You heard it here first guys. In the rugged landscapes of Iceland, punk is alive and well. Or, at least, it’s hanging out in a former public toilet at Reykjavik’s Icelandic Punk Museum.
Anything I come across when I’m travelling that relates to my interests in alternative music is always a bit of a must-see for me. Seeing how other cultures consume music is always of great interest, especially in a country with a population of less than 340,000 people where subculture will proportionally be VERY small indeed.
I first spotted the Icelandic Punk Museum as I was taking a stroll from my hostel through downtown Reykjavik. It was raining, blowing a gale, and I was refusing to buy a pricey hot chocolate. If it wasn’t for the signage outside, the museum would be pretty easily missed. The entrance on Bankastræti is down a flight of stairs, tucked away in what used to be a public convenience . A pretty impressive use of space, for a start.
At the toilet door, you’re greeted by Svarti Alfur, the museum’s proprietor and very much a proper punk. If you want to know more about punk in Iceland, or need a good bar recommendation, he’s the one to speak to.
Opened in 2016, by special guest John Lydon – better known as the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten – the museum takes visitors through Iceland’s punk history, from the pre-punk years (‘No Punk’) through to its inception in the 1970s, the heydays of the 1980s and the drama and band breakups of the 1990s. As well as the formation of local punk acts, the exhibition also chronicles visits from international bands.
In each cubicle of the small former loo, the story of punk in Iceland continues. You even have to shut yourself in to read what’s on the back of the doors. While perusing the early days of Bjork’s musical career, another visitor with a particularly sharp fringe pushed the cubicle door open. “Oh…Sorry!”, she exclaimed, closing the door again hastily. I wasn’t sure if she’d got a little muddled on the current purpose of these toilets…
Every wall in the space is completely covered in photos, posters, handbills and narration, and a handful of small screens also show video footage of classic punk performances. For such a tiny space, there’s definitely plenty to be seen, read, and listened to.
Once you’ve had a good old walk through the small, slightly disorganised but information-packed display, there’s also the chance to dress up in some punk jackets and have a play around with some of the instruments. I did wonder if these were artefacts from iconic punk performances in history, but um…they’re not.
Headphones dangle from the room’s ceiling, and on my tiptoes, I had a listen to some of the Icelandic punk scene’s notable albums. Rokk í Reykjavík is the most iconic, the soundtrack to the documentary of the same name, showcasing Iceland’s alternative music scene in the winter of 1981-1982.
Even if you’re not a huge fan of the genre, The Icelandic Punk Museum is an interesting little exhibit to spend some time in. Entry is 1000ISK, which is about seven quid – so definitely not bank breakingly expensive.
The attention to detail while still seeming haphazard and thrown together, combined with some genuinely interesting stories and interactive elements, make it a great place to discover a different side to Iceland beyond Reykjavik’s pretty streets.