I am sitting on a grave in the old cemetery of Reykjavik and have just puked between my legs. The morning sun is shining into my face and hurting my eyes. I nod off, only to be awaken moments later by someone shaking my shoulder. I blink into the sun and see three pretty girls standing around me. “Are you alright?” “Mrrmgllpfrr.” I am still totally pissed. “Thanks god. We had thought you were a ghost!”
17 hours before that, I was fresh as a daisy after eight hours of sleep and a hot sulphur-smelling Reykjavik shower. After our record-store marathon the day before I had decided to call it a day early and not follow the invitation of Seabear’s Halldór (Kai had met the band in Cologne before) to a bar called Bakkus somewhere in town. I laughed at Kai as he shuffled out of his bedroom and lit a cigarette, and then went to brew more coffee. I was glad to be comparably fresh: our list of appointments had magically grown overnight. We had an interview scheduled with Icelandic youngsters Retro Stefson at the Sigur Ros’ studios in the town of Mosfellsbær, were supposed to met Ólafur Arnalds in his studio in town, talk to Petur of Brak records, go to the annual summer party of the Reykjavik Grapevine (the biggest English-language newspaper in Iceland), attend a concert of Reykjavik! at Kaffibarinn, then head over to Dillon to interview Icelandic metal band Manslaughter and finally attend a fundraising concert with Retro Stefson and Agent Fresco at a former restaurant named Iðnó. Pfff. Why had I complained about not meeting anyone those days before?
Thanks to flawless public transport, a friendly bus driver and a even more friendly young lady who could translate our questions to the bus driver, we made it to our first appointment in the small town of Mosfellsbær north of Reyjavik on time. The Sundlaugin studios have been built by Sigur Rós in the year 2000 and has since been their main place for working on their music. It’s an unpretentious grey concrete building, also rented out to other musicians, and is situated among rolling hills and green valleys right next to farms and a small pond. After a short stroll from the bus stop, we reached the studio around midday, and found members of Retro Stefson doing various activities in the studio, strumming guitars and brewing coffee. Not sure what they did on the roof of the studio, though. We had arrived during a break in their recordings, and sat down to an interview in the sun in front of the studio straight away.
“Normally, two interviews in one day should suffice. But after so much coffee, we were wide awake and wanted more.”
After we wrap up the interview, another flawless public transport-connection (i. e. an orange bus) took us back to Reykjavik, but this time the driver was a bit more unfriendly and even felled the Sonic Iceland boys with his reckless driving at one stage. But the floors of Icelandic buses are tidy, so no bad blood here. The next musician on our list was Ólafur Arnalds, but first our empty stomachs dictated a hamburger-lunch at the Hamburgerbullan-branch right on Laugavegur. The weather was absolutely brilliant, so we sat down on a table right next to the street and played “spot the German tourist” from behind our sunglasses. A hint: they wear Goretex. All of them.
After that, a hungovered Ólafur Arnalds (who had been to Bakkus with Kai the night before) first brought us the “best coffee in Reykjavik” (his words) in a bakery opposite the Hamburgerbullan-branch and invited us to his small studio right off Laugavegur, where he was working on the soundtrack to an animated movie.
Read our Interview with Ólafur Arnalds
Normally, two interviews in one day should suffice. But after so much coffee, we were wide awake and wanted more. So instead of heading home for a nap, we went down to Havari on Austurstraeti again and sat down with Brak Records-main man Petur for a chat about Icelandic music, label work and arts in general.
Read our Interview with Brak Records
“We also watched performances of a brass band and two Icelandic clowns who jumped around in giant balloons; and witnessed the Icelandic answer to Boy George, Pall Oskar, draw all women in the crowd to the front of the stage to dance wildly.”
After the interview with Brak Records, there was not much time left to start the evening. Taking in consideration that a Friday night in Reykjavik normally does not start before one or two a. m., the promise of free food and free beer at the Reykjavik Grapevine-summer party and an early start at seven p.m. limited Sonic Iceland to only a short shave and shower at headquarters, before we made our way to Hresso. Upon arrival, we found out that the free food was already gone, so we settled into the packed beer garden with the still available free beer, where we chatted with Harpa, one of the organisers of the Jonsvaka (or midsummer) festival, who kindly agreed to an interview with us at a later stage. We also watched performances of a brass band and two Icelandic clowns who jumped around in giant balloons; and witnessed the Icelandic answer to Boy George, Pall Oskar, draw all women in the crowd to the front of the stage to dance wildly. After the free beer had run out, we made a short stopover at Subway (one of the few franchises still left in Iceland) and then headed over to Kaffibarinn.
We arrived there around ten p.m., and found the place packed. Not only was this the last Reykjavik! show before the band members were going on holidays, they also had planned to record a video for their song “Internet” that evening. Reyjavik! started playing about half an hour after we arrived, and from the first chord and hit on the tom all beer was free, and vodka bottles were handed around for people to sip from. Kaffibarinn is quite small, more of a pub than a club, and normally packs around 100 people, but it felt as if there were three times that number of punters inside. It was stinky, sweaty and heaving with people. Video director Árni Sveinsson (who had also filmed the Backyard documentary), looking like a mixture between mustachioed hipster and die hard-80s metal fan, ran around the place, giving directions to his two cameramen and starting a mosh pit at the same time, while the bar staff showered the crowd with water and beer, and Reykjavik!-frontman Boas got electrocuted by holding on the wrong part of the ceiling lights while standing on the bar. I was drenched in sweat, beer and water, shouting the chorus of “Internet” and pumping my fist in the air. Kai stayed dry, protecting his camera with his body while snapping away at band and crowd.
After the show, Arni recorded an unnamed member of Sonic Iceland shamelessly playing air bass, and Kai and I chatted to Reykjavik! members on the street in front of Kaffibarinn. The summer concert and video-shoot only happened because Reykjavik! realised they would have time for another concert before heading on holidays, and was organised in a couple of days. Flexible Icelanders.
In the meantime, I had postponed the interview with metal band Manslaughter, and we then soldiered on to another show, this time in a former restaurant/dance-hall named Iðnó right next to the city pond, or Tjormin. After the free beer and various vodkas at Kaffibarrin I was already quite tipsy, so I decided to watch the Latino-Icelandic-sounding performance of Retro Stefson and the riffs of Agent Fresco leaning against the wall in the concert hall and left the dancing to others.
My mother would have told me to go home at that stage, but we went to Bakkus instead, after the end of the show at Idno at around half three in the morning. The Icelandic sun had hidden behind the horizon at that time, leaving us to walk around town in an orange and pink twilight, postponing the dawn for only a few hours. Bakkus is a longish bar right next to the venue named “Venue”, with cheap beer, free wi-fi and dirty toilets. Not that I availed of the wi-fi when we arrived here, things got a bit blurry instead. I drank Jägermeister, chatted with an Icelandic girl who looked like a proverbial Irish maiden complete with pale skin, red hair, green eyes and a green dress; talked to the DJane to complement her on the good job she was doing, and lost Kai. After a final Jägermeister I set off home, only to find the graves of the old cemetery near our apartment too inviting not to rest there. Thankfully I was awoken by the aforementioned ladies who offered to walk me home, but in a final moment of clarity I pulled myself together and made it back to our apartement and to the toilet under my own steam. Half of Sonic Iceland off.