 minutes after we arrived and about 3 hours after the opening time on the sign, someone came and stuck a notice over the sign simply saying ‘closed’. Yay, fun.

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Goodbye Reykjavik, the pond on our last day

So our last day of fun was spent in the airport, ok it wasn’t all doom and gloom, turned out we were sat next to the lead singer of Mammút which we realised after someone came and spoke to her. We had a nice lunch – they have a good cafe with self service, which is a bit like if an McDonald’s you helped yourself to the food from the silver slide. Whilst we were eating, Airwaves announced the super early bird tickets were on sale at around £65 each (so pre-2013 prices) we decided to go for it. Even though we’d sworn to have a year off for a break. I’ve got a big birthday next year so the plan is to save hard and tie it in with a trip elsewhere or a long roadtrip.

Keflavik Airport Roof Glass
Glass Roof of Keflavik Airport

Keflavik airport has changed a lot since our first trip, from memory (or maybe they’ve changed where UK departures leave from), there was this one small food shop where you could buy hotdogs, slices of pizza and various drinks/crisps/candy. Now there is a plethora of food outlets including Joe & Juice which seems really popular in Iceland. We didnt buy anything in the airport (unusual), and witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. The plane initially flew north towards Akureyri and we witnessed this amazing pink sky, some ethereal cloud formations (think fluffy layers of low and high clouds) over the snowcapped mountains. I certainly wasn’t the only person who spent the first half an hour of the flight with their camera fixed to the window!

Flying over Iceland
Wow-some clouds over Iceland

So a very long day, after leaving our apartment at around 11am, we finally got back to Oxford 11 hours later, tired but happy – til next year Iceland!

Super-early bird tickets can be bought at Icelandairwaves.is

Day 4 of #Airwaves18

Day 20/100 – well it seems my challenge has failed somewhat. I could’ve sworn I posted my day 4 review but as this was empty I guess not and in case you couldn’t tell, post holiday fatigue set in and stayed in. I’ve had a super busy week at work and this weekend had family staying so no real time to blog and now all that excitement is catching up with me and I’m coming down with a cold. But, I’ll try and remember what I enjoyed most about the last day of airwaves.

Clue, it was a lot. We went a bit off-schedule with our planning. This year the festival reduced the off-venue program, whilst the press have said this was for financial reasons, we heard from some locals that apparently it was because the Icelanders themselves apparently don’t buy tickets anymore and just attend off-venue shows – not sure how true that is? I mean they’d still need to book time off work etc to attend shows, another ru mour we heard was that Icelandic bands playing on-venue were limited to one off-venue show, however that ended up not being true, but it certainly was like in the past where bands played multiple shows througout the festival, and it’s not like the off-venue replaces the full festival – most of it shuts down at 7pm. For us the off-venue compliments the offical shows, making it easier to see more people if you see someone at lunchtime friday, that might free up saturday evening to see 1 or 2 other shows for example.
Anyway, we started with an Airwaves favourite – Una Stef, performing at Lucky Records, which turned into a full on dance party, which audience synchonised moves!

Una Stef @ Lucky Records

Una Stef at Lucky Records

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Tap list at RVK Brewing

We made a detour to RVK Brewing, a micro brewery with tap room that was easily a highlight of the trip (much more than Brewdog Reykjavik which was oddly disappointing), the flight of beer was a lot cheaper and in much cuter glasses. They were also playing the new LP from Benny Crespo’s Gang which reminded me to pick up a copy on our way back past Lucky Records, where we also saw a snippet of Godchilla.

We then went for another Airwaves tradition and stopped off at Reykjavik Fish for a lovely fish supper, before heading back to our apartment to drop off our bags – here we were delighted to find the Northern Lights playing out!

Aurora over Reykjavik

Northern Lights over Reykjavik

With this giving us giddy levels of excitement, we then headed to Hurra, as it was a venue we’d not been to, we caught the end of Munster’s set which was alright. We then headed across the road to the Art Museum to see Emmsjé Gauti, an eminent Icelandic rapper performing in the Art Museum, the venue was large and not very crowded when we were there, which meant we could sneak right up to the front for the feel good show (even though we didn’t understand the lyrics). We then went back across the road for Vio, who we saw last year off-venue and were great – really energetic indie rock.

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Dr Spock at Gaukurinn

Promptly followed by Dr Spock who are not indie rock at all, but loud and crazy punk rock, handing out marigold gloves and singing whilst wearing an elephant mask, and omg the crowd loved it and so did we!

After this we headed to our final gig of the the evening, timings being what they were meant we had just missed the end of Ceasetone (thankfully I managed to see them earlier in the week), but not too late for Benny Crespo’s Gang. I had first heard of them a couple of Airwaves back, being a fan of LayLow – I had no idea at the time that she was in a band that were much more rocky than her laidback, soulful music. Another crowd pleaser of a band, this small intimate room at Bryggjan Brugghús was pleasantly full of people dancing and singing. A fantastic end to the festival for us.

(We may have already bought early bird tickets for next years’ festival).

Day 17/100 – Aka Day 1 #Airwaves18

Well we made it, I’d say despite sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow for an additional 30 plus minutes it’s one of the smoothest journeys we’ve ever done, no doubt due to lack of hold luggage. We were in Reykjavik before 5pm and (despite google maps giving us the run around) managed to get to city hall for our wristbands and goody bags AND bonús and to find our accommodation by 6pm At which point we flaked. We were starving and of tired feet. So I missed one of the artists on my own ‘people to go see’ list.

However we started the night by heading to Bryggjan Brugghús which is now an ‘official’ rather than off-venue, for Ingibjörg Turchi.

Next we decided to camp out in Iðnó for GlerAkur and later Une Misére.

GlerAkur were interesting, sort of like For A Minor Reflection but maybe less intense/ rock. But there was a lot of synchronised head bobbing.

In between these and Une Misére were Kælan Mikla, a female trio in the punky goth synth persuasion. Starting their set with some incense burning it was a theatrical set, however after playing one song that really got the crowd going they ignored the vibe and just went back to introspective goth incense waving.

Finally after a ten minute countdown Une Misére took to the stage with gusto. There was head banging and a mosh pit and some of the band members decided to climb on the speakers which resulted in security pulling me out of the way for their descent I guess in case I got injured? But it was such an energetic show I ended up leaving the husband at the front whilst I chilled out near the back for a breather. 10/10

Day 12/100 – Off-venue at #Airwaves18

In a bid to stem the excitement of my forthcoming trip to Iceland for another round of the eclectic music festival that is Iceland Airwaves, it’s another airwaves themed post from me.

If you’ve not been to the festival before, off-venue is the name to a weeklong series of gigs in various venues throughout the day, that are free for anyone to attend, not just those with a festival wristband. In most cases the off-venue program tends to finish around 7-8pm as the official venue events start up for the evening. In the past there has been as many as 60 different venues, but this year, with the festival’s new owners allegedly cutting costs to recoup losses from previous years festival, it’s down to 25 venues for 2018.

Mr Silla @ Iceland Airwaves 05.11.15
Mr Silla performing in a clothing store, 2015

Obviously a lot of airwaves fans are disappointed, as for many of us this is an integral part of the festival, a chance to see bands pared down, in intimate venues. Some of our personal favourites have been Ægisgarður (home to the Viking Brewery with their colourful stage area, and kegs that acted as instrument stands), Reykjavik Letterpress who also plied the audience with free chocolate bars, Eymundsson book store on Austurstræti, and Lucky Records (who are staying with the program this year)… it’s all so very different to anything else I’ve ever been to.

Futuregrapher @ Eymundsson
Futuregrapher at Eymundsson, 2014

It was also reported by Iceland Review that another reason for so few off-venues was that the costs of taking part in the off-venue program had skyrocketed – an increase of over 730% for venues taking part for the whole week! Of course for smaller venues the cost is prohibitive, and it seems there is rebellion with unofficial off-venue shows taking place which I will list below and update with any new info I receive (many thanks to the wonderful people of the Airwaves FB group for social travellers for hunting this info out!).

Between Mountains
Between Mountains at Ægisgarður, 2017

Vinyl Reykjavik
T 6/11 – DJ Pussy Valore
W 7/11 – BERNDSEN @9pm with others, doors at 6PM
T 8/11 – Yagya, Skurken – Downtempo electronica
F 9/11 – Elves and Dragons night with Sturle Dagsland and some other wizard people.
S 10/11 – S. Hel and some other ambient DJs.

Bókabúð Máls og menningar
10/11- 18:00 Sturle Dagsland

Sólsetrið (Skrauthólar), Grundarhverfi
10/11 – 22:00 Sturle Dagsland

Why not? Plötur
6/11 – 19:00 – Sólveig Matthildur, IDK IDA, asdfhg, Bömmer
9/11 – 16:00 – FINISHED BEFORE 20:00. Skátar, Grit Teeth, :mikilsorg
10/11 – Sideproject, Celestine, xGaddavírx, Man Kind, Laura Secord

KAFFIBARINN
4/11 – DJ Pilsner
5/11 – Sonur Saell
6/11 – Arni Vector
7/11 – Hunk of a Man
8/11 – Black Loops / Introbeatz
9/11 – FM BELFAST DJ SET
10/11 – DJ Margeir / Ieynigestur

Aurora House
10/11 17:00 Svavar Knútur

One perk of being a wristband holder this year, is that you get 10% off food and drink at the off-venues that serve.

Day 11/100 – Gearing Up For Airwaves

So it’s technically day 12 of my 100 days of blogging, but too many nights out (2) as quite the introvert means I’ve been exhausted for most of the week and I’m behind but this weekend I promise to catch up. I’ve even started pre-planning for next week which will include the madness of spending 5 days in Iceland for the (now) 4 day music festival that is Airwaves.

So it feels fitting to post some recommendations of bands that are playing this year, starting with Vök. Vök are I think now a 3 piece, sometimes 4 piece electronica – poppy type band, with sax and amazing vocals. We saw them last year off-venue at a packed out Bryggjan Brugghús and I also had tickets to see them in the UK earlier this year but was too sick to go. I really want to see them again this year, but with schedule clashes nothing is guaranteed.

Vök
Vök play Harpa on Friday 9th November at 10:30pm

Another band we saw last year were Hatari, the drummer in Hatari also plays guitar in Vök ~ this is how it plays out in Iceland, you can see the same person perform multiple times over the festival in many different guises. Hatari are some obscure mix of industrial, dancey-goth, dressed in a mixture of bondage gear and some semblance of steampunkish.

HATARI
Hatari play Gamla Bio Friday night at 12:20

My final recommendation for today is Mr Silla. I’ve seen Mr Silla perform now more times than I can count, on stage as a solo artist, as one part of Múm, with Snorri Helgasson, with another band I can’t remember the name of and everywhere from a proper theatre stage, a church and a clothing shop.

Mr Silla @ Iceland Airwaves 2017
Mr Silla performs at Gamla Bio on Thursday at 8:20pm

Mr Silla’s solo stuff is electronic poppy, soulful music and released her debut solo album back in 2015. She has a fantastic voice and over the past couple of years its been great to hear her experiment with the vocals on some of her best known album tracks. Breathe has to be one of my favourites and that intro still never fails to give me googsebumps. Rumour has it there will be new music at this years airwaves – you’d be mad to miss her!

You can still get tickets to this years’ festival from Tix.is

4/100 Learning a new language

Day 4/100 of my 100 days of blogging self set challenge. Today’s update is fresh. I recently decided to learn a bit of Icelandic. I’ve been learning Swedish for a little over 2 years on and off with Duolingo, but as I’m heading off in a few weeks on my seventh trip to Iceland it feels like this is the language I should be working on. I’ve always been interested in languages and that piqued even more after reading Lingo – A Language Spotter’s Guide To Europe, which is an enthralling book about where different languages originated, who borrowed from whom etc. I’d noticed several similarities between Swedish – Icelandic so this has definitely pulled me in a bit more – now I’ve gotten over the fear of pronunciation. Because that’s half the battle – learning the new sounds that your mother tongue doesn’t naturally make, it actually just reminds me of how I felt learning French in school the first time – all those rolling of Rrrrr’s and trying to remember what the different accents did to vowels – it’s really just that on a larger scale (please don’t tell me otherwise! I need to believe it).

So what am I using for language learning? Well Duolingo doesn’t have Icelandic (yet!), so that stays just for the Swedish. Memrise was one frequently mentioned on Facebook (facebook groups are good for something – plenty of language learners very ready and willing to swap tips and offer advice). I like Memrise in some respects, but it can be quite confusing in how they’ve structured it – for example you go from learning basics such as hello, good day, how are you? what are you called? to Are you attending the polyglot conference? I mean this maybe a bit of fun on their part.. but totally unnecessary I feel. And the clue is in the name, it does feel like you are just memorising phrases rather than learning in a usefully structured way – however it’s good for learning how words are pronounced but another downside is the ‘help me learn this’ sometimes it’s just a phonetically written version of the phrase, sometimes it’s some weird sentence that sounds similar but is clear nonsense. In the first 2-3 weeks, I kept with the free version, but it always tries to convince you to upgrade after your time limited session, eventually it will offer you a year’s subscription for not much more than a standard month, so I gave in given that it worked about about £2.50 a month.

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Random image from Drops…

Another app that is popular is Drops – basically a very beautifully designed app where words or phrases are dropped in from the top of the screen, in pictorial format – the voices for these are identical to the voices in the words by the instagram account Every Single Word In Icelandic (who also created the book – Iceland in Icons) – so I’m not sure if there’s a connection there or a generic voice/word bank that can be used. Drops is useful in that you can select what section to choose, ie basic phrases, numbers, foods  – however my only issue is that some of the icons are a little obscure and I can’t remember what they mean – so whilst I can match it to the correct word or phrase, I don’t actually know what it means. Drops gives you 5 minute bite-size sessions, logging in everyday gives you bonus time or you can go pro (also offers discounts like Memrise).

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I’ve also picked up a traditional phrase book (proper paper format) by Lonely Planet – part of their ‘Fast Talk’ series, this was a bargain coming in at under £3 – for almost 90 pocket sized pages. It includes what you’d expect – chatting, reading menus, transport and accommodation but also practicalities such as parts of the body and other healthcare related phrases you might need one day!

Finally there is a slightly more traditional course Icelandic Online run by the University of Iceland which I’ve just signed up to online and completed the first part of the ‘survival Icelandic’ aka level 0 (from a range of 0 – 5, where 5 is reading Icelandic literature).

Review: The Little Book of the Icelanders

The Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old DaysThe Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old Days by Alda Sigmundsdóttir

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In her signature, incredibly easy to read style, Alda gives you a lesson in the history of olden days of Iceland with facts and fun in equal measures over the course of 50 mini essays. Covering everything from the quirks and superstitions of what happens when someone visits a croft (when to knock on the window rather than the door), to food, sheep, community, evening entertainment. All this interspersed with the etymology of the Icelandic words and some cute illustrations – highly recommended to anyone with a passing interest in Iceland and/or its history.

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Airwaves 2017 day 2 

For our second day of airwaves we were quite lazy, heading back to the Viking Brewery as it was close by and had fairly decent priced beer. Vio were the first band on, and to be fair we had intended to leave and go elsewhere afterwards. Vio played a good set but the whole time I was hoping for … well the only song I know by them ‘You Lost It’ which they finished with.  We then ended up hanging around for Between Mountains which in my head I had them pegged as good, but they exceeded expectations! Two girls from the Westfjords who recently won the Icelandic music awards (that to be fair a lot of airwaves artists have won) with one who plays the keyboard and other who plays accordian and xylophone. They were very melodic and happy and we were left impressed.
Between Mountains

Next up was Airwaves staple, Una Stef ~ with an expanded band, she belted out her BEyonce inspired song (mama funk), her happy song and her song she wrote when she was a teenager.
Una Stef Then it was eventually time to leave the cosy but fast filling brewery, we had planned to attend the Reykjavik Grapevine’s off venue show at Gallery Port with Soley, however it became clear that it was going to be shoulder to shoulder standing room only in a space that is smaller than the bedroom we are sleeping in tonight, we left. So our next show we caught the end of Rugi’s set at Reykjavik Letterpress whilst waiting for Mr Silla. I was hoping to see more of the venue/space but sadly not. They did have lots of hand printed cards you could buy though. And free chocolate bars. Mr Silla was her usual enigmatic self, and did a cracking set that had the children (and a few of the adults) in the audience dancing. She mostly performed songs from her previous album (which is ace), and I think we got one new song ~ I’m certainly hoping there’s more. After this we had a quick pit stop back at our apartment for food before heading out to Gamla Bio.

Mr Silla

Une Misère were fabulous dark metal, no idea what the lyrics were, but suitably scared by the front man’s stares and climbing on the barrier like he was going to dive into the crowd.

Next up was Hatari. Now these were super scary. Entering the stage in spiky bondage gear, I was reminded of the scary guy in Mad Max. Again I have no idea what the lyrics were about, but I’m fairly sure they were angry about something. There was also a couple of dancers, who’s routine also included sucking on lollipops and handing them out to the crowd.

HATARI

I have to say by this point, we were wondering what could possibly top it off, but then we hadn’t seen Grísalappalísa before. Although I’d seen recommendations for the band I wasn’t overly excited by what i’d heard online prior. However the live show is where they come to life ~ with a front man who reminded me of that guy from the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine. There was crowd surfing, multiple times, tearing off of shirts, leaping around and two parts samaris on percussion for the last song ~ not to mention that one of the guitars ended up in the crowd with a random person playing it, this gig was definitely a great big party!

So for us the night ended with the comparatively mellow For A Minor Reflection, who’s instrumental soundscapes are truly something else. A band we’ve seen numerous times off-venue over the years and they never dissapoint. Their post-rock killer tracks entranced most of the audience I strongly suggest you give them a listen.

For A Minor Reflection

More photos here