Wednesday 16 May 2018

Icelandic group gets Canucks dancing in their skivvies

FM Belfast Teaches Canadians How To Run Around In Underwear When It Is 20 Below.

 Singer Lóa Hjálmtýsdottir in a mound of ribbons
By Stephen Weir written for my Huffington Post blog
Two men in front tried the impossible, putting on their pants while stumbling to the exit. There was  an urgency – it was 2 am and we were being herded out the concert doors into a normal Icelandic night. Black. Windy. Sub-Zero temperature.
It didn’t take a detective to figure out that the laundry droppers were Canadians – the Roots labels gave ‘em away.  Not that anyone in the crowded Reykjavik art gallery cared about their lack of trous.
Blame the lack of clothes on the band that 600 of us had just seen. It was FM Belfast, one of Canada’s most favoured Icelandic bands. The veteran electro-pop group closed out the Airwaves music festival concert with a group participation song called Underwear.
 Lóa Hjálmtýsdottir - photo by sweir
FM Belfast has been performing for a dozen years.  They are always the premiere Icelandic act at the world famous annual Airwaves fete except on rare years when Bjork, Of Monsters and Men, or Sigor Ros take to the stage. 
What is unique about FM Belfast is that their fan base is larger in Canada, Northern US and Europe than it is in their homeland.  If you experience snow and seasonal affective disorder every winter then you will get FM Belfast.  They inspire you to dance and sing as they complain about the boredom of winter.
“We're running down the street in our underwear
We're running up the hill, it's over there
We're running down the street in our underwear
We're running up the hill, it's over there
Cause nothing ever happens here”

Underwear is an anthem for foreigners who travel to Iceland every November to be a part of the mash-up of Icelandic, American, British and Canadian groups performing non-stop for five days. When FM Belfast sings about breaking the boredom of long winters by dancing sans jeans, confetti and streamers are fired over the crowd. The six band members (and some in the audience) strip down and energetically lead everyone in a jump-up Viking dance.
“ ‘Let's have fun trying to make it through another winter’ is a good description of an Icelander (and what we sing about),” explains singer, composer and band co-founder Lóa Hjálmtýsdottir.  “The weather has some impact, we don't have grand winters, just long ones that are more dark than cold”.
FM Belfast getting down to their BVDs
The band has produced four albums all in English and that are designed to engage listeners in singing loudly and dancing with reckless abandon.  It works, their following on YouTube is larger than the population of Iceland!
“In 2006 or 2007 we were playing for a group of (Canadian) foreign exchange students in a small club in Reykjavik. They were very animated and took to the dance-floor and went insane. It was so much fun and when we realised that this was a possibility, we decided to aim for this and try to make people forget themselves for an hour or so.”
Canadians identify with their songs even though they are written to describe Iceland’s human condition.  Take for example their song “American” which describes how Icelanders are ready to learn to act like Americans but aren’t going to let themselves be assimilated  -- they sing that they aren’t afraid to taste the fist of an American!
Another big favourite is a long chant called I Don’t Want To Go to Sleep Either, which is performed at late night, early morning gigs.  My fav? Tropical.  It’s their dream of moving to the Caribbean and joining a band with your pet monkey Pedro on keyboards!
“Our lyrics don't have an underlying common theme, they are about everything and nothing. Sometimes it is just about being cold or watching television but sometimes it’s about something serious like losing a friend,” she explained.
FM Belfast Photo Pit
“ We've always performed and written lyrics in English. We don't switch back. To me it's because English is a very good language for pop lyrics and I like feeling like a visitor when I'm writing song lyrics, “ continued Lóa.
The number of Canadians who have seen FM Belfast live is limited to the thousand who attend the annual pop music festival in Reykjavik.  Yes they have played in Gimli, Manitoba (home to a small Icelandic community) but the band can’t afford a US tour.  They are considering a Canada  tour but so far that is all it is.
“We all have other projects as well but the poorhouse is constantly looming over us, we don't have rich families or money saved in the bank. It's a high price to pay but I consider spending your life and precious time doing something you don't like is an even higher price.”

BTW – FM Belfast is very much an Arctic version of the Grateful Dead.  People come and go into the band line-up depending on schedules and the demands of their other careers.  Lóa Hjálmtýsdottir is also a graphic artist and author.  Árni Rúnar, the other band founder, is a DJ and composes for the movies. Most interesting is singer/dancer Egill Eyjolfsson who has been a diplomat and is an economist who cuts trade agreements for Iceland. He is currently based in Europe and flies home for band gigs!