From Iceland — Rock 'n' Responsibilities

Rock ‘n’ Responsibilities

Published August 1, 2008

Rock ‘n’ Responsibilities
Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by
Julia Staples

Four left-field bands – Benni Hemm Hemm, Reykjavík!, Morðingjarnir and Borko – circled the whole of Iceland in a rickety bus along with their work-laden label manager, playing a bunch of shows in the process. The Grapevine was represented in the form of staff journalist-slash-Reykjavík! guitarist Haukur S Magnússon, who relates some of the journey’s many peaks and valleys below. Two weeks after the fact, I still have problems determining whether the “Kimi Records Summer Fun Tour!” of 2008 was the decidedly most rock ‘n’ roll venture embarked upon by a twenty-strong group of young men in a sweaty bus – or the least rock ‘n’ roll one ever. The enduring presence of children and pregnant women on the tour bus, doubled with the trip’s complete lack of illegal substances and pre-marital fornication (and, all things considered, a rather responsible level of alcohol consumption), would seem to make the latter an obvious option. The fact that the tour’s first show was at a Reykjavík kindergarten supports that.
    Then again, that whole Mötley Crüe shtick of snorting and fucking everything in sight in between bouts of breaking shit is such a clichéd part of rock mythology that it’s become an established and boring, part of rock’s rules. Since true rock ‘n’ roll is reportedly all about “breaking rules” and “stretching boundaries”, it could be argued that soberly playing cards with pregnant women and children on a tour bus is the most rock ‘n’ roll thing imaginable. You decide: The following is a real-time diary of that entire tour, interspersed with bracketed, after the fact wisdoms that only hindsight can provide.

Monday – Reykjavík & Stokkseyri
Arriving at the BSÍ bus terminal this afternoon, we had expected a crazy party bus, suitable for all our rockin’ needs. Instead we were faced with an ultra-normal, perversely clean coach. We soon learned that the “rockin’ bus” we expected had been ransacked that weekend, and was missing parts vital for the rocking of buses.
    Whatever. We got comfortable. The first stop of our journey was a mere 300 metres away, at the Hlíðaborg kindergarten, whence [Reykjavík! drummer] Kristján’s son Stefán was graduating that very day. Most kids bring cake or ice cream when they graduate Kindergarten – Stefán invited rock bands. And thus it was that the tour’s first show was performed in front of several dozen five-year olds.
    Stokkseyri’s “Draugabarinn” hosted the first official show of the tour. Its barroom is not a suitable concert venue, with horrible acoustics and an awkward stage set up. The staff was nice, however, and the turnout was surprisingly good. We also had awesome lobster soup. A good start.

Tuesday – Ísafjörður
Two hours into our trip to Ísafjörður, just outside of Borgarnes, the group has already started intermingling quite nicely. There is however a division to be found. I can at present identify three “cliques” and have given them appropriate monikers: The Classical dept., mostly populated by members of Borko and Benni Hemm Hemm, the Pop & Funk dept., comprised mostly of Reykjavík! and Morðingjarnir members, and the Chillout Zone, headed by pregnant guitarwife (of Borko’s Örvar) Birgitta Birgisdóttir, where various free-agents of the aforementioned groups drop by.
    Arriving in Ísafjörður five hours later, we immediately started sound-checking the luxurious venue. We then enjoyed some very luxurious food, courtesy of my parents. Lucky for us, the show was luxurious too! The packed house gave a great response to every act but I am worried about our tour manager, Baldvin Esra, however. He has some kind of translating job that he has to finish ASAP and wants to stay up all night working on. He sounds nervous.

Wednesday – Akureyri
So, our tour manager did not finish his translating chores, and has grown increasingly frustrated. He growled earlier, when asked if we could hurry dinner. Akureyri is beautiful as always, and the show’s attendance so far sucks, as always. It has long since been determined that Akureyri people aren’t big on the idea of concerts, and they seem determined on proving it this evening. As I write this, Borko is finishing an awesome set. I look forward to seeing all the bands play four more times.
    [Noteworthy is the fact that we were joined by BHH/Borko guitarist Róbert’s daughter Júlía Agla, and her mother Judith. They spent the rest of the tour with us and greatly enhanced the general atmosphere with their smiles. We also finally got our rockin’ tour bus that morning, swapping vehicles at legendary rest stop Staðarskáli. While the new bus was indeed more rockin’ in appearance (it’s faux booths made for better conversation), there was clearly something wrong with its shock absorbers. I inferred this from the way it sporadically swung from side to side, making several of us seasick].

Thursday – Húsavík
“Soup is good food,” sang the Dead Kennedys. That is a blatant lie, and the “dinner” we just “ate” in “Húsavík” is proof. Tasty as that mushroom soup was, there is a whole range of musicians’ union literature devoted to asserting that it isn’t really dinner.
    All the bands turned in great performances at the Akureyri show, and while attendance was limited, the small crowd did include three clergymen. The team that made it to Akureyri’s swimming pool this morning related a funny story involving an over-enthusiastic pool-worker that came at them yelling; “May not! Can not! Bannað! Nakinn! Sundlaug!” for reasons they’ve yet to fathom [those cries were later incorporated in a Borko song]. Tonight, we are sleeping in boats. This is as worrying as it is exciting.

Friday – Seyðisfjörður
Last night’s show was the best one yet. We packed the house and all the bands performed triumphant sets in front of an enthusiastic audience. Borko did a sweet cover of Morðingjarnir tune Eiturlyfjafíklar, and I made an accidental vocal cameo during the latter band’s set.
    The touring machine was well lubricated when we arrived in Seyðisfjörður earlier today. We had acquired a bullhorn via special delivery, and made a grand entrance to the town, jogging around town in our suits, calling out the group slogans [“There will be joke!” “There will be guitar-solo!”]. Now, post-soundcheck, we are taking in the beautiful surroundings and basking in the artsy atmosphere surrounding the Lunga festival.
    Later: This is hilarious! The show went great. Reykjavík! played second, in front of a drunken audience of screaming teenagers. Playing music is awesome and you should do it. Also, a funny thing happened while I was manning the merch booth during Benni Hemm Hemm’s impeccable set. A blond, longhaired dude stepped up and shoved his debit card in my face, wordlessly indicating that he would like to purchase a ticket. He then grabbed MY beer and downed it, slapped me an unsolicited five and strode into the venue, like a sneering Mad Max. I bemusedly scratched my head and wondered. Now, we sleep.
    Oh, and Baldvin Esra still hasn’t finished his translation. He made us calculate prices yesterday morning. Slavedriver.
Saturday – Höfn
Höfn is a ridiculously beautiful town, doubly so in this weather. We tried doing our little run around town gimmick to little avail, as there simply wasn’t anyone around. This was disconcerting, and made us worry about attendance. After dining on The Worst Lobster Soup Ever, we made it alive to the venue – the local maritime museum – to discover we had managed to draw a small crowd of Höfn music lovers (the tourists present were too cheap to pay the 1.000 ISK admission fee, opting to enjoy our concert from the hallway).
    Legend has it that Icelandic bands are at risk of being severely beaten in
Höfn, and there are several verified stories that back it (a recent one involves the member of a pop act getting his throat slit). As I write this, just before bed at three a.m., the group has yet to encounter any seriously hostile locals. There was a confrontation, however, that I will list for the record:
    As bearded punkers Atli and Haukur from Morðingjarnir shared a cigarette with Reykjavík!’s Bóas, a sports car drove by at a leisurely pace. All seemed normal, until someone angrily yelled out the window: “Have you ever heard of an invention called a razor!?!” The car then sped away. 

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