I met Cyber in August 2017, while doing a story on new Icelandic bands at the annual Airwaves Festival. I was with photographer River Thompson.
If the Icelandic tourist board are looking for ambassadors, they might think about looking beyond the Icelandic hip-hop trio Cyber.
The Blue Lagoon may be a natural wonder of the world according to National Geographic – but to Salka Valsdóttir, one-third of Cyber, it’s merely a “giant cum-dump.”
Ewww. Really? Jóhanna Rakel Jónasdóttir, her friend from school, backs her up. “We know so many people who’ve had sex in there. Like, don’t put your head under is all I’m saying.”
We’re in Salka’s basement, underneath her parents’ house, and I’m trying to conduct a sensible interview about Icelandic hip-hop, feminism – and the best attractions in Iceland. While DJ Þura Stína is almost too cool for the interview in her ironic-collegiate sweatpants and top, the other two can’t stop talking, and making each other laugh – about everything from earnest music journalists at youth magazines to the Icelandic craze for trampolines. It’s unhelpful, if begrudgingly entertaining.
Cyber began when Salka and Jóhanna were 16, and decided to form a punk/thrash/disco duo called Cyber, named after a lipstick they both liked, even though neither of them could sing. “We had a very well-curated tracklist,” says Salka. “Unfortunately, the songs were complete crap.”
They hadn’t tried hip-hop until 2013, when Salka went to an all-girl hip-hop meet-up, which was meant to be a safe space for local women to try rapping. More than 20 people showed up, and that group was the start of the Reykjavíkurdætur (Reykjavík’s Daughters) collective, who would go on to get the nation’s collective knickers in a twist. With their songs about slut-shaming and anal sex, provocative live shows and Twitter feuds with (male) Icelandic rappers, the collective became a Marmite-y lightning rod, even in relaxed, feminist-friendly Iceland.
But before all that, Salka called Jóhanna, who was in Russia training as a gymnast, and said: “Come home, we’re doing a rap show.” So Jóhanna did. “I’d basically quit training anyway, and was mostly just drinking vodka,” she says of this decisive end to a budding gymnastics career.
While Salka and Jóhanna started writing rap material as Cyber – ditching the thrash metal for good – they also performed with Reykjavíkurdætur. “None of us had rapped before,” says Salka. “And we were bad back then. People would be like: this sucks! And we’d be like: No, it doesn’t!”
Things weren’t much different with Cyber. “Our first song was basically random words with a beat,” says Salka. “We were too cheap to buy the Beats app, so we’d play it from our phone at gigs. Then my mum would call in the middle of the show, and we’d have to stop everything. We had to learn everything, including how to use airplane mode.”
We were too cheap to buy the Beats app, so we’d play it from our phone at gigs. Then my mum would call in the middle of the show, and we’d have to stop everything.
On one Reykjavíkurdætur tour, the collective brought along a Þura, aka SURA, who is considered one of the top hip-hop DJs in Iceland. Jóhanna and Salka fell in love.“We were fangirling all over like little puppies, constantly asking her what she was doing,” recalls Salka. “It was a proper girl-crush.”
Þura rolls her eyes at the memory, but indulges her bandmates with a smile and a little laugh. Apparently, there were lots of fights on Reykjavíkurdætur tours – and Þura would be the peacemaker. “She’d just quietly say: why are you fighting?” recalls Salka. “And we’d be like: Okay, we’ll stop.”
“Eventually, we asked her to join Cyber,” says Jóhanna. “We’d all just met Skepta, so we were in this heightened emotional state. We got down on one knee in a sand pit, like this super weird proposal. She said yes, and we all cried.”
It was a good move. Last year, Cyber released the EP Crap, a mellow slice of Icelandic cool set to Þura’s distinctive beats. It earned them the respect of an Icelandic hip-hop scene that is far bigger and more sophisticated than most outsiders realise. “For a lot of people outside, it’s like: how cute,” says Salka. “But here, it’s serious – especially if you’re young girls in a very male-dominated scene. You have to work hard to be taken seriously.”
Now they’re working on a 13-song concept album, Horror, which Salka says has been “tragically hard to make – but a proper, cohesive album. We’re not amateurs any more; we don’t suck.”
So, with the music side of things sorted, and the Blue Lagoon out, I ask if there are any more tips on what one should do in Iceland.
“Aktu Taktu!” shriek Salka and Jóhanna in unison.
Aktu Taktu, it turns out, is a drive-thru fast-food joint. For Brits, it’s essentially a slightly posher version of Wimpy. In pricey Iceland, it has the benefit of being cheap – but ranking it higher than all those volcanoes, glaciers and hot springs does come across as generous. “It’s perfect Icelandic crappiness,” says Salka.
Þura seems a little dubious about this choice. “Ignore her, she’s too cool,” implores Jóhanna. So there it is, folks: Aktu Taktu, the best thing in Iceland. And Cyber, possibly the gobbiest.