Tommi Young is the Keflavík native and Icelandic music scene veteran who runs the Icelandic Museum of Rock ’n’ Roll. From 1930 to 2014, and from Björk to Quarashi, the museum tracks Icelandic rock ’n’ roll. It’s designed as a timeline, so visitors walk through the display and read about each period of Icelandic music. I’m lucky, though, because Tommi gives me a personal tour around the museum himself, regaling me with tales of each artist. I’m instantly captivated.
Páll Oskar’s drag race
To anyone who knows anything about Icelandic music, the museum is fantastic. There’s everything from a collection of Páll Óskar’s outfits to Rúnar Júlíusson’s jacket and hat. “Rúnar was the man,” Tommi tells me. “He was in the most popular bands in Iceland. His wife was Miss Iceland, and he was also playing for the national football team.” Rúnar’s band, Hjólmar, also boasts the most valuable item of the museum. It’s an old LP. “For some reason that’s become a big item among collectors,” says Tommi. “It sold on eBay for $3000.”
This man just becomes more and more impressive.
The Páll Óskar exhibit is not to be counted out, though. On a guitar-pick-shaped balcony lie a number of Páll artifacts, complete with detailed explanations of each period of his life, from his drag days to his reign as the king of Icelandic pop. The cherry on top is a set of videos made by Páll specifically for the museum. In them, he explains his life, his inspiration, and his music.
Unfortunately, the videos are only in Icelandic, but Tommi tells me they’re working on adding English subtitles.
Stick ‘em up
Tommi’s knowledge of Icelandic music is deep and broad. He continually references artists and albums with the ease of someone discussing the weather. He seems to know everyone and everything, so naturally I ask for some recommendations. He names Júníus Meyvant and Aron Can as current personal favourites. “Aron is actually playing here tonight,” he smiles. “It’s a school dance.”
As we arrive in the 80s, Tommi motions to a glass case on the wall. “This is one of my favorite covers,” he tells me, pointing to an LP. It’s Leoncie’s ‘My Icelandic Man’. The cover presents the icy spicy singer in a provocative Egyptian outfit, posing in front of an Icelandic bodybuilder. “The only thing I can think of,” he says with a laugh, “is that they don’t make them like this anymore.’” They certainly don’t.
But what is it that inspires a country of 320,000 to nurture a rock scene rich enough to necessitate a museum? Tommi shrugs, replying: “The short days in the winter, the size of the market—musicians here aren’t trying to break some sort of barrier and enter the mainstream. They’re doing what they want to do.”
That’s why, he explains, Iceland seems to have a disproportionately large number of creative, subversive artists. He pauses, laughing: “Or maybe the elves are making music while we’re sleeping so then you wake up, you think ‘Oh, I have such a good idea!’”
And hey, maybe he’s right.