From Iceland — Breaking Down Hatari: Iceland's Most Famous Trio Unmasked

Breaking Down Hatari: Iceland’s Most Famous Trio Unmasked

Breaking Down Hatari: Iceland’s Most Famous Trio Unmasked

Published February 7, 2020

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Anna Maggý

From their early years as the dystopic darlings of the underground Reykjavík scene to their 2019 media takeover at the Eurovision Song Contest, the BDSM-clad lads of Hatari have always been a puzzle. At once shrouded in secrecy while also relentlessly attention-grabbing, the band has consistently strutted the leather line between sincerity and satire. Are they performance artists? Serious political activists? Professional trolls? Kinkster exhibitionists? Or, as their name indicates, haters?

The three sat down—sans chains, masks, and political bribes— to talk with the Grapevine about their origins, the new album, and the next stage of hate.

Hatari

Hatari. Photo by Anna Maggý.

 MATTHÍAS

“The title of the new album is ‘Neyslutrans’ (‘Consumption Trance’),” Matthías Tryggvi Haraldsson says mechanically. His eyes are fixed unwaveringly on the wall as he talks; his voice is monotone yet theatrical, like a salesman hawking snake oil. We’re sitting in his bedroom—a bright sun-filled downtown abode completely devoid of any leather, straps, or other goth paraphernalia. Instead, it’s packed with books, which Matthías admits are mainly his girlfriends’.

“The album contains fan favourites such as renowned nihilist rant, ‘Hatred Will Prevail,’ and hitherto unreleased doomsday prophecy ‘No Mercy,’ along with other extravagant musical experiences,” he preaches, his eyes still fixed on the same spot. With a stone-cold face, he begins to name collaborators, each with similarly bizarre descriptions.

I ask if his response was rehearsed. He chuckles. “I just came in from writing the press release. That’s probably exactly it,” he admits with a boyish grin, the salesman mask suddenly dropped to reveal the real Matthías. “It’s just a normal day at home.”

A joke that went too far

Matthías is, for lack of a better term, curious. Charismatic in a somewhat street messiah-esque fashion, talking to him often feels like listening to a sermon—an eloquent philosophical escapade interjected with satirical statements and off-the-wall ideas. At the same time, he’s an open book. If you ask him anything personal, he’ll answer honestly—an unexpected quality for an artist famous for doing interviews in character.

“I would have thought that saying you are an award-winning anti-capitalist band would be a contradiction, but maybe we are living in times where that is normal.”

“I think the precise moment when [Klemens and I] started Hatari was when we got bored of playing Civilisation 5,” he says, when asked about the advent of the band. He pauses then laughs. “I don’t know if I’ve ever said that to anyone.”

In fact, before Hatari, Matthías had never made music. He actually flirted with the idea of becoming a lawyer. At the time he and Klemens teamed up to create their first songs, Matthías was a poet with a theatre degree interested in performance art and production.

“Basically, the process was a joke going too far, I guess,” he admits. At the same time though, he emphasises that it was a joke concretely rooted in each of the band members’ personal experiences of living in the 21st century. They were unhappy about the destruction of the environment, disappointed in leadership and the rise of consumerism, and saw art as one of the only mediums that could promote personal engagement with these crises.

The logical response

“What we say in interviews is that Hatari is the logical response to the rising populism across Europe and the rampant growth of capitalism,” he explains. “We are living in the era of the hyper-individualist and a lot of what the wider Hatari concept is dealing with in one way or another is branding and image, personal or political or as a franchise. An anti-establishment band living within an establishment. This hyper-individualist time we are living in is such a source of apathy.”

This philosophy, Matthías emphasis, gave Hatari a grander purpose beyond just making music. The band would represent a perceptually distorted ideology that would tread the line between seriousness and irony, complete with distinctive imagery, manifesto, and spectacle. To sum it up: the band would criticise the modern world by existing within it.

“I had a close relationship with Laibach [as a teen],” Matthías explains. It was then that his love of controversial satire began. “The fact that you never knew whether it’s humour or dead serious critique or whether their use of all these kinds of fascist or proto-fascist imagery is sincere admiration. Which would be very disturbing,” he admits. “Or is it this ironic way of revealing what this imagery entails? It can work as both, which is a bit dangerous, but also in a way fascinating.”

Hatari

Hatari. Photo by Anna Maggý.

Winning awards!

From their early years, Matthías and the band brought up the contradictions they wanted to explore through Hatari’s notorious branding campaigns. From their sponsorship by SodaDream to their ‘collaboration’ with Landsbankinn, the band continually pointed out the ridiculousness of marketing by, well, marketing.

“I don’t always know if it always comes across,” Matthías laughs. “I would have thought that saying you are an award-winning anti-capitalist band would be a clear contradiction, but maybe we are living in times where that is normal.” He puts on an announcer voice. “Yes, they are anti-capitalist but they have to win awards to sell records!”

capitalism@hatari.is

It’s here that Matthías gets to the crux of his ethos: Hatari continually strives to execute the unexpected. The band aspires to be a funhouse mirror of the world—an ineffable swirl of stark truth, cutting caricature, all packaged with a referential catalogue worthy of ‘Ulysses.’

“Hatari is the logical response to the rising populism across Europe and the rampant growth of capitalism.”

So at this moment, on the eve of their album release, what would be the most unexpected stunt the group could pull? Upon hearing the questions, the wheels start turning in the poet’s head.

“I guess if we would hire a super well trained team of Korean boy band look alikes and become a Korean boy band. Fire all the Hatari members and replace them with K-pop members who can dance and sing. I mean, the brand is still there. It’s still Hatari and they are doing the same songs. It’s on playback, so it’s my voice,” he explains. As he paints the rather dystopic picture, his eyes drift back to the wall—it seems the snake oil salesman has returned.

“Then the anti-capitalist merch goes to a new level, and there’s a whole factory where the workers are exploited producing anti-establishment merch for the K-pop band that is Hatari. We get a cut of ticket and merch sales and move to Mexico,” he bursts out laughing. Even he can’t keep up this charade.

“So if there is a K-pop producer reading this interview, they are free to contact us at capitalism@hatari.is,” he explains. “Yes, it’s a real email. It works.”

Hatari

Hatari. Photo by Anna Maggý.

KLEMENS

“It’s good to be back in the daily life of Klemens,” Klemens Hannigan says, a small smile brightening his face. He sits cross-legged on the floor, forgoing the couch, leaning back against Matthías’s bed. “My older daughter is back in kindergarten and I’m finishing some renovations on the house. Just normal life.”

Goodbye humanity

As we speak, we’re days away from the release of ‘Neyslutrans’ (‘Consumption Trance’), Hatari’s debut album; just weeks before Klemens and the rest of the band embark on their Europe Will Crumble tour. For Klemens, this is the last bit of normal life for a while—the calm before the storm, you might say.

“‘Neyslutrans’ is a goodbye album to the Earth or, rather, to humanity. The Earth will do just fine without us.”

“‘Neyslutrans’ is a sort of hymn or memorial to the 21st century,” he explains. As he talks, the smile previously gracing his face disappears. “A goodbye album to the Earth or, rather, to humanity. The Earth will do just fine without us.”

While others get angry or impassioned by the current environmental crises, Klemens just seems upset. “It’s a bit sad. You get a lot of anxiety-driven thoughts about how you, as an individual, can actually make an impact or change, and what you should actually be doing to maintain the human race,” he says. “Me, as an individual, I don’t know what my contribution is. I try to recycle. It’s a bit counterintuitive to be organising a European tour but yet again we describe the counterintuitively through the name of the tour, Europe Will Crumble.”

He pauses. It’s clear this issue is one of great importance to him. “Although, we did carbon neutralise our last tour on this website where you can pay X amount for the distance travelled and then they plant trees for the carbon you used,” he explains. He seems happy at the attempt, but definitely quizzical on just how much of an effect something like that actually has.

Building the world

At all times, Klemens encapsulates the word ‘artist.’ He takes every remark seriously, calmly reflecting on his words before he speaks, and when he does, projecting a raw sense of vulnerability with them. A lesser man might mistake this openness for fragility, but they’d be wrong to do so. As you speak with him, it becomes clear that Klemens is intensely connected to his thoughts, emotions, and artistic desires. Building, creating, and innovating is more than important to him, it’s fundamental.

“I never really found myself in this industrial route that you’re forced into,” he explains, thinking back to his schooling and teenage years. “Education, then having to choose a career, and fulfilling your 30-40 years of 8:00-17:00. Reading and writing never comes easy to me, but being very physical and visual comes easy. Doing things with my hands—molding, sculpting, making music as well.”

He laughs—gobsmacked—when asked what a younger Klemens would think of his work in Hatari. “I would have been pleasantly surprised, I don’t know,” he grins. “Art can always start, or often starts, as some ridiculous idea you get with yourself or with others.” Hatari, he emphasises, was no exception. “I had just started making electronic music and I asked Matthías to shout something over this beat. We enjoyed the entertainment of creating the concept and the imagery around the band—making this other world. It’s just a coincidence that it ended up being a band rather than just us two concept artists.”

Hatari

Hatari. Photo by Anna Maggý.

Digressing into BDSM

In these early days of Hatari, the group donned military costumes, which eventually evolved into their current BDSM aesthetic. “It was a natural progression, like you do, to digress into BDSM. Everyone does it,” he laughs. “The dynamic onstage between the three of us has progressed, yes, but it is still very similar to the way we imagined it in the beginning. Matthías as the dictator. Me, the resented foster son, the empathy, the emotional side. Einar, the hidden trauma or pain, the general of the dictator’s army, the Gimp.”

Eurovision, as Klemens explains, pushed the Hatari world even further, in ways the group couldn’t have imagined, and perhaps might not have wanted. “We maintained more mystery before Eurovision. We refused all interviews and all kinds of connections to media were either staged or produced by us hands-on,” he explains. “Eurovision forced us to present the concept of the band. We’d never had such a demand for us to explain our art. I feel that it’s unnecessary for an artist to explain the art that you produce but, going into this very mainstream TV show, a lot of our humour and comedy leaked into the band then.”

2020 trance

Thankfully, the demands on the group to prove themselves have lessened since the competition, and the three are now looking forward to the next stage: the Consumption Trance.

But for Klemens, 2020 will be a trance of more than just music. Along with continuing his schooling in conceptual art, he’ll be getting married in April to his longtime girlfriend, Ronja. And there will be moments of returning to daily Klemens life. “Hopefully finishing renovations in the house soon,” he says. “And of course, striving to be a good father to my two beautiful daughters.”

Hatari

Hatari. Photo by Anna Maggý.

EINAR

Einar Stefánsson has never done an interview as a member of Hatari. For years, the elusive, submissive CEO of Svikamylla ehf. (Hatari’s parent corporation) has refused all press, staying silent, preferring to skulk in the shadows in his white contacts and spiked face mask. The Gimp, as he’s referred to, is the ultimate enigma.

It’s unclear, then, why he’s decided to speak up now to the Grapevine, and to be fair, his answer to the question is fittingly shady. “I was given permission.” That’s all.

Finally balanced

While Einar’s character in the band is voiceless, stoic, and impassive, in person, Einar is rather sweet. He’s impeccably dressed and handsome. When he speaks, he uses no filler words and fiddles with his hands, speaking so articulately that it often feels like he’s dictating an academic essay. We sit in his studio—a cosy, lived-in flat peppered with bits and bobs of Hatari merchandise and Red Bull cans.

“I’m balanced,” Einar responds, zen, when asked simply how things are going. “I am 27-years old—when a lot of musicians die—but it’s going well so far. I have nine months left.”

The artist grew up bouncing between various European countries and began playing drums when he was 13-years old. Music, he emphasises, has always been a visceral experience for him. He instinctively remembers his early experiences with sound, like the first album he bought with his own money—Rammstein’s ‘Mutter’—and can describe vividly where he first listened to it. He even plays me the first song he ever wrote.

“The wonderful thing about music is the nostalgia,” he muses. “It can immediately transport you to a certain space and time. It’s really powerful.”

Hatari. Photo by Anna Maggý.

The freedom of anonymity

As a teenager, Einar met bandmate Klemens in Brussels. There was a two year age difference between the two. Being older, Einar immediately took young Klemens under his wing. “I remember thinking he was a bit of a kid, but I liked his spirit. He had a really unique radiation. There’s something good about him. He’s a good person,” Einar explains. The two were fast friends and quickly began collaborating on music together.

Because of this relationship, it was natural that Klemens would later go straight to Einar to show him the early Hatari recordings he made with his cousin, Matthías. “It was new, fresh, and weird, and something that I couldn’t put my finger on, which was really intriguing. If you can’t put something in a box and you’re so desperately trying to find a definition of what it is and you can’t, I think that’s probably a really good position to be in, especially as a producer,” he says, reminiscing on those early listens. “I saw great potential.”

Einar immediately jumped into the project, and quickly adopted his role as the silent Gimp. “I was always intrigued by the idea of being unknown, of being a mystery person behind the drums. People would wonder who it is,” he explains. “Especially in a small community like Iceland or Reykjavík. It’s very difficult to be anonymous. It’s very difficult to be Andy Kaufman. The music scene is very close-knit so the idea was just to have a masked drum gimp, which felt very fitting for me. It was somebody who I felt I was to an extent. And there’s a freedom in that.”

Hatari 101

But Einar came to the group with more than just production experience, songwriting skills, and a great mask, he had a savvy mind, honed with a bachelor degree in business and years of experience in the industry.

“I was always intrigued by the idea of being unknown, of being a mystery person behind the drums.”

“People associate business a lot with capitalism and consumerism, but business is why we started coming together as people,” he explains, softly but passionately. “Not that I want to start mansplaining a lecture on Business 101, but I find the whole idea that together we make something bigger really interesting. It’s a beautiful concept. It’s very scientific.”

And from his perspective, the current musical landscape was an ideal place for a young, off-the-map outfit like Hatari to grow.

“We live in the age of information,” he says. “The major industry is not as powerful as it was. As an independent artist, you can get way further without having to suck up to as many people in order to get your music heard. You can just upload it to the world wide web. The limitations are far less.”

For Einar, this meant a world where listeners could hone more personal and outlandish musical tastes. “People often find their identity through art, music, and films, and often the way that it gets formed [depends on] what access you have,” he continues. “It used to be there might be one record label or one record shop that you’d have access to and then an identity was based on the curation of that record shop. I feel like there’s a rise in the development of subcultures. You don’t have to just stick to one thing; it’s a beautiful time.”

Punish me

2020, Einar hopes, will also be a beautiful time, and a big year of business for Svikamylla. One must remember, the submissive Gimp is, after all, the CEO of the scam artists.

“Not a lot of people know that I’m the CEO,” he admits, grinning. “It’s sort of a win-win situation. If we do well, and the quarterly reports are good, I am rewarded. If we do bad, and our sales are not good, I get punished,” he stops. “Which is also a reward.”

Hatari. Photo by Anna Maggý.

Follow Hatari on their website, Instagram, and Facebook. Read more of our coverage of Hatari here. Check out their new album ‘Neyslutrans’ below.

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