Oh, Reykjavik, how we’ve missed you. The rain, the wind, the fizzy, fizzy lager and the inevitable hangover. Obviously we trivialise our awful, globe-trotting, rock-watching lives by focusing on the things people moan about on Twitter every day but Iceland Airwaves 2011 is here. We are there and we’ve already seen some bands and drunk beers. Lots of expensive beers.
In a parallel universe there are some bands that Thrash Hits .com would love to be massive. Mínus are definitely near the top of the list. Having previously worked with them, Ben Myers takes a look back over the band’s career.
“They came from the land of the ice and snow…”
It’s a cliché to say that Icelanders are a breed apart, but as most clichés are born out of truth I’m sticking with this image.
When I first heard Reykjavik five-piece Mínus my knowledge of Icelandic music was limited to The Sugarcubes, Sigur Rós and the poetic rhythms of The Sagas. Though they sounded like none of them, they were somehow very much part of the same tradition that spawned both: they were artists, hedonists, musical voyagers squinting into the distance.
It was The Sugarcubes who released Mínus’ 2000 breakthrough album Jesus Christ Bobby on their label (their debut Hey, Johnny preceded it in 1999). Like twelve sheets of sleet blowing across the arctic tundra, it was less a collection of songs and more a sensory-freezing attack of high-pitched frequencies, white noise and lung-spewing screaming – the latter the last vestiges of their early days as a straight-edge hardcore band.
Watch ‘Romantic Exorcism’ by Mínus
Like the journalist knobhead I am, I immediately wrote a review proclaiming them the first great rock ‘n’ roll band of the millennium; far more interesting than anything coming out of the US or UK.
The fact that Mínus have not gone on to sell millions of copies of albums matters little. Anyone with a brain knows that 99% of bands who sell millions are shit.
What mattered was that Mínus were those exotic ‘others’. They were – and still are – an interesting crew. Singer Krummi was from showbiz stock, his father and sister already famous in their home country, former guitarist Frosti was a radio personality and all-round nice guy.
Second bassist Þröstur – better known as Johnny – was straight out of The Sagas, a marauding Viking warrior who liked to drink, snort and fuck anything in sight and who wielded his bass like his forefathers would a war hammer. A man on first name terms with the local Reykjavík constabulary.
Watch ‘Angel In Disguise’ By Mínus
All this was evident when the aforementioned review got them a UK tour, whereupon they spent three weeks of a frosty UK winter playing to less people per night than the alcohol units they consumed. Those who saw those shows though still bear the scars in their ear-drums.
They returned a year later, only this time their hair was longer and there was a swagger in their stride. Before our eyes Krummi was morphing into a young Axl Rose – all cocked hips, smudged eyeliner and snake eyes.
The hardcore scene that spawned them began to turn its back, too emotionally closeted to realise they were about to miss out on their new album – Halldór Laxness (2003), named in honour of Iceland’s sole Nobel Prize-winning author and a hefty, heavy slice of sub-zero stoner rock.
Significant things followed: a much-coveted Icelandic support slot to Metallica, European shows with Queens Of The Stone Age, Muse and Biffy Clyro, a US tour (aborted when Johnny broke his arm) and key singles like ‘Angel In Disguise’, ‘Romantic Exorcism’ and narco-comedown ‘The Long Face’.
Watch ‘The Long Face’ By Mínus
When I decided to start a record label in 2003 they were the first band I approached about doing a one-off release with (which they duly obliged). And every time they returned they were more unhinged than ever, stripped to the waist and partying like they had seconds to live. A bottle of some weird-tasting Icelandic liquor always close to hand.
Mínus’ latest album The Great Northern Whalekill, released in May 2008, saw a new label and a line-up change. I don’t know how it has done sales-wise, but I do know that Krummi has been starring in Jesus Christ Superstar in Reykjavik. This band’s legacy will not be in record sales and statistics.
It’ll be the way in which they helped expand Icelandic culture, the way in which they penetrated the dark interior of Europe and America. The way in which they have brought the party to many dull British towns.
Mínus make music for that time in your life when you’re totally fucking indestructible.
The Great Northern Whalekill by Mínus is out now on One Little Indian Records