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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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 14 – More Airwaves recommendations

Still playing catch up with my blog challenge but hey ho. Time to get things rolling – some more recommendations from me. I’ve actually still got about 20 bands still to listen to, out of the 240 artists, and with only 2 days left to go that’s going to take some determination.

Una Stef
Una Stef Off-venue, 2017

Una Stef, is commonly referred to as the Icelandic Alicia Keys, so common I think you’ll struggle to find an article about her that doesnt mention keys or Una’s other influence – Beyonce. Upbeat soul and funky tunes, its been amazing to watch her stage presence progress over the many times we’ve seen her perform over the years!
Check out her bandcamp here
Una plays Gamla Bio Wednesday 7th November at 23:30, and off-venue at Canopy on Saturday 10th at 18:00.

Úlfur Úlfur
Úlfur Úlfur Off-venue, 2017

Úlfur Úlfur, are an amazing rap duo. I’m not usually enamoured with Icelandic rap (or any modern rap to be fair), but these guys remind me more of the Beastie Boys than Kanye. I don’t know what they’re rapping about, unless I look up their lyrics and attempted to painstakingly translate with google(which I have done). But that doesn’t stop them putting out cracking songs, including Brennum allt (rough translation, Burn everything) this one with a horse in the video. They play the Reykjavik Art Museum on Wednesday 7th November at 21:15.

Rythmatik @ Lucky Records
Rythmatik at Lucky Records, 2014

Final recommendation for this post at least – Pop-punk youngsters Rythmatik played their first shows off-venue back in 2014. They then went on to win the annual music competition Músíktilraunir (past winners have included Of Monsters and Men, Mammút and Vök) in 2015. Since then they’ve released a couple of singles and earlier this year their debut album. However rumour’s abound this could be their last show, so go see them play at Húrra Wednesday November 7th at 11:20 pm!

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

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

Airwaves 2017 day 1

We started off what will likely be our last airwaves for a couple of years (but never say never right?!) pretty chill. We collected our wristbands from Harpa not long after midday (after a much needed epic sleep) then headed to Bonús and Vínbúðin to stock our kitchen up for the long weekend ahead. 

Our first off venue gig then was Vök at Bryggjan Brughus, a really cool micro brewery where I settled in with an imperial stout as my first beer of the day. 


I’ve been dying to see Vök for a while and was ecstatic as they played most of my favourite songs … although I can’t remember the first song the remaining set list was: Figure, Show me, Ég bið þín, Polar, Before and then they finished with Waterfall ~ so much energy it was an amazing start to airwaves. 

Next up we decided to see where the new off venue described as the Viking brewery was as it was close by. We arrived as Dadi Freyr was starting, which turned out to be one of those surprise way better than expected shows. It turns out we’d seen Dadi before at our first airwaves in 2013 as one part of Retrobot.


It’s also worth pointing out what an awesome venue this is ~ with 10 taps and a flight of any four beers for 1000isk. It would also appear that any large beer is 800isk which beats prices in most bars for airwaves. 

So we stuck around for Úlfur Úlfur, although for the most point I have no idea what they rap about they have cool music vids and were great performers even taking the time to teach the audience how to sear in Icelandic. 

Then it was back to the apartment for some food before the official scheduled acts. We headed to Gamla Bio for Hugar, an ambient neo classical style two piece who combines beautiful visuals of the ocean.

These were followed by Valdimar an eight piece with amazing vocals! 

Also playing on of my favourite songs Syn, I highly recommend going to see these on their other official performance on Sunday night at Gaukurinn. 

New Music Monday ~ Airwaves Countdown Edition

In only a few weeks we’ll be heading back to Iceland once more for airwaves, so I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to listen to at least a couple of songs by all the acts on the bill I’m unfamiliar with. This has been no mean feat with over …. acts performing and at a conservative estimate I’m probably  quite familiar with about 10% of those meaning I had to whip up a spreadsheet to track who I’d listened to, their style and a rating out of 10. The plan being that I could then rank artists in some sort of order of preference to help choose who to see

So here’s a few new (to me) artists I’m hoping to check out, as nothing is guaranteed and even the best laid plans can go out the window

Sólveig Matthildur alerted my radar as part of Kælan Mikla, a synth punk band I’ve already heard a few tracks by, however these tracks are nothing like that.
While the synth is still there, these tracks are darker and as the EP title tells you she is “taking you on a journey, through unexplained miseries to the acceptance of sorrow”.

Pranke is a band I hadn’t heard of before, but with a descriptor of Kraut Rock, I was duly interested, particularly as their Soundcloud hastags were Math Rock/Pop – what could that mean?
Odd time riffs definitely, loads of energy seems certain.. I was also reminded of one my favourite Canadian experimental bands, Holy F*ck.
With only 2 tracks on their Soundcloud it’s hard to judge, but one band I’ll be aiming to see this year.

Hugar are Bergur Þórisson & Pétur Jónsson, both of whom have been making music in Iceland for many years.
It came as no suprise for me to read that one half of the duo supervised the BAFTA Award winning score to Broadchurch by Ólafur Arnalds, as the ethereal instrumental tracks feel familiar yet new with heart-rending strings and gentle uplifting piano.
Úti (Outdoors) and Upphaf (Beginning) have turned out to be my favourite tracks so far, but I’m looking forward to seeing more at Airwaves.

If you’re going to Iceland Airwaves this year, let me know in the comments who you are planning to see!