Photo by Maria Carmela
The dimly lit interior of The Shacklewell Arms feels cosy set against the din of the pouring rain on the pub’s windows. From the outside, the venue seems to be a typical Hackney pub on a residential street. The inside offers a slightly different story. Young bartenders are covered in tattoos. Patrons fully dressed in designer clothes. All soundtracked by alt-rock music. In the corner, a girl is playing Sonic 3 on a retro box television. And, of course, there is the huge music venue hidden through the back door, where the evening’s gig will take place. Sat across from me are the headliners, Icelandic punk duo BSI, made up of Silla Thorarensen on drums and vocals and Julius Pollux Rothlaender on bass and synths, looking enthusiastic having just come out of a successful soundcheck.
How are you guys feeling today?
S: We’re pretty good, pretty nervous though. Our first headlining show in London.
J: Yeah, we’re gonna try not to f*ck it up too much, but you always f*ck up a little bit. That’s just part of music, part of touring.
Are you liking the city so far?
S: Yeah, it’s great. There’s so much to do. We still need to explore though, because we haven’t been inside the city much—just around outside touring with the Vaccines.
J: Yeah, it’s our first longer tour. We’ve never done this many gigs in a row before.
Is that a difficult adjustment to make?
S: Yeah, it’s just different you know? Sometimes we’ll have off-days and it’s more off-putting than doing a gig every night. You’re out of the routine, you need a day off but still, it takes you out of the zone. It was a funny way of realising that.
J: There are so many things to learn, I think it was good practice for us just to be playing different venues. In Iceland we’re used to playing the same few venues, so we’re accustomed to how each stage sounds. We don’t have that familiarity here.
Do you think there’s a difference between UK audiences and audiences in Iceland?
J: Yeah, we’re not friends with all of them! S: It’s totally different to play for people you don’t know because back home it's always the same crowd. This gives us another dynamic, I find it easier, to be honest.
J: I like it a lot because for me this is what it’s about to be a musician and an artist. Traveling and playing music in different places. Every night it’s a different audience, you don’t know them, they don’t know you, it’s a clean slate. Back home everyone knows the songs, here no one knows us, we’re exposing them to our music.
Let’s talk about your recent album, ‘Sometimes depressed… but always antifascist.’ It’s a concept album, on services it’s split into two EPs, one being melancholic and the latter being more in-your-face punk. Was the intention always to have these two different sides?
S: It kind of naturally happened. We found ourselves having these two distinctive sides when we were composing songs. And for a while we were like, ‘should we just release the slow side alone and then the more upbeat side alone as well?’
J: It was also a case of, ‘can we do this?’ With our first EP, it was entirely the kind of rougher, louder style of songs and suddenly we had all these slower, sad songs. It was like, ‘is this also our band?’ But then we thought, ‘let’s just do it.’ Have both, and not do only one thing. Be sort of schizophrenic and dissonant.