From Iceland — Time Seems Long Until You’ve Lived It

Time Seems Long Until You’ve Lived It

Published May 27, 2024

Time Seems Long Until You’ve Lived It
Photo by
Joana Fontinha for The Reykjavík Grapevine

Childhood friends ponder time on their debut EP Fluid Time

With more than four decades’ worth of creative experience, musicians Birgir Mogensen and Sigtryggur Baldursson imbue their childhood influences into their newest project, Paddan, releasing their debut EP Fluid Time on May 10 via Lovitt Records.

First making each others’ acquaintance on the football pitch in Kópavogur at the age of 12, Birgir and Sigtryggur soon discovered their mutual interest in music. Ultimately, they would go on to found pivotal groups in Iceland music history, serving as emissaries of Icelandic punk and new-wave with their bands Kukl and The Sugarcubes. Now in their early 60s, the pair reflect on the nature of time on the debut offering of their new outfit Paddan.

“We were lucky to be able to follow the latest music releases, since both of our fathers travelled frequently. Sigtryggur’s dad worked on flights and my dad was at sea,” recalls Birgir from his living room while Sigtryggur joins the conversation over video while sipping his first coffee of the day on the west coast of the United States.

Despite the seven-hour time difference, the unnatural closeness brought on by modern communication technology makes perceptible the long-standing friendship between the two, as they reminisce their formative years through the computer screen.

“We had a pretty broad music taste,” Sigtryggur’s voice crackles through the laptop speakers.

“We listened to everything from prog-rock like Gentle Giant and Yes, over to Santana. Then we got into jazz more and fusion.”

“Then, a certain revolution takes place when we’re growing up,” Sigtryggur casually mentions. “When this British punk wave — or more correctly — post-punk wave came crashing. We started including British bands into our listening repertoire, like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Killing Joke, of course,” he trails off.

Birgir picks up when his friend left off: “It was a complete transformation at the time. Like with us, we’re following more of these jazz, funk, fusion ideas from the States, which is more of a technical nature. But we totally swapped over when we discovered the simplicity and the atmosphere and this less-is-more approach.”

Punk’s influence

Birgir describes the introduction to British punk as “a new beginning. It was like starting to listen to music all over again.”

Following a brief stint in the band Hattímas as teenagers, Birgir and Sigtryggur parted ways — Birgir went on to play bass in Spilafífl while Sigtryggur played drums in Þeyr. Both bands were immortalised in the 1982 documentary Rokk í Reykjavík, which explored the raucous local music scene at the time. Subsequently, Birgir and Sigtryggur’s paths crossed again with the formation of avant-garde post-punk band Kukl, which roped in various other Rokk í Reykjavík alumni including Björk Guðmundsdóttir.

We’re in it for the music.

Kukl’s collaboration continued until Sigtryggur went on to join iconic new-wave group The Sugarcubes. It was at that point the friends’ paths diverged yet again.

“In 1986, [Kukl] dissolves and this Smekkleysa group is created which ends up with The Sugarcubes. But Biggi was busy doing other things, so he didn’t join that crowd directly,“ Sigtryggur explains. “But we’ve always stayed in touch and it wasn’t until 2017-2018 when we started working together again.”

In a sense, Paddan was destined to be founded. “It was perhaps inevitable. You start talking about things, you know of one another, you mention it in passing and it becomes a part of something that suddenly pops up. Because we’ve planted the seeds a long time ago,” says Birgir.

First impressions

Born out of a slow development over the course of many years, Fluid Time captures the music as it came to the group. With no specific frame in mind, the duo used improvisation and musical intuition to draw up the barebones ideas that subsequently sprang to life in the studio.

Like the establishment of Paddan, Birgir and Sigtryggur allowed Fluid Time to be written naturally. Grounded in free-form improvisational methods, Paddan’s debut is a beam of passion. Sticky beats underpin a chorus of atmospheric electric guitars, whose back-and-forth interaction signifies the dynamic relationship between the two.

“Sigtryggur lays it down with his grooves and then we build on top of that. The ideas that arrived were allowed to sit in the final outcome. So it’s a lot of first impressions, what calls upon us. There’s no larger philosophy than that behind it,” explains Birgir. “We’re in it for the music.”

Asked about Paddan’s influences — where the music might be flowing from — the pair find it difficult to pinpoint any clear connections. “Back in the day, you were obsessed with dismissing the idea of sounding like something else. There was an emphasis on editorial processes. But nowadays — when you’re this old — it’s more pent-up within your subconscious,” Sigtryggur replies facetiously.

“What we’ve listened to in these last decades has brewed within us. And when we come together, something breaks out,” Birgir adds.

Sound and picture

During the early stages of the process, Birgir mentions making a conscious decision to keep the album devoid of any grand political or philosophical statements and ideas. “It was exclusively about playing. Listening to each other, playing together and working from that point,” he mentions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the immense creative experience of the duo, conceptual notions could not escape them. In conjunction with the album, Paddan have also released a series of music videos, acting as the visual mediator of the album’s underlying concept. As the name suggests, secretly woven into the EP’s fabric are conversations about the passage of time in relation to natural elements.

“We had this concept of trying to imbue each song with a specific element. Put certain visual aspects into conversation with the songs. There’s the flow and the passing of time. How we perceive time,” contemplates Sigtryggur. “In ‘Bug,’ the visuals are related to water and play with that element. It’s a play on images and sound,” he concludes.

“It ties to what we did musically [on Fluid Time]. Time is relative — 40 years is a short amount of time when you’ve lived it,” Birgir sums up. “We’re taking something that had massive influence on us 40 years ago, which is then pulled into the present when we worked on the album.”

Listen to Fluid Time on available streaming platforms, preferably while thinking about the passage of time. You can watch the videos for “Splash” and “Bug” on Lovitt Records’ Youtube channel, @lovittrecords.

 

 

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