Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2eq): 361 kilos
Sigurðar saga fóts: 67/252
RIGHT, so last Sunday I went to the last day of Innipúkinn. Then I hoped to catch some music on Thursday but didn’t have time. So yeah, Innipúkinn, which I take to mean ‘the demon within’. As I discovered from my landlady’s son, having not heard of the event myself despite my pre-visit efforts to Google down some groovy live music, last weekend was Versularmannahelgi, which seems to be the same as the August bank holiday. (I never know when bank holidays are, and they confuse me even more when I’m abroad.) Everyone seems to leave Reykjavík for the countryside; and fourteen thousand teens-to-twenty-somethings get the boat to the Vestmannaeyjar (the islands after which the now more familiar Eyjafjallajökull is named) for a wet weekend of drunkenness and leaky tents. (And music? I’ve never quite worked it out.) But then some dude was, like, I’m too old for this, and I hate tents, I’m going to make a festival for all the losers who are stuck in Reykjavík on Verslunarmannahelgi, and it’s going to be indoors.
As a big fan of tents, I have mixed feelings about this, but blimey, what a gorgeous venue they had this year. Iðnó is this big yellow late nineteenth-century building on Tjörnin, the lake in Reykjavík, and I’ve always been impressed by it from the outside (from where it looks like a posh restaurant) but never gone in. It turns out it contains posh restaurant facilities but also a theatre. Kind of school hall sized, all wood (apart from the ubiquitous Icelandic early-twentieth-century corrugated iron exterior), and all dead nicely decorated; I’ve never seen anything else like it in Reykjavík—it’s the only place I’ve seen here that really reminds me of these flash old manors or expressions of nineteenth-century civic pride that you see in Finland. There seems to be a bit of a dearth of good interior pictures online, and I neglected to take any myself. Never mind, you’ll just have to visit one day. So yeah, this lovely decorated school hall type room, with a very nice acoustic—I guess all that wood helps—and with a view over Tjörnin too. It’s the same view as in my winter solstice video that I posted on Day 2, except with the sun setting almost diametrically opposite where it is setting in the video. It was even pleasant weather—over 15°, and with occasional hints of hazy sunlight—so you could actually tell where the sun was. I really like how you get to see the sunset and the dawn on such totally different points on the horizon here; but it is also a bit confusing.
When I was at Helsinki, one of my colleages had this Tove Jansson quote stuck on her computer which said something like ‘there’s no fun like the fun you make for yourself’, and this is what this sprawling post is kind of about. When I was a teenager playing in bands, even though I didn’t have any aspiration to do it professionally, I did have this sense that what I was doing somehow wasn’t really proper unless the audience included people I didn’t know. Otherwise you might as well just invite your friends to band practice. So, to phrase this more abstractly and from the audience’s point of view, I think it’s become key to consumer culture that fun is something that someone else makes for you (which you then pay to consume). But really we all know that Jansson is right, so then you get the interesting consumerist problem of how to sell people fun they make for themselves. I suppose this issue is at the heart of a lot of internet business. I have the idea that in the first half of the twentieth century in the West, adverts were mostly about selling you Stuff. ‘Buy my stuff, not their stuff, because my stuff does what it’s supposed to do better.’ Then by the late twentieth century, they were about selling you a lifestyle. ‘Buy my stuff, not their stuff, not because it does anything, but because then your life will be groovier/happier/more like Madonna.’ But Facebook doesn’t try to sell you a lifestyle: it sells you your own lifestyle. Okay, well, Facebook is free, but don’t get me started on the vile adverts it carries (just get Firefox and Adblock Plus). Either way, it makes your own life an object of entertainment consumption, for your friends but more importantly for you. So yeah, the relationship between making your own fun and playing/hearing music is an interesting one. There are some new schemes whereby authors put sample work online, right, and interested readers contribute to an advance to pay the author finish the rest. As the Economist notes, ‘most readers won’t pay £8.99 for an acclaimed book, yet some will splurge £50 for a signed unwritten one’. Because that way, the book becomes fun you make yourself. Okay, as a patron rather than as a writer, but still. I’ve never bought a book this way, but it’s kind of the same reason why I don’t just copy music but actually pay for it (and buy MP3s from sites which give bands a decent slice of profits, rather than CDs from shops)—particularly when the bands are obscure, and even more particularly if they’re a bit lame but you think they ought to stick at it.
At least to foreigners like me, the sense that you’re making your own fun is what Iceland’s music scene sells. Playing a gig in a place that looks like a school hall when you’re still at school feels pretty lame; and half your audience sitting on the floor wearing woolly jumpers probably doesn’t help; but going to a gig in a place that looks like a school hall when you’re (gulp) a thirty-something feels cool.
Time for some detail about the Sunday Innipúkinn show itself:
- Prize for most expectedly good act but in an unexpected way: Ólöf Arnalds, whose records I have but who I’ve never seen live. Records impressively restrained and delicate performances:
But her act was a lot more ballsy and humourous, with a tendency to forget words which she kept on the right side of the fine line between endearing and annoying. And she made people sing along a lot. I didn’t catch who her partner in crime was, but she forgot some lyrics too. Definitely a making-your-own-fun kind of performance.
- Prize for best act all round: Kippi Kaninus. I hadn’t heard of him before, and moreover everything I can subsequently find by Mr Kaninus online is pretty lame, but you know you’re onto something when you’ve got brass players and two drummers. What more, in fact, could one wish for? But yeah, they also had the usual filler stuff (keyboards, guitar, bass) and, this being Iceland, inevitably someone to make bloopy noises with his Mac. And everything starts with this tuba player playing his tuba like a digeridoo, with all the animal noises and stuff that you do with a digeridoo, and it builds up from there. Winner. But I can’t find anything remotely this entertaining of theirs online. Guess you had to be there.
- Prize for the most fabulously camp end-of-evening act: Berndsen.
(If you watch the video, by the way, try scoring the verge on the Thrupp and Brown scales. See what I mean?) Yeah, so imagine the video but with like three times as much energy and more changes of clothes. And a wig. As on the video, the sound was a bit thin (voice, guitar, and bloopy noise-maker, and although Macs are great there’s still only so much they can do. Should have borrowed some of those brass players from Kippi).
So I had lots of fun. Did I need to be on Iceland to have it? As the crowd-funded books, MP3s of obscure bands, and Youtube videos on people’s blogs all indicate, in a way the Internet is bringing you the in-your-living-room experience right to your computer. You can feel an identity with obscure bands and toss them your coppers without so much as moving from your swivel chair. And then go and see them play a normal gig and still feel you’re making your own fun, a bit. And the Internet also represents all that other technology that means that bands can now record music and videos, and distribute them, very cheaply, allowing all sorts of stuff to rise to the surface. (Or, obviously, sink almost without trace.) So is there actually anything special about Icelandic music, when making your own fun is kind of a global internet phenomenon?
I’m not saying there’s something special in the water or anything like that. But I suspect that bands’ experiences of playing live must matter. I can’t help but repeat the often-made-in-music-documentaries point that in Iceland, you really do know that you’re never going to play a stadium, because there aren’t any. Well, I’m sure teenagers dream of making it abroad, and playing there to people they’ve never met, but here, even an audience selected entirely at random is still probably going to include your mum. I’m not sure what it’s like if you’re out in the sticks, but in Reykjavík people really do put their backs into making fun happen, I guess because you know no-one else is going to do it for you. The groovy little cafes/bars in the middle of town have live music just miles more often than you’d find in Leeds. From the residential Saturday night rock covers band in Hressó to one-off gigs in venues predictable and random, to festivals, there’s just loads of live music going on, and not just in specialised ‘we do live music’ venues. No doubt it’s mostly people playing to their friends, but that’s part of my point. I kind of think of my brother’s old band from when he was a teenager, which, in quite an Icelandic sort of way, was really good (even if back then none of them had Macs). As far as I remember, their only gig was my eighteenth birthday party; but in Reykjavík they, like the kids in Retro Stefson, would have been out and about doing the rounds:
Not that my brother’s old band haven’t all gone on to great things in their own ways.
So there’s the relative quantity of opportunities, but also the quality. I’m not tuned in to the festival scene, but I doubt you’ll get that many lineups in the UK that include the already varied prizewinners above alongside a heavy metal band, and some others too: most musicians belong to different bands playing different genres; but the package that consumers get tends to be structured on genre lines. Maybe the package the consumer gets in Iceland looks more like the musicians’ own view of the world. I wouldn’t have gone to see a metal band, but I found myself listening to them there in Iðnó and I enjoyed it.
And people who are making this fun will be doing it somewhere small, with their friends watching. This promotes experimentation, intimacy, and not taking yourself too seriously. Admittedly, 70% of the time the product of this is more or less pointless electronic wiffling, and at some point or other, all Icelandic acts, from Kippi Kaninus up to Björk Guðmundsdóttir, seem to be afflicted by this. Beneath the power-chords and long leather coats, even this metal band Sólstafir had a compositional rambliness that was more Sigur Rós than Iron Maiden. And, probably because so much is done on the cheap, Icelandic bands seem to struggle to convey on disc what they’re about live—you can see why Sigur Rós’s fantastically crafted, if-we’re-going-to-do-this-we’ll-do-it-properly Ágætis byrjun took them to world fame, and why Berndsen’s blooping has yet (as far as I know) to go platinum. But all that strikes me as worth it for these moments of full-blooded but cheeky energy:
Well, maybe you could find that anywhere if you know how to look. Still, I found it here.
But finally, right, there has to be something in this small country lark. All this activity in Reykjavík is partly because it’s sort of a source of national pride: it’s really interesting here how youth culture, music and nationalism are more or less in alignment, whereas at home any self-respecting musician will (not without reason) be trying to resist the cultural monolith of the nation. And something about how states—even small ones—function in the media and other networks of global communication means that being big in Iceland (pop. 300,000) means a lot more than being big in, say, Buckinghamshire (pop. 700,000).