Lagaffe Tales (soundcloud) is a deep house label forged from fire and ice in the relatively small land mass full of contrasts known as Iceland. Based in the capital, Reykjavík, Viktor Birgisson and Jónbjörn Finnbogason began crafting out a local scene in the most sparsely populated nation in Europe. With only roughly 330 000 inhabitants, finding talented, homegrown producers in a niche scene sounds like quite the challenge, but it is one that Viktor Birgiss & Jónbjörn have managed to tackle in spectacular fashion. Both talented producers in their own right, they’ve also managed to unearth the likes of Davíð & Hjalti (one half of which also goes by Felix Leifur) and ‘one man supergroup’ Moff & Tarkin, making their first two vinyl EPs exclusively Icelandic. Their most recent sampler dipped into the international pool a bit, bringing back producers who have helped shape the sound of the label over the years.
The increasingly busy pair behind the label kindly took some time to answer some questions for us about their label, how they’ve progressed over the years and the Icelandic scene in general. Find out more about Lagaffe Tales below:
Hi Jónbjörn and Viktor, the label was founded back in 2012. What was going on in your lives at the time? Had you known each other well before then and what led to the decision to found an imprint?
(Jónbjörn) At that time there was a lot going on in the scene in Reykjavík. We had been dj’ing together for two years and we wanted to release some of the music that was being produced by fresh new faces in the scene.
(Viktor) There were no domestic labels involved in the house scene at that time. Instead of trying to push our unknown music to the labels abroad we decided to do it ourselves. It was also out of curiosity that we started the label. Would anyone buy the music?
(Jónbjörn) We both come from different corners of Iceland, Viktor is from the capital, Reykjavík, and Jónbjörn grew up in one of the western fjords of Iceland, Hnífsdalur.
(Viktor) We first got in touch on a popular Icelandic chat website around 2009 under a forum called “Dance music” where we shared DJ mixes and talked about music. Viktor sold his first mixer to Jónbjörn and shortly after that he came to Ísafjörður to play at one of Jónbjörns first house event. Jónbjörn eventually moved to Reykjavik where we decided to dj together as a duo called Gaston Lagaffe (hence the name Lagaffe Tales). We worked together at the bar we both wanted to play at the most but we knew no one in the scene so we worked our way to the DJ booth at Kaffibarinn networking along the way.
Can you tell us the meaning behind the name Lagaffe Tales and if you had to sum up the ethos of the catalog, what would it be? What sorts of sounds are you listening for in a release?
When we started dj’ing together we decided to use the name Gaston Lagaffe as a tribute to these Belgian comics by Franquinn that we loved when we were young. All that back catalogue is somewhat our journey through different styles of house music. It started out as a collection of Icelandic house music that grew into something bigger and connected like-minded artists in the scene that we connect with musically and also on a personal level.
The artwork for each EP is very appealing, whether it’s a pattern, full image or a simple white label stamp. Who is behind the imagery and how is it decided upon each time?
Jónbjörn is a Graphic designer and has been taking care of the visuals since we started out. His style has developed a lot since we begun and all the artworks, posters and flyers have given him a creative freedom to experiment with different styles and methods. Usually, the designs happen while listening to the release and trying to make the overall feel of the release fit with experimental patterns and colours.
(Viktor) You can clearly see Jónbjörns style develop from when he started at the Iceland Academy of The Arts to where he finished (2013-2016). And he also started an artwork challenge project amongst his classmates for doing artworks for some of the digital releases at that time.
You’ve released tracks from artists domestically in Iceland as well as abroad. Is there any method to your A&R work? Any pleasant surprises with a past release?
(Jónbjörn) We try to keep the artist close and usually a good friendship will come out of this collaboration.
(Jónbjörn) The thing that surprised us the most was how everybody in the scene is connected in one way or another, one connection leads to another one. Some kind of a ripple effect. So, we’ve released a lot of music through some connections that happened by coincidence.
(Viktor) We started out releasing local artists and eventually just released music that we thought fitting no matter where it was from. I guess today and since we moved to vinyl we want to define our label direction a bit more and focus on something that makes us special, our domestic music scene but we still have a weak spot for good music that is not local.
The label has started to press vinyl after a strong back catalog of digital. How does it feel to step into vinyl distribution and how has the response been?
(Jónbjörn) It’s great to finally achieve this long term goal, it was our dream from the start to release music physically. It was the perfect timing for us, we built our catalogue up slowly and gained some following. The responses we’ve gotten are dreamlike, we never imagined our first vinyl would sell out this fast.
(Viktor) I think we have received more recognition since we started releasing vinyl and I guess we have stepped our game up a bit.
The latest release LAGAFFE003, sampler VA EP just landed recently. Tell us a little about how this collection came together and what was the overall goal for the record?
(Jónbjörn) In 2014 we did this Tale of Tales sampler with some Icelandic friends and the goal is to bring all new and old friends together and show some sample of their work.
(Viktor) The artists on this record have all previously released with us digitally with an exception from Sune. I think that we have all managed to grow as a label and artists at the same time, so it might have been a little award from us to the artists for wanting to release with us at the time when others wouldn’t (being only digital at the time).
You’ve described Iceland’s music scene as a ‘sparse community,’ are there any record stores and/or bars that keep this small group going? Which are your favorite?
(Jónbjörn) Reykjavík has some really nice spots! There are a couple of nice small record shops, but for second-hand dance music and some new Icelandic goodies, we would recommend Lucky Records.
For dancing, the first choice would be Kaffibarinn, we have had some crazy nights over there. One of the oldest bars in Reykjavík, an institution. For more clubby vibes we would go to Paloma, a former Viking tourist bar turned into a club.
(Viktor) There are places that are the cornerstones of our scene which have been mentioned.
How often do you all make it to Europe for gigs or just to enjoy and where do you tend to travel on these visits?
(Jónbjörn) There are some ideas of exporting our artists more often to Europe for gigs, and right now some of them are actually living on the mainland. I moved over to Berlin last year and it takes a bit of time to establish in a new city, especially where there is a crazy much happening and everyone is doing something.
(Viktor) I have been to Norway, Sweden and Austria recently with the label (Lagaffe Tales with Felix Leifur & Moff & Tarkin) but it only happens once in a while. It’s relatively expensive to fly from Reykjavik to the mainland of Europe so when you get to go it’s something to look forward to. We would very much like to play more abroad and its one of our set goals for the future. We are aiming towards doing a little euro trip in September celebrating our 5-year anniversary. Does anyone out there want a visit from Lagaffe and the crew? 😉
Who are some current inspirations to your DJing and Production work?
(Jónbjörn and Viktor) Inspirations are coming from all over the place these days. So much great music being produced released and it would be unfair to name only a few but anything from the youtube craze DJ Seinfeld, Ross from Friends, Mood Hut and Vancouver guys like Jesse Bru, French guys; Folamour, Tell and D.KO, Razor n’ Tape, Peckham strong, Moomin, Cristopher Rau and the Hamburg scene. Man, we could go on forever. And we want to give our Icelandic mates a big shout out for all the inspiring times we’ve had together; Moff & Tarkin, Felix Leifur, Áskell, Borg Ltd, Simon Fknhndsm, Intr0beatz.
What can we look forward to from Lagaffe Tales in 2017 and beyond?
(Jonbjorn) For the next vinyl, we signed an EP with an artist that we like a lot these days called Malouane. And there is more cooking that we can’t give out right now 😉
(Viktor) A mix of Icelandic house and stuff from ‘abroad’.
Interview by Evan