An 11-piece ensemble conceived five years ago by various factions of the Reykjavik indie establishment, SNN’s collective girth is exceeded only by the sheer scale and depth of their plundering compositions. "[SNN is] really like a cluster of little military groups competing with each other," explains guitarist Vardi. "We just put the guitar section in one corner, the wind instruments in the other, the strings in another and so forth... in the middle sits Óli Björn [Olafsson], the drummer. He is the earth and heaven; the one that keeps these elements from dissolving into complete chaos."
But if SNN is redolent of anything, it’s chaos. The group’s sophomore long-player Royal Family - Divorce is an unvoiced mortar of instrumentation that adjoins brass-punctuated gypsy toils with post-rock malignancy. “The music we play is folk music. Folk music is about storytelling. Storytelling is about insane intensity and aching brittleness…” pronounces trumpet-player Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson. “All that stuff, the gamut of emotions, has a lot to do with the original tunes,” agrees drummer Oli. “It is embedded in the melodies, so we really don’t need to strive in our performance to get them out. It’s all there in the first place.”
Over the years, the sound of the Balkans has been appropriated by a sprawl of American acts keen on fanfaring their Eastern European education. SNN’s motives were less self-congratulatory: “We probably didn't so much infuse [the Balkan sound] with a modern edge rather than play it as honestly as we could,” reveals Eirijur. “We are a group of composers from Iceland. We have not been to Bulgarian weddings, but we absolutely love the music. So playing the songs in a traditional style would be dishonest and probably sound a lot worse than an actual Bulgarian band would sound.” Or, as guitarist Hallvarður Ásgeirsson sees it: “It's not that we have infused [Balkan music], it has infused us. It's a living being that takes over.”
And take over is what SNN is beginning to do. Since releasing their debut album Orkideur Havai on FatCat’s US label Bubble Core in 2006, the band’s blaze of traversing folk has abducted audiences around the globe, particularly after a stint supporting the mighty Animal Collective. Yet accessibility is an afterthought to this organic ‘Big Band’ [the English translation of Storsveit]: “We are the most impractical band in the universe,” decrees Hallvarður bluntly. “When we play shows in Iceland it’s for everybody, the indie kids and their grannies,” continues Oli. “It’s all about the fun of coming together for playing and dancing — although people have had some difficulties finding the steps to some of the tunes.”
Already pondering further line-up additions (“It could be twice as many. Imagine the sound: Boom!” enthuses Oli), SNN’s hopes for the future are as impenetrable as their brilliant squalls of sound. “We'd love to tour in the summertime. It's hard though,” bemoans Eiríkur. “Iceland's economy is having a really, really, big, ghoulish, why-the-fuck-did-I-say-that, drunk-dialling, throwing-up-the-painkillers-on-the-bedroom-floor-while-remembering-you-lost-your-wallet-and-oh-shit-the-wedding-ring-is-gone hangover. Besides that, we'd love a picnic.”
First published here at The Skinny