“In psychogeography, a ‘dérive’ (“drift”) is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.” (Wikipedia)
The art of “reading houses” was described by fabled Icelandic author Þórbergur Þórðarson in his 1940s masterpiece ‘Ofvitinn’. It is a meditative act that entails sensing a house’s past life, he writes: “I wanted to inform my readers of these fountains of knowledge and atmosphere, closed off to those who remain so occupied with the miniscule banalities that float on life’s surface that they never found the time to learn how to read houses.”
Situated near Reykjavík’s westernmost point, the Skeljagrandi area is like Iceland’s very own miniature Twin Peaks. You’ll know you’re there when you see a row of buildings that locals affectionately refer to as “jólatrésblokkirnar” (“The Christmas tree buildings”), due to their distinctive shapes. Urban explorers could do worse than trailing the numerous, winding back passages that snake through the area.
The Skeljagrandi area stands on a landfill. It is slowly sinking into the ocean.
Reportedly, people from the the Skeljagrandi area have a tendency to develop psychic abilities. Others fall prey to insanity, and yet others set about diligently carving out illustrious careers in the field of violent crime. The latter camp’s main poster boys are the so-called Skeljagrandi brothers, who managed to amass a Freddy and Jason-level of infamy through the various ultraviolent sociopathic misdeeds that have been their bread and butter since childhood.
In Skeljagrandi, people sometimes get thrown down flights of stairs by inexplicable gusts of wind. Your neighbours might become upset by your new satellite receiver, lodging formal complaints about the devil-rays that are being pointed at their house. Neighbourhood kids might get bags of coke for a confirmation gift from their dads. I have no explanation for any of this. They’re just stories in the air. That I happen to know are true.
The Catholic Church
Back in the day, the Catholic Church and its accompanying school were tightly in the grips of a gruesome twosome, Father Georg and groundskeeper Margrét Müller. Decades later, locals still whisper horror stories of the pair and the abominable ways they would treat some of their students and young parishioners.
Even as she took her own life, Margrét still couldn’t pass up a chance to traumatize some students—opting to kill herself by leaping from the school’s top floor, on a school day (of course), thus ensuring her splattered remains would leave the kids something to remember her by. Rumours persist that Margrét had carved out a number of secret passageways in the schoolhouse, which she would use to spy on the children. Perhaps her spirit still lingers.
Despite being repeatedly made aware of the pair’s crimes, local church authorities, nuns and priests stood silently by as several young lives were damaged beyond repair by those sadist monsters. To add insult to injury, Father Georg was inducted into the Order of the Falcon by Iceland’s president in 1994.
But hey—there’s a nice little spot behind the church’s west side, ideal for getting fucked up and maybe pissing on some graves.
A beautiful, postcard-pretty street in downtown Reykjavík, quiet little Leifsgata has been a home to many an artist and person of talent. Strangely, it has also been the site of quite a few murders—many of them occurring at the end of debauched drinking and drugging parties. The sheer number of murders that have taken place in that tiny area has caused many to theorize that the street is somehow haunted in a way that can drive people to commit unspeakable acts. Besides all the artists and murder victims, Leifsgata also played host to an infamous brothel and shady halfway house for drunks and junkies.
They have some beautiful houses though!
The central bus station has proudly served as Reykjavík’s official grime and grittiness HQ. In the early 80s, it served as a gathering spot for young punk rockers, who would convene there to play arcade games, sniff glue, harass commuters and defiantly stuff hot dogs into their faces, rather than eating them like a normal person (see Friðrik Þór’s amazing documentary ‘Rokk í Reykjavík’ if you haven’t already). Weird and violent stuff will go down at Hlemmur on a regular basis. Like that woman who lost an eye after being attacked with a chisel.
Close by the Rauðhólar pseudocraters, you’ll find a serene conservation area that doubles as the site of Reykjavík’s reservoirs and drinking wells. Aside from being a popular spot to take in some nature on a good day, Heiðmörk is also quite popular with local drug dealers and debt collectors, who like to bring boys who owe a lot of money up there and mess them up real good. This was amply demonstrated in the 90s, when a pair of brothers were sentenced for murder after smashing some guy’s head to bits. In case you’re toying with heading up there for some murder, do note that I have no idea where’d you’d go to dump the body après homicide. Maybe Hvassahraun, on the way to the Keflavík Airport? Don’t ask me, bruh.
Breiðholt’s Fell housing projects are perhaps Icelanders take on Atlanta-style traps (a one way in, one way out type deal, with lots of dead ends and overgrown streets), with all that entails. Indeed, prior to the 2008 collapse that wound up inspiring lots of folks to set up the hydroponic growhouses that keep Iceland’s abundant weed supplies constantly replenished, you’d often have to drive up to Fellahverfið to cop a nug of hash. It’s not crack, but that’s still pretty trap.
Fellahverfið’s infamy skyrocketed in the 1990s, due to the minor gang wars that went on there. Those involved groups of Asian immigrants and locals who would regularly clash on the streets, often resorting to bats, machetes and home invasions to get their points across.
There are no gang wars in Fellahverfi these days, but it remains the kind of place where you might see someone’s mom hitting on a gravity bong in the living room.
Yuh. My début album, ‘Lord Pusswhip is wack‘, just came out online, and will later be available on cassette, as the first official cassette release of a fresh new label called Cosmic Seagull Records.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!