You don’t walk into Pönksafn Íslands; you descend into it. The new Icelandic Punk Museum in Reykjavík is located in a former public toilet: 0 Bankastræti in the city centre.
As I descend into Pönksafn Íslands on my second day in Reykjavík, curator and famous Icelandic punk Svarti Álfur Mánason is rocking out, noisily and messily, at the bottom of the graffiti-covered steps, his pink spiked hair the first thing I see. He apologizes for his messy riffing, welcomes me to the museum and tells me I can play any of the instruments and put on any of the clothes in the place. “Go in order,” he advises. “And read the doors; that way you won’t miss any of the humor.”
Each stall, of course, features a (non-working) toilet, along with an impressive array of archives from Icelandic punk, 1978-1992 (from the nation’s first punk band, Fræbbblarnir, to the disbanding of The Sugarcubes). The walls are plastered floor to ceiling with photographs, posters, newspaper articles, record covers, sheet music, lyrics, bumper stickers and graffiti. Although the museum is small – I counted five private stalls plus the slightly more spacious lobby – it packs a lot of punk history. In the lobby, records are glued to the ceiling and each one comes with a pair of headphones on a pullstring allowing you to sample a song or two.
Unsurprisingly, there are many, many pictures of Björk. I am struck by the importance of The Sugarcubes to Icelandic punk history and I spend a long time looking at photographs and posters featuring the young star before she was internationally famous. The record sample features “Birthday” as well as the lesser-known “Deus.” There are other women rockers featured, too: Grylurnar (“The Witches”), Ella Magg and Q4U, among others.
Pönksafn Íslands opened in November of last year. It was founded by Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten). Speaking at the museum opening on November 1, Lydon said “The Icelandic Punk Museum will honor the music and the spirit that has shaped musicians and bands to this day, people who dared to be different.”
When asked if punk rock is for old people Lydon replied, “All museums are only for old people. And this one ain’t dead, so wake up and breathe the pulse of life into it, just by being here.” And when you ascend from Pönksafn Íslands afterward, you’ll take that life with you.
You can visit the Icelandic Punk Museum’s website at http://thepunkmuseum.is/.