From Iceland — The History of Icelandic Rock

The History of Icelandic Rock

Published April 3, 2009

Reykjavík, late fifties. Once rock ‘n’ roll had arrived fresh and powerful, the kids born around 1940 fell flat for it. Their foreign role models were swank rock and pop singers, not beat groups as later in the sixties. Therefore not many groups were formed in Iceland yet. Instead, young and unknown singers got to perform with big established bands, such as The KK Sextet. Sometimes the up-and-comers sang a few tunes at dances, other times special shows were staged where up to twenty young singers got to sing a song each. The best of those kids kept at it and some even put out records.
Eighteen-year-old Þorsteinn Eggertsson was so convincing in his rock and roll fury that Haukur Morthens dubbed him “The Icelandic Elvis”. Eggertsson kept it real, steered clear of any soppy shit, sticking to rock and roll exclusively while fostering serious lyrical ambitions. Coming from Keflavík, right by the US Army base, he had learned English better than most of his fellow countrymen. Later he was quoted in an interview saying: “The radio signal was bleary back then and one didn’t hear but a bit of what Elvis was singing. The other kids repeated his lyrics just like parrots, in a pigeon language, which I found disgraceful. Instead I started to make my own lyrics in Icelandic to sing to those rock songs.”
Eggertson’s rock fury unfortunately never materialised on record, but during the sixties and seventies he was Iceland’s major rock lyricist and has written some great lyrics, often in deep disdain of the ruling cultural elite.
Another young rock dude was chummy Stefán Jónsson. His first claim to fame was being part of the SAS Tríó. They did an Icelandic cover version of The Coasters’ “Charlie Brown”, which was released by Stjörnuhljómplötur (Star Records), a short lived record label that specialised in singles by young singers.
As the fifties turned into the sixties, a new musical generation was gaining ground. The older dudes that had grown up on jazz gave way for the young dudes that “understood” rock ‘n’ roll. The women were not big participants in the revolution yet. During the summer of 1960, new bands featuring rock-thirsty teenagers blossomed. Bands such as Junior, Eron, Uranus and Falcon played where and whenever they could, but Plútó soon became the premier band. The band had to change its name when a silver making company, also named Plútó, complained. The band choose Lúdó, and added “og Stefán”, probably echoing Cliff Richards and the Shadows that were all the rage by then. Stefán Jónsson sang for Lúdó og Stefán, and in the early sixties they were Iceland’s hottest band.
The band could in part thank their manager Guðlaugur Bergmann for the popularity. He later became a big shot in the Icelandic fashion world when he opened fashion store Karnabær (named after Carnaby street in London), and as a band manager he was very inventive. For instance he advertised that the band would play “Gagarin-rock” and “Horror-rock”. The band had no clue when they read those ads in the papers. When they asked, Guðlaugur answered: “You just try to jam some outer space kind of music!” As for “Horror-rock” – “You just put nylon socks on your heads!”
Lúdó og Stefán are still operating and have released many, many records. They played in Sigur Rós’ end of tour party in 2008 and totally lifted the roof off the house with their eternally cool rock ‘n’ roll music.
By Dr. Gunni, based on his 2000 book Eru ekki allir í stuði? (Rock in Iceland). A revisited update of the book is forthcoming in 2010.
Lúdó og Stefán in 1961. Picking a band uniform was a big part of the whole business of being in a band back then.

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