The masses huddle in prayer, slaves to the pale machinegod of the beat. Pixelated shadow armies slowly march towards us in the distance as bright, flickering lights obscure the darkness from the unholy glow of a dangling apple. A low, glitchy bass shudders, punctuating each flailing arm with the arrhythmic thumps of a broken pacemaker. The nightmare factory is packed to the rafters; the horde has begun to dance at the foot of ULTRAORTHODOX’s throne.
ULTRAORTHODOX is one of two aliases of Arnar Már Ólafsson, an electronic artist and founder of the label (and genre) Bass Noir. “I was once applying for a festival, and the organisers wanted to know which genre I would be playing,” Arnar explains. He has just returned from Y M U R, a music and arts festival held in the abandoned Hjalteyri herring factory. “I thought, ‘Fuck, I have no idea.’ Rather than a really long description like ‘down-tempo… sluggish… hip-hop…electro…bass?’, I just sort of came up with [bass noir], and it felt like it fit the music.”
The new release, ‘Alternative History, Vol.1’, undeniably possesses much more of a deliberate structure than the previous ULTRAORTHODOX records. It’s much more rhythm-oriented, whereas ‘Vital Organs’, his debut, was much more abstract and experimental. Where is his sound going next? “I don’t want to make the same style of music twice,” explains Arnar. “I wanted to make an album that was more straight-out aggressive, less droning, less atmospheric—something more straight to the point. I’ve already started working on new material—I think it will be different from both albums.”
With the new album, Arnar has also introduced a new element to his live shows in the form of video projections. “I did some editing of old propaganda videos because I felt it could elevate the music,” Arnar explains. “To have this sort of slow-motion, black and white Stalinist propaganda in the background—I felt like it would elevate the experience. I want my shows to be a really overwhelming experience.”
“So, basically, the Commies won?”
“I really didn’t see [‘Alternative History’] as a concept album while I was making it,” he explains. “I’m really interested in World War II history, the Cold War, and World War I—the whole century that has just passed. I’m influenced by these grim times.”
“You can always imagine what could’ve been if some events had played out differently, you know? We live in the post-Cold War world where capitalism was obviously the winner, and now we have global capitalism and the destruction of the planet. The banking system has kind of become a superstate. What if the Soviets had won the hearts and minds of people and all those proxy wars? What would’ve been then? Nobody knows—so you just have to make music about it and wonder, I guess.”
On the one hand, this is the music of the future—not only does it sound like it belongs to a different time; it also speaks to our collective insecurities about the world we live in, what’s to come, and what could’ve been.
On the other, ULTRAORTHODOX is actively rewriting history. ‘Alternative History, Vol.1’ doesn’t just play with time—it deconstructs the idea of time itself through an alternative universe of Arnar’s own making. This universe stands at the end of history, distorting the past until all temporal boundaries melt away. Here, time is nothing more than a pure image, drained of all nostalgia. The skeletal armies of the past and the glitched-out, dancing crowds of the present have nothing left but ULTRAORTHODOX, his hall of mirrors, and our looming digital oblivion.