Belgian physician Dr. Wim Van Hooste is arguably Icelandic music’s biggest fan and greatest supporter. Upon overhearing the Sugarcubes’ “Birthday” on the radio in 1987 Wim became fascinated with the band and the country it came from, soon taking to collecting books about Iceland and following the local music scene closely. This fascination has brought him to Iceland many times since and, in 2006, led him to found what has become the internet’s foremost resource on Icelandic music, his rigorously maintained DIY blog ‘I <3 Icelandic Music’ (www.icelandicmusic.blogspot.com).
Due to his close connection to the country and its music, Wim decided to celebrate his milestone 41st birthday in Reykjavík…by throwing a grand mini-music festival celebrating the thirty-year anniversary of legendary rockumentary ‘Rokk í Reykjavík’ (but of course!). And you are invited! We spoke to Wim about the show, music and life.
AN EXTRAVAGANT NIGHT OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL CELEBRATION
Besides celebrating his 41st, Wim says the idea with the concert is to “bring old and new bands together: three generations influenced by or featured in ‘Rokk í Reykjavík.’” He further explains the concept: “I booked eight bands, including two who appeared in the original movie, Q4U and Fræbbblarnir. They are headlining the festival, supported by great bands like Hellvar, Morðingjarnir, Æla, Sudden Weather Change, Mosi Frændi and the Dr. Gunni band—who are playing together for the first time in years, celebrating the decade anniversary of their seminal LP ‘Stóri hvellur.’”
That sure sounds like an extravagant night of rock ‘n’ roll celebration, but there’s more! As Wim reveals: “There will be two super-secret surprise acts, one of which is the once-in-a-lifetime reunion of a band featured in the film. I can’t tell you who they are, but it is most definitely a very exciting reunion for all fans of ‘Rokk í Reykjavík.”
Wim’s idea for this ambitious project was born last year, as he was following the Iceland Airwaves festival from his home in the small village of Kemzeke. “I missed Airwaves for the first time in seven years, and I had a lot of time to think about returning to Iceland and doing something unique. The planning has gone well, but the whole thing is of course only possible because of the help of all my musical friends I’ve made by following the Icelandic music scene for 25 years.”
A BJÖRK T-SHIRT FOR EVERY DAY
We talk about how his love for Icelandic music grew since first encountering the Sugarcubes in 1987, how it came to define him and what he thinks sets it apart. “While attending university, I had seven Björk t-shirts, one for every day of the week. Pretty early on my fellow medical students started calling me ‘the Icelander’ or ‘the Viking,’” Wim says, laughing. “I think what makes the Icelandic music scene unique is the collaboration and interaction of all the different bands and the DIY mentality. I think that it springs from the fact that Iceland is an island with a small population. You have to do things yourself here, and believe in yourself. Moreover because of inflation, eruptions and jökulhlaup risk, Icelanders are obligated to make quick decisions…”
The discussion turns to ‘the average Icelandic music fan,’ who keeps visiting Iceland in greater numbers, either for events like Iceland Airwaves or just to lounge around in 12 Tónar and Smekkleysa while keeping an eye out for Jónsi. “For years the Icelandic government neglected the fact that a lot of tourists, especially the young ones, came because of the music of The Sugarcubes and, later, Björk. Or maybe they didn’t want to hear about the success of this strange bunch,” he wonders out loud. “But this has changed lately. As for the fans, most people I know are devoted to a particular Icelandic band, artist or label, but some of them will dig for more.”
THE FIRST <3 IS THE STRONGEST
An avid collector of all things related to Icelandic music, Wim fosters ambitions of one day creating a museum out of his vast collection. “The biggest part is items by Björk, with 150 CDs, 50 vinyls, 12 books and 20 DVDs, and The Sugarcubes, with 38 CDs and 70 vinyls. In addition, I own more than 500 CDs by other Icelandic artists and a lot of stuff on vinyl,” Wim tells me. “My blog though is already a virtual museum.”
Indeed, ‘I <3 Icelandic Music’ is a vast repository of information about Icelandic music. Wim says he spends around twenty hours every week digging for interesting stuff and creating things for the blog, which receives around 200 visitors daily. “I like to update frequently,” he says, “but I don’t only focus on new trends or artists. I like to go into the history of the music, uncovering hard-to-find materials. In the beginning it was a lot of copy/paste work, but now I try to bring something personal to the posts. I also strive to post correct information on the site, avoiding the stereotypes, outdated or incorrect information and wrongly spelled Icelandic that is so prevalent in the mainstream media.”
Wim says his love of Icelandic music goes well together with his job as an MD, although he no longer wears his Sugarcubes T-shirts to work or blasts KUKL from the office stereo. His list of favourite Icelandic musicians is far too long to print, but he says his first love, The Sugarcubes, and every related band (KUKL, Purrkur Pillnikk, Tappi Tíkarass, Þeyr, Grindverk and Ghostigital) are always in his highest regard. “I would like to recommend two albums,” he says in closing. “The best album for learning Icelandic is Dr. Gunni’s album for children—and parents—‘Abbababb!’ And the best album to study Icelandic grammar is Sigur Rós’ ‘Von’, which was my background music in the winter of 1998-99 in Akureyri.”