Meet Mark Ollard, a busy and important Londoner who really, really, really likes Icelandic music (except maybe Páll Óskar). He also thinks Mugison isn’t cute.
In the first of our series of interviews with Really Nice Foreign People Who Really Like Iceland, we talk to the lovely Mark Ollard. Mark writes a rather good “music blog that thinks it’s Icelandic” called Iceblah. He claims he’s been coming to Iceland Airwaves since 2004 but he still doesn’t know who Kitty von Sometime is. We investigated.
We: Hey Mark. Why are you so obsessed with Icelandic music? Are you weird or something?
Mark: Well, I realise this is slightly ridiculous. I went to Iceland for the first time on holiday with my father in 1988 when I was 13 or 14, because I loved the Sugarcubes. We stayed there for a week, did the Golden Circle and all the usual things and I just loved it. I thought it was so clean and beautiful. When I got back to the UK I wrote to an Icelandic newspaper, asking for pen pals, and about 50 people wrote back.
Wow, this must have been before we had TV on Thurdays.
Without doubt! I ended up writing to this Icelandic girl — who I’m still friends with, by the way — who started sending me lots of cassettes with Icelandic music. Stuff like Nýdönsk and Síðan skein sól and something called Reptile, I think.
Yes. Anyway, I’d been amassing Icelandic CDs for years until I finally decided to go back with my best friend on my 30th birthday in June 2004 and then back again in October for Iceland Airwaves. After that I knew I’d be going back every year.
And you still don’t know who Kitty von Sometime is?
Nope, sorry. Is she famous?
Sigh. So what is it about Icelandic music that you like so much?
I’m not sure. I mean there isn’t really an Iceland sound, I think. Just take people like Mugison, Reykjavík!, My Summer as a Salvation Soldier and Retro Stefson. All incredibly different. And the highlight of the final night of last Airwaves, Fjallabræður — 30 guys, a proper karlakór from the West Fjords, performing with a real rock guitar — so unusual and suprising and amazing. They made this incredible noise.
And I’ve never understood how this tiny country can produce 10 or 15 really good bands at any one time. How does it happen? I mean, the Icelandic musical output is better than Germany’s. In England, people could name at least two Icelandic bands, but probably no German ones. I’m from Sutton, which has the same population as Iceland and there’s nothing…
We get it. You really don’t like German bands. But what are your favourite Icelandic bands at the moment?
Well, I like most Icelandic bands, except maybe Páll Óskar, I’m not so into that pure pop sound. The last CD I bought was by Sin Fang Bous which is actually the solo project of the lead singer of Seabear.
Let’s talk about Airwaves. You’re a veteran, share some points for the newbies.
Airwaves is hard work but I’m getting better at it. The first time I was there, I went home at midnight, just about the time when everyone was getting ready for the night. The busiest time on Laugavegur is 4 in the morning. Coming from London, where everything closes at 11 or 12, that’s really strange.
I’d definitely recommend the 12 Tónar the record store, Kaffifélagið where my friend Hildur works, and Prikið. They’re really good. And a hot dog at 3 in the morning. And the Airwaves chillout at the Blue Lagoon, if you haven’t been there before. I don’t do it any more, but you should do it at least once.
What is the biggest cliché about Icelandic music?
That it’s so “cute” — okay, some bands are quiet, gentle and quirky — but loads of stuff isn’t. I mean you can hardly call Mugison cute!
The next big thing?
Let’s see. FM Belfast have a great sound and some real momentum after Airwaves 2009. Reykjavík! are a deceptively tuneful band and a lot cleverer than they first appear. Great live band — huge spectacle. Also I don’t understand why Jeff Who? aren’t huge. I mean, they already sound like a successful indie band and have a commercial, popular sound. Maybe they can’t be bothered? Hjaltalín seem to be getting known in Europe now and Sprengjuhöllin in the U.S — they are really nice guys.
What about your blog?
Yes, Iceblah is sort of my hobby, but it got quite a bit of publicity at Airwaves last year. I interviewed about 24 bands before the festival started. It get quite a bit of traffic now and I usually get a few emails every week from people. I love that.
What does your girlfriend think of all this?
She’s getting used to it. She came with me to Iceland last time. We’re getting married this summer and Ára bátur by Sigurrós will be played in the church.
Are you going to cry?
Yes, and my best man will cry as well.
What about your girlfriend?
Oh, she won’t be there.