A look at the top music industry showcase's Icelandic focus year
On the way to Holland earlier this month, I had a first-time experience when our IcelandAir flight was struck by lightning. The cabin flashed completely, blindingly white for a couple of seconds, and there was a loud cracking sound. My heart leapt and I gripped the armrests, but as the light faded… nothing changed. The plane lurched up and down as it descended through the heavy rain and buffeting winds, touching down in Amsterdam unaffected.
As well as making the international news for all the usual reasons, it would have been a particular disaster for Icelandic music had the plane gone down, because half of the young musicians of Reykjavík were on board. Vök, Samaris, Young Karin, Uni Stef, Sóley and countless others were crammed into the cabin along with their managers, sound techs and general entourage. Together, they were on their way to Groningen to represent their country at the ‘Icelandic focus year’ of the hallowed European music industry shindig Eurosonic Noorderslag.
Eurosonic is a meeting place for music professionals – that is, the assorted managers, booking agents, festival people, publishers, sync reps, lawyers, publicists, labels and consultants that make the wheels of the music business turn. People from all over the world flock to Groningen each year packing hot-off-the-press business cards and bags of music by the acts they represent, all hungry to take some of the opportunities that this epic networking event offers up. There’s a feeling in the air that people want to start off their year by getting things done at Eurosonic; that it’s an environment where deals happen fast, and nobody wants to leave empty-handed.
As the Icelandic performers fan out into the town’s venues to soundcheck for the night ahead, their representatives congregate at the conference hub – a packed-out, flashy, warehouse-sized space full of nooks, lounges, sofas, coffee bars, lecture theatres and meeting rooms. There are panels on all the hot topics of the day – from breaking open new markets, to buying into new business management tools – and round table debates on music streaming, putting social media to work and whether the age of self-releasing is finally upon us. People dress up like it’s a fancy night out or a red carpet event, making for some great people-watching.
“Eurosonic is probably the most important European showcase festival, especially dealing with the live music industry,” says Vas Panagiotopoulos (pictured below), manager of the Icelandic band Rökkurró. “Essentially it’s the one place where you can get the most festival bookers and booking agents in one place. A band can come here and present themselves to industry people. Bands can get good results here. And it’s great for us that Iceland is the focus country this year.”
Being the focus country of the festival carries with it a certain prestige. Firstly, there are more slots for the focus nation’s artists – Iceland has 19 playing the festival, as opposed to the usual two or three. Then, there’s a heightened presence within the festival – an “Iceland Erupts” email sent out to the registered delegates, an Iceland-centric billboard at the festival entrance, and a grand reception where industry notables mingle in the throng, music is played, and Icelandic delicacies and tipples are served up.
“It’s an important opportunity to present Icelandic music to the European industry,” says Vas. “All the bands I’ve seen here so far have put on really good shows, and it’s really re-enforcing peoples’ good impressions of Icelandic music. I’ve had bands play here before, and they were booked at festivals after Eurosonic – but I think it’s all about the right timing to get the most out of it. If you have PR up and running in the territories you’re looking at, it’s more likely a festival might take the band seriously, and if you have booking agents, they can do the work of inviting them along. It’s all about having a good team who can make the most out of it and work the act.”
In the lounge area designated as the Icelandic meetings and hang out area, I find a busy Anna Ásthildur (pictured below). She’s a project manager at the Iceland Music Export, the organisation administering the focus year. Anna has been working on the project for a while, as well as assisting the head of the Iceland Music Export, Sigtryggur Baldursson (pictured giving a speech at the Iceland Erupts party, in the article’s main image).
“It’s great to finally be here,” she smiles. “We at IMX have been planning this for ages. I’ve never been to this festival before, and so it was all very abstract, but now I can see it all clicking into place. I saw so many Icelandic bands yesterday and they were all so fantastic. It warms my icy, icy heart.”
Anna explains that a lot of IMX’s work focusses around showcases as opposed to consumer festivals. “A lot of the people who come to these festivals are industry people,” she says. “They book gigs and festivals, they’re agents and promoters. It’s invaluable for musicians to play for a smaller group of people who have a lot of influence. It’s been clearly shown that artists get great results from playing at showcase festivals.”
Bands themselves often prefer playing regular shows and festivals, and it can be hard to stress the importance of showcases, where it’s a different kind of atmosphere. But Anna says one good show in front of the right booking agent could change everything for the artists at Eurosonic.
“It can feel different for the bands,” says Anna. “If it’s a normal festival, you have all these fans going crazy, whereas at a festival like this you can see that people are maybe more calm at the concert. It’s mostly people that are there are buyers of talent who are scrutinising bands to see if it’s something they want to invest their time and money in. So while it can be a bit weird for the band, it’s an essential part of it all.”
Response to the performances was overwhelmingly positive, and as the results filter through, it’s clear that all present felt the energy and optimism generated by the Icelandic presence at the event. For this crop of bands, and potentially the ones that follow in their footsteps, the new relationships and profile-boosting results of Eurosonic’s Icelandic focus can only be a good thing.