|HIT THE NORSE - BRITISH PEOPLE IN COLD WEATHER|
31 March 1990
BAD TASTE is ICELAND's major record label and artistic collective, the home of THE SUGARCUBES. To celebrate the imminent launch of their new 'World Domination Or Death' compilation, the company last week organised an ambitious three-night music blitz. The first night provided a band showcase; the second night saw the transfer of London danceteria THE BRAIN CLUB (complete with 100 members and A GUY CALLED GERALD) to downtown Reykjavik; and the third night climaxed with a sell-out gig by aspiring superstars HAPPY MONDAYS. DANNY KELLY (words) and KEVIN CUMMINS (pix).
The Mission: To witness and report on the three-night music maelstrom organised by Bad Taste Records in their home town of Reykjavik.
THE LOCATION: Iceland (an island in the far north Atlantic). Details as follows ...
Size: About as big as England. Topography: Unmatchably beautiful snow and icescapes punctuated by natural hot water springs and spectacular geysers. Population: Approx 250,000, divided equally between Europe's most beauteous women (slight, blonde, perfectly formed and sexually liberated) and most difficult men (loud, aggressive, brusque and mad for drink). Most Famous Citizens: Magnus Magnusson, The Sugarcubes, Father Christmas. Language: Icelandic and English. Shouting is well nigh the national pastime, with the yelled enquiry 'do you like kinky sex?' particularly popular with the males.
Currency: The Icelandic Krona. Notes are decorated with images of poets and artists; coins feature assorted fish. Until 1981, a large black cod was the centrepiece of the national flag.
Advantages: Stunning landscape, pristine air, lovely women, Black Death (the local vodka!), ancient literary tradition, abundant puffins. Drawbacks: Astronomical prices! A loaf of bread costs £1.60, a bag of crisps will run you £1.80, an ordinary pizza clocks in at £12 and a pint of lager is a soul-destroying £7!! The Icelandic language seems to have lost the words for 'one', 'two' and 'three': a bottle of beer is four quid; the shortest taxi ride is four quid; a sandwich is four quid; and many youngsters favourite group is the Spacemen 4!
THE PROGRAMME: First night: an evening showcasing the Icelandic bands who (along with the still-in-America Sugarcubes) comprise the Bad Taste label.
Second night: London's groovy Brain Club (including 100 members/ravers, DJ Graeme Park and top disco acts Is?, Audio One and A Guy Called Gerald) installed in Reykjavik's Moon Club.
Third night: concert by top Manchester rock gods Happy Mondays.
THE PREDICTION: Music, snow, fish, sex, more music, pricey beer and vigorous cultural interface between the indigenous population and the invading Brits – a 72-hour madhouse!
WHAT A relief! I'd approached tonight's Moon Club venue with a heart weighed down with the appalling prospect of an uninterrupted succession of unknown – not to mention foreign! – bands, but now the guy on the door is making my evening: "If you hurry, you can catch the film that's just starting upstairs", he advises, "It's called SS Cell 25."
SS Cell25!?! Oh yeah! Psycho-Nazi-sex-torture-drama here I come!
Whoops! Situation-comedystyle-language-barrier cock-up! The film, it transpires, is actually called SSL 25. It's the handiwork of Bjork 'Cube's hubby (he's made a number of the band's videos) and is cruelly devoid of subtitles. For 45 minutes I stare uncomprehendingly at a screen on which five Icelandic youths in wetsuits play with guns. By its end, I can honestly say that's the best film I've ever seen about armed Icelandic youths in wetsuits! Bring on the bands . . .
Bootlegs (a speed metal fourpiece) and Bless (a more conventional, angst-ridden trio) come and go in a fog of unremarkable competence and dry ice. They somehow conspire to lack the very things that their geographical isolation from Europe's rock mainstream should have given them, and which tonight's three remaining 'acts' have to spare – a touch of mystery or a hint of madness.
Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson is the head priest of the heathen sect of Asatru. A luxuriantly bearded, weather-beaten man of indeterminate, though patently numerous years, he shambles onstage to sing/drone selected slivers of ancient mythic poems and prayers. For all the notice the godless audience take of him, however, he might as well have been the resident jobsworth asking someone to remove their thoughtlessly parked sled. He looked sad, bemused and embarrassed.
No power known to man could embarrass Ottarr Proppe, crackpot lead singer of Ham. Swathed in billowing red frock coat and disintegrating Abba T-shirt, he brings a demented, spastic edge to his band's Quo-paced gothic glowerings. In his warped mind he's Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and Agnetha Faltskog; in reality he's a bit Einar, Bez and Screaming Lord Sutch. Right down to his hypertacky, cheap:, (probably four quid!) pink digital watch, a nagging thread of contrivance mingles with his genuine oddness.
But whatever Ottarr's score on the Loonometer, there's no denying the joyous ridiculousness of his Ham-fisted assault on Benny'n' Bjorn's ' Voulez Vous'. Unlike books, you can always judge a band by its covers, and this is one of the greats.
You could also call tonight's bill-toppers, the mighty Reptile, 'contrived'. You can call them whatever the hell you want, it won't alter the basic fact that they're the funniest, sexiest, strangest group around, and the best to emerge from this neck of the woods since the You-Know-Whos.
Wicked and knowing, their twin assault weapons of violin and sax lead the whole gamut of popular music a merry dance. The poor old bastard never knows from one minute to the next whether it's going to have its forehead kissed, or its scrotum tweaked. Reptile are like no other band you've ever seen or heard. This is very probably a good thing.
NIGHT TWO: MY BRAIN HURTS!
REYKJAVIK ON a Friday night may just be the weirdest place on earth. While the adults run up beer bills of gargantuan proportions, the teenagers roam the main boulevard in fast-moving packs, talking, laughing, squabbling, slurping vodka, flirting and generally showing out. Sensitive lensman Cummins and I (driven by the thirst for knowledge rather than any despicable desire for proximity to
Red and green fireworks flare and explode in a shop doorway; a strummed Icelandic version of U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' drifts from something called 'Roger's Pub'; five (count 'em) adolescent angels beg us to perform an array of acts of carnal ignorance with them (or ask us for a light; my Icelandic's not all it should be). Everywhere the unmistakable crackle of teen lust knifes through the icy air.
By comparison, the Brain transplant between west London and the Moon Club is a rather sedate affair. The locals (by now well into their bankruptcy through-lager-consumption act) 'stare suspiciously from the sidelines as DJ Graeme Park whips the English trendies through their paces. The sea of swaying hooded tops hardly break stride as first Is? and then Audio One take turns to do unspeakable, anonymous things to that basic, unchanging vvvrnvvvn-vvvrn dance beat.
As the Happy Mondays soon discover the one essential element of ye traditional olde. English rave that's missing here – drugs – are a scarce and expensive commodity in these parts. Yet the organiser is keen that his visitors don't decline into cold turkey. Thus it is that I find myself half-heartedly munching on a mouthful of the regional, and legal, alternative high – a particularly foul-tasting mushroom.
Too late I discover that locally it's considered a cracking good wheeze to feed gobfuls of this freaky fungus to unsuspecting reindeer and then wait for them to start staggering around before swooning into a blissed-out heap! (Joke: Who's the mushed-out reindeer's favourite group? Adam And The Antlers!)
For whatever reason, A Guy Called Rudolph, erm, Gerald (equipped with new vocalist Viv and a steelier, more purposeful edge to his characteristic glide) seems mighty fine to me. The Icelandic Friday night beer boys do not, however, share my enthusiasm. "Go home Gerald," they bellow during the between-song gaps, ". . . You are very shit!" The joys of a second language, eh?
Gerald done, I slope obliviously onto the familiar snowy pavements. It takes me three hours to negotiate the couple of miles between the Brain Club and my hotel. Those mushrooms have given me a whole new insight into the phrase 'stag party' . . . Deer me...
NIGHT THREE: MONDAYS BLOODY MONDAYS!
"I F—ING hate all this snow and stuff ..." moans Shaun William Ryder, "... it's all so Echo And The Bunnymen ..."
It's just a few hours from showtime and the Mondays are anything but Happy. Cut off from the usual amounts of their usual emollients, they are making everybody's life hell. They don't want Reptile as their support . . . the wrong gear's been hired .. . the sound's crap . . . and the promoter, apart from everything else, hasn't even provided enough liquid refreshment. Shaun and Paul's dad, Derek Ryder (who now works full time with the band) is making the point in no uncertain terms:
"You've only given us three slabs of beer," he screams, "... I said we wanted three slabs each!"
The pained confusion etched into the Icelandic face is not being eased in any way by the fact that Ryder Snr is conducting this rant from beneath an ill-fitting plastic Viking helmet!
Eventually, though, all those simple bare necessities of life finally filter through to the Mondays' camp and the dressing room drifts into an easy vein of end-of-term relaxation (this is, technically, the final leg of the band's European tour). Shaun, now in great form, clowns for the camera, posing with a Jack Daniel's bottle and the first would-be groupies (they look about 12!) that make it past the none-too rigorous security; various band members try on the spanking new trainers that some of their entourage have 'hoovered' from Reykjavik's naive sports shops in the afternoon; Bez prepares for his hour of eccentric perpetual motion by stretching himself to a soundtrack of James Brown 45s and 'Hot Chocolate's Greatest Hits'. This afternoon's trials, tribulations and tantrums (when the band's commendable determination not to compromise spilled over into them becoming the problem) seem a long way away...
Despite that, the set they turn in is, by their own recent exalted heights, substandard. Later the band will attest to how much they enjoyed the gig, but much of it veers between a jarring raggedness and the irredeemably shambolic. To call the smashing new single, 'Step On', a dog's breakfast, for instance, would've been a gross insult to canine cuisine.
But where they manage to click it all into top gear – a billowing, trancey 'Lazyitis' and the sheet-metal storm of the encore 'Wrote For Luck' – they effortlessly confirm what a bloody brilliant bastard of a band they've become, and warn that there's more to come.
They think, of course, that they're already the greatest rock 'n' roll group in the world. About that, they're still wide of the mark. But not very.
NEXT MORNING, in hotel reception, it's check-out time, pale faces and gaping wallets all round as the full horror of the bills come home to roost ("that's right, sir, four pounds ..." ). After the weird mix of events which began to blur one into another and the trauma of Icelandic prices (out here you sip lager like it was vintage nectar), we're ready for home. But first Bez provides one more public spectacle.
Following last night's gig, he'd gone on to the Moon Club to 'rave' (I believe that's the expression) and had become embroiled with some of the hardier locals. In the full and frank exchange of views that ensued, the Bez body has suffered a setback. To demonstrate, he drops his baggy shorts and reveals, in angry scarlet on the inside of his thigh, a perfectly circular set of teeth-marks! ...
Eating puffins is one thing, but taking chunks out of Bez is going too far, surely? A final bizarre image for a strange few days...
Next week: STEVEN WELLS goes for a quick skate through Iceland's musical history, Vikings 'n' all.
[Author: ANDREW SMITH]