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Icelandic Music Scene – when reviewers and musicians fight to the death in a vicious orgy of bloodlust!!!

14 May

One of the little side effects of being brutally honest when you review music for a paper or website is the issue when said band/artist or artists friends take offence to what you write. Music history is littered with such clashes, such as when Sid Vicious beat up reviewer Nick Kent after a bad review, or when Radiohead´s Thom Yorke tried to threaten journalist Paul Lester on Sunset Boulevard.

Take the case of this man, my fellow colleague Sindri (above). When it comes to music, he´s the sort of crazed, passionate guy who´ll trumpet to the heavens music that he believes to be “good” but is equally as scathing and acidic about stuff he doesn´t like or even worse, boring.

In the last issue of the Reykjavik Grapevine, he reviewed “Synchronized Swimmers” by singer songwriter Hafdís Huld. Here is his closing comment on the album

It is even useless as a remedy to holiday depression, by way of overcompensation; if depression hasn’t killed you yet, this album will make you want to kill yourself through its abject, stupefying idiocy.

While the review is brutal in his dislike for the album, it´s not the harshest thing he´s ever written. However it raised the ire of a icelandic musician, Bubbi Morthens, who took to his Facebook account to voice his “deep anger” over Sindri´s review.  In it he states ( i hope i got the translation right) that Sindri “can´t even play the bass properly. What does he even know about music?” and that “all he has done is ride on the success of his mother”. It should be noted that Sindri currently plays bass in the band Dynamo fog. Oh, and his mother is  Pixie eyed demi-goddess Björk.

Now for all those non-Icelanders, Bubbi is one of Iceland’s most well-known (not necessarily best) musicians. This is due to the fact that he has been around since the days of punk and has released about a gazillion albums of varying degrees of quality over the years. Apparently, according to his english Wikipedia, “he is referred to as “The King”.  I think he styles himself on a mix of Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen, but I think it´s more closer to Phil Collins and Fergal Sharkey. Also the fact that he has been around so long, just about every Icelander knows at least one of his songs, a bit like Cliff Richard.

Of course this slagging off made the local papers and in the comments of his Facebook post, little Ms Huld added a reply to thank Bubbi for his lovely comments and that “it was nice to get these comments from people who know what they are talking about”. And she was joined by other local artists, such as Ragnheiður Gröndal, in offering words of support for all those horrible beastly things that were written about her.

Ok, firstly this is a little bit of a non-story in that none of it really matters in the great scheme of things. And i´m sure that Sindri, while being a bit on the puffwheat in terms of kicking ass , can certainly take care of himself. But a few things about music reviewing and the local music scene in particular.

Music journalism is NEVER objective. It is completely suggestive.

Frank Zappa wrote “Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read”. This is true, and also wrong at the same time. As i´ve said before the main role of music reviewing is not just describing a track sounds like. The really good reviews, the ones you remember, are where the reviewer has their heart on their sleeve and describes more about how the music affects them with regard to their musical tastes and backgrounds. for example i sometimes have a problem trying to objectively review certain genres as i find them boring and dull. It own´t stop me reviewing it, but it had better be good or i will slag it off as the crap i will perceive it to be. Some people may feel that is unfair but i never said it was. My music tastes are no more or less valid than anyone elses. It´s just that I like to think I can convey WHY i love/hate an album in a more cognitive, lyrical way.

Local musicians can be waaaaaay too serious/pompous.

The fact that Bubbi and several musicians got all self-righteous and melodramatic spoke volumes about this. Despite my best attempts at not making friends with icelandic musicians, a lot of them are very agreeable to be around with and they view the scene as a bit of a laugh. but there are several out there who take themselves and their “craft” hyper-seriously. For someone to be blunt and say that their music is “shit” is a total affront to their talent and like a dagger to the puppy that represents their soul.

I can understand it can be hard on someone if they´ve spent 2 years of blood, sweat and toil creating a magnum opus of a debut album only for someone to say that “It should be taken to manure pile and set on fire”. But the simple fact is that by putting it out on the public domain you open it up to the fact that some, or a lot, of people may not like it or agree with your musical vision. Some of the comments saying who is this man for saying such horrible things about the album smacks of “you can´t say bad things about our music because it will just piss us off. We think she´s so great and we´re great too!”. If that´s what they feel then they can just piss off as far as i´m concerned.

We need some pruning of the local “Talent”

There is a glut of female singer/songwriters in Iceland at the moment (Emiliana Torrini, Ms Huld and Ms Gröndal, Eliza Newman, The Trúbatrix girls, Lára Rúnarsdóttir and a lot, lot more). If i´m being honest a lot of them seem to have been grown in a special DeCODE petri dish lab to ensure that most of our Icelandic companies have  annoying tunes to have in their crap TV ads. There are a few exceptions but a lot of them are rather same-y in their song writing and singing.

And what do i think of Ms Huld´s album? While it didn´t make me want to kill  myself as Sindri suggests, the album is immensely nut-clenching. Take one of the main tracks “Kongolo”

It´s the coquettish, squeaky voice with the arched head and the “oh yes i have hidden depth under these eyes” that gets me the most. Oh and the “quirky” video. and the fact that she is talking about Spiderman. And that it´s totally an emotional blank slate. And the fact that it sounds just like every other kooky female songwriter this side of a coffee shop acoustic session.

No i didn´t like it that much….

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4 Comments

Posted by on May 14, 2010 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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4 responses to “Icelandic Music Scene – when reviewers and musicians fight to the death in a vicious orgy of bloodlust!!!

  1. Will Ellwood

    May 15, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Well that’s the thing about Icelandic music really. It’s a country the size of a decent sized European city, so the level of talent required to reach national attention is far far far lower than everywhere else because the total number of musicians producing stuff is correspondingly low .

    That doesn’t mean that all Icelandic music is crap. It clearly isn’t.

    But that track by Hafdís Huld isn’t exactly anything more I’d expect outside of open mic nights anywhere else. It’s polished for sure and there’s clearly talent there, but no pressure to be any better that this.

     
    • bobcluness

      May 15, 2010 at 12:08 am

      One other thing is that if you do write a negative review, then the chances of bumping into them while doing your grocery shopping is actually rather high. A couple of times I´ve had to speak to a artists after i´ve written reviews about them. My tactic? Always stick to your guns but always be polite. Until they get nasty, then just be as abusive as you can be at the time!

       
  2. Yessica

    May 15, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Although I don’t regularly review music on my blog, I like to draw attention to artists that truly suck and/or make me laugh. That’s why I was pissing myself laughing at Sindri’s review of the Hafdis Huld album. It’s the painfully honest reviews like that that make the Grapevine awesome.

    As for that ill-conceived Kongolu video, I blogged about it last year along with some awful rubbish by BMV (http://jrbowe.blogspot.com/2009/08/more-awesomely-bad-low-budget-icelandic.html)

    I got an anonymous commenter at the time telling me “my, you have an ego”. I can always tell that the ‘anonymous’ commenters are some Icelanders that I’ve managed to piss off.

     
    • bobcluness

      May 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm

      I´ve actually met BMV a coupe of times as a “friend of a Friend” . I thought he was a nice enough guy to talk to to. I do though remember one interview he did for “Monitor” magazine a while back where it was something along the lines of “i´m going to take over the music industry in 5 years.” Hmmm. and that video is silly. If I was roped into being part of the video, i would be drawing massive knobs on the wall…..

       

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