Published March 23, 2016
Sólveig Matthildur Kristjánsdóttir laughs uncontrollably and apologises for punching the wrong code into the drum machine and mucking up the intro for the third time. Margrét Rósa Dóru- Harrydóttir is lambasted for mindlessly strumming her bass in between songs, drowning out the conversation in which Laufey Soffía Þórsdóttir argues they should practice their older songs more because they don’t sound as sharp as they used to.The trio are in high spirits, falling into a familiar rhythm, teasing each other and laughing together. And then, when the music starts, all is still. The dark synth and deep rumbling bass play off of each other, and Laufey’s voice goes effortlessly from softly whispered spoken-word poetry to howled choruses about the meaninglessness of everything.
This is Kælan Mikla, and in the three years they’ve been around they’ve evolved by leaps and bounds, completely changing their sound while keeping their core concept of wallowing in sorrow. The reason we’re cramped in a six-square-metre rehearsal space stuffed with instruments and gear is that they recently signed with Greek record label Fabrika Records, and are releasing their debut album this May.After a lengthy practice in which the band goes through all of their standards, we crawl out onto a set of worn-down couches for some much-needed fresh air. The three tell me they met years ago at Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð, an upper secondary school renowned for attracting artistically oriented students, such as Páll Óskar and Steinunn Eldflaug Harðadóttir (aka dj. flugvél og geimskip).
They quickly became close friends and spent a lot of time together. Then, when Sólveig decided to enter a poetry slam competition in 2013, they decided to team up. They won the contest, though Sólveig had just started practicing on the drums a week before, Laufey hadn’t sung before, and Margrét had just picked up the bass.They figured they had struck upon something that really interested them and threw whatever free time they had into the band, attracting a loyal following of disenfranchised young punks in the process. Then in 2015, they completely switched gears with Sólveig ditching the drums for a synth.
While Sólveig celebrates changing instruments, saying she’s no longer the “bull dyke of the band,” Margrét laughs at how amateurish they were in their early days—never bringing drumsticks to shows, for example. “We started out learning how to play our instruments as we were making our music,” she says, “but now we’ve matured and actually know what we’re doing and how to prepare for a show.”
Embracing the darker side of life
The nihilistic lyrics rhythmically spouted by Laufey invariably come from her and Sólveig’s poetry books. Sólveig was one of the founders of the Fríyrkjan poetry collective, and although she retired after publishing two books, she and Laufey have no shortage of original material.
In describing the band’s identity, Sólveig brings up a poem she wrote in a bout of insomnia, about a child who was swallowed by the abyss and frozen but has now awakened—a scorned voice that was suppressed but is now free to paint everyone’s world black while speaking in the rhyme of broken hearts.
What brings this all together at their live performances is the importance the band places on its visual aesthetic. Draped in dark and forbidding colours, Kælan Mikla project nothing but melancholy through their body language—Margrét stands sullen and unmoving, avoiding eye contact; Sólveig leans heavily on her synth, as if it’s the only thing keeping her standing; and Laufey shuts her eyes as she spits the words out, her whole body convulsing from the effort.
The three describe stepping onto the stage as like taking off their masks and connecting with the negative emotions that live in all of us. “You can’t be this sad in your daily life,” Margrét conveys somberly. “You always have to wear some face—smile, show up to work, to school, constantly pleasing others. It’s really good to then go to our rehearsal space and work on how you’re feeling deep inside. Then you get onto the stage and you don’t have to be happy, but can be angry, scream, and break things.”
Sólveig and Laufey nod along, saying performing the music has a very strong emotional effect on them. “I get filled with very deep sadness on stage,” says Sólveig. “All the feelings we’re expressing come flooding through me. At the last Airwaves, I always cried when we played ‘Glimmer og Aska,’ there’s something about that song…”
Laufey adds that when they recorded “Kalt” for the Orange ‘Ear series of performance videos, the producers commented on how expressive her face turns when she performs. “I want people to feel these emotions when we’re playing,” she elaborates. “One of my friends started crying at one of our shows, and that touched me. I thought it was beautiful.”
Stepping into the Fabrika family
Despite being welcome to play at all manner of shows and festivals, Kælan Mikla have always been an outsider in Iceland’s pop-dominated music scene. Laufey believes that their minimalistic sound would be better received in places like Leipzig, while Sólveig theorises that goth music is making a comeback. “When there’s war on the horizon, romanticism thrives, as does the goth scene.” Without commenting on that hypothesis, Laufey says she’s just happy and surprised when they get a full house at their shows.
The band had not received interest from any record labels—until this past December, that is, when Fabrika Records contacted them. Laufey says the label has signed a lot of acts that they listen to and play on their DJ nights, such as She Past Away, Lebanon Hanover, and Doric, and that they had considered contacting them this past summer.
“Joanna Badtrip—who owns the label—had seen ‘Kalt’ on YouTube and offered a spot on a compilation,” Sólveig says excitedly, “and then they asked us for more demos to consider for ‘further releases.’ And then they just said we were in the Fabrika Family!”What’s followed has been a long recording session. The resulting eponymous album features eight songs, and will be released in May.
The three girls reflect on the sacrifices they’ve made to reach this point, but note as well that going professional hasn’t changed things all that much. Other than getting the album recorded and published, they still hold day jobs, go to school, and wear some face in their day-to-day lives.
For now though, Kælan Mikla is hunkering down and focusing on fitting in as much band practice as possible.
You can catch Kælan Mikla perform live on March 24 with Dauðyflin, Grafir, and World Narcosis at Dillon at 22:00. Admission is free!