Icelandic musician Berndsen discusses his passion for beards, elves and 1980s pop

They're indie. They're Icelandic. They play '80s tinged-electro-pop and wear wacky technicolour clothes. Meet Berndsen and Hermigervill, the underground Nordic visitors playing Bad House Party.

Berndsen performs in Paris. Courtesy of  Herve Dulongcourty
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They’re indie. They’re Icelandic. They play 1980s-tinged electro-pop and wear wacky technicolour clothes. They’re really quite hairy. And they are utterly unlike anything you normally see or hear in the UAE.

Meet Berndsen and Hermigervill, two underground Nordic visitors who are flying 7,000km from Reykjavik to play at a small, sweaty nightclub in Dubai tonight. And boy do we love them for it.

Technically, they are two acts who will perform separate 45-minute sets tonight.

Hermigervill (real name: Sveinbjörn Thorarensen) uses beats, samples and – get this – a theremin to make jagged but hummable electronica. He has released two albums reinterpreting obscure Icelandic hits from the 1960s and 1970s.

Berndsen (first name: David) is utterly enthralled by the 1980s and writes and sings shamelessly nostalgic, retro-flavoured synth-pop to prove it. He’s led various groups of musicians over the years, but will be backed at Casa Latina by his long-term collaborator – you guessed – ­Hermigervill.

For obvious logistical reasons, getting underground and upcoming acts to perform in the UAE is no easy ask, so a big round of applause must go to indie club-night Bad House Party for making this happen. Hopefully tonight will mark the first in a wave of interesting indie acts landing on these shores.

To celebrate, we caught up with 30-year-old Berndsen.

How did you end up landing a tiny club gig in Dubai?

I met Moe [Bad House Party promoter/DJ] at Iceland Airwaves, a music festival he’s been coming out for year after year. He came up to us after our show and was really excited about bringing us to Dubai. I thought it sounded good, but would never happen. The next thing I knew, the flights were booked.

You wear your 1980s musical influences very proudly on your sleeve.

Yes, there are a lot of synthesisers and drum machines and me crying into the mic in our music.

Yes, you’re not a very conventional frontman, in the Guns N’ Roses, Axl Rose sense of the word ...

Axl Rose is one of my role models – I have red hair and a beard, like him. I had a big poster of Axl Rose on my bedroom wall for years. I always used to wear a bandana like Axl, too.

Well, you have made some interesting fashion statements.

Yeah, I’m thinking about bringing the bandana back – maybe in Dubai. I just really like wearing colourful clothes when I perform, it gets me into this character more than jeans and a white T-shirt would.

What does your girlfriend think?

She’s very supportive, she’s always trying to find me something new to wear.

Another guy with red hair and a beard is Ed Sheeran – who is playing a huge gig at Media City on the same night as you.

I don’t know who that is.

Iceland seems such an isolated location. Why do you think the country breeds so many great musicians?

It’s some mystery. So much music is coming from Iceland, which is so strange when we have a population of less than 350,000. I think it’s the weather – there’s so much darkness, people just spend time inside making music. And we always have these great artists, such as Björk and Sigur Rós, to inspire us. When they have gotten so far, why can’t we?

What do you make of the new Björk album, Vulnicura?

I met Björk in the studio when she was making it – I always get a little star-struck when I see her – and the songs I heard them working on were really good.

Any plans for a new, third album of your own?

We are trying something new: writing with a band and live drummer for the first time, making these longer grooves and songs. I want to make a record that will be a cult album in 10 years. Maybe it will be too arty for now. I have a lot of photos of David Bowie on my wall for inspiration.

Not Axl anymore? Who else is on your wall?

Let me see ... I see David Bowie – and David Bowie. And some artworks by [German Fluxus artist] Joseph Beuys.

Do you believe in elves?

Of course. That’s normal in Iceland. There are a lot of stories that don’t make sense, construction projects where people are working and then there’s supposed to be elves, and they will just suddenly shut down. Of course I believe, of course.

Give me five words to describe your Dubai show to someone who has not heard your music?

Dancey, sweaty, electric super-pop. You could add nudity in there. There’s no nudity in Dubai? I was only joking ...

Berndsen and Hermigervill perform at Bad House Party on Thursday, March 5 at Casa Latina, Ibis Al Barsha, Dubai. Doors 10pm, entry Dh100

rgarratt@thenational.ae