by Ciarán Daly
"Just last week, a young person from Holland approached us after a gig in Rotterdam. His history teacher was using Hatari as a way to educate his class about Palestine.”
This summer, Iceland made waves internationally at Eurovision 2019 with their entrants, Hatari, and their song Hatrið mun sigra ('Hate will prevail'). In protest at the contest's hosting in Israel, Hatari challenged Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to a wrestling match. During the vote count, they then unfurled Palestine flags in a deliberate violation of Eurovision's supposed political neutrality.
After coming 10th overall, Hatari immediately released a collaboration video with Palestinian singer Bashar Murad and used Eurovision as a launchpad for their first European tour, 'Europe Will Crumble'. At their London show, we caught up with them to discuss life after Eurovision - and reflect on the political statements that have fuelled their rise.
The first thing you notice about Hatari is vocalist Matthías' eyes. He stares the audience down, pupils shrunken, beating his chest robotically, not demanding - but commanding - attention. In the back, maniacal drummer Einar's pupils gleam black from behind the spikes covering his face, a slave to the beat. Klemens offers a salve - melodic, mournful singing; hurt combined with righteous anger.
Sitting in the shadow of the majestic Mt. Esja, the Icelandic capital's dilapidated artificial marina is a mess of disused fishpacking buildings and industrial sprawl. It's also home to many of the city's underground parties, which in October 2016 included MYRKRAMAKT, the two-day Goth and metal fringe to the annual Iceland Airwaves festival.
Out of the rain, some art students checked the guestlist in a dark corridor filled with smoke and the screams of Hatari. The band had been formed months before, and it was one of their very first gigs.
Born as a performance art project by cousins Klemens Hannigan and Matthías Haraldsson and drummer Einar Stefánsson, Hatari is part-band, part-Dadaist collective. Founded in 2016 with the express intention of overthrowing capitalism, they've been slowly chipping away at it ever since through a combination of evil-sounding BDSM-inspired techno and public pranks.
The eyes were there, even then. As was the leather, the dark glasses, the spike masks. Their image as fully-formed as it was so early on, it was obvious that their costumes were quickly going to outgrow spaces like these. There was little to suggest, however, that they would be catapulted further onto the world stage than any other band on Iceland's thriving scene this year - not least as its entry to Eurovision.
Breaking the Israel boycott
Hatari qualified with a landslide vote earlier this year to represent Iceland at Eurovision in Tel Aviv, Israel, prompting immediate national debate across Iceland at the time. Iceland has some of the highest pro-Palestine sentiment in the world according to surveys, and was the first country in the world to officially recognise Palestine with 1967 borders.
The band quickly became a popular fixture of the Reykjavík music scene over the past two years, and while many Icelanders were ecstatic about their entry to Eurovision, Hatari came under fire from both sides of the political divide for entering. Pro-Palestine advocates argued that their entry amounted to 'figleafing' and an immoral break with the boycott Israel (BDS) movement, some even accusing Hatari of hypocrisy. It raised the question: can breaking the boycott really be effective protest?
When asked whether their performance in the final vindicated their decision to ignore the boycott, Matthias is unapologetic. “It’s true that different actions would have yielded different results,” he says. “The boycott movement is a legitimate nonviolent means of protest that we encourage all our colleagues to consider. We did what we felt was right and still aim to use this platform responsibly."
The band claim their use of the Eurovision platform was to highlight the Palestinian cause, which is at least evident in a collab video (‘KLEFI / SAMED’) Hatari released the day after Eurovision featuring Palestinian artist Bashar Murad.
“The whole thing has been a celebration for raising awareness about Palestine and messages of encouragement have come at us from the unlikeliest places ever since—from Palestine to Iceland and everywhere in between," Matthías says.
"Just last week a young person from Holland approached us after a gig in Rotterdam and said he was now reading about Palestine for the first time. His history teacher was using Hatari as a way to educate his class about Palestine.”
Iceland 'sinking into the darkness'
"Perhaps this band reflects the situation in society in many ways, which is quite depressing to think about. Don’t choose hate and darkness. I am certain we can do better than this.” - An Icelandic Christian evangelical
In the run-up to the final, Hatari became a big source of national debate in Iceland.
Social conservatives reacted predictably, saying Hatari had a terrible song that would "have unavoidable consequences" and was yet another sign that Iceland was sinking "into the darkness". However, this criticism largely seemed to be triggered by the whips, leather and the whole get-up, rather than a genuine concern for the Palestinian plight.
Always hot on the heels of a short-lived moneymaking opportunity, Icelandic businesses and corporations meanwhile tried to cash in by co-opting Hatari's image. Burger bars started advertising their cheeseburgers in studs. KFC started selling a bucket of chicken in a spike mask. And Taco Bell, never to be outdone, even tried to turn Hatari into the leather taco daddies of Iceland.
Ultimately, in the run-up to the final, Icelanders on the whole became excited that they had the chance to send a genuinely good band - let alone anyone at all - to the world stage (sorry, Friðrik Ómar).
“We believed that by using our agenda-setting power to politicise the event, at least we would have made some use of Iceland’s entry."
Hatari have previously argued that if Iceland sent somebody else to Eurovision, it would have just been ‘business as usual’.
They instead challenged Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to an Icelandic wrestling match, demanding the right to establish a “Hatari-sponsored liberal BDSM colony on the Mediterranean coast” if they won. (If they lost, they would give Israel the Westman Islands.)
When the band unfurled Palestinian flags during the vote count, the atmosphere in the Tel Aviv stadium was audibly hostile. They were met with loud booing and, moments later, were harassed off-camera by security staff, documented in a video on the band’s Instagram.
But beyond that, they were met with no real personal backlash.
“It was obviously an unsettling feeling to have thousands of people boo angrily at us, and there were some disgruntled faces that met us on the way out, but that was the end of it as far as we’re concerned."
Hatari performing at their August show in London at Tufnell Park Dome. (Photos: Megan Daly)
Repression, expression, submission and dominance
To the foreign ear, Hatari is a very kinetic band. They capture their listeners through their aesthetic and guttural roars, their boldness stemming largely from their energy and their image, rather than in language.
At their sold-out London show, their live performance was incredibly tight. The pressure and alienation of this generation is told through bodies on and off-stage, all under pressure from the straps - in this case literally - of our age. (A particular highlight was a tuxedoed young violinist appearing on stage to sing Jerusalem.) The show’s main shortcoming, however, was that it was far too early in the week. There was a sense that things would have descended into their rightful circle of hell had it been on a Saturday night with a curfew of at least 3AM.
The language barrier remains, sadly, Hatari's greatest shortcoming. For Icelandic speakers, Hatari's work is doubly powerful; less dancing, more howling into the void, thanks to their lyrics.
The lyrics to Spillingardans (‘Corruption Dance’) speaks of seven billion people locked in step to a ‘consumption trance’ led by fascists clothed in ‘avarice and hedonism’, and singer Klemens pleading with Iceland: “where do we go now, model country?” while the “fucking capitalists feed.” The band have been explicitly anti-capitalist since their inception, with a strong emphasis placed in both their lyrics and their public actions on capitalism, domination, and revolution.
Hatari’s image and message are “two sides of the same coin”, explains Matthias. “Our aesthetic is, among other things, inspired by BDSM, relating heavily with our ongoing theme of contradictions and contrasts, repression and expression, submission and dominance, constraint and liberation. Whether or not [this makes] a relevant whole when they come together is up to the viewer.”
Hatari’s Europe Will Crumble tour concludes in April 2020, with the band aiming for “the destruction of our current socio-economic conundrum” roughly around the same time. Dates and tickets
Ciarán Daly is the Co-Editor of The Radical Art Review. Reach him at email@example.com