Mischief, Mayhem & Hip-Hop With Iceland’s New Yule Lads - The Reykjavik Grapevine

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Mischief, Mayhem & Hip-Hop With Iceland’s New Yule Lads

Mischief, Mayhem & Hip-Hop With Iceland’s New Yule Lads

York Underwood
Words by
Main photo by
Hörður Sveinsson

Published December 10, 2015

The Yule Lads are the thirteen Icelandic Santa Clauses who descend one-by-one on the thirteen days before Christmas to play tricks on Icelandic children. Their mother, Grýla, a mountain Ogress, eats badly-behaved children; her partner-in-crime is Leppalúði, another ogre and Grýla’s third husband (Iceland has a high divorce rate).

The story of the Yule Lads can be interpreted in various ways. It turns out the present-day Lads were only standardised in the 20th century. There is some contention, especially in the Grapevine office, about whether they were used as cautionary tales to make children behave—or just to flat out scare the shit out of them.

Our cover features some key players from the New Wave Of Icelandic Hip-Hop (NWOIHH), a resurgent music scene here in Reykjavík. These young artists owned last month’s Iceland Airwaves Music Festival, garnering international attention in the aftermath. This magnetism seems to derive from the scene’s authenticity; it’s what the Reykjavík 101 kids want and support.

Kött Grá Pje by Hörður Sveinsson

Hip-hop is not the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Icelandic music to the average tourist. But hip-hop’s focus on language means the genre translates effortlessly into Icelandic, a unique language that’s fiercely protected by the Language Commission. Why hip-hop? It could be the influence of American television, and the resulting induced appropriation, or it could be national pride—making hip-hop Icelandic. Or it could be something else entirely.

Many of the artists that make up the NWOIHH are crazy young—and just crazy. Their de-facto base is Prikið, the downtown bar that’s served as a meeting spot for the Icelandic rap game ever since XXX Rottweiler unleashed the first wave of Icelandic hip-hop in the year 2000. It’s also where these ‘young thugs’ like to get into trouble or, at the very least, start off their night.

Finni Karlsson is the big, burly, intimidating man who owns Prikið. Geoffrey Huntingdon-Williams is the slim, handsome, no-bullshit guy who serves as the manager. They both do an admirable job of putting up with these wild young rappers and their shenanigans. In the Yule Lads context, think of Finni as Grýla and Geoffrey as Leppalúði, which—if you’ve ever fucked around at Prikið and gotten caught by either of the two—almost isn’t a metaphor at all.

Úlfur Úlfur by Hörður Sveinsson

In fact, these rappers can be seen as the modern day Yule Lads of downtown Reykjavík, back when they were a slightly sinister group of pranksters, rather than the shoe-stuffing softies they’ve become today. But unlike their antique counterparts, these Hip-Hop Yule Lads don’t teach kids lessons about proper behaviour. Their mischievous hijinks instead provide lessons and warnings for the downtown party-goer; modern day parables about what to avoid during a downtown party night. Alright, maybe this a weird, half-thought out idea—pfff, Icelandic rappers as modern day Yule Lads? Whatever, we’ve all seen the way you act when you’re drunk. You are definitely in need some sort of moral guidance, and if it has to be dressed up as some sorta hip hop Yule lad fantasy, then so be it!

So, without further ado, we present: The Entirely New Thirteen Days Of Christmas, With Real, Actual Stories Collected From The Rappers Gracing Our Cover.

Can you connect the dots of which Hip-Hop Yule Lad represents which rapper? And, more importantly, will you ever learn?

Shades of Reykjavík by Hörður Sveinsson

December 12

On the first night of Christmas, the first Yule Lad descends on the streets of Reykjavík. Stekkjastaur, Stiffy Legs, used to sneak up on unsuspecting ewes and suckle their milk, but lately he’s had to develop a modern approach to mischief. Nowadays, this nature spirit inhabits one of our young hip-hop lads who just happens to be tall and thin (got it yet?). He convinces unsuspecting party-goers to fight him, but his stiff legs and tall stature make the fight difficult—especially for shorter, Napoleonic gentlemen with big tempers.

“I don’t know what it is about the social fabric of fast-food joints,” says Stekkjastaur, “but people always get into fights there. If you look at fight videos online, you’ll see that most of them take place in a fast-food joint. While I was waiting to grab a sub one night, I started putting pieces of paper into strangers’ pockets—sneakily. This one guy started getting really mad at me. I could see I was annoying him. Finally, he turned to his friend and asked ‘should I?’ Then he lunged at me, but my stiff legs and significant height advantage meant he was basically hugging me, until he pushed me into someone’s girlfriend. This offended the guy whose girlfriend had been pushed, so he punched the angry little man. I grabbed my sub and tip-toed off into the night. My work was done.”

Let this be a lesson: DON’T START FIGHTS IN FAST FOOD PLACES.

December 13

On the second night of Christmas, Giljagaur, Gully Jumper, heads downtown to have some fun. He’s charming and handsome, ever the peacock in the room. Back in the day, he used to steal cream, but lately his tastes have changed to a more carnal persuasion. You’ll see him haunting downtown bars, surrounded by women (and men) buying him beer. He’s the perennial centre of attention, which comes with some unexpected quirks.

“One night, I just wanted to go home,” recalls Giljagaur. “I was tired—it was my third night out in a row. That’s when a bouncer from B5 waved to me as I walked by. ‘Come right in!’ he said, and opened the chain for me. Once inside, I either had to be miserable, or get into it—so I got right into it. These two girls, quite young, cornered me as I was heading downstairs to the bathroom. They started kissing my neck and making out with me. The thing is, I’d just found out I had chlamydia. They kept asking me if I would leave with them, and I kept saying no. Finally, I told them, ‘I have chlamydia, okay?’ The one riding my right thigh never skipped a beat and replied, ‘We’d fuck you even if you had HIV.’ To their surprise, this was not a turn on. I went home alone.”

Let that be a lesson: DON’T TRY TOO HARD TO PICK PEOPLE UP. IT MAKES YOU LOOK DESPERATE. MAYBE NOT THIS DESPERATE. BUT CLOSE.

Herra Hnetusmjör by Hörður Sveinsson

December 14

On the third night of Christmas Stúfur, aka Stubby, strolls into the bar. Only, he doesn’t exactly stroll so much as hop straight to the front of the line. Stubby is tired of being the one who’s hard to see; the one who doesn’t stand out. So Stubby goes downtown to the hottest bars and sneaks in front of everyone—he’s too good to wait.

“This one time,” says Stúfur, “I put on a lot of makeup and sportswear and pretended to be famous. Well, I pretended to be a famous fitness blogger. I cut to the front of the line, claiming I was a VIP. Once inside, I explained that I was famous and did little workout routines instead of dancing. All I asked for in return was some shots. Another time, I attempted to sneak past a bouncer while waiting in line at Kaffibarinn. He caught me and basically threw me down in the street. I was embarrassed, but I just went to my friend’s place, put on some of his clothes, and went straight back to the line, and waited like everyone else.”

Let this be a lesson: DON’T CUT IN LINE. EVERYONE IS WAITING TO GET IN JUST LIKE YOU.

December 15

On the third night of Christmas, Spoon Licker, Þvörusleikir, arrives. He’s notoriously impatient. He used to love licking spoons right before people used them. These days, his lack of patience plays out differently when he’s drinking downtown. Instead of drinking a spoonful at a time, he now guzzles down pints. As a result, he really doesn’t like to wait in the bathroom line.

“I was once downtown with my friends, getting smashed,” recalls Þvörusleikir. “We were going from bar to bar, drinking and having fun, when my friends and I had to piss. We didn’t feel like waiting in line, or even going into bar to piss. But we didn’t just piss in the middle of Laugavegur—we’re not tourists—we at least went down an alley. But the police saw us and arrested all my friends anyway.”

Let this be a lesson: THE WORLD IS NOT YOUR TOILET. PISS IN THE BATHROOM.

Sturla Atlas by Hörður Sveinsson

December 16

On the fourth night of Christmas, look out for Pottaskefill—Pot Licker. He joins smoking circles and scavenges for hits from communal joints, sucking in as many puffs as he can without being called out. We all know him—that one friend who smokes weed then goes down in flames with a sudden decrease in motor skills, empty-eyes and drooling. Pot Licker is ‘that guy’—the original lightweight.

“I was drinking and saw some people smoking,” says Pot Licker, “so I decided, sure, why not? Cannabis and me don’t mix, though. I get stupid. I can’t understand what people are saying. That time, I smoked so much that my hand stopped working. I tried to order a beer at the bar, and when the bartender gave it to me, I immediately dropped it. The bartender was a bit pissed off, but he took pity and poured me another. I immediately dropped that one, too. After that he was furious. I wandered around the bar for an hour, maybe two. When I came back I ordered a double Jim Beam and Coke—to catch up, you know? Of course, I immediately dropped it, and that was enough—I got tossed out of the bar.”

Let that be a lesson: DON’T GET TOO HIGH AT THE BAR. IT’S WEIRD.

December 17

On the fifth night of Christmas, it’s time for Askasleikir—the Bowl Licker. This particular spirit inhabits a slightly unusual member of the Hip-Hop Lads—one that’s more likely to be enjoyed by both young people and their parents. But the thing is, you don’t find many bowls around during a night downtown. To make up for it, the Bowl Licker has started stealing bottles instead. A dangerous game to play, unless no one would ever suspect you.

“I was once at a pre-party for this very arty-farty thing at Tjarnabíó,” says Askasleikir. “The next thing I knew, I was drunk. Really drunk. I noticed there was this other person hanging out behind the bar, with the bartenders always asking him to stay on the correct side. After a while, I noticed that no one was looking, and walked behind the bar to grab a bottle of rum. It was that drunk overconfidence that did it, you know. I was even pouring out drinks for other guests, before I left to pass out at home. At the end of the night, I’d gotten lucky—everyone had assumed the culprit was the other guy who kept going behind the bar.”

Let this be a lesson: STAY ON YOUR SIDE OF THE BAR!

Reykjavíkurdætur by Hörður Sveinsson

December 18

On the sixth night of Christmas, Hurðaskellir, a.k.a. the Door Slammer, comes to town. He used to slam doors to make noise and keep everyone awake, but now when he’s downtown he slams doors to keep people intrigued. We’ve all seen two people enter a single bathroom stall, and wondered what they’re doing in there, right? Hurðaskellir likes to slam doors in the faces of curious drinkers and suspicious bouncers so that people can take their drugs in peace. But, in the end, everyone will know what you did—he’ll make sure of it.

“I went in the downstairs bathroom of Prikið with a guy I was drinking with to take some E,” says Hurðaskellir. “Well—we were told it was ecstasy. We turned on the tap to wash them down, but a bouncer rushed into the bathroom to bust us. I quickly hid the pills, told him we were just getting some water, and slammed the door in his face. We laughed and joked afterwards—we couldn’t believe we’d gotten away with it. We took the pills, and turned around to see we’d forgotten to turn off the tap, and the sink was overflowing, with water streaming under the door and out onto the dance floor. All eyes were on us when we came out. Every single person knew what we’d been up to.”

Let this be a lesson: DON’T DO DRUGS AT THE BAR. EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

December 19

On the seventh day of Christmas, you’ll meet Skyrgámur, Skyr Gobbler. Skyr is like Icelandic yogurt without the probiotics: it’s basically pure protein. It was essential for nutrients and energy back in the old days before Bónus started bringing us rotten vegetables from Denmark. Skyr Gobbler needs energy—that’s why he always tries to steal the skyr. He possessed this hip-hop lad and made him turn to crime for his energy fix.

“I was addicted to CULT energy drinks,” says Skyrgámur, “so I would wear football socks underneath my baggy jeans and stuff cans into them at 10-11. I was pretty sneaky. I knew I couldn’t keep doing it, but I just loved those energy drinks so much. One time, I came into 10-11 late at night, a little drunk. I started waving a 500 ISK note in the air so they wouldn’t suspect I was stealing, acting like I was there to buy phone credit. A good cover, I thought, but just as I was placing a second can in my other sock, the security guard grabbed me.”

Let this be a lesson: DON’T GET DRUNK AND STEAL FROM 10-11.
Vaginaboys by Hörður Sveinsson

December 20

On the eighth day of Christmas, watch out for Bjúgnakrækir the Sausage Snatcher. But with all the news about processed meat causing cancer, Sausage Snatcher has moved on to different tubular items. Now, Bjúgnakrækir steals lighters and lipstick. If you tend to leave your purse unattended or your lighter on the table whilst doing shots at the bar, take note—it might not be there when you get back.

“I would watch people in the bar,” says Bjúgnakrækir. “If a woman left her purse unattended, I would root through it. I wouldn’t take money or anything—I took makeup, usually lipstick. If guys left their jackets lying around, I would steal their cigarettes or lighter. Then I’d stand at the other end of the bar and watch. They’d always be so confused, searching through their purse or jacket. When I stole them, I would pretend to get sick and rush to the bathroom to inspect my treasures and laugh to myself.”

Let this be a lesson: DON’T LEAVE YOUR SHIT ALL OVER THE BAR.

December 21

On the ninth day of Christmas, Window Peeper comes to check out what’s going on. In your house. From outside. Yep—it’s Gluggagægir, who likes to see what kinds of naughty things you get up to when you think you’re alone. Now, we’re in the age of camera phones and internet shaming, so you’d think folks would be more careful about their behaviour, especially in public—a lesson sometimes learned the hard way. So be glad Gluggagægir doesn’t take photos. It’s just burned into his memory. Forever.

“I was walking down Skólavörðustígur, drunk,” says Gluggagægir. “Just checking shit out, you know? I decided to start taking some back alleys to get an idea of what was going on behind the scenes of drunken merriment. I saw a guy just standing there, staring into the sky. I thought, ‘Typical tourist, looking for the Aurora’. But as I got closer, I realised that his eyes were closed. I kept creeping closer. I was curious… like a cat. Finally, the guy put his hands behind his head, and I realised he was getting a blowjob. That was when he noticed me, and started talking to me. The guy sucking his dick looked up at me, but was quickly guided back to the task at hand. I stood there having a smoke whilst talking to the blowjob recipient. But other than getting sucked off by a dude in alley, he was pretty boring.”

Let that be a lesson: SEX IS SOMETHING TO DO AT HOME.

GKR by Hörður Sveinsson

December 22

On the tenth day of Christmas, you’ll definitely see Gáttaþefur, Smell Sniffer. He’s always had a nose for mischief and fun—the ‘Icelandic nose’ that Reykjavík rapper Tiny talks about. This sniffling menace has managed to snort up a lot of confidence—but following your Icelandic nose can have its downsides. You can end up living the moment to the point of sabotaging the future.

“I’d just finished a show,” says Gáttaþefur. “We bought a bottle to take with us, and picked out eight good-looking girls, inviting them down to the studio for an after-party. Everyone was making out, and we drank all night—when it was over, a friend came to pick me up, but the car got sideswiped by a cab. It span around three times—he was all bloody. I tried to hit on the police officers when they arrived, but they just sent me away and didn’t even give me a ride home. It wasn’t our studio, and we wound up cleaning it for a week.”

Let that be a lesson: YOU HAVE TO GO HOME SOMETIME—AN AFTERPARTY CAN TURN A GREAT NIGHT INTO A BAD ONE.

December 23

On the twelfth day of Christmas, be on your guard! Ketkrókur, the Meat Snatcher, is out causing chaos. Ketkrókur loves to steal food, but his meathook is too conspicuous these days, so he makes do with a cupped hand. Meat Snatcher’s affinity for meat has turned to dairy as well, particularly ice cream—a popular sugar rush for the inebriated.

“I’d been drinking all night,” says Ketkrókur. “I needed to eat something. My friend and I went into 10-11, opened up the freezer, and spooned ice cream straight into our mouths with our hands. After stuffing our faces, we put the lid back on the pail and put it back in the freezer. We stole some salty liquorice on the way out, too.”

Let that be a lesson: UMMM… ALWAYS INSPECT ICE CREAM BEFORE YOU BUY IT AND, AGAIN, DON’T GET DRUNK AND STEAL FROM 10-11.

Auður photo by Hörður Sveinsson

December 24

On the thirteenth day of Christmas, keep a close eye on your candles! Kertasníkir, the Candle Beggar, is looking to throw shade on your festivities. Currently, he steals candles to wax up skate spots around town, combining thievery and vandalism. Because skating brings together people of all ages, Candle Beggar often gets a chance to lead fledgling 101-rats into dark territory.

“There used to be this kid who’d follow us around,” says Kertasníkir. “He was about thirteen. He was a skate wunderkind, so we’d let him come to our studio and smoke joints with us. His grandmother hated this. She’d always phone around to find him. One day, when I returned from working at sea, my friend had decided to dress up like a woman. He’d shaved his legs and put on makeup. It kind of freaked me out—he looked really good. I kept staring at him. We were in the studio, when the kid’s grandmother basically kicked in the door looking for her grandson. She’d heard her grandson was with my (cross-dressing) friend, and called out his name. He stomped over to her in his high heels, and she asked him, ‘How old are you?’ He replied, ‘How old are you?’ And they just did this back and forth until the grandmother finally left.”

Let this be a lesson: LET KIDS GROW UP AT THEIR OWN PACE. NOT EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE FUCKED UP TO HAVE FUN

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