Q&A: Fufanu On The Iceland Scene, Damon Albarn, And Their Debut LP
After Reykjavik’s Iceland Airwaves last year, I left Iceland with the music of one homegrown artist echoing through my head. The song was “Circus Life,” the band was Fufanu — a group that I’d wound up seeing almost by accident, in one of those rare but welcome happenstance festival experiences where you watch a band you’ve never heard of and they turn out to be one of the best things there. When I returned to Airwaves this year, my main priority was to catch more Fufanu gigs. They wound up dominating Airwaves 2015 for me. They are a revelatory live experience, with frontman Kaktus Einarrson wielding the kind of swagger and attitude all too uncommon in this kind of brooding music. In our recap, I called one of their sets one of the best things I’ve seen all year. In hindsight, I’m considering whether it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, period.
Fufanu play a dense, psychedelic, electronic-infused take on apocalyptic post-punk, the kind of intoxicatingly out-there music that makes complete sense amidst Iceland’s surreal and unique landscapes, but is great regardless of whether or not you’re watching the sunset while standing on a beach with black sand. Built on the core duo of Kaktus Einarsson and Gulli Einarsson, Fufanu have actually been around in some form for seven years, since they were 16 years old. It began as an experimental, electronic project called Captain Fufanu; eventually, they gravitated toward wanting to use more live instrumentation while incorporating their interest in electronic and dance elements. They ditched the “Captain” about two years ago, and built their way to where they are now: an opening gig for Damon Albarn last year, increasing buzz abroad, an EP called Adjust To The Light, and their full-length debut, A Few More Days To Go, out this week.
STEREOGUM: What was it like coming up in the music scene in Reykjavik?
KAKTUS: I started out in a punk band, quite young, that went into a pop-punk band, I would say.
GULLI: There’s so many different things going on, everyone’s doing their own thing.
KAKTUS: For me, when I was growing up, [it was] just loads of wacky covers bands playing at dances. Everyone that was into Icelandic bands, those were the bands they knew. They had no idea about bands like Kimono, which was a rock band going on that I was listening to.
STEREOGUM: Because of the small size of Reykjavik and its population, does everyone in the music scene kinda know each other?
GULLI: Yeah, our guitarist is in a hardcore band.
KAKTUS: Our drummer, he’s been playing with loads of bands. Hardcore [bands], reggae bands.
GULLI: It’s a bad thing and a good thing. It gets boring. There’s never, like, a scene. You can’t say you don’t like bands because you know everybody.
STEREOGUM: If you’re starting in a scene like that, in a small country, are your ambitions always kind of angled outwards? Is the idea to always get big in Europe or whatever, not just in Iceland?
KAKTUS: If you decide, “I’m just going to do Icelandic [lyrics],” I think that’s, “I’m just aiming for the Icelandic market.” Until there comes an opportunity; then they will always change to English. But I think until the opportunity is brought to them, they don’t think outside of Iceland. There are loads of really dedicated hobbyists that are in three different bands, maybe with all the same people, but they play three different styles of music, and they’re just playing music because they want to. They’re not heading anywhere outside of the one local concert venue that they play.
GULLI: There are also many really good bands, small bands, that will probably never go abroad. They’re just doing their own thing.
STEREOGUM: Did you guys always want to be bigger than that?
KAKTUS: I think it was as soon as we found out that the scene for our music in Iceland was just way too small. We started to think outside of Iceland.
GULLI: We’re not popular in Iceland. Not at all.
KAKTUS: I think we have the biggest audience in the UK. Then again, it’s Iceland. I think, as soon as the album is released, and Icelanders get that people have been writing good things about us, they might pick up on it.
GULLI: It’s all about the hype.
KAKTUS: The hype somewhere else. Especially for a band that is doing music like ours, because we’re not doing popular music.
STEREOGUM: Are you guys pretty alternative by Icelandic standards then?
KAKTUS: No, I think maybe it’s just too complicated.
GULLI: Just because we’re [in between] the underground and the pop scene.
STEREOGUM: What kind of themes are you attracted to as a lyricist?
KAKTUS: Always something that is going on in my head at that moment. That’s maybe a bit obvious. I should maybe drop this quote now, I’ve been saving it. I think this might be a funny place to drop it. I worked with Bobby Womack and I learned some very important lessons from him. One was: “I don’t sing about anything that hasn’t happened to me.” He didn’t sing about anything that didn’t happen to him. That was something that I thought was really, really interesting.
STEREOGUM: How did you wind up working with Bobby Womack?
KAKTUS: I’m just such a damn good back line tech. Yeah, no, it just happened through my work with Damon [Albarn]. I was working with Damon. I did Everyday Robots with him. Sound engineering, assistant. Through that, I got [involved with] various Damon jobs. I did a TV appearance with Bobby Womack doing “The Bravest Man In The Universe,” which Damon did with him. So I was doing back line there. And then Bobby was doing a Europe tour and I wasn’t doing anything and lived in London, and I got a call that they needed a back line tech, and if I would be up for it. So I did that.
STEREOGUM: Your debut LP, A Few More Days To Go is about to come out. How is it different from the EP?
GULLI: I think the LP is more of a piece. It makes more sense to listen to it as an album. The EP is four random songs.
STEREOGUM: Where did the title A Few More Days To Go come from?
KAKTUS: A Few More Days To Go goes with the concept of the album. It’s more like a full piece. It’s not a concept album at all, but all the lyrics are about traveling and realizing new things, learning new things about yourself because you are traveling, and seeing things you missed. And it’s always a few more days to go until you’re home. But a few more days can be so many days. I was away from everyone I knew, just “for a few more days.” “I will be back home, in just a few more days.”
GULLI: We’ve also just been waiting for this album for so long, so it makes sense.
KAKTUS: It’s always been just a few more days to go with the album, too.
STEREOGUM: As a band from Iceland that happens to be bigger in other places, do you feel a pressure to represent the homeland in a way?
KAKTUS: We just want to make music and share it with people who are interested. That is what makes us a bit different from the hobbyists. We love performing music. I think that this, performing the music and sharing it with people…I don’t care if you like it that much or not. We were asked in an interview in Slovakia, “Are you afraid of the reaction of the crowd?” I was like, “No,” and they were really shocked. My answer was, “I don’t care. If there is one person in the crowd who is really into it and stays the whole show, that is mission complete.” Then we’ve gotten to at least one person. That’s a great thing, if you can get one person that really likes what you’re doing, then we are happy.
A Few More Days To Go is out 11/27 via One Little Indian.