It doesn’t get much more romantic than in the world of folk, where music is looked upon as a phenomenon of shared experience.
To the extent that folk emphasises storytelling and the storyteller, and to the extent that folk is a miracle of community, most of the popular music coming out of Iceland today should be considered, whether the musicians like it or not, pretty ‘folky.’
“For a long time I didn’t want to admit that I was under any influence from my dad,” says folk singer-songwriter Snorri Helgason, who this year is co-directing the Reykjavík Folk Festival alongside his father, Helgi Pétursson of Ríó Tríó fame.
“I started out making music that was very different from him,” Snorri says. “I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but somehow I ended up a folk musician, just like my dad. When I was growing up there were Ríó Tríó rehearsals going on in my living room, so I guess it was bound to happen—it was bound to seep in eventually.”
The fourth annual Reykjavík Folk Festival doesn’t offer much in the way of traditional Icelandic folk music—something Snorri says is “surprisingly dark, heavy stuff.” The traditional ‘rímur,’ for one, are the feature of a very different, more historically focused Folk Music Festival held in Siglufjörður in the north of Iceland in the summertime.
The Reykjavík festival is true, rather, to a more modern folk tradition, showcasing the folk-rock and folk-pop elements emerging in the local music scene.
“There is such an unbelievable amount of stuff happening locally that is, at its base, built on folk music,” Snorri says. “Everything from Ásgeir Trausti and Of Monsters and Men to Ólöf Arnalds and sóley and Seabear. To my ears, it all stems, somehow, from folk elements.”
Pet project no more
After three years at Rósenberg, this year the festival will be held for the first time at the Gym & Tonic hall at Kex Hostel. The change in venue along with the induction of Snorri as co-director, represents a ubiquitous shift in focus for the festival, which is being rebuilt, Snorri says, “from the ground up.”
The new venue is ideal for the festival’s small acoustic sets, Snorri says, and will hopefully attract a more diverse crowd than the one the festival saw at Rósenberg.
“In past years, the average age of attendees at the festival was forty,” Snorri says. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think appealing to different age groups is the only way that this festival can grow, and evolve into something bigger. Once the festival is more established, we hope to be able to include more international artists. The dream would be to get people like Bonnie Prince Billy, Sam Amidon, Bon Iver or Sufjan Stevens.”
In order to appeal to a younger generation of concertgoers, Snorri says, it was not only important to get the younger generation in front of the stage, but also onto it.
Young, local musicians of the likes of Ólöf Arnalds, Pétur Ben, Elín Ey as well as Snorri himself are all playing the festival for the first time.
“It’s quality over quantity,” says Snorri of the 12 musicians playing this year, adding that keeping the concerts small and seated, and ending things early, is crucial to the spirit of the festival. “The idea is just that these be really good concerts. I don’t have a very high festival tolerance.”
In the long run, the aim of the festival extends beyond just the festival weekend: the idea is to raise awareness of the burgeoning, local folk scene.
“It’s about more than just this festival,” Snorri says. “I want to point out all of the things going on, that there is actually a very strong, cohesive scene in Reykjavík. The idea is to continue throughout the whole year, working to increase awareness of folk music. There is so much going on. People just need to know about it.”
The Reykjavík Folk Festival takes place March 7 – 9 at Kex Hostel. Tickets cost 7,999 ISK (see: midi.is). Read more at http://www.folkfestival.is/