Band Review – Rock on Iceland with This Winking Mockumentary About Trying to Succeed In The Music Biz

Band screens at the Sydney Film Festival on June 8 and 10.

Band begins with a subtle Björk joke which is apt because for many audiences their knowledge of Icelandic culture and music will be limited to The Sugarcubes, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sjón, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Sigur Rós, Emilíana Torrini, and GusGus (who get a mention in the movie). What Reykjavík isn’t known for is The Post Performance Blues Band, the band that takes the stage in the first scene. An eclectic mishmash of performance art, electroclash, and post-punk feminism. In fact, so few people know about The Post Performance Blues Band that its members Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir, (writer and director of Band) Saga Sigurðardóttir, and Hrefna Lind Lárusdóttir are reaching a breaking point where they’re tired of playing to five people and getting paid in beer. Trying to balance their personal and professional lives with their pursuit of art is causing a toll on the thirty-something women and Álfrún suggests that they each devote a year to the band in a make it or break it effort to become international popstars.

Band is part documentary, part mockumentary, part performance art, but also a clever investigation into what it means to devote oneself to artistic pursuit. The tone is tongue in cheek in some places and quite earnest in others. The three main women met in art school and each has pursued a life in the arts to varying degrees of success. Álfrún is an actor and voice over artist whose career is on the slide. Hrefna is a struggling single mother who “makes beats” and desperately needs a job. Saga is a dance teacher for the Icelandic Dance Company. Their lives seem a little absurd, but each woman is charming and oddly serious about the band – “We believe in world domination or death.”

We follow The Post Performance Blues Band through terrible gigs, zoom calls with a ‘band coach’, endless discussions about recording, adding members to the band (poor Pétur), mediations of feminism and “energy”, photoshoots (again, poor Pétur) and discussions about the meanings of the songs; “One of the lyrics is about my mum. Another is about cream and waffles,” says Hrefna.

Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir takes the audience through a quirky odyssey around Reykjavík and its art scene. Of course, there is an enormous amount of art-wank, other bands who are pale imitations of more successful European acts such as Rammstein, parties that you know you have to be very drunk to even pretend to enjoy. Örnólfsdóttir also shows that there is a genuinely thriving cultural scene in Iceland. On which side will The Post Performance Blues Band end up? Considering Álfrún committed most of her savings to renting a hall for a huge concert at Harpa, the ambition is to succeed, but the audience watch in what appears to be real time as the band, who live “to work with chaos” implodes through infighting and members prioritising other parts of their lives.

Örnólfsdóttir’s absurdist approach to the material, which is partly documenting her, is delightful. There are parts of film clips for songs that may or may not have been made in the diegetic world of the movie. Each woman is given time for her personality to emerge and no-one is a villain – if anything the most they are is hopefully pretentious. The songs are genuinely hilarious and sometimes meaningful (although not particularly polished) ‘Vibrational Currency’ a song that repeats the lines “Cash. Stability. Security” is what Hrefna actually needs in her life. There are absurd songs about camels and waffles, but somewhere in the band’s catalogue of music exists the thesis of the film. It’s over the top but also quite heartfelt.

Having a successful career in the Arts is a challenge at the best of times. Even if you are profoundly talented you can struggle to have your voice heard. What makes you unique? What makes you resonate with an audience? What happens if deep down you’re not really that talented after all? Are you playing a hoax on yourself?

Band satirises the art world but also adores it. When Hrefna is struggling to make sure her kid is fed and her car is working, is the band really that important? The answer is yes because the band is the one thing that Hrefna does to express herself. The Post Performance Blues Band (clever name) might well be even in their ideal form nothing special, but they do mean something. Örnólfsdóttir’s film does a marvellous job of balancing sincere desire to be recognised with the pretentiousness and ego that goes with recognition. Band is a funny and witty film that is a brilliant visual and aural collage. The Post Performance Blues Band will never be playing at Tallinn Music Week in Estonia (GusGus played there once), and will never fill a concert hall in Harpa, but Band will make you love them and their uphill battle to be known. Rock on Iceland!

Director: Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir

Cast: Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir, Saga Sigurðardóttir, Hrefna Lind Lárusdóttir

Writer: Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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