The ash from the volcano is visible in the air. It stings in my eyes, makes a crunching sound when I grind my teeth, covers my bag, my cap and my worn-out army jacket. But I am not ascending an active volcano to take lava-probes somewhere in Chile, I am taking a gentle stroll along the waterfront of Hafnarfjörður, a small harbour town, 10 kilometres south of Reykjavík. It is the second day of a three-week-trip to Reykjavík and Iceland, and my aim is to get some understanding of why everyone in the world is so fascinated by Icelandic music.
I am accompanied by my friend, former housemate and photographer Kai, who arrived in Iceland yesterday. Kai is constantly trying to remove the ash from the camera equipment that he is caring around. After every shot he takes, he grabs some kind of mini-hand-bellow and puffs away at his trusted Leica. His beard has become even more grey than usual, and right now he stares angrily at the fog-like ash that obscures the view of the housing estates around us. “This is rubbish. Why are we the only two idiots walking around in this mess?”
Earlier that day, a Friday, we had woken up late, scrambled together a light breakfast and some background information about the interview partners for today, and set off from our rented apartment. Our first interview was supposed to take place at the office of one of Iceland’s most interesting start-ups, Gogoyoko, a company that provides streaming and download-services for artists and bands.
What we however did not calculated was the ash from Eyjafjallajökull (a by-product of the recent eruption that was blown towards Reykjavik) , which hung in the air like the thick smog in Mexico City. And it felt likewise healthy to walk around in it.
We also made the mistake of walking. On our handy map of the city (courtesy of the tourist office), the distance from our apartment to the offices of Gogoyoko seemed like an easy 20 minute-walk along one of the main arterial roads in East-Reykjavík. In the end it took us more than an hour, getting lost on the way more than once. But the interview was quite ok, given the fact that I was so nervous that I forgot to switch on my recorder, and that I had my last professional face-to-face interview somewhen in 2006. The Internet makes interviews per mail so much easier… But at least Kai kept his wits and managed some shots of CEO Petur and Head of Marketing Alex.
The next step on our plan was to meet an Icelandic electronic band, Bloodgroup, in a venue somewhere at the waterfront in Hafnarfjörður.
The next step on our plan was to meet an Icelandic electronic band, Bloodgroup, in a venue somewhere at the waterfront in Hafnarfjörður. Band member Hallur works for Gogoyoko, but was unable to give us a lift, so we hitched a ride with Alex (who is also the main man in Kimono) to the Hlemmur bus terminal, from where we took the bus towards Hafnarfjörður. Being unfamiliar with the surroundings, we promptly stepped off the bus in the middle of a quiet housing estate. We passed more of the Dutch-looking buildings, some lava-rocks and what seemed like tiny dollhouses sitting on those rocks. These were houses of the Icelandic elves, as we discovered later – it prevents them from entering the houses of humans and to wreak havoc there. Hafnarfjörður is Iceland’s elf-capital, allegedly. Not that we saw any – only their houses. After inhaling even more ash, we finally made it down to the harbour.
We walk towards the venue, which looks like a administrative building from the 60’s, and spot a poster for the gig. Supporting Bloodgroup are the youngsters of Sykur, another electronic outfit from Reykjavík – but not one member of any band is to see. So, to kill time, we have lunch in form of a delicious hamburger from a run-down stand near the water. And walk around the town centre, finding more elf houses and a Viking museum that is a hotel and restaurant at the same time, complete with waiters dressed as Vikings standing outside for a smoke. We walk back, and still there’s no sign of any musician. We purchase more coffee at the small café opposite the venue, and while we are sipping our kaffis, a battered station wagon arrives and stops in front of the venue, spilling what definitively looks like musicians onto the pavement. It seems the Germans were too early.
As the interview is finished, still no punters had arrived in force at the entrance of the cinema. But as Bloodgroup is playing a paid gig, we are treated to a very personal show. The audience consists of aforementioned German ash-inhaling-idiots, a mother with three kids, a German acquaintance of ours (who is actually the only one paying for the gig), some guy who Kai thinks is Icelandic electro legend Biogen and another man whom I recognise as Gisli from Trabant.
Nevertheless, both bands play full sets (and are kindly making all announcements in English), Sykur inviting the lovely singer Rakel Mjoell to the stage and Janus from Bloodgroup treating us to three encores, even though his band mates seem not to share his enthusiasm. This is, besides a gig that I once played with my band to my mother and two aunts, the most surreal gig experience I have had so far. But nevertheless worth inhaling all that ash.
Our acquaintance Dominique kindly offers a ride towards Reykjavík which we gladly accept. What we do not know is that Dominique drives around Iceland in an old, battered VW-van that he imported from Germany (he visits Iceland every year). The van had been used by a group of friends for their weekend-escapades back in Germany, which mostly were visits to festivals like the Rock am Ring, at least that’s what the scrawly slogans on the side of the bus say. Hell, it even has an askant Bacardi-bat and crappy flames painted along the sides. Driving back to Reykjavík, we are a hit with the groups of girls in the other cars on the motorway, driving to town to hit the streets for the weekly pubcrawl or Runtur. But the Sonic Iceland boys are old and both tired from walking around all day, so we collapse into our beds after a couple of beers at headquarters.
Read on: Surviving the Runtur? – Chapter 3