One of Iceland’s original punk bands shows the kids how it’s done.
Q4U are one the great survivors of Icelandic music. They were around in the first wave of punk music in the early ‘80s (which was immortalised in the classic film ‘Rokk í Reykjavik’) where they released their first EP ‘Q1.’ After reuniting and splitting up a few times, and releasing a compilation, ‘Q2,’ they’re back, and now they are going to be playing at this year’s Airwaves! Nice!
We caught up with band member Árni Daníel Júlíusson and talked about the past, the present and what we should be doing at Airwaves.
Hi there Q4U! Tell us a little bit about yourself. For example, who are you and what do you get up to in your daily lives. Remember, no detail is too small or banal….
Q4U is at the moment is five people, two of whom have been with the group since the beginning in 1981, and one who joined one year after the start. Those two are the singer, Ellý, who is an artist living in Akranes with four children, and Gunnþór the bassist, who is working with the firm TNT and has one child (in fact with Ellý). Gunnþór is famous for supporting KR, the football club. Árni Daníel is the keyboard player and has a PhD in history, and he has three children. Ingólfur is his brother. He’s the official Reuters photographer in Iceland and started playing with Ellý and Árni Daníel in 1984. He has two children. Guðjón is the drummer, the latest recruitment, the computer man and all round technician at Hótel Saga. As of yet, Guðjón does not have any children.
What got you making music in the first place? Tell us what was the scene like back in the ‘80s. We’re too lazy to watch ‘Rokk Í Reykjavik’ again.
There was absolutely nothing happening in Icelandic music in 1979, and nothing had happened since the last hippies called it a day in 1973 and started playing for money. So people were really bored. Out of this boredom grew a movement against boredom, called the Icelandic punk movement. It quickly grew into a big scene with dozens of bands. This was all a result of listening to The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Ramones on import records, and The Stranglers visiting Iceland in 1978. They played one of the most important concerts in Icelandic history in Reykjavík, kick-starting the Icelandic punk scene. The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers and the other bands played really exciting music compared, for example, to the prog rock bands that were dying horrible artistic deaths at the time. Their convulsions were quite painful to watch/hear, and so it was a relief to be able to listen to something else.
We won’t have you pin yourself down in a genre, but maybe you can tell us what musicians you hope your fans also like. What music inspires you?
Well, obviously the above artists, but also the later punk scene that developed after 1977 with bands like Public Image Limited, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Gang of Four, Human League, Throbbing Gristle, The Specials, Einstürzende Neubauten, Birthday Party, Lydia Lunch, etc. This has been labelled post-punk, but it was only the continuation of the original punk impulse. We wanted to develop and make interesting things, not just keep churning out the same old punk riffs.
EVERYONE SUDDENLY BECAME FAMOUS
You reunited and split up once before back in 1996. Now you’re back together again. What was the motivation for getting together this time?
In 2008, Valli (the singer in Fræbbblarnir) organised a punk festival in Reykjavík, at Grand Rokk (now Faktorý), and it was a great success. All the old punks were playing in a sort of mega punk tribute band amongst them some people from Q4U. From there an interest grew in starting the band again. At the same time, some people from Germany came to Iceland and were interested in the band, proposing a concert in Berlin that never happened. We were very surprised. Then we looked up the band on the Internet and it seemed to have taken on a life on its own, with several people praising the band and promoting it entirely without us knowing about it. It seems the old recordings had been circulating on the net and drawing attention. But the motivation was really just the interest in having a good hobby.
In what way would you say that the music scene in Iceland has changed since you first started? Is it stronger, or do you think bands are heading in the wrong direction?
When we quit in 1983 there was a horrible period of money-grabbing bands playing music ‘the people wanted to hear,’ this period lasting for about five years before decent punk (and metal) inspired bands like Ham and Dr. Gunni appeared and changed it all in about 1988. And then in the nineties everybody suddenly became very famous, Björk and Sigur Rós. Now much of the action seems to be focused on Iceland Airwaves with people trying to become very famous. There are a lot of decent bands around now. The radio is even playing some of them.
CAPITALIST MONEY GRABBING
Iceland needs a ‘New Goth Revival.’ Discuss.
Well, there never has been any goth scene in Iceland to speak of, so maybe somebody should start one. But really, isn’t the goth label just one of those labels the capitalist money grabbing music business applies to its products in order to sell more of it? You fabricate an image, apply music to it, and then you can sell lots of records and lots of clothes. And it seems that the goth subculture is long past is last selling date. But even so the goth look can be cool and look good on some people, goth music can be cool as long as it is done well. Q4U has never been goth or anything with a label; it was and is just a punk group.
We’ll take that on board. And what would you want to tell our readers, to convince them to come to your show (remember: the more outlandish your claim the more punters you are likely to get)?
The sight of 40 or even 50-something year old punks playing their thirty year old stuff should normally rival any freak show. However, we have recently been headlining gigs in Reykjavík and getting serious rave reviews, so we would think it’s definitely worth the while to check us out. Maybe time has finally caught up with us! We have never received rave reviews before. And, do check out an Icelandic punk group that has recently been published by a respected label in Sao Paulo, Brazil! That must surely be the most outlandish claim any thirty years old punk group can make, but it happens to be true!
DO YOUR EXERCISE!
For all Non-Icelandic festival goers, what Icelandic acts do people needs to look out for? Are there any hidden gems in the dirt that need to be discovered?
Nóra should definitely be checked out, along with Saktmóðigur, Æla, and a lot of others. There are very many good bands around.
As wise veterans of the Icelandic music scene, what tips can you give to the fresh faced concert goers as to surviving a party weekend in Reykjavik?
Don’t drink too much, do plenty of exercise during the day, in the swimming pools and/or on the running tracks, eat well and keep regular sleeping hours. This should be enough to ensure survival.
Make a five track playlist for Festival goers to listen to while they are here in Iceland during Airwaves. Tell us why each track is there Your scenario: You’re getting your party face on as you’re about to head out to Airwaves on a Saturday night…
Zola Jesus – ‘Shivers.’ She appears on a compilation from Wave Records, ‘Wave Klassix 5,’ with a lot of other groups, Q4U among them. So we thought she should have the honour of appearing on our list.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – ‘Cascade’. A classic from the punk queen and her band, Q4U is covering it for the Punk 2011 festival in Kópavogur, which happens on October 22nd. Maybe we will also play it at Café Amsterdam at Airwaves.
New Order – ‘60 Miles An Hour’. A nice surprise for a group twenty years into their career. ‘Get Ready’ was a very good CD.
Editors – ‘Papillon’. A very catchy and dramatic song.
PiL – ‘Public Image’. A classic.
Q4U played on Sunday 23:00 at Café Amsterdam.