Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir’s Band is an eclectic documentary with the stylings of a fiction film, chronicling a make-or-break year for an Icelandic female punk collective.
Icelandic punk isn’t concerned about conventionality. Even the dedicated museum, located in an old public toilet in Reykjavik city centre, invites you in with blasting music and the instruction to ‘Fight the Establishment’. Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir’s Band is a documentary that also eschews conventionality, following the Post Performance Blues Band – or PPBB – as they make one last all-or-nothing attempt at making it big.
Band has a unique feel to it, in that it’s a documentary with the narrative stylings of a fiction film. It’s a little bit kooky, intriguingly crafted and captures the essence of a band struggling with the pressures of achieving success. But it also creates tension, builds its stakes and encourages its audience to emotionally invest in Álfrún and her bandmates, Hrefna and Saga.
PPBB will play in any tiny dive bar that will have them and as support for bigger artists in obscure venues, but are longing to draw in the crowds themselves. And so, in what is perhaps a moment of madness, Álfrún books the Harpa Concert Hall for the cool price of $12,000 for a show on the 5th of December, the date the band have given themselves to make it or break it by. The overall focus of the documentary is, predominantly, them preparing for this show. But it also shows the realities of trying to make it in the big time as women in their 40s.
Álfrún is also an aspiring actress. She’s constantly going to auditions, getting her hopes up and being told the director ‘really likes’ her, only to not get the part. And then there’s the kids to wrangle, the bills to pay, and all the general life stuff that gets in the way of being creative all the time. Hence the ultimatum: success by the 5th of December or the band is done. It’s an all-or-nothing attitude that feels in keeping with the type of music Álfrún, Hrefna and Saga make.
Part performance art, part electro-pop-punk-poetry fusion, part contemporary dance show, the Post Performance Blues Band are an eclectic bunch. Their songs are about coffee and waffles, but also about gender and recovery. They wear sequin masks, gold bodysuits and giant fur coats on stage and spend as much time singing into the microphone as they do writhing on the floor.
But there’s a magnetism to them, which is brought to life in the sequences that act as music videos for PPBB’s work. They’re not mainstream, they’re not conventional, but they are clearly the product of passion. These are women who care deeply about self-expression, about having fun and telling a story, but are also deeply proud of their image as an all-female band. They even balk at the idea of having a talented producer on stage with them simply because he’s a man.
It’s the product of understanding that making it in the music/art/acting industry is tough, but especially so for a middle-aged woman. As director, Örnólfsdóttir frames the documentary as the cinematic, balls-to-the-wall performance that we’ll never experience, but never loses sight of that struggle. Band is bold and experimental, capturing the essence of the Post Performance Blues Band – as well as of Álfrún, Hrefna and Saga – and invites us to care about the successes of these women through the strength of its narrative. The music might be a tad ‘out there’ for some audiences, but a little unconventionality is fun every once in a while.
Band had its UK Premiere at the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival on 8-9 March, 2023.