Þeyr, an Icelandic musical phenomenon shrouded in a veil of mystery and deliberately obscure, recorded seven albums from 1980- 1983 and were undoubtedly the most progressive band of the Icelandic new wave/punk scene. The band employed experimental recording and composition techniques and was characterised by an ideology of ancient wisdom, the occult and efforts to transcend awful truths and conspiracies.
They split-up in 1983, after Þorsteinn “Stanya” Magnússon left, but were reunited in 2006 to perform alongside Icelandic legend Megas, a choir and a dozen instrumentalists. Now they’re pseudo-reuniting again (though don’t call it a reunion), with an ensemble of twelve musicians at the 100th anniversary of the Icelandic vinyl record at the Nordic House on August 23rd. The Grapevine caught up with Þeyr’s guitarist and founder, Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson – or Godkrist if you’re so inclined – to see what this non-reunion will be about.
For the vinyl event, why change from the original electric sound to unplugged string ensembles?
Each member is free to do as he pleases. We will have a piano player, an opera singer, string instruments. We are not playing together, but each member will contribute on his own. We take old Þeyr songs and arrange them for the ensemble. It’s a very vibrant project, artists are constantly joining and departing.
Why are you playing at the anniversary?
We think that we undoubtedly have to attend vinyl’s 100 anniversary, because we broke the status quo and kick-started the exporting of Icelandic music; we made three albums a year for two years. We spent most of our time touring overseas, in Britain and Scandinavia.
What will your program at the Nordic House consist of?
It starts out with a documentary about Þeyr’s career; from the latter part of 1980 to 1983 with our last project, the Killing Joke affair [Jaz Coleman and Kenneth Walker of Killing Joke moved to Iceland in 1983 and recorded a never-released demo with Þeyr]. There’s also a vinyl performance [followed by a series of performances of “Þeyrverk” (Þeyr compositions) and a lecture on sound experimentation titled “Þeysvísindi” (Þeyr science).]
Why did the Killing Joke affair yield nothing?
Killing Joke had a bullet-proof contract with E.G. Records and the group had foundered. The demos fell into obscurity but the multi-tracks still exist, I think Jaz Coleman has them. We keep the demos in a safe locker. There are filmmakers coming here in the autumn, making a documentary on Killing Joke. Maybe Jaz and Geordie will show up.
What will the vinyl performance be like?
The vinyl player will sit on an altar, on its throne. I’m not at liberty to say anything more about it. [Laughs] But we always used to put on huge shows. Swedish dancers, boy scouts, fire, poetry readings. We got really good press, the newspapers went crazy when they heard Þeyr were playing a gig. Once Bruni BB [an infamous art/music collective that were sued for decapitating chickens on stage] were our opening band. We always got bands from the grassroots to play with us. We were like cultivators, helping bands to grow.
You worked alot with sound equipment that you built yourself. Will you use any of that?
Yes, there will be a special segment about the “Scriabin” and the “Fourier” (devices created to affect the audience in various forms). Þeyr did many experiments with “in-sound” and “outsound”, both in studio and on stage.
What is “in-sound” and “outsound”?
“Out-sound” are sounds that are above the human hearing range. “In-sound” might be referred to as a disguised sound; imagine walls that extend and contract – you don’t hear anything but the acoustics change so you log information into the acoustics. This is called “space modulation”. That’s how we integrated messages into the music. The original idea was to make Bubbi Morthens [Icelandic pop-star and former punk] hear voices.
Are there any plans to reissue some of the LPs that are now out of the public’s reach?
On Þeyr’s 20th anniversary I issued “Mjötviður til fóta,” which is a compilation of tracks from “Mjötviður Mær” and “Iður til Fóta.” On the 30th anniversary we will maybe issue “As Above” and “The Fourth Reich.” Þeyr are known for being shrouded in a veil of ideology.
Would you say that your theories about universal truths and systematic brainwashing are as relevant now as they were in the ’80s?
Yes, their relevance is escalating. The world resembles a herd though the individual still stands strong. We’re the birds, overlooking the herd.