The Punk Museum of Iceland
1980: a defining moment in Icelandic history and a cultural shift of seismic proportions was about to erupt. Punk was starting to become formularized and understood in Iceland as a music subculture and culture in its own right.
Large segments of the population were baffled by this movement since disco was the dominant cultural musical expression and in an interview the punk band Fræbbblarnir explained how many Icelanders seemed to be afraid of them and uttered “They must be insane” referring to their music, fashion and political ideology.
The Inevitable Shift
Like many movements and paradigm shifts, it is almost impossible to place a date on when something iconic like punk began exactly in Iceland; however, for the sake of simplicity I think most people can agree that Icelandic punk crashed its way into Icelandic society with a concert in Gamla Bíó where the now iconic bands Fræbblarnir, Utangarðsmenn and Þeyr held a concert together. Admittedly, some musical connoisseurs might rankle when reading that these bands are being labeled together as punk because, while many argue Þeyr is closely linked to punk, it is considered more new-wave. Others might argue that punk officially began when The Stranglers held a concert back in 1978 here in Iceland.
Nevertheless, no matter what date or event is associated with the genesis of punk in Iceland, what the majority of Icelandic bands had in common with their international counterparts was an almost anti-everything ethos and a pathological aversion to what was considered as bourgeois or pedestrian conformity of the time. While Iceland was far from being the epicenter of punk, many of the trends were transposed to this tiny island nation. These included the iconic Mohawk hair style, Doc Martens’ charity shop clothes as well as a vibrant music scene, and often, at the time, what seemed to be very “radical politics.”
Of course punk was a global phenomenon and a counterculture wave equipped with its own style, language and attitude, but like many things in Iceland, punk was a bit different here. One notable example is the discourse. In a letter, one Icelandic punk fan was bemoaning the fact that the communists were trying to take all credit for Bubbi Mortens (if you don’t know him, play some of his classics on Spotify).
If you are seeking a break from the Vikings and tales of their conquest and bloodlust, or if just want to experience an alternative side to Icelandic cultural history, you should visit the Punk Museum of Iceland. Housed in a former public bathroom at no. 0 Bankastraeti in downtown Reykjavik, this tiny but charming museum is more enthralling than museums triple its size.
The Icelandic Punk Museum is a labor of love and allows visitors to take a brief musical journey into Icelandic music and history from the middle of the 20th century to the beginnings of punk in order to contextualize the punk scene. One of the more memorable lines plastered on the walls—No spoilers—represents the pinnacle of the punk ethos with a tongue in cheek remark about Hitler. Other charming anti-establishment surprises also await guests, not to mention the cute bathroom stall décor.
The Punk Museum encourages a hands-on approach. Within it, you have plenty of headphones dangling from the ceiling enabling you to listen to songs from many landmark and iconic albums of the period, including music from bands as Þeyr, Grýlurnar and Utangarðsmenn. Other bands include Tappi Tíkarrass whose lead singer is none other than a young Björk who had begun to conquer hearts in the early eighties.
For those of you feeling super nostalgic, it is even possible to pick up some vintage cassette tapes. However, for the non-hipsters it is possible to simply obtain some of the music digitally from the museum.
Far from being a stuffy establishment, the Punk Museum is true to its ethos and invites guests to take a jam session which can be posted online on the museum’s FB site.
Despite being small, the Punk Museum has a lot of heart and it is the closest you’ll get to the punk scene of Iceland in the eighties without hopping into a time machine. Granted the floors are not beer drenched and there is not an impenetrable fog of cigarette smoke and noise piercing music being played but the punk ethos lives on in this small subterranean enclave of punk.
If you’re still clamoring for Icelandic punk after your visit, you can always check out the acclaimed music documentary “Rokk í Reykjavík” which documents the music scene in the early eighties and includes footage of a young Björk.
The Punk Museum of Iceland
Tel: +354 568 2003
by Marvin Lee Dupree
Photo: Þórsteinn Sigurðsson – Instagram: xdeathrow