Published September 14, 2011
In the eighties, Stuðmenn (“Funmen”) were the most popular Icelandic band. These people had a solid track record from the seventies (in that decade they had made two wonderful Stuðmenn LPs, six amazing folk rock LPs as Spilverk þjóðanna and two great folk-prog LPs as Þursaflokkurinn (see part thirteen of this series for further reading). In 1983, the band Stuðmenn returned with a comedy flick, ‘Með allt á hreinu’ (“On Top”) and an accompanying soundtrack LP, their first album since 1977. Both the film and the album were very popular. An amazing 120.000 people saw the film in the cinemas. The tongue in cheek humour and lively, fun music had much influence on Icelandic pop bands for years to come.
DALLAS INSPIRED MUSIC
Dúkkulísurnar (“The Paper Dolls”) from Egilsstaðir took their cue from Grýlurnar, an all-girl group that appeared in ‘Með allt á hreinu’ alongside Stuðmenn. However, Dúkkulísurnar never sounded like Grýlurnar and leaned more towards The Pretenders in style. In 1982, the first Músíktilraunir was organised, a “battle of the bands”-competition that still remains a springboard for young bands. The first band to win, DRON, faded away quickly, but for Dúkkulísurnar, who won in 1983, everything “happened very fast afterwards,” as guitarist and main songwriter Gréta would later remark. Dúkkulísurnar got signed to Skífan, at the time one of two big “major” labels in Iceland, and in the summer of 1984 the first six-track EP came out. It included ‘Pamela,’ a hit song about a pregnant 15-year old who sings: “This baby was an accident, in my stomach like flares, I wish I were Pamela in Dallas.”
Dúkkulísurnar’s LP came in 1986 (‘Í léttum leik’ (“A Light Game”)—the girls always hated the title) and included the band’s second hit, ‘Svarthvíta hetjan mín’ (“My Black And White Hero”). Being in an all-girl group was nothing to build one’s future on in 1986, so everybody “got serious” and enrolled into higher education. Dúkkulísurnar were laid to rest, but of course, like most other bands, the girls would play together again decades later.
The TV-show Dallas was obviously a strong influence on young people in the East of Iceland in the ‘80s, as the OTHER successful band from the region was Súellen (incidentally named in honour of Dallas’ Sue Ellen). This was an all-boy band that played both played ‘80s joy-pop and hairdo-pop. Súellen were an ambitious ball-group that owned both a PA-system and a Benz van. Súellen released some rarely seen cassettes, an EP and an LP in 1990.
WHO IS ‘THE SIXTH COUNT’?
Greifarnir (“The Counts”) were the major representatives of joy-pop. Their Cinderella moment happened in 1986 when they won Músíktilraunir. These guys came from Húsavík in the North and had partaken the previous year as Special Treatment. In the year between they had changed their name, recruited a singer/front man they found in a Verzlunarskólinn trade school musical (my partner in Popppunktur crime, Felix Bergsson) and had begun singing in Icelandic.
Greifarnir’s victory got much media attention and the group’s wildest dreams now came true. The band played at a legendary two day festival called Listapopp in the summer of 1986. Listapopp had four British groups visiting the reef: Madness, Simply Red, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions and Fine Young Cannibals. Three other Icelandic acts played as well (Rikshaw, Grafík and the Bubbi-lite troubador Bjarki Tryggvason) but Greifarnir were the only act that got an encore. Greifarnir cared a lot about their appearance and had a stuffed wardrobe, including long white coats. They hired a makeup and hairdo-lady called Íris, who toured with the band—”She’s really the sixth member of the band,” singer Felix remarked in an interview at the time.
Steinar Berg, the owner of the other big Icelandic “major” at the time, signed Greifarnir to his Steinar label. First up was a 12″ EP called ‘Blue Blood.’ It came out before the Bank Holidays and included a tailor made smash hit for the weekend called ‘Útihátíð’ (“Outdoor Festival”). The song described Icelandic outdoor festivals in filthy details: “Badly drunk, in the woods. Where’s the tent? I hope you’re having fun!”
“Our publisher wanted lightness, summer mood and perky stuff and we complied. We want to make a name for ourselves before we go for deeper ideas,” Felix said when the EP came out.
In August 1986, Greifarnir played for 20.000 people when Reykjavík celebrated its 200-year birthday with a big outdoor concert. Everything was broadcasted live on TV. Greifarnir nourished off this flying start for several years. More lightness was to be found on the next 12″ EP, ‘Sviðsmynd,’ and the first LP ‘Dúbl í horn’ that came out before Christmas of 1987.
Post modernism with its limp “everything is equal” mindset was still far off, so Greifarnir were dismissed by some (including myself, of course) as lousy “entertainment”-band and not “real artists.” This, naturally, rubbed Greifarnir the wrong way: “We take ourselves seriously and do our best. Still we’re not reckoned with. Instead people in the know are sucking up to groups that are much less successful than us,” they peevishly said in 1987.
When Felix quit the band in 1989 to study drama, the rest kept on for awhile but then split. The band came back in 1996 and have kept at it ever since, usually without Felix, who only appears on special occasions. They are a popular ball group and fly a gigantic pair of underpants outside the clubs they play, just like they did when they were starting out in Húsavík.
Other notable joy-pop bands were Stuðkompaníið (“The Fun Company”) that won Músíktilraunir in 1987 and included two sons of accordion-legend Örvar Kristjánsson; Skriðjöklar (“Glaciers”) from Akureyri that had many popular tunes and released records with absurd titles like “Is Indriði abroad a lot?” and “This is an insult to the payers of radio fees.” The decidedly un-PC Kátir piltar (“Gay Boys”) from Hafnarfjörður, whose most popular song was about “Fat women” and Sniglabandið (“The Snail Band”) that have been called “the poor man’s Stuðmenn” by none other than the ever-snappy Bo Halldórsson. The peak of joy-pop was probably in 1988, when Músíktilaunir’s top three bands all played joy-pop. These were Jójó (ehrm… “Yo-Yo”) from Skagaströnd, who won, Herramenn (“Gentlemen”) and Fjörkallar (“Fun Dudes”). (Un)fortunately, none of them released any records.