We at Grapevine have the pleasure of breaking the news that Prosthetic Records has just signed Icelandic hardcore punk band Muck. Known for releasing albums by Lamb of God, Gojira, and other big and fancy bands, Prosthetic Records will release Muck’s upcoming ‘Your Joyous Future’ worldwide this February.
To mark the occasion, we caught up with frontman Karl Torsten Ställborn at Stofan café. Sitting on comfortable chairs in the secluded function room, a long table between us, Karl opened up about how each year the end of summer and beginning of autumn signifies the beginning of Iceland Airwaves for him. It’s a period of time where musicians become increasingly busy and get more opportunities than ever to promote their music.
Where is the local extreme scene at these days, and how has it changed in the last decade or so?
Karl: It’s maybe difficult to talk about the scene as a whole, but there are a lot of elements that are becoming more developed. I’ve seen a great upswing in the noise scene lately, partly due to the efforts of Ladyboy Records and FALK, and the black metal scene is really coming together—Svartidauði has been successful in Iceland and abroad, and it looks like Sinmara will do that as well.
The metal scene, with Skálmöld and Sólstafir, is increasing in popularity, although maybe it’s not right to classify those bands as “extreme”… They’re heavier than Leaves or whatever, but they’re very mainstream.
There have been a lot of changes in the Icelandic DIY hardcore scene of late, with bands such as Icarus, and my own band Muck, being very active. It’s still in its infancy, but there are many interesting things happening in it. I feel that Börn, for example, are doing a lot of interesting things. There’s a lot more freedom for artistic growth and people don’t feel tied down to any specific way of playing hardcore music.
There are a lot of people in Iceland interested in punk, as could be seen when Manslaughter (a hardcore band that at one point featured Karl and two other Muck members) had a reunion gig, it gathered a big crowd at Húrra (a popular downtown music venue).
Funny that you mention being in multiple bands, because you yourself are a member of Fufanu, which isn’t exactly an extreme band, and then Ási Þórðarson (Muck’s drummer) also drums for FM Belfast, which is probably Iceland’s most upbeat electro band. One gets the feeling that internationally, if you’re in a scene, then you’re in it, but that that doesn’t apply to Icelandic artists. Is it ok not to be exclusive in Iceland?
K: Yeah, I guess so. To be honest, Ási and I aren’t really in those bands, we just play with them. We don’t compose any songs or take decisions on the direction of the band, but we get a lot of freedom to deliver our bits the way we want to when we’re on stage.
(At this point Ási walks in. We catch him up on what we’re talking about and he sits down next to Karl)
Ási: Yeah, people trust us to bring our own touch to the music, opening it up to allow different interpretations of it.
And you’ve never been afraid of losing credibility in the hardcore scene by by joining up with these bands?
K & Á: [laugh] No, not at all.
Á: The scene’s not really big enough to lose credit in it…
K: And we’ve never been afraid of that.
Á: But it’s like you said, it’d probably be different if we were in mainland Europe of the US, where everything is more focused. I mean, maybe, somewhere in the inner depths of the scene in Iceland, the serious movers and shakers have said “The Muck boys are real dorks for not playing real heavy music,” but I don’t know, it’s not something that ever comes out into the open.
K: That would also be a really douchey thing to do [both laugh].
Á: It’s certainly something you see though internationally, like with the straight edge scene, which was pretty much like Jehova’s Witnesses. I mean, Not ideologically or spiritually, but if someone in the straight edge scene decided to start drinking and take a break from the movement, they got completely cut off and couldn’t ever come back, just like with JW.
PINK STREET LOVE
What other Icelandic punk bands are you interested in?
Á: Pink Street boys, they’re awesome!
Weren’t you in Pink Street Boys?
Á: Haha, no, I mean, back in 2007 when they were called Kid Twist I tried out as their drummer for a couple of practices, but they didn’t think I was good enough so they let me go.
And I’ve heard you say that you think you’re a better drummer today than PSB’s Einar.
Á: Yeah, I’m a much better drummer than he is (laughs). Seriously though, PSB is the best live band in Iceland today. I was thinking about them the other day, and they resemble Mínus (a hardcore band active in the late nineties and early noughties) in that they have a lot of volatile energy.
K: Except Mínus weren’t any fun, whereas PSB is absolutely great.
Á: And their dangerous vibe also means that you don’t really know what to expect when they step on stage. Like with Norðanpaunk (a DIY music festival held in North Iceland), when they started playing, it was 50% music and 50% a performance piece on pure mayhem. I have to see them again soon.
How happy were you with the first Norðanpaunk festival? (It was a DIY music festival in a tiny village far away from anything else during a weekend that there were so many other more established festivals.)
Á: I think it’s really important that there’s the possibility of hosting such an event in Iceland. Given how well received Norðanpaunk was, it made me hopeful that there’s a real future in DIY festivals, but it’s also important to look at the festival critically, because there were many things that could have been done better. Having said that, the pros clearly outweigh the cons, and there’s always the possibility of smoothing out the kinks. That’s the story of Eistnaflug (a metal festival held each year in Neskaupsstaður), which started with a few bands being invited by their buddy to play out in a fjord in East Iceland. There were a lot of volunteers involved in Norðanpaunk, where people came together and were willing to stand at the door, distribute festival passes, and clean up.
K: I think it’s cool that people go do that, but I don’t think we can take it for granted. If people want such a festival, they have to work to make it happen, it’s certainly been demonstrated that it’s possible.
So what bands are you interested in seeing this Iceland Airwaves?
K: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, they’re an awesome Australian band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, they’re from New Zealand and play a very cool retro style of music, and then there’s… Girl Band… Aren’t they playing? I’ve only heard one song from them, and they’re awesome and very progressive.
Isn’t that the all-men band?
K: Yeah, [laughs], the song I’m thinking about is incredibly industrial, but has post-punk vibes and a very poppy melody. They remind me a lot of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and White Stripes, with very interesting sound ideas—their guitar and bass sound like machines, without the music being metal. I also want to see Future Islands, they’re really cool and look like a sweet live band. And Perfect Pussy.
Á: Yeah, Perfect Pussy are insane! They’re incredibly sweet!
K: And then Svartidauði, I have to see them.
Á: But you can’t because they’re playing at the same time as we are, which sucks… I also missed them last year when they were playing at Hressó outside in a disgusting tent.
K: That was a sick show.
Yeah, it was.
K: I remember someone gave me the most disgusting drink I‘ve ever had at that show, it was like cheesy mead or something…
Á: Oh, wow, Kaleo are playing at Airwaves…
Does that surprise you?
Á: I guess it shouldn‘t, but because you always think that Iceland Airwaves is an indie music festival it‘s really weird to see such an incredibly mainstream band playing. It‘s kind of like if Nýdönsk were playing… [Karl laughs out loud] Kaleo are a new band, but it‘s still pretty weird.
I remember seeing them last year and thinking they were awesome, but I kept asking my friends if they were just doing cover songs, until I heard a genuine cover song and realised everything else was original material…
Á: Yeah, I mean, I get what they’re about… If you plan to live off of your music, it’s what you do, but it always brings up the question of how much artistic integrity you’re willing to sacrifice for attaining fame.
K: [laughs] No dude, it makes no sense, Kaleo fucking suck! [both laugh]
Á: Yeah, maybe they really wanted to play indie rock but realised they couldn’t make money that way. Or maybe, I don’t know, maybe I’m just talking out of my ass.
So with the exception of Kaleo, that’s a lot of bands you want to go see. How are you going to do that with so little time?
Á: To be honest, I’ve made a point of looking at the Airwaves schedule as little as possible, because I know if I do, I’ll unconsciously form an opinion on what bands I want to see based on their names, so I’m just going to allow myself to not plan anything, go with the flow and see what happens.
K: Yeah, whereas I‘ll be crazy busy, playing nine times or something at the festival, which leaves precious little time to plan anything other than where I have to be and at what time.
So how will you choose what to see?
K: I think I’ll just let the beer choose for me [laughs]. I’m just looking forward to being at Airwaves.
You can catch Muck on the following dates:
November 5: Húrra at 22:30
November 6: Gamla Bíó at 21:00
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