|"Foreigners think we're fighting
or cursing," once muttered Heimir Bjorgulfsson, the former spokesman
for the Icelandic expatriated ensemble Stilluppsteypa. Taken out of
context from an interview with Seymour Glass in Bananafish
where Bjorgulfsson was explaining the perception of the Icelandic
language, it's an apt description for the inner workings of Stilluppsteypa.
This is not to say that this ensemble -- currently the duo of Sigtryggur
Berg Sigmarsson and Helgi Thorsson, as Bjorgulfsson departed in early
2002 to pursue other activities -- is without an intelligence. Quite
the contrary, Stilluppsteypa are incredibly clever in the chimerical
realm located between punk antagonism, liguistic anomalies, obtuse
electronica, and utopian experimentalism, all the while managing to
offer an absurd agenda intent on blurring the border between the understandable
and the ununderstandable. The most recent Stilluppsteypa albums and
the solo projects from Sigmarsson and Bjorgulfsson may not sound like
Icelandic verbal abuse or fisticuffs, but the logic of disconnection
and dis-ease that Stilluppsteypa currently employ has remained a rare
constant with their fluctuating aesthetic proclivities.
The publicly announced history of Stilluppsteypa is marred with inconsistencies,
in part due to their disdain for absolute truths, but also for their
unquenchable thirst for alcohol, which they've admitted to leaving
some black holes in their collective past.
Nevertheless a story must be told.
Stilluppsteypa was formed around Christmas of 1991 while the members
waited for a bus and suffering through the cold Icelandic winter.
The name itself has something to do with "illegal home butchering,"
done by farmers in opposition to the strict regulations the Icelandic
government places upon all agricultural and butchering practices.
In recent interviews, Stilluppsteypa have distanced themselves from
a meaning to their name, often avoiding a translation altogether and
providing a distinct mystery to their name. Maybe they were in fact
fighting and cursing on that rock in the Northern Atlantic.
None of the members of Stilluppsteypa began with much musical training.
Helgi and Heimir may have had some piano lessons at a very early age,
but those were quickly deprogrammed as all of the members of the band
had enrolled in various, unknown punk bands in the late '80s and early
'90s. Thier punk as fuck attitude certainly inspired their name as
an invocation of repulsion from the rest of Reykjavik and still runs
through their work, albeit with a far more subtle application. Car
Dirty With Jam on a Busy Street andTaxi To Tijuana
-- while still not widely heard -- are the earliest recordings of
Stilluppsteypa to emigrate from Iceland. Both from 1995, these horrific
mutations of garage-punk, shredding the Venture's expressive guitar
tremolo with cancerous pulsations from analogue electronic knob twaddle,
horror film dialogue, and the dumbest rhythm pre-sets on their drum
machines. These recordings had more than a few passing resemblances
to the art-damaged languages being uttered at the same time in Japan
by the Boredoms, Melt-Banana, and the Space Streakings. While punk
invoked a DIY attitude for Stilluppsteypa and provided a vehicle to
proclaim allegiances with disparate signifiers of brokenness and disconnection,
the traditional aesthetics of punk (guitars, bass, drums, and seductive
/ evocative singer) didn't sit well with Stilluppsteypa.
A major turning point in Stilluppsteypa's artistic career came at
the discovery of The Hafler Trio's extensive body of psychoacoustic
/ techgnostic research, and developing an ongoing friendship with
The Hafler Trio's main protagonist Andrew McKenzie, who had relocated
to Iceland in the mid-'90s. In an interview with Rob Young for The
Wire, Bjorgulfsson admits, "Andrew McKenzie is quite responsible
for the direction we took, his work had a huge impact on us, and he
introduced the work of different artists and labels to us like Nurse
With Wound, John Duncan, Organum, :zoviet * france:, Staalplaat, Touch,
etc. etc." Aside from simply opening Stilluppsteypa to an aesthetic
rarely heard within Iceland, McKenzie prodded the group to further
investigate their manifestations of cultural misfirings with a digital
landscape. While taking a somewhat divergent path, Stilluppsteypa
asks what it means to be 'intelligent.' Where The Hafler Trio offers
bafflingly contradictory anti-narratives of sound as a means to impart
knowlegde, Stilluppsteypa developed a sly, vaguely subversive language
that poked fun a the intellectual (or better stated pseudo-intellectual)
pursuits of many of their contemporary laptop chin-strokers. Bjorgulfsson
once adequately summed it up with the simple statement: "there
is nothing silly about being silly..."
Encouraged by McKenzie and educated at the Koninklijk Conservatorium
in The Netherlands in 1997, where the three studied sonology, Stilluppsteypa
has refined their sound through a steady series of albums that often
twist the ubiquitous languages of microhouse and glitch modulations
into uncanny reflections and eerie orchestrations. Yes, albums like
Has (or Has Not) Happened and Stories Part Fire
are as clinically precise as anything by Oval, Pan Sonic, or Alva
Noto; but there is a blackhumour at work, exposing very slight electronic
cracks and semiotic mismatches. Within the music, it almost goes unnoticed
and is shaped mostly by the slippages between monotonous hums, chugging
digital pinpricks, and disembodied drones. Stilluppsteypa often relies
on the linguistic and visual contextualizations to further their intent
with titles often appearing as word-puzzles or as strange punchlines
(i.e. "Most Of The Holiday Spent In The Bathroom" or "Wheel
Who Doesn't Do Anything"). Then there's the cover art to Stories
Part Five which found the three Icelanders in faux-superhero
gear complete with capes and a pair of golden boxing shorts with a
brash red bolt of lightning down the seam. Stilluppsteypa have, thus,
poised themselves in a unique place as the carnivalesque hucksters
of the electro-glitch era.
(approximated by Jim Haynes in 2002)