Thick fog is closing in on the road down to Hveragerði. The car in front of us is moving at 20 kilometres per hour, and there’s no way of passing. Three tipsy Icelanders are trying to calm me down, telling me the gear is better used without force, but I barely listen. There is no need to calm me down: my blood pressure is so low I could fall asleep behind the steering wheel any minute now.
When we finally reach the petrol station in Hveragerði, the guys are having an extended peeing session. A look on the watch tells me it’s past eleven at night – too late anyway. Behind Selfoss we take a turn and drive towards Flúðir, our destination for tonight. On the dark road, an obviously drunk man jumps out of a ditch onto the street, just escaping a rendez-vous with our VW Golf. Is that their idea of nightlife in Flúðir?
We arrive when the party is already in full swing. Though it seems people might have been in full swing even before the party started, not due to toxics associated with a place that my companions call “the mushroom capital of the WORLD,” but due to the simple wonders achieved by the consumption
of an indefinite quantity of beer.
Tonight is a special night, though few locals will admit it. Hjálmar, one of Iceland’s most treasured live bands, are playing in the local bar where on an ordinary Friday night, a sveitaball band would take the stage. Sveitaball bands strike a different chord, touring small towns around Iceland and entertaining young and old with their cover versions of one-time top ten hits—on the surface, quite a different thing from the original reggae compositions of Hjálmar, a group of young Icelanders and Swedes. The audience in Flúðir seems unimpressed by the change that Hjálmar’s reggae brings along. Gentlemen in cowboy hats guide their chosen ones to the dancefloor and dash into a good old foxtrot. Icelanders dislike changes, I am told.
The reason why Hjálmar are playing in the mushroom capital
tonight is their friend Árni, also called “the King of Flúðir” by the band, owns the bar and a recording space in town, where they have recorded their second album during the past week.
“We recorded the album in three days, which was much faster than we expected, so we spent the rest of the time getting the essence of Flúðir: going horseback riding and to the hot spring that’s nearby,” says bassist Petter. “Being away from my native Sweden for some time now, I miss the forest, and here, they at least have some green bushes.”
Hjálmar are playing both old and new songs tonight, and a group of youths in front of the stage swing along in appreciation. On my way from the dancefloor to the bar and back, I come across the scattered remains of a Hjálmar fanbase from Reykjavík and Keflavík. They have come to see their favourite band in an unfamiliar setting tonight, and they thoroughly enjoy it.
I spot the most wrecked guy in the place, who, I assume, must be a local – how else would he get to a place like Flúðir? Full of hope, I start talking to him, and when he finally moves his eyes from his cup of coffee to face me, slower than a snail, he manages to tell me, under considerable
efforts to concentrate: “I am here to fuck a girl!” It turns out later, that the guy is indeed a foreigner working in one of Flúðir’s greenhouses.
While the gentlemen in the cowboy hats refuse to talk to me, the ladies are open to chatting, in the bathroom.
“It’s great to have reggae here tonight, they are a very good band – but no, it’s nothing special to have a Hjálmar playing in Flúðir!” These words re-appear frequently, as the locals refuse to acknowledge that every night isn’t a party.A few admit the evening may be special.
Helena, a Flúðir local, explains: “We never had such a band playing
here before – they are great, and without knowing their music beforehand, they have won me over!”
Sævar Örn, being the only Flúðir resident to sport the hip-hop style, says: “It’s the first time in months that I go out for the music, not for the beer!”But this is not only a special night for a few music enthusiasts in the audience, but for the band itself. Flúðir (with a population disputed and ranging between 50 and 500) is by far the smallest town Hjálmar have ever played in, followed by Akureyri (15,000 inhabitants).“With a crowd that small, there is no distance to the audience, and it is hard to play, because it gets too close. At bigger places like NASA (in Reykjavík, with usually 1000 attendees for a show), for example, it is much easier to play,” says Petter, though if there was an uncomfortable feeling onstage, it passed unnoticed, or was drowned by the comforting sound of the music.
Before I leave with three Icelanders, Flúðir’s hip hopper and his friend Steinar empty half a pint of beer on my jeans and seize my notebook. Their contributions must be included verbatim.
From Steinar: “I like Hjálmar and want to be mentioned in Grapevine, it’s the best paper ever. Hjálmar is the best band in Iceland without Skímó.”
From Sævar Örn: “Skímó is great. But you don’t go there unless you want to get chicks. I’m here just because of the music. Hjálmar is the stuff. And maybe some meat.”
Indeed, Hjálmar is the stuff. And maybe some meat.