Before me stand 16 girls — maybe 17, it’s hard to count — draped around a bandstand in the middle of a London park. Gun fingers ablaze, with swagger to match any roadman going, they’re shouting “feminist” at the top of their lungs. The rest of what they’re saying, however, is a total mystery.
Reykjavíkurdætur translates as Daughters of Reykjavik, where the Icelandic all-female rap group hail from. In their homeland, you might spot them in nude spandex underwear or telling the Icelandic Prime Minister to “suck my pussy” on national television, but sadly for me, they rarely rap in English.
“We’re starting to mix it up a little,” Bergthora Einarsdottir assures me when I moan that I can’t understand a word. “We’re experimenting to mix Spanish with [Icelandic] and even Russian, Danish. It’s in the making.” Everything has to be a mix, really, when your band headcount is in double figures. Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir tells me that at most, Reykjavíkurdætur have stood at 21-strong. Which makes me, sat on the floor, staring up at the all black-wearing trio I’ve managed to talk to, feel very small indeed.
This girl-army was born in its first form in 2013 off the back of some all-female rap nights in Reykjavik. “It was just a safe space to open up and share stuff,” explains Tinna Sverrisdóttir. “Because we tend to be perfectionists at times!” What was meant to be a get together for the girls, with a ladies-only audience, turned into an open house for everyone. “We started and suddenly the whole room was crowded with people, all the way up the stairs!” Sverrisdóttir recalls, still sounding shocked. Andrésdóttir butts in: “The line was all the way up the street!”
The rest is history. After their first night they decided to make a song together, with no expectations. “Someone asked us what the name of our band was,” Andrésdóttir laughs. “We didn’t even know we were in a band… It just exploded! It got so much feedback, there was no turning back.”
A female-only band of Reykjavíkurdætur’s size makes for a good story. But it’s what the girls are rapping about which is generating headline news. Einarsdottir says, “the energy translates”, but let me dissect their message (roughly) for you: hot topics amongst Reykjavíkurdætur include anal sex, period stains and (anti) slut-shaming. Being a loud girl gang left them instantly labelled feminists, no problem, they tell me, but they’re not always so politically charged.
“We can just have fun with it,” Sverrisdóttir enthuses, “it doesn’t always have to be so serious all the time!” Andrésdóttir is in whole-hearted agreement, “Just being on stage and rapping, that in itself is so empowering… Being unapologetic! Not dancing and trying to be cute.” Their attitude might have won them hoards of fans, from the basements of Reykjavik sprawling out across the world, but three years in, they still don’t have the full support of Iceland’s music industry.
“We’re really controversial in Iceland,” Andrésdóttir explains. “I think people are afraid to side with us.” Her two comrades nod in agreement. “People split into two groups,” she continues, “they love us or they hate us. People love to hate us! We get a lot of comments from people asking us to ‘go back to the kitchen’.”
If it wasn’t enough to have half the Icelandic public against them, industry figures are equally reluctant to support Reykjavíkurdætur. “It’s interesting sometimes to find out we get less pay than the male rappers,” Einarsdottir sighs. “There are men hiring them, and they think they’re cool and they think, ‘they aren’t so popular, the girls’.”
Combine that with the fact that, despite high demand, the band’s radio plays are few and far between, it’s a surprise they made it out of that basement three years ago. They’re not fame-hungry, far from it. “I think it’s just a question of fairness and equality,” Einarsdottir says. “You deserve recognition for what you’re doing, whatever it is. I’m not saying everybody has to like it.”
The odds might be stacked against them but after we meet, the girls are finally able to shout a metaphorical “FUCK YOU” at the industry when they reach their €5000 target to have their debut album entirely crowd funded. I wonder whether someone pledged the €850 package, for which they would receive: “PARTY WITH THE DAUGHTERS. YOU CAN HAVE AN ALL NIGHT WITH THE DAUGHTERS OF REYKJAVIK, THEY WILL SHOW YOU AROUND REYKJAVIK AND TAKE YOU TO ALL THE BEST PLACES TO PARTY. INCLUDING IN THE PRIZE IS DRINKS, DRESS UP AND THE SWEATIEST GRUB YOU WILL GET IN REYKJAVIK. AVAILABLE FOR VEGANS TOO.” If I’d only known sooner, I’d have started saving.