By the time I make it to the top floor of the building, the door to a large, airy apartment has been left open for me. I enter but see no one. It’s all warm wood, clean lines, and art. There is a calm, ambient beat coming from above. I can hear Margeir Ingólfsson in the kitchen before he walks into the living room. Tall, dark-haired, and soft-spoken, he greets me with a handshake and a smile. After heading up the creaky stairs to turn the music off in his studio, we sit down at a white mid-century table and Eames-style wood chairs to talk about atmosphere.
Making Icelanders dance since the early 90s, Margeir has been DJing since before DJ was really a verb. If you don’t know Jack Schidt or Gluteus Maximus, some of his monikers, then you probably know him as the guy crowdsurfing over the Blue Lagoon. For eight years, he hosted dance parties for audiences in that murky water during the Iceland Airwaves music festival. But his connection between that space and the music he now makes for it began long before Airwaves was even founded.
The party monster from the Blue Lagoon
Almost thirty years ago, Margeir began to visit the Blue Lagoon regularly. “My grandfather had psoriasis, the skin disease,” he begins. “I went there quite a bit with him because the water really helped him. Of course the place was also magical back then. Even more, really. It was just an open space, no spa or anything. It was just the water, the power plant, and all that fog. I was just getting into music at that age and I thought, ‘With music, this would be perfect.’”
The spa facilities were built around the pool about the same time that Margeir began to play DJ sets in Reykjavík. He’d played around Europe and North America by 2005, when he finally approached the Blue Lagoon with his childhood fantasy. Why not play a DJ set to an audience in the lagoon? “I approached them with my take on it and five minutes later, they said, ‘Yeah, do it! Let’s do it!’” After the initial event’s success, he compiled and released Vol. 1 of his Blue Lagoon Soundtrack series in 2006, which went gold in Iceland. The series continued with Vol. 2 in 2009 and Vol. 3 in 2014. “The concept was a huge success here,” he says. “It was like it was meant to happen.”
Infusing the Blue Lagoon with sound requires a certain amount of musical finesse. Other DJs have tried since but couldn’t quite get it right. “When I make the compilations and when I play there, I try to keep in mind, ‘I’m here. I’m with nature.’ It’s not appropriate to play banging rave music and there’s no need to. The energy comes from something else: the connection to music and all the other things there. My stuff is more electronic-driven, more sub. A little dance-y, but also atmospheric. I try to respect the original Blue Lagoon concept and keep it intact.”
But too much of a good thing can be just that: too much. At least a dance party at the Blue Lagoon during Airwaves. “In the beginning, it was very small,” he explains, “but it always got bigger and bigger as word spread, and all of a sudden, people couldn’t get in because it was full.” Then things began to get out of control. “There is a bar outside, but there is a limit. You can only buy maybe three or four drinks maximum in the lagoon. Nevertheless, I think the amount of alcohol already in the blood caused the party to be quite”—he smiles—“demented.”
In 2013, they stopped holding the event in the lagoon itself. Margeir did not play a show there during the festival last year, nor will he this year. Instead of a dance event, the Blue Lagoon partnered with Airwaves to produce a seated lunchtime performance with a folk band in the dining space. Then they allow the guests into the lagoon afterwards. “That was their decision,” Margeir explains. “It’s water, it’s people, and with these conditions we have to be a little bit careful.”
From mountaintop to street-corner
Margeir keeps busy. When he’s not compiling a soundtrack, importing DJs from abroad to play independent shows in Iceland, working with a 16-piece orchestra, organizing Sónar Reykjavík, playing beachfront Burning Man-eque festivals on remote Swedish islands, running his IT company, or raising his two children, he’s bringing electronic music to other new spaces. “Typical Icelander,” he jokes about his many jobs and projects.
“I recently did a DJ set on top of Esja, the mountain peak,” he says. “We actually moved the sound system to the mountain via helicopter. In total, we got almost 1,000 people to the top: around 200 of them came by helicopter and the rest just walked. I’m always looking to do something extra, something more than I’ve done before.”
Case in point: for this year’s Culture Night, which coincided with his fortieth birthday, he threw a micro-festival right on Hverfisgata. Not only were there the usual soundsystems and lights, but he also hired a carpenter to build the stage and DJ booth from wood. They even covered the entire street in sod for that natural effect. “I laid the grass down myself,” he says. “It was very organic.”
On meditating and working out
In addition to challenging electronic music’s relationship to its exterior surroundings, Margeir also considers it in relation to the listener’s interior: the mind. He meditates twice a day, every day, for at least twenty minutes. “I use the technique called TM (transcendental meditation), which is the technique that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught The Beatles in the 60s,” he explains. “If there’s one thing that I would recommend that you could do with your life, I would say ‘meditate.’ That’s my advice—to everyone.”
The deafening sounds of live dance music and the silence of private meditation may seem polar opposites to some, but he explains how they are not. It’s a process. “If you dig a little deeper into TM, you get a mantra. The mantra is just something you repeat, you keep it for yourself. You repeat it and repeat it. It’s almost like dance music, a loop. It just goes on. Then the magic happens! In this way, techno can be a sort of meditation as well.”
If the crowdsurfing didn’t get it across, he’s not always strictly meditative or moody. He likes a bit of fun too. As Gluteus Maximus, he partners with Stephan Stephensen (aka President Bongo of Gusgus fame). Their performances include professional weight-lifting teams powerlifting to the music. “One guy in front of a laptop on a big stage gets a little bit boring after a while. We like to put on a show.” I joke that the performance fits perfectly with the band’s muscular name and we laugh. “It’s an important muscle,” he assures me. “You cannot dance without it. You have to exercise this muscle, so we’re also promoting good health”—we both crack up again—“which is very strange coming from techno!”
Return to the Blue Lagoon
For those of us upset to have missed our chance to get demented in the Blue Lagoon, there is hope yet. “For Airwaves, unfortunately, we can’t do this anymore. But I did my release party for the soundtrack there. It was on Midsummer Night in the 24-hour daylight. We put up a stage in a new part of the lagoon with the mountain in the background and it was magical—totally amazing. So that’s probably what we’ll do at least once a year, maybe more often.”
And until then, you can plan to work your booty with new beats from Gluteus Maximus. “Actually, we will put the most energy in the next couple months into new work. We have so much material that we want to produce a debut album.” Here, he adds an intriguing non sequitur: “We’re also working with numerous vocalists.”
I take the bait, unashamedly asking for a sneak peak on the debut. I was met with Margeir’s mischievous smirk. “Well, I found this new singer called Ásdís and she’s”—he pauses for emphasis—“really good. She has been performing with us now for a few months.” But there’s a cliff-hanger: “The other collaborations I cannot talk about yet!”
Posted November 5, 2014