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.
Photo by BSÍ
I particularly liked the lead single, ‘my knee against kyriarchy.’ I’d not heard of the term ‘kyriarchy’ before, do you mind giving me a quick explanation?
S: We’ve all heard about patriarchy, and kyriarchy is just a bigger, umbrella term for all the social structures that are oppressing. So we’re no longer just talking about sexism, we’re talking about ableism, racism, homophobia—all these oppressive structures—and that’s kyriarchy. So we’re fighting everything, not just the patriarchy.
J: So everything bad, basically, we’re just gonna smash it.
S: I found the word when I was studying gender studies at university. It was on a blog like everydayfeminism.com or something. It’s a very useful word but it doesn’t seem to have stuck just yet.
How did you two meet?
J: We met in Iceland after I’d moved from Germany. It was at a concert. We became friends and then a year later, we were just like, ‘let’s start a band!’ Play things we didn’t play before, try something new. Then it turned into ‘let’s start a punk band,’ whatever punk meant for us. But the focus has always been on trying things we didn’t know how to play, learning as we go, and doing it anyhow—even if we’re not good at it.
It’s interesting that you mention the meaning of ‘punk.’ Some consider your political focus as what makes you punk, but others argue that punk is sonic, requiring heavy, clashing guitars and pounding drums. What does it mean to both of you?
J: This reminds me of our first concert.
S: Yeah, our first concert: we had advertised on a Facebook event, ‘New punk band in town.’ Our friend came to the show, and after the show he was so mad, saying ‘what the f*ck?! You’re not a punk band!’ For us, it was really punk because we had learned the instruments two weeks before and already had our first concert. That was our way of ‘punking’ the system, but I guess for him it was more the sonic sound of punk—it has to be loud. I guess we didn’t agree.
J: The punk thing for us was just doing it our way and getting away from the norm. We can be a band and not know how to play our instruments. We can be a band and only have drums and bass, and just do it anyhow.
That’s amazing! Some people have been playing for years and wouldn’t feel ready to do a gig.
S: Yeah it was great for me, as I had a huge perfectionism thing at the time. It was a great way of, ‘punking’ away that, doing it although it isn’t perfect. I think I’ve been brought up in a way where things have to be perfect before you show them off. This was something that I needed to do. Not worrying, because it doesn’t matter.
How long have you been playing for now?
S: About three years, though there was a six-month break because we were both abroad for long periods. When we got back together, it was like ‘Oh sh*t, we have a band!’ We got back to it.
J: It was last year actually, during COVID, when we got to set up our studio and really have the time to write new music. There’s a silver lining there.
Before we finish, what’s the meaning behind the name BSÍ?
S: It started off as a joke because my brother had this hoodie from when he went to the International School of Brussels. We had this joke about, ‘Brussel Sprouts International.’ We realised it spelled out BSI like the bus station in Reykjavík and thought that was cool. It was a very random thought process.
J: If you go to the BSI bus station it’s just the most depressing place in Iceland. The country is filled with so much beauty, and then there’s this grey, boring, run-down bus station. We thought maybe that’s a good thing to name a punk band after.
S: But also BSI can be whatever you want it to be, we’ve always encouraged people to come up with new meanings. You’re welcome to pitch any to us.
Edited by Josh Aberman, Music Editor