‘Hate will prevail’: Icelandic BDSM band put Eurovision and Israel in a bind

Leather-clad group Hatari say this years contest, in which they will represent Iceland, is built on a lie

Nothing titillates the Icelandic bondage and dominance-themed band Hatari more than a glaring contradiction.


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    On stage, the group, whose name means Hater, present a fascist-inspired dystopia of blood-splattered whippings. In person, they are softly spoken and occasionally cheerfully optimistic.

    They have slammed Eurovision in Israel which is the subject of boycott calls over the countrys treatment of Palestinians as being built on a lie, calling it propaganda and a whitewash, yet they have agreed to represent their country in Tel Aviv this week, expressing genuine love for the competitions message of unity and diversity.

    While the groups founding purpose was to overthrow capitalism, they own a for-profit company selling T-shirts and merchandise and brashly advertise their own carbonated water at any opportunity, promising it is the purest water left on Earth.

    Of course, dismantling capitalism is an expensive affair, says one half of the bands main duo, Matthias Tryggvi Haraldsson, in monotone sarcasm.

    The worlds longest-running televised song competition boasts a proud history of pop ballads light on meaning and heavy on fun and glitz, making it a wonder that a black leather, highly sexualised group who revel in pain have made it to Eurovision with a song entitled Hate Will Prevail.

    Some of our fans in Iceland are gimps at heart, explains the other frontman, Klemens Hannigan, his golden hoop earrings dangling, framed by a blonde mullet.


     

    The pair of cousins, both 25, dreamed up the performance art group during a stroll in the nighttime sun in Reykjavk several years ago, contemplating the rise of populism in Europe. Hate Will Prevail takes it forward, imagining a dark future. The militaristic, authoritarian style of BDSM bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism seemed apt and they have been welcomed, they say, with open arms by the Icelandic fetish community.

    They told us about the importance of consent and trust, before proceeding to flog us, says Tryggvi Haraldsson. The chairman of the national BDSM society became an ally and even made a cameo appearance in a music video.

    The third member of the band, Einar Hrafn Stefansson, is a drummer who appears in shows in a mask. He was spotted recently on a beach in Tel Aviv in platform boots and metal chains. He was let out for a couple of hours; otherwise he is locked in his [hotel] room, says Hannigan.

    Hatari have emerged as the most controversial act this year, putting politics front of stage in a contest that has been at pains stay apolitical, to the point of adding censorship of lyrics and speeches into its rules.

    With their deadpan humour, Hatari challenged the countrys leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, to a traditional Icelandic trouser-grip wrestling match the day after the Eurovision finale, to be adjudicated by a neutral UN-sponsored referee.


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    Hatari
    Hatari came out on top in Sngvakeppnin, Icelands domestic Eurovision contest. Photograph: Mummi Lu

    If they win on 18 May, they warn they will have earned the right to take control of land within Israel to set up the first liberal BSDM enclave. The parallels with Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory are clear, even if Hatari do not point that out explicitly.

    Their pronouncements have riled Israels supporters and no doubt caused anxiety among Eurovision organisers. There was public pressure on the interior ministry to block their entry to the country, and they say pre-competition events in Tel Aviv have been awkward.

    There is tension, says Tryggvi Haraldsson, adding that they have received hate mail. There is an elephant in the room.

    Eurovision, created in 1956 in the aftermath of the second world war, has always been deeply, if not overtly, political. Countries with close linguistic, ethnic or diplomatic ties often vote for each other. Armenias 2015 song was originally entitled Dont Deny, interpreted as a reference to Turkeys denial of the genocide. This year, Ukraine pulled out of the contest because its singer accused the national broadcaster of pushing her to abide by a ban on concerts in Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014.

    Israel has sought to use Eurovision for political gain, originally planning to host it in Jerusalem in a campaign for international recognition of the holy city as its capital. The organisers chose Tel Aviv instead.

    Eurovision is, of course, a beautiful thing in that it is based on ideas of peace and unity and this year its held in a country thats marred by conflict and disunity, says Tryggvi Haraldsson.

    Letting the narrative of the fluffy, peace-loving pop contest go on unchallenged in this context in our view is extremely political. Everyone who takes part in this is taking part in a political statement whether they are aware of it or not.

    Hataris
    Hataris Klemens Hannigan (right) and Matthias Tryggvi Haraldsson (second from right) at the Sngvakeppnin finals in March. Photograph: Facebook

    To push back, Hataris first point of call after landing was to drive to the largest city in the occupied West Bank. More than 200,000 Palestinians live in Hebron, but the presence of ultranationalist Israeli settlers around the main souk has in effect shut down local life in its centre as army checkpoints cut off the area.

    Its so absurd to be in this contest and everyone is super polite; its all about the music and everybody loves each other, says Tryggvi Haraldsson at his hotel in Tel Aviv. And to be in that bubble a day after witnessing apartheid in action just an hours drive away is the contradiction that we want to be aware of.

    Yet Hatari have found themselves under pressure from Palestinians, too, in particular the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which wants not only businesses to pull support for the competition, but artists to pull out of it too, even ones who criticise Israels policies.

    One of the movements founders said it appreciated gestures of solidarity but Hatari was fig-leafing by playing in Eurovision.


     

    Tryggvi Haraldsson says he supports any non-violent movement that campaigns for Palestinian rights, including BDS, even though, obviously and paradoxically, our approach is very different. Otherwise, he says, an opportunity for a critical discussion is wasted, as Iceland was always going to send a group.

    The big question is whether Hatari will use the Eurovision stage to protest in front of millions of viewers worldwide in the semi-finals on Tuesday.

    In rehearsals the band performed with backing dancers in front of a giant prop of grinding gears, which some thought resembled a grenade. It is the logo for Relentless Scam Inc, the holding company that sells their bottled water, SodaDream. It is not to be confused with Israeli product SodaStream, they warn with the slightest hint of a smirk, which used to operate a factory in a settlement.

    We are using a platform to uphold a certain agenda, says Tryggvi Haraldsson. It doesnt have to be a physical platform.

    When the contest hibernates for another year, Hatari are determined not to be a one-Eurovision wonder and plan to release an album in September.


     

    But do they have other ambitions? Tryggvi Haraldsson answers in monotone: Playing shows in countries where there currently is not an illegal occupation taking place.

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