Icelandic musicians have produced their share of weird records. Some records aim to be weird, but some are weird by accident, the artist involved even being fully serious about the whole thing. The five below are truly weird, some by design, others by accident.
BROKEN SILENCE, BROKEN GUITAR
Jóhann G. Jóhannsson, who had been part of Óðmenn, a Cream influenced rock trio, hit Weirdsville fast in 1972 when his super weird two track 7″ was released. The “songs” were called ‘The Silence Broken’ and ‘Broken Guitar’ and they sounded just like that: On side A, a long silence was broken with a violent scream, on side B a guitar was slowly torn apart and broken. This weirdness marked the start of Jóhann’s (completely unweird) solo career, and he says the record’s release was a sounding board for dare.
“I had written a song called ‘Don’t Try To Fool Me’ (later to become a pop classic) that Ámundi Ámundason (then a record mogul in Iceland) wanted to release as a single, but I said he had to release this single first. He said alright, as long as he didn’t have to listen to it. The single was sealed so people had to buy it before they could listen to it. Eventually it made a profit, and then Ámundi laughed out loud. Everybody thought I had lost my marbles when this single came out!”
The broken guitar track was recorded as a form of stress-release at the end of Óðmenn’s long sessions for their classic double album in 1970, but the silence track Jóhann recorded at home.
“I had tried to record it several times, but there was always some distraction, once a hail storm even broke out in the middle of the silence. Eventually I got it done in the middle of the night, but my scream woke up the people on the floor above me who came rushing down in a state of shock. I had turned the tape recorder off by then though!”
SQUEAKY BALLOON RECORD
Industrial veterans Reptilicus’ first “record” was a very weird one. It is called ‘Tat was asi’ and came out in 1989.
“We got the idea from Bjarni the Mohawk [singer from teen punk band Sjálfsfróun],” says Reptilicus singer Guðmundur Ingi Markússon. “I met him once downtown where he sat with a blown up balloon and made squeaky sounds with it. He was no fan of our band, so he made a joke that this was what his next album would sound like. He meant it as a pot-shot at us.”
The band members got some old LPs from their parents and painted them black, both the records and the sleeves. On the back side was a track list—”we considered this a 12″ with two tracks,” says Guðmundur—and precise instructions on how to perform the songs with the two black balloons that came with the record.
“We meant to make fifty copies but we only got around to making around ten. The record was for sale in [legendary indie and underground record store] Grammið, and we sold one copy. I still don’t know who bought it!”
The rudest man-hating record ever to be released in Iceland came out in 1990. It was a 7″ by Dýrið gengur laust (“The animal walks freely”), a rock group fronted by singer Jón Filippusson, formerly of punk group Sogblettir (“Love bites”). The uneventful song, called Bláir draumar (“Blue dreams”) was performed in ballad and rock style, but the lyrics were pure bile, where three beloved troubadours— Bubbi Morthens, Hörður Torfason and Megas—were accused of being paedophiles and “faggots”. Later, the singer had huge regrets about the lyrics.
“The record was sold under the table and it sold quite well, about 1.000 copies. We could drink out of the profits for a long time. Fortunately we never got any complaints from the subjects,” Jón later said with deep relief.
THE RECORD THAT WAS PAWNED IN SWEDEN
One of the late eighties rock bands in Iceland was called E-X, originally Professor X. It came from Hafnafjörður and was lead by two guitarists, Davíð Magnússon (later of nineties combo Bubblieflies) and Pétur Hallgrímsson (who would later play with LHOOQ, Kylie Minogue and Emilíana Torrini). The band played R.E.M. influenced rock and sang in English. In the spring of 1988, their first 7″ was ready with the songs ‘Frontiers’ and ‘Highway One’. The recordings were done in Studio Mjöt, which also sent the master to their associates, a pressing plant in Sweden.
A year earlier, Mjöt had produced a very ambitious Christmas album called ‘Hvít er borg og bær’, where people like Björk, Megas and Miss Universe, Hólmfríður “Hófí” Karlsdóttir, performed songs written by Ingibjörg Þorbergs. This had sold much less than expected, so a big debt was due in Sweden. The Swedes took the E-X single in pawn, and as the debt was never paid the single was never delivered and is probably collecting dust on some Ikea shelves somewhere. The E-X boys have never even seen their own record, but they have heard of people who have seen it!
THE BIRTH OF ‘CATASTROPHE-POP’
In 1966 at age 16, amazing drummer Gunnar Jökull Hákonarson moved to London, where he landed a job with the band The Syn. This psychedelic pop band made two very good singles on Pye records, which Gunnar drums on. The band would eventually evolve into prog giants Yes—fame and fortune ensued. Unfortunately, Gunnar had left the band by then, but he was for some time known in Iceland as “the drummer who nearly joined Yes”. In Iceland, Gunnar drummed on some great records with psych-rock legends Trúbrot before vanishing in early seventies (to live in Sweden).
In 1995 he surprisingly returned in Iceland with his first solo album, ‘Hamfarir’ (“Catastrophe”), where he did not drum one beat, but preferred to perform his naive pop songs on some kind of a cheap Casio fun machine. His lyrics were crude and straight to the point with titles like ‘Kaffið mitt’ (“My Coffee”), ‘Hundurinn minn’ (“My Dog”) and ‘Bíllinn minn’ (“My Car”). Gunnar’s weird music and strained vocals horrified his old fans but gained new ones, like Jón Gnarr and Sigurjón Kjartansson who played his stuff regularly on their Tvíhöfði radio show.
The album’s reception was not as overall welcoming as Gunnar had expected. Unfortunately, nothing was heard from him musically afterwards, and he died in 2001 of Aids related causes.
In honour of Gunnar’s sincere album ‘Catastrophe-pop’ has been the word used to describe similarly eccentric music released later on by people like Gissur Björn Eiríksson and Leoncie.
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