Vulnicura singer Björk held a press conference today in her Iceland native, asking the world for support in resisting a government plan to build an overhead power line across the country. “Iceland has now the largest untouched nature in Europe,” she explained. “This would end that.”
With only 11 days left to protest the initiative, Björk announced her plans to demand a national park in Iceland’s highlands—a movement that, if successful, would halt plans to build more than 50 dams and power plants throughout the country. “We ask the world to support us against our government,” she pled on behalf of Project the Park, an Icelandic wildlife preservation group. “Help us to protect our wilderness.”
Björk isn’t alone in this thinking. About 80 percent of Icelanders are in support of Project the Park’s proposition for a national park, especially considering the country’s sheer inability to provide energy to building such an expansive project. According toDazed, 90 percent of Iceland’s available power already goes to heavy industry.
“I’ve decided to put all my energy into Iceland and all my time away from my music I’ve put into this battle,” Björk said. “I can be more valuable here in Iceland and get more done than if I were to fly around the world and fight global warming. We’re all doing this in our free time—we’re volunteers. We’re artists pretending we’re really good at statistics.”
Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s so remote. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the most active volcanic regions on the planet. Or maybe because it’s the world’s most peaceful country. Whatever the reason, Iceland continues to be a wellspring of eccentric and often ethereal artistic production, a fact that is emphatically confirmed by Smilewound, the upcoming album by Icelandic experimental electronic pop outfit múm.
As former editor of Australian CosmopolitanSarah Wilson observed on her recent trip to Iceland, "The weirdness of the place has spawned a people who fully embrace intuitive, kooky, whimsical, creative living." Naturally, the band’s name is spelled all lowercase with an accent over the "u" and not intended to have any meaning.
Wilson’s description of Iceland’s people could also easily describe múm’s seventh and latest full-length album, a richly textured expanse of glitchy, shimmering dream-pop that is at once invigorating and tranquilizing (much like I imagine an Icelandic hot spring to be).
The record drops on September 7 and includes a bonus track featuring Kylie Minogue plaintively singing over thick piano chords, skittering beats and wistful strings—a soaring hymn that by itself is worth the price of admission.
Listen to the full album preview on Pitchfork through September 11 and watch the video for the record’s opening track and first single, "Toothwheels", directed by múm, Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson and Bruno Granato.
Icelandic post-rock legends Sigur Ròs released their latest album,kveikur, this week. It is, no joke, their best in years. Their fanbase agreed vociferously, taking to a revamped pageof the band’s website to stream the new music early and react in real time, posting rapturous Instagrams, Vines, Tweets, and videos with the hashtag #kveikur as they enjoyed their first listen. Today, something even cooler is going down.
At 2:50 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, aim your web browser at sigur-ros.co.uk/kveikurlive360, and prepare yourself for a genuine treat. Sigur Ròs will be playing “a selection of songs from the record live during a special 360-degree interactive webcast from Dresden, Germany.” What this means is that “fans will be able to take control of the 360-degree cameras that will be placed around the stage,” zooming around the event however they please.
Pretty nifty, no? I wouldn’t mind remotely taking control of a camera in Dresden, Germany, even if I were just filming a parking lot. But with Sigur Ròs yowling their epic dark fairytale ballads, it’ll be more like you’re filming your own overpriced concert DVD. Hey, if Martin Scorsese can do it … right? To tide you over, here’s “Ísjaki,” a definite album highlight.
Oh this is good: the government of Iceland, which we can perhaps say is on thin ice where the economy is concerned, has no idea what to make of a Chinese businessman with ambitious designs—running hundreds of millions of dollars—to build a giant luxury hotel and “eco golf course” in what is essentially a barren waste of snow on the other side of the country from Reykjavik.
Maybe my favorite thing about this batty entrepreneur, Huang Nubo, is that when the Times called to ask him about his overtures to the tiny European nation, they were told he couldn’t comment for a very specific reason: “he was off climbing a mountain, his company said.” In an even better quote, Iceland Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson addressed the extreme climate and isolation of Grimmstadir, the proposed hotel site, by saying it was a place where “you can almost hear ghosts dancing in the snow.”
But that’s part of the allure for Huang, who imagines a resort for China’s well-to-do to escape pollution and congestion and enjoy fresh, clean air. Or is it step one in China’s plot to annex all of Scandanavia? Gain shipping routes to Arctic oil? The plan seems too far-fetched to be anything but an elaborate front. All we can say is that it’ll be hugely disappointing if this turns into anything but a James Bond movie.
Photo credit: Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times
Remember that volcano eruption a few months back that grounded thousands of flights, almost put some airlines out of business, and sent millions of stranded passengers to dry up airport bars in misery? It might have sucked for travelers at the time, but it did wonders for Iceland. The country experienced a whopping 16-percent increase in tourism last year (versus 2009). And it’s only getting better.
As lava cooled around the seemingly made-up Eyjafjallajokull volcano, tourists began to flock to the island in astounding numbers, which, inevitably, led to a spike in volcano tours. By last summer, visitors to the volcano actually rivaled those visiting the country’s most popular attraction, the Blue Lagoon. Weird, because it’s really just ash they’re looking at.
My advice to countries that are basically bankrupt: find a volcano and detonate it. Travel to Iceland is expected to be up 20 percent in 2011, thanks to Delta launching a new service, and, of course, to the volcano. If you have no time to visit, you can always buy a souvenir bottle of ash at the Nordic Store. I’m pretty confident they won’t run out any time soon.
For over a decade, a cutting edge biotech company called deCODE genetics has been secretly classifying and mining Iceland’s ultra pure Nordic gene pool. Well, perhaps not so secretly, though a well-funded biotech company on a remote island nation in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean must have some ulterior motives. Years into the project, rumors began to circulate that in addition to a whole lot of blonde and blue-eyed Viking blood, deCODE researchers had discovered a mysterious sequence indicating a genetic link to a prehistoric whale shark.
This turned out to be a specimen contaminated by Iceland’s tasty national dish, Hákarl, or urine-brined Greenland shark. In 2009, the whole ambitious project crashed suddenly when the company – like Iceland itself – went belly up. Undeterred, Swervewolf’s crack bio-unit dispatched a crew to the quirky isle in the hopes of collecting even more cheek swabs of unsuspecting Icelanders to continue deCODE’s groundbreaking research in the prime of their mating season. Below, BlackBook’s chief video ace Kirk Larsen spliced together never-before-seen footage of the unit’s controversial research methods.
In New York, there’s bottle service. In Iceland, there’s Elf Rock service. That’s right: a portable Elf Rock bar one totes around to strategic Icelandic destinations like the magnificent Gulfoss waterfalls, the world’s first geyser (called Geyser), and, of course, all the hottest venues at the Iceland Airwaves music festival, where you can even bring the mobile Elf Rock bar on stage with the band, pop it open, and start serving drinks during the show. For the uninitiated, actual elf rocks are those magical rocks found all over Iceland’s rugged terrain, where elves are believed to live. The mobile Elf Rock bar put together by the Swervewolf contingent for this year’s Airwaves festival was a particular hit with the Icelanders, stirring primal passions in their Viking souls at first sip.
The first night’s Elf Rock bar was stocked with the local Brennavin, Angostura bitters, ginger ale, brown sugar, a bar towel, and shot glasses. Then, for a rad snowmobiling trip to a glacier with Mountaineers of Iceland, the bar featured ultra pure Reyka vodka on the rocks and pristine glacier ice. Other times, the Elf Rock went with a Mexican tequila theme, including lemons and salt. This was a particular hit backstage at the Vandelles show at Idno, where the angelic Icelandic girls choir Karitur Islands kissed it for good luck before hitting the stage.
You can drink in the street in Reykjavik, and Icelandic rapper Blaz Roca played Elf Rock barkeep on the corner at 4am to a bevvy of his groupies after playing a packed show. You’d think in a country known for its astronomical drink prices, hip spots like Boston, Bakkus, Nasa, and others would frown on people rolling in with their very own bar. Instead, having an Elf Rock bar in tow allowed us to breeze past lines, walk right up to the bar, and start serving drinks for everyone. As our Icelandic friend Stella explained to us, this was “because nobody would dare offend the Huldufólk,” starting with the coolest mayor in the world Jón Gnarr, who’s down with the Moomin elves. Check out this gallery of shots the BlackBook and Swervewolf crew snapped of Icelanders enjoying Airwaves and the magical mobile Elf Rock bar. Wonder if this would work in New York…
Not to be outdone by all the attention the U.S. Congress is getting over healthcare legislation, Iceland has passed a big law of its own. Earlier this week, the Icelandic parliament voted to ban stripping on the island entirely. The new law, which was passed without any votes against it and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit off the nudity of its employees.
That means all of the tiny country’s strip clubs will have to shut down, and topless bartenders will become a thing of the past. Icelandic police estimate that some 100 foreign women travel to Iceland each year to work as strippers, and some are presumed to have been trafficked. Supporters of the new legislation also claim strip clubs are fronts for prostitution, and that women are there because of drugs and poverty, not because they just really love to dance.
The move has some in Europe calling Iceland “the world’s most feminist country.” The country’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, is a lesbian and the world’s first openly gay leader, and about half of country’s parliamentarians are women. And, feminist, not religious, principles are behind the new law, with Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who proposed the legistlation, saying “it is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.”
Strip club owners, meanwhile, are predictably outraged. Some are demanding to be compensated for their loss of business, and, in a local paper, one said the new law was reminiscent of women having to cover up from head to toe in Muslim countries.