How does one begin to describe dj. flugvél og geimskip? First of all, she’s not really a DJ, despite the name, which translates to DJ Airplane and Spaceship. Steinunn Harðardóttir is a polymath—a singing synth and drum machine wizard with an impressive visual arts repertoire. We speak through the magic of video chat as she relaxes in front of an ocean-themed mural in her artist commune, sipping both coffee and tea. Her cheerful temperament translates easily through the electronic space.
To Steinunn, visual art and music are the same thing. “One is colours and patterns, the other sounds and melodies,” she says. “When I paint a picture, I’m sometimes singing it while I paint. When I make music, I visualize it. The drums are like the ocean floor, while the bass is like a sea monster swimming above. The melodies are the water’s surface, where you can swim. Then I have decorations and funny sounds, silly percussion, like the clouds and stars and stuff. The vocals come sailing in on a boat.”
Her newest track, ‘The Sphinx,’ comes with a psychedelic video she created herself. “My vision was that the Sphinx is an ancient alien who arrived on Earth millions of years ago,” Steinunn hints. “He’s biding his time until he awakens and springs forth. He’s older than all humanity and almost everything in the world. So he harbours all the world’s secrets, or at least most of them. If you approach him correctly, you can talk to him.”
People seem to have a problem making sense of Steinunn. They wonder if it’s all a big joke—the sunny disposition, animal-centric lyrics, and the crazy lights and hippy outfits she wears at live performances. She’s a serious artist, who just doesn’t take herself seriously.
“My first album, ‘Glamúr í geimnum,’ was colourful and happy,” she says. “Some people asked, ‘Is this a children’s album?’ and I got so offended. I’m no kid doing kids’ music—I’m doing real adult music! So the next album, ‘Nótt á hafsbotni’ was really difficult; everything was heavy, I felt bad while making it. And it came out cool, but I got sick of being serious.”
She says that like many, she’s faced depression, searching for something to live for. For her, the meaning of life turned out to be counterintuitive. “I just think the world is a bit silly,” she explains. “It’s horrible, and if you think about all the bad stuff, you can just curl up in the fetal position. There’s a sentence I live by, something my dad told me: ‘Steinunn, everything’s good and nothing matters!’ I’ve come to learn that nothing matters. The world could explode and nobody would notice. Some may think this is a negative perspective, but it was incredibly freeing for me to realize this. These are all meaningless things, and the most meaningless is art.”
Beautiful expensive shoes
This attitude, which would at one point in history have been described as nihilistic, is life-affirming to Steinunn. And one can understand where she’s coming from. On social media, the constant reminders of the world’s ills can take their toll on a person.
“You can think that humanity is horrible; we’re destroying the earth and we should die,” Steinunn says. “Humanity is a cancer on the planet. But just imagine, without humanity, there would be no one to watch the sun rise and think ‘Wow, beautiful sunrise.’ Humans will pick up rocks and bang them together to make music and love it. We do pointless and destructive things to the world. But we also enjoy it and experience it. It’s like buying beautiful, expensive shoes, but not wanting to use them and dance in them. Putting them in a shoebox, on top of the wardrobe, covered by a blanket. But then there’s no one to appreciate them. Just like the Earth without humanity!”
A whole world to explore
Steinunn’s new album, ‘Atlantis,’ is being finalized, to be released in the new year. During a terrible bout of pneumonia, which kept her indoors for more than two months, she had nothing to do but study up on sound design.
“I can tell you one secret,” Steinunn whispers. “The whole album is made from something silly. Every sound is goofy, funny or silly. Some of the drums are just a sample of a barking dog. The lyrics have ridiculous things, a golden boar living in a puddle of mud, a drunk dog in a garbage can. Everything sounds stupid on its own. But when it comes together, it just sounds like a regular song.”
Feel the waves
Accompanying the album will be a video game, which, like everything else, is designed by Steinunn herself, albeit with help from friend and programmer Þórður Hermannsson. “The game is like a music video that you control,” she explains. “Ever since I was little I wanted to create a whole world that you can explore. Each level is one song. You’re walking through the song, which is spread out over the level and you assemble it in your own way. At Iceland Airwaves, you can get to know three songs from my album by playing the game at Mengi or at Bíó Paradís on a big movie screen.”
Her live shows are what forge the strongest connection Steinunn has with her audience. “With videos, you’re don’t connect with the response, whether it’s good or bad,” she says. “I’ve had terrible YouTube comments, such as ‘you’re the worst DJ in the world’ and ‘you need to kill yourself,’—stuff like that. But it doesn’t fully reach you because it’s just on the internet. Whereas at a concert, you’re with everyone, feeling how they look at you. You can talk to the audience between songs. All of a sudden, somebody’s dancing and you think ‘yeah, this beat, it works!’ You have a conversation with the room, a fun living relationship. At the concert, nobody’s saying directly ‘you’re good’ or “‘you suck,’ but you feel the waves.”
See dj. flugvél og geimskip at Iceland Airwaves:
Nov 2, Húrra, 23.20
Nov 4, MENGI (off-venue)
Nov 4, Hressó, 23:30