*“We’ve never been trying to fit into any type of music and are not worried of being part of any genre. If we were, we’d probably just be another copy of Arctic Monkeys or something. It would be so easy to try and rewrite music by someone else, or follow what’s currently fashionable, but we’ve always wanted to find our own way” – Kaktus Einarsson. *
Huge, great, bleak towers of sound. Nimble rhythmic undercurrents. The twin and unlikely ghosts of both post-punk and electronic techno. Nobody sounds like Fufanu, but 18 months on from their hugely acclaimed 2015 debut, A Few More Days To Go, the Icelandic trio’s eagerly-anticipated second album, Sports, throws some new ingredients into the mix.
For 2017, Fufanu are changing – “growing up” – as instrumentalist Guðlaugur (“Gulli”) Einarsson [no relation] calls it. They’re retained all the ingredients of their much-loved old sound, but in come stronger pop melodies, more driving grooves – occasionally reminiscent of Krautrock legends Neu! – and sophisticated pop melodies and arrangements. It’s a very strong follow-up which reflects their experiences during a hurricane two years, in which they have rocketed from making a big splash at the 2014 Airwaves festival in Reykjavik, to touring the UK with the Vaccines, to playing with Fufanu fan Damon Albarn at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall and even supporting the Blur singer’s legendary group at a huge event at London’s Hyde Park.
One thing Sports does retain from A Few More Days To Go, though, is Kaktus’s knack of writing compelling, enigmatic words. If Fufanu’s songs have a recurring theme, it’s the drudgery and mundanity, but against this backdrop the songs hint at other things: in Fufanu songs, there is always more going on than meets the eye.
“I think that’s quite important,” considers Kaktus. “When writing lyrics, I could spell everything out and tell the story, but it’s healthier to take time and really dig into the lyrics, so that people can take their own experiences out of it.”
Thus, Sports [the track, and lead-off single] isn’t about sports at all. “It could be about getting really obsessed with a chocolate brownie, or it could be about a boy or girl and being obsessed with getting them on your side,” says Kaktus, enigmatically. And what of the striking undercurrent of melancholy than runs through Fufanu’s music like a rich seam of precious metal? Where does that come from?
“I don’t actually know,” admits the singer. “I am a really happy guy. I’d love to say. ‘Oh, it’s a typical Iceland thing. It’s the darkness, the volcanoes, but although I love the darkness in the winter it isn’t that. I just find that writing lyrics becomes my outlet for more emotional and sometimes more negative things. We’ve all got a bit of melancholy in us.”
Officially, the Fufanu story begins in 2008, when Kaktus met Gulli in school, and – glancing at his schoolmate’s iTunes, noticed that they listened to a lot of the same techno and electronic. However, in a way, the Fufanu story begins before Kaktus and Gulli were even born: in the early 1980s, when Kaktus’s father Einar (yes, who sang alongside Björk in the legendary The Sugarcubes) started bringing English post-punk records back to Iceland from trips to London, and then inviting the likes of the Fall and Crass to play in Reykjavik.
Thus began a post-punk influence on Icelandic music which stretches from music to (independent) ideology, but although Kaktus and Gulli heard the records a lot when they were children, the influence is more unconscious than conscious. Their big early influence was techno, and in the same week that they met at school, they entered a studio and started to make (at this point electronic) music. Naming themselves Captain Fufanu (“Fufanu” doesn’t mean anything, but the name suited the world that they create), the pair began DJ-ing, “bringing techno back to Reykjavik”, and, within a month of meeting, were playing their first show, although Captain Fufanu were a world away from the band they are today.
“It was happy electronica,” remembers Kaktus. “We were aiming for something deeper, but didn’t have the capabilities. The reason we never released anything as Captain Fufanu was that as soon as we had something ready, we aimed for something new, more challenging.”
In fact, a twist of fate did for Captain Fufanu: when the studio was burgled and all the music taken, this fatefully combined with a desire to reinvent the band. Although Captain Fufanu were instrumental, Kaktus had started writing lyrics during a stint in London, where he worked on Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots album. While he was away, Gulli had been creating a new soundscape, which Kaktus says “really conveyed what I was thinking.” In came organic instruments – guitars and such – to add to the electronics, Kaktus discovered that he had a stark, imposing voice that suited the songs perfectly and the Fufanu sound was born.
Kaktus remembers their first show in this guise, at Airwaves festival. “People came expecting rave…. But what they got was really dark music.” The band were the most talked about of the festival.
A Few More Days To Go captured that Fufanu sound in tracks such as Circus Life and Blinking, which rage and brood with a malevolence rarely found in current music. Now, Sports – which sees the duo expand to a trio, with the addition of drummer Erling “Elli” Bang - ups their game again. It’s hard to imagine the Fufanu of 2014 or 2015 coming up with the album’s two striking closers, Your Fool and Restart, sublime examples of electronic love songs.
Touring with the Vaccines exposed Fufanu to new audiences. “The only people there were young girls and their dads,” chuckles Kaktus, “so it was funny, but a great experience. There is an Icelander in the band (bassist Arni Arnason) so we had that connection. We had to figure out a setlist that would suit these new people, but we made a lot of new fans.” Damon Albarn joined the Fufanu fan club when he heard some tracks when Kaktus was in the studio (“running around, making tea… mostly making tea!”). There have been other experiences – Fufanu played with John Grant, and Kaktus learned a valuable lesson when he worked in Bobby Womack’s touring crew: “I learned never to write a lyric that didn’t happen to me.”
Through it all, they’ve retained their pioneering spirit, but come up with the music that they dreamed of.
“When we put live instruments in, that took us to A Few More Days To Go,” considers Kaktus. “In a way, Sports is taking us back to techno and out again, squaring the circle, with more sophistication. It sounds stupid, but it’s music for people who really like music.”