Published September 8, 2017
Living in a modern world where social media is rampant, it can be hard to be sure of who you truly are. For Svarti Álfur, which means “Black Elf,” it comes pretty easily. Don’t let his appearance fool you however—from the ripe age of 12 he has been true to his style and beliefs.
The main curator of the Icelandic Punk Museum, Svarti is no stranger to the community. “For me, my punk started without knowing it was punk,” he says. He was born in Belgium, where he attended a boarding school where there was no television, no radio and thus, no music. “What I started to do when I was 12 years old, on my own, was to take those butt-ugly bell-trousers and making them straight-legged. My mother went crazy and cut them up, but I just kept making my own clothes. I started to think there was something wrong with me, because I wouldn’t wear the clothes people wore. I was always changing,” he reminisces. His mom’s reaction to his rebelliousness didn’t get in the way of who he wanted to be at such a young age. Svarti stuck to his unique style when there was no one else around who shared the same image as him—something that many people would have struggled with. He says, “When I was 14 years old, I was at the train station in Belgium and I saw punks for the first time in my life. It was like a revelation: I’m not the only one that’s looking like this.”
Rebel with a cause
“About three years later I got to know that punk music is related to the people that looked like me,” he continues. For Svarti, punk fashion came first and the music came later on. The most influential punk artists we know of today such as The Clash, The Ramones, Sex Pistols and Black Flag, are all amazing bands in their own way but the music didn’t speak to Svarti on a deeper level when he first started identifying with punk culture.
In the late ‘70s, he discovered hardcore bands that were making their debut in the punk scene, such as The Epileptics, Crust, and The Exploited. Of the message conveyed by these groups, Svarti says, “These bands were way more political. They were about going after the government and the police. This meant more to me because at that time I was getting into fights with police on the streets, seeing injustice everywhere.” Svarti began to identity with music that reflected his world. “I started as a political punk with the music…on the fashion side, it was just me—I was born like this.”
Svarti’s image is a reflection of rebelling against fashion norms, but when it comes to political rebellion today, he’s taking it much easier. He claims the fire in him may be burning out as he is not as political as he used to be. “It’s not going to change,” he says. “Every time we get what we demand, they [institutions] take more from us, so you start to regret having asked to begin with. The situation gets worse afterwards.” Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality that we experience in modern day society. “I’ll go to the protests and watch, I’ll support activists; but I’m not going to protest anymore. I’m just sick of it, it’s no fun.” However, Svarti doesn’t let this get him down. He says that living in his own world with his group of friends creates a safer, easier, and more honest sense of community. It’s something that we have all created for ourselves in order to cope with day-to-day struggles.
In the years before working as the main curator at the Icelandic Punk Museum, Svarti did it all. Since the age of 13, he has worked an array of jobs, from clothes model to general labourer. Throughout the years, music has always been a constant for him. “First band I was in, Sjálfsfróun, I played the base. We played until ‘91. In ‘97, I started a new band, Kuml, and there I was singing. We played for about 20 years, and quit two years ago.” These days Svarti is taking it much easier: “Now I’m playing bass again. I’m creating shit and hoping to make an album.”
Regarding his family life, Svarti has been separated from his immediate family for years now. However, he’s warming up to the idea of his kids growing up. “I’m now learning to be without kids. My daughter is 23 years old and she moved out. It’s a bit strange to be alone again and not have that responsibility. I’m still waiting for her to come home. Sometimes I’ll pick up the phone and ask her what she wants for dinner.”