From Iceland — MYRKFÆLNI: Iceland’s Underground Music Reaches The Surface

MYRKFÆLNI: Iceland’s Underground Music Reaches The Surface

Published April 27, 2017

MYRKFÆLNI: Iceland’s Underground Music Reaches The Surface
Steindór Grétar Jónsson
Photo by
Úlfar Loga

The word “myrkfælni” translates as “fear of darkness”—apropos for the tension-filled music presented by MYRKFÆLNI, a new underground music organisation celebrating Iceland’s grittier genres. The group has announced the launch of an international magazine of the same name, aimed at promoting the local underground scene.

“We first got this idea at a black metal festival in Portugal,” says Kinnat Sóley, one half of the team behind the project. “We went to this record store and the guy had a bunch of black metal fanzines that some dudes just made themselves. They’d glued everything copy together by hand—real DIY.” Then it hit them: they should start a magazine of their own.

Sólveig Matthildur Kristjánsdóttir is the other half of MYRKFÆLNI, and a member of synth-punk trio Kælan Mikla. “There’s so much great underground music in Iceland, but the platform for exporting it is missing,” she says. They quickly set about rectifying the situation, starting up a Karolina Fund crowdfunding campaign. “We’ve been touring with Kælan Mikla for two weeks all over Europe,” says Sólveig, “and the whole time we’ve been on 3G internet in the car, promoting the campaign non-stop.”

Unlimited Fernet Branca

The two Berlin-based expats, dressed in the standard all black, are fired up about the project when we meet up at a vegan café in Berlin’s Neukölln neighbourhood. Having released their first MYRKFÆLNI compilation on Easter Sunday—featuring music by bands like Godchilla, Lord Pusswhip and, of course, Kælan Mikla—they’re around halfway to their €3,300 goal for the magazine.

“There’s a practice of supporting the bands in underground scenes. When we played punk venues, we sold more merch.”

“Our main objective is promoting Icelandic underground music abroad, and the MYRKFÆLNI magazine is a way to do that,” says Kinnat. The rewards for the crowdfunding campaign scale from a copy of the first issue or compilation, up to advertising space in the first issue. There’s also a one-off option, priced at €1500, for a party with the two founders, who’ll cook the generous donor vegan food and offer as much Fernet Branca as they can drink. “Every campaign has one crazy reward,” says Solveig, “so this is what we came up with.”

The amount of unorthodox music coming from an island of 330,000 is teeming, and demand for it growing, they feel. It fits with the scene’s inquisitive culture. “People go to concerts featuring Icelandic bands abroad, and if there’s someone selling merch—CDs with Icelandic minimal wave—people want it,” Sólveig says. Kinnat agrees that there’s a niche, but also a substantial market for their kind of music. “Some people just showed up and asked for one of each CD,” she says. “They just trust that it’s good. There’s a practice of supporting the bands in underground scenes like this. When we played the more punk venues, we sold more merch.”

None more dark

The music distributed by MYRKFÆLNI, as well as on Sólveig’s own label Hið Myrka Man (“The Dark Woman”) is diverse, but shares a certain attitude. The girls have a hard time expressing exactly what defines their scene, but they know it when they hear it. “I’ve been thinking a lot about this,” says Kinnat. “On our compilation there’s downtempo electronica, then a super fast punk track, and somehow it makes sense. It’s something darker.”

“There’s an alternative scene in Iceland, but it’s not just punk kids coming to the shows—it’s all kinds of people.”

Sólveig notes the prevalence of synths, and a punk aesthetic. “There’s so much new synth punk stuff like Hatari coming out,” she says, “and we also want to reach the black metal scene and involve it more. There’s also loads of solo electronic projects, and noir experimental electronica, and almost-hip-hop like Lord Pusswhip.”

The lineup of Sólveig’s pop-up festival Myrkramakt—another name invoking darkness—also blended genres together with reckless abandon. “Even if there’s an alternative scene in Iceland, it’s not just punk kids coming to the shows,” says Kinnat. “It’s all kinds of people. There are only, like, three venues in Reykjavík anyway—Dillion, Gaukurinn and Húrra—so people just turn up whenever there’s a show.”

Based on Earth

Sólveig and Kinnat moved to Berlin in the fall, Sólveig to study music production and Kinnat to intern at a design studio. On top of that, Sólveig strong-armed her fellow band-member—bassist Margrét Rósa—into joining them two months ago. “I just bought a ticket for her, one-way,” she says. “Like: You are now moving to Berlin!”

Despite their love for the city, they miss the accessibility of the vibrant Icelandic music scene. “I was always putting on concerts in Iceland,” says Solveig, “but if I did it here I’d probably have to keep at it for three years before more than ten people show up. If I had an idea like opening a vegan café, it probably already exists, because the city has everything. It’s not great for starting out.”

With two-thirds of the band now based in Berlin, Kælan Mikla just completed a European tour, followed by a second leg through Spain, with the south of France coming up in May. Their summer and fall will include an EP release and festival performances, culminating with Iceland Airwaves. “In Iceland, Kælan would never be considered pop,” says Sólveig, “but in Berlin it’s almost mainstream, regular, out-in-the-open music.”

“MYRKFÆLNI isn’t specifically based in Berlin though,” says Kinnat. “More like based on Earth,” Sólveig laughs.

Getting out there

Despite their doomy branding, there’s no darkness in Sólveig and Kinnat’s demeanour, as they passionately make the passionate case for the style of music they love. “In the magazine we’ll cover the underground labels and festivals,” says Kinnat, “focusing on upcoming releases, and interviews with musicians.”

“I don’t mean to take shots at certain genres, but most of the support for Icelandic musicians goes to bigger acts,” says Sólveig. “The other, more interesting stuff doesn’t get out there as much. I want to get people out here to play. We have a wide network of contacts in Europe, Mexico, the US and Japan.”

Distribution for the magazine has been lined up in all five continents. “People are hyped,” says Sólveig. “Next, we can plan like a ten-stop tour for our bands. The hardest thing for up-and-coming bands is to book gigs, and get in touch with people. You can’t just Google ‘punk venue Berlin,’ and this is where we can help.”

“It took me six months to book a two-week tour for Kælan, and now it’s just over,” Sólveig concludes. “We could arrange swap deals with different cities. There are many possibilities. Oh man. I’m so excited for this!”

Join the MYRKFÆLNI campaign here, and follow them on Facebook here.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!