5 minute read24 Apr 2017

The Icelandic Punk Museum

Icelanders in the local music scene are arguably as proud of their punk rock heritage as they are of their Viking roots. So, it wasn’t a complete surprise when a group of local musicians took it upon themselves to create a monument to this period in Iceland’s music history - in a public toilet that was first opened in the 1930’s. GetLocal went to investigate.

Bubbi Morthens' first band, the Outsiders.

It may have taken a couple of years for Icelanders to start their own punk bands, but by 1978-9 bands like Útangarðsmenn and Fræbbblarnir were starting to take shape. The punk scene was documented extensively in the documentary “Rokk í Reykjavík” and today you can live a small part of that world by visiting the punk museum at the bottom of Bankastræti.

No Disco. Basic.

The toilet that is now home to the punk museum was called “The Zero” and is quite literally underground. It was so named for its street address, the only number 0 in the whole city.

Barbie: not popular with the punks, then.

Björk Guðmundsdóttir plays a starring role in the exhibit. First with her solo album from 1977 and with her bands, Exodus, Tappi Tíkkarass, Kukl, and finally the Sugarcubes, whose eventual demise closes the time period of the exhibit.

Björk's many bands pop up in various snippets of history in the museum.

Walking through this claustrophobic display of history and punk rock, I learned about the history of popular music (mostly punk, but also art rock and post-punk rock) that was typical of the years from when the first punk bands started up until the disbanding of the Sugarcubes. I also overheard some tourists talking to the proprietor, Svarti Alfur (“Black Elf”), a man who is well-known in the local music scene for his old-school punk attire.

Svarti Alfur, the proprietor of the Icelandic Punk Museum.

He had moved here from Belgium many years ago and lived for a few years on the streets in Reykjavik, which is no easy feat considering the harsh Icelandic winters. He told the tourists about the music scene here - which foreign bands played and which didn’t.

Put yourself in the exhibit.

He offered the tourists to try on his many jackets and take a picture inside the exhibit. Meanwhile, in the old repurposed bathroom stalls, graffiti on a toilet bowl encouraged you to stick your head in and listen to the ocean.

So many questions

There were so many questions that came up when visiting this odd place. To answer a few of them, we talked to Dr. Gunni, who participated in the original punk scene with his band Bless and who was among the musicians who collected the memorabilia for the museum. Gunni wrote a history of Icelandic music (called “Blue Eyed Pop”, highly recommended) and is pretty much the most knowledgeable person in Iceland on the subject.

The location of a public toilet is a little odd to say the least and I read in the Reykjavik Grapevine that it was bought by some local musicians for the purpose. Who had the idea to turn a toilet into a museum of punk memorabilia?

DG: Guðfinnur Karlsson, Finni the mogul, (of the band Dr. Spock) wanted to do something with the toilets so he and Snorri Baron came up with the idea. I think he has [the toilet] on rent from the city.

I can imagine that the city has changed quite a bit since then. Do you think the punks from that time would recognise the city as it is today?

DG: No. It was so totally different back then. I guess it has turned out okay though. In 1980 Reykjavik was less of a "big" city. Way fewer people on the streets, way fewer clubs to play, fewer people that were interested in this kind of music, fewer opportunities to get this music heard, no festivals, etc. Reykjavik has grown up a bit.

There is bass guitar hanging from the ceiling. Are any of the instruments in the museum from famous recordings of that era in Icelandic music?

DG: Some, like the broken up bass from Bjarni from Sjálfsfróun, but mostly it is just some old crap.

Indeed.

Learn the secrets

Get Local Advice

 

Swimming Pool Rules of Iceland

You might have noticed when you travel around Iceland that almost every town, no matter how big or small has a swimming pool. They might not have a bank or a hospital but they’ll have a swimming pool! Our geothermal energy makes this possible of course and provides hot water for our little paradise getaways. We really love our swimming pools band we have strict rules you need to know about!

 

Landmannalaugar, The geothermal paradise tourists never hear about

Landmannalaugar is a fascinating geological wonder, a geothermal oasis on the Highlands of Iceland, surrounded by multicolored mountains and steaming lava fields.

 

The South Coast of Iceland - the ultimate guide

The southern coast of Iceland is by far one of the most popular destinations that Iceland has to offer. It’s easy to access and many breathtaking sights to see. It’s actually such a big deal over here that we tend to refer to it exclusively as “The South Coast”. Sometimes forgetting that many countries do in fact also have their own south coasts.

 

Iceland Airwaves 2018 - What to see

Don’t miss out on the biggest music festival of the year: Iceland Airwaves 2018

Your adventure in Iceland starts here

Here are some great tours we recommend

 

Walking Tour of Reykjavík

A walking tour of the downtown of Reykjavik to all of the important spots.

$ 35 3 Hours

Book Now
 

Hop On - Hop Off - Reykjavik City Sightseeing

This bus runs continually throughout the day and a ticket allows you to jump on and off at will.

$ 35 24 Hours

Book Now
 

Greater Area Reykjavík Sightseeing

A delightful trip around Reykjavik's main attractions with a guide.

$ 58 3 Hours

Book Now
 

Golden Circle and City Sightseeing

Make full use of your time and see the most famous landmarks in Iceland in just one day.

$ 128 10 Hours

Book Now

Looking for something to do in Iceland?