“For the most part, Icelandic music is crap,” says Barði Jóhannsson, leader of the Icelandic rock band Bang Gang, early in Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon’s documentary about “1000 years of Icelandic popular music.” “Yet people keep asking me, ‘Why is Icelandic music so special?’ ” Subsequent footage of bands like the krautrock-influenced Apparat Organ Quartet and rap-rockers Quarashi does little to refute Jóhannsson’s “crap” assertion, and Magnússon’s disjointed, out-of-context interviews only skim the surface of the country’s musical history.
The predictable highlights come courtesy of performances by Iceland’s two biggest exports, Björk and Sigur Rós. Björk also provides one of the film’s few insights. “When my generation came along, we finally started to ask ourselves what it meant to be Icelandic and how to be proud of it instead of feeling guilty all the time, like animal creatures colonized by Denmark for 600 years. But once punk broke in Britain in the late ’70s, we were infected by it and we discovered what mattered wasn’t what you could do but what you really did, and we used this power to state a musical declaration of independence.” Unfortunately, Magnússon’s film fails to illuminate what this declaration of independence meant or how it was carried out. Icelandic + English | 85 minutes | MFA: February 14