Write On: The Vaccines

Arni Arnason on the reality of Icelandic music...

Write On is the section of Clash where we hand control over to an artist to wax lyrical about whatever they fancy. For issue 86, Arni Arnason, bassist with The Vaccines, elected to pen some prose on Icelandic music. Him being Icelandic and all.

Said outfit has just released a new track, ‘Melody Calling’, onto the ‘net. Read about it, and hear it (of course), here. The band’s second album, ‘The Vaccines Come Of Age’, is out now and reviewed here.

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‘I Always Knew’, from ‘…Come Of Age’

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“If you’ve ever met somebody from that frozen little clump of lava in the North Sea called Iceland, you will undoubtedly have noticed that we are extremely preoccupied with our nationality. I’d even go as far as saying obsessed.

“I am fully aware of this trend, but unapologetically one of the worst perpetrators. As obnoxious as it is, I rarely have a five-minute conversation where I don’t manage to squeeze in something about puffin munching or volcanoes. And precisely for that reason I can’t help myself but to use this opportunity to waffle on about Icelandic music.

“It’s a topic that comes up more often than not. People seem to have very strong ideas what Icelandic music is and what makes it the way it is. ‘Quirky’ is a key word, as well as ‘elfish’, ‘cute’, ‘earthy’, etc.

“There seems to be an emphasis on Icelandic music being influenced by nature, surroundings, folklore and what not. I beg to differ, as I wholeheartedly believe there’s nothing fundamentally cute about Icelandic music. In fact, I maintain that its biggest influence is boredom.

“Growing up in Reykjavik is boring. How you spend your time is severely limited by the lack of daylight and post-apocalyptic weather for roughly six months a year – incidentally, this is also the reason we suck at outdoor sports. You’re pretty much bound to stay indoors, and for those of us slightly more socially motivated, playing video games doesn’t quite cut it.

“So, out of lack of options, we start picking up instruments at a relatively young age. Then, as we’re teenagers, we discover that for some reason our parents think that making loud noises in a mate’s garage is a good enough excuse to stay out a lot longer than they’d otherwise let us. Ergo, we start bands. Lots of them.

“Everybody’s in a band, and most people are in more than one. This massive oversaturation of music means that, by law of average, there is bound to be some very good music to be found somewhere. I’m not convinced that the margin of good versus bad is any better in Iceland than anywhere else, but I do feel you’re more likely to find ‘interesting’ music than you are in a lot of other places.

“This is not due to any intrinsic talent or the imposing landscape or something equally cheesy and poetic, but rather down to lack of commercialisation. Nobody sustains a career as a musician in Iceland; the population is simply too small, and therefore very few try to cater to preconceived ideas of what is popular.

“A case in point is Ásgeir Trausti, who completely dominated the Icelandic market last year and sold twice as many records as runners-up, Of Monsters And Men. Ágeir sold 22,000 copies. A massive success.

“Music making in Iceland is almost entirely a self-centred act. For better or worse that means that, whilst what you hear in Iceland might not be consistently good, it’s more than likely to be niche, if not interesting.

“In fact, most of that music is so niche that it rarely interests anybody but the people making it and their close-knit friendship groups. Because everyone’s striving to do their own thing, genres don’t necessarily form around similarity in the music, but out of various other shared interests such as who owns a drum kit or a car.

“It’s there in the middle somewhere where Icelandic music gets its good reputation from, where it’s both interesting and good. And whilst one could easily assume that it’s all cute and elfish, by listening to our internationally renowned bands I can disprove that theory with one word: Ghostigital.”

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