In 1980, the world was divided into two parts: disco and punk. In 1983, three thunderous years later, punks had become new-wavers, metalheads or ‘regular people’ and the disco gang now got its’ kicks from ‘new romantics’ such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. When the echoes from the ‘Rokk í Reykjavík’ documentary (premiered in 1982) had faded out, the dreaded EIGHTIES slowly settled in.
Puffed hair. Mullets. Women in tuxedos with pink bow ties. Men with lipstick on. Rolled up sleeves. Glovelettes, shoulder pads, gaiters. Lines painted on cheeks. Pastel colours. Neon colours. Don Cano coats. Jón Páll was the strongest man in the world, Hófi was the most beautiful woman in the world. You young idiots might think all this is cute and cuddly in retrospect—and might even believe that these times were somewhat interesting to live in—but believe me, it was not and they were not.
ARE YOU WHAM OR DURAN DURAN? OR MAYBE RIKSHAW?
As legend has it, people were either on Wham’s or Duran Duran’s side (of course, I couldn’t care less with my Fall and Birthday Party records sound-tracking my isolated virgin life). No Icelandic band imitated Wham though, but Duran Duran had, ehrm, a strong influence on this Icelandic band called Rikshaw. It was lead by the singer, a dedicated guy called Richard Scobie. He was Icelandic/American and had lived in the USA for most of his youth. He filled his bandmates’ skulls with hopes and dreams. “When we had rehearsed eight songs we printed very expensive colour posters, hired a stylist, painted our faces like ladies and played at the club Safarí,” says Sigurður Gröndal, the guitarist. Contrary to what some expected Safarí was packed and Rikshaw was on a roll.
The first Rikshaw four track EP came out in 1985 and included a hit: ‘Into The Burning Moon.’ The band made a fancy video for the song, which cost more than the record to produce. Rikshaw became popular, but people either loved the band or hated it. It wasn’t easy being a pop star in Reykjavík and Richard was under constant surveillance: “Once I sat on the bus and I overheard someone say that there was the dude with the Duran Duran hairdo. I got fed up, went into the next barbershop and asked for a crop cut. Two weeks later I saw a new photo of Simon Le Bon where he had cut his hair just like it. Of course everybody thought I was ripping him off,” Richard said in 1990, obviously still a bit annoyed with life’s injustices.
Iceland, of course, wasn’t enough for Rikshaw. The band ran after the “make it abroad” carrot for several years. That road was paved with broken promises and crooked showbiz types. When Rikshaw performed in Iceland they were usually doing so for the benefit of some foreign big shots checking them out. Finally Rikshaw, the album, came out in 1987 on a tiny German label. It sank without a trace and the band did too.
HERBERT’S GAMBLE PAYS OFF
Herbert Guðmundsson became a bone fide pop star in 1985 with his mega eighties hit “Can’t Walk Away.” Herbert had toiled away in several rock bands in the seventies but following his divorce in 1980 he moved to Bolungarvík in the West where he operated ball group Kan. Kan’s personnel laboured “like men” under Herbert’s iron restraint and eventually became the Westfjords’ main band. Kan released their sole album in 1984, ‘Í ræktinni’ (“At The Gym”). It did fine.
When Herbert finally got paid out for the apartment he had owned with his estranged wife, he put all the money towards making his solo album—the modestly titled ‘Dawn Of The Human Revolution’—and to make a blow-dried, wind machine infested video for ‘Can’t Walk Away.’ Some unadventurous plebs thought Herbert’s spending spree was nuts, but it paid off as the album ultimately shifted 10.000 copies. ‘Can’t Walk Away’ is still the numero uno Icelandic eighties song, and remains Herbert’s golden goose.
ALL THE REST
Other arch Eighties groups include Pax Vobis, which leaned towards the Japan (Japan the band) school of slickness, Sonus Futurae, a wonderful synth band with one six-track EP out in 1982, Cosa Nostra, which featured the future Lazytown-composer Máni Svavarsson, and Módel, a hairy and make up-y “supergroup” featuring two Mezzoforte guys on a leave from ‘the world of fusion’.
However, the eighties most consistently popular Icelandic band was Stuðmenn (“Funmen”). They had more influence on Icelandic pop music than any other band. More on that next time.