Published December 7, 2017
Inside Salka Valsdóttir’s apartment is a jumbled mishmash of things. Wedged amongst the usual detritus of life, and bathed in the colourful glow from the florescent pink and yellow walls, a number of curiosities compete for attention. A large, strange wooden box on wheels sits next to a foosball table, with a fan of chunky metal strings stretched precisely across its top. (“I call it a piano harp,” says Salka. “It’s the inside of a piano without the top on.”) Two oddly shaped pillarbox red bicycles with tiny wheels are tucked between a side table, a rocking chair and a drying rack full of clothes. On the coffee table, a single line of cocaine waits patiently next to a neatly rolled £10 note and a tray of tea lights.
But the main focal point is undoubtedly the giant pink wooden spinning wheel, large enough to stand up and run in, breaking the space between the living and sleeping areas. A huge, luminous hamster wheel is an apt prop for the girls, metaphorically speaking: the hip-hop trio, who released their first full-length album ‘Horror’ in October, tend to just keep going and going. “Even though we just released the album last month, since then we’ve done like 40 projects,” says Jóhanna Rakel.
Indeed, ‘Horror,’—an appropriately named horror-themed record—is Cyber’s third release in a year, following their debut ‘Crap,’ and three-track EP ‘Boys.’ It was created over an intense nine months between working, studying and partying, and true to its name, it’s quite an unnerving listen; all synths, distortion and heavy bass. “‘Horror’ has a very specific build up,” says Salka. “It begins more showy and poppy, then becomes more raw and intense, and ends more sensually and honest.”
The group formed in 2012 after longtime pals Jóhanna, 22, and Salka, 22, noted that the title of Salka’s lipstick—MAC’s vampy, deep purple ‘Cyber’—would make a great band name. Despite this, they didn’t release anything until 2016, when they met Þura Stina, 27, through their mutual involvement with female rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur. “We just kept on referring to our friendship as Cyber,” says Salka. “We were kind of a fictional band until we met Þura.”
From these imagined beginnings, something very real has grown. The last month has been especially busy for the trio—they’ve been promoting the new album, and then there was Iceland Airwaves, where they played two Cyber shows and one with Reykjavíkurdætur. Plus, like all good Reykjavík creatives, each has some solo projects. Salka is producing an album for her friend Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir (Special-K), Jóhanna is working on her own album, and Þura DJs as DJ Sura.
Despite these demands on their time, the work they’ve put into ‘Horror’ is palpable. “It’s about relationships and everyday life put into a horror costume,” says Salka. “You’re super privileged and everything’s always fine because you live in Iceland, but you still feel horrible within yourself. It was fun to amp up those situations with a horrific feel and we tried to do that with the soundscapes as well.”
This “horror costume” is refined and consistent, belying any suggestion of the girls being spread too thin. “Finnðig” is slow and sexy, with murmuring vocals and something strange and distorted sliding around in the background, while “Psycho” jeers and prods you for a reaction. Guest appearances from Hatari, Countess Malaise and Emmsjé Gauti make the album more fleshy and bold.
A theatrical affair
It’s apparent, however, that though their lyrics may cover themes of anxiety and daily struggle, performing is well within the band’s comfort zone. Cyber has evolved into a confident, fully-fledged performance group with a huge live show and a 24-strong collection of songs to back it up. They all have creative leanings—Salka studies sound engineering and works at Borgaleikhúsið theatre; Jóhanna studies fine art at Listaháskóli Íslands; and Þura works full time as a graphic designer. As a result, Cyber are as well known for their artistic concepts and theatrical performances as their beats and rhymes.
For instance, during the ‘Crap’ era, they created a “pastel world” theme, performing in soft pinks and purples in an innocent counterpoint to the album’s spicier moments. (“Smoking cheese and getting naughty,” Jóhanna breathes on the sultry “Aspen Barbie.”) But after working with renowned showmen Hatari—who feature on ominous, guitar-driven “Hlauptu” on ‘Horror’ in one of the album’s high points—the trio became more confident about incorporating grander concepts.
This mentality was on full display at Iceland Airwaves, when the band were carried onstage in a coffin shouldered by eight drag queens, dressed in full red leather and latex. “We looked at each other as we were being carried in and were like, ‘This is so fucking epic,’” Salka laughs. “It could have been empty—we were opening up at the biggest venue at Airwaves, which is hard to fill at that hour, but we were like, ‘Nope, still gonna do it!’”
Keeping things going
Now that the new album is out, Cyber are focusing on crafting more of these big performances. The red leather and latex is going to be retired (“We should bury it in the coffin!” suggests Jóhanna) and a new era is dawning. “I think we’ve become more grounded in our performances,” says Salka. “People tell us that we have a strong connection to our music, and that shows on stage.”
They also want to take the pressure off themselves a little bit, each expressing a desire to relax for a while, although this might be wishful thinking. “It’s only been a month since ‘Horror’’s release!” Þura laughs. “So we should just play our new shit. But we are doing a special Christmas performance at Gamla Bío…”
By this time, it’s getting late, and it’s time for me to leave. But not before my curiosity about that solitary coke smear gets the best of me. It turns out there was a party last night, and it doesn’t belong to them, but Salka didn’t want to wipe it away because cocaine is expensive. “It’s gold for your nose!” she asserts.
As I put on my coat, the energy in the apartment begins to buzz. Salka starts to show Þura a new beat she’s created on her laptop, before Þura has to leave and head back to work. Salka hops up onto the hamster wheel and starts running, remembering suddenly about a forthcoming pop-up shop project, on top of everything else. For Cyber, the wheel keeps spinning and spinning.