Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably heard the music of Sveinbjörn Thorarensen. A producer, solo artist, master collaborator, multi-instrumental live performer, remixer, composer for dance performances, and more, he’s been involved in a dizzying variety of projects for over a decade. You might have seen him wielding a keytar in FM Belfast, adding propulsive electronic flourishes to Retro Stefson, powering along Berndsen’s synth-fuelled pop mayhem; or, indeed, lashing around his distinctive plaited pigtails as he unleashes his curious, restless, era-hopping electronica as Hermigervill.
In person, as onstage, Sveinbjörn is a one-off. Within moments of meeting, he’s pouring forth his trademark joke ideas. Nintendo, he says, should make a “Mario Pint” drinking game, in which the player has to drink against Mario to catch up with the already-trashed Luigi. Parappa The Rapper from the cult 90s rap-along video game should return as “Parappa the Rabbi,” spitting sage advice instead of cartoon rhymes.
“Everything I do is kind of a joke,” says Sveinbjörn, considering the inherent mischief of his work. He makes eye contact, suddenly mock-stern. “But it’s also not a joke.”
Quest for obscurity
This kind of playful rearrangement is also a trademark of Hermigervill’s musical output. Long before he had formed his current identity, his thought processes and methods were already forming. “My father had a MIDI keyboard in the ’90s,” he remembers. “You had all these sounds—screaming sounds, helicopter sounds. He had a computer that you could sequence with. And I was fascinated.”
His first two albums—self-released in the early noughties—were tapestries of obscure samples gleaned from the dusty annals of Icelandic pop history. “Those early records were very inspired by DJ Shadow and RJD2,” says Sveinbjörn. “I’d try and find the most obscure samples possible—it’s wasn’t like using a Madonna song. I used a sampler, a Technics turntable, and a lot of records. I’d bounce samples, record into a tape machine and overdub it, and record that into the computer. It’s quite Stone Age compared to what kids have today, but almost there, technically.”
To deepen his catalogue of sounds, Sveinbjörn went to Geisladiskabúð Valda—an Aladdin’s cave of assorted second-hand CDs, computer games, and vinyl—to pick up old Icelandic records for 100 krona apiece. “They’re priceless now, but absolutely nobody wanted these records in 2002,” he laughs. “You couldn’t really go on the internet for samples yet, and I was always swayed against using samples that were accessible to everyone. It was always a quest for finding samples other people don’t have access to. I wanted my source to back one step further. And this still carries with me today.”
It made for interesting, fresh music with an intentionally retro feel. But the patchwork of uncleared samples made his early music all-but unreleasable; today, these albums are still only available on Bandcamp. “I make things very difficult for myself,” Sveinbjörn grins. “Both on purpose, and unintentionally. You could start with my artist name. People see my shows, and afterwards they have no idea who was playing. They can’t even write it down. I just say, ‘Forget about it! Enjoy that you saw it and don’t try to look for my music, ever.’ There’s a self-destructive vibe. It clashes with me wanting to be as famous as… Deadmau5. No wait, don’t say Deadmau5. Say Daft Punk.”
His next two albums were reworked, largely instrumental covers of much-loved Icelandic pop classics. “Also a legal grey area,” he laughs. “But there’s a thread. When digging for records, I’d stumble on these weird Moog cover albums. If I could find the shittiest Beatles cover, played on a synth with all the wrong notes, that would be my favourite version. I chase whatever unicorn I find interesting, and it always turns out to be a problem.”
A new hope
So it was that his sparkling, characteristically playful fifth solo album was entitled ‘I’. “It was a new starting point,” says Sveinbjörn. But it would take four years for the sequel to emerge. After tempting hints in singles “Solitaire” and “Vape Aquatic,” he dropped the much-anticipated ‘II’ on December 23rd 2018, in the heart of the publicity black hole of the Christmas period.
It was worth the wait. A gleaming, pristine soundscape that contains all of the charm and mischief of his early works, ‘II’ adds an appealing and easy-going accessiblilty. The dreamy artwork felt of-the-moment in a way that Hermigervill’s work had never quite before, moving his musical identity from the margins to the zeitgeist.
It’s as close as Hermigervill has come to releasing pop. “It was purposefully not retrospective, sound-wise,” says Sveinbjörn. “It’s a take on today. Part of that was influenced by hanging out with Logi Pedro and Sturla Atlas and the 101derland guys. I wanted to do a take on the hip-hop and trap that has been very present here in Iceland, but with sound design instead of rap as the focus.”
All of this made it even more of a surprise when a Facebook message popped up on July 7th. “Hey! Here’s a little heads up… got a full new album up this weekend. It’s called Hermigervill Presents: The Future Sound Of Iceland.”
“I made this record in a weekend,” says Sveinbjörn. “I started with nothing on Friday, and had a record by Monday.”
A darker, sleeker proposition entirely, his new snap-release is a concept album about a future dystopian Iceland. “There are tracks called “Global Warming” and “Population 400k,” which we’re approaching now,” he explains. ““Tokyavík” is like Reykjavík with a neon skyline. And there’s “Dead Island,” about how after we’ve wiped ourselves out, the island will still be here. It’s the big thing that’s going on today. We’ve trashed our planet and we don’t know if there’s hope for us, or not.”
So is this the start of the more serious Hermigervill? He pauses, his eyes gleaming with amusement. “I mean, the end of Iceland. How is that not funny?”
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