This Saturday, the Breiðholt suburb of Reykjavík will be a little (okay, a lot) louder than usual. The people over at Bedroom Community will be putting on the first ever Breiðholt Festival, a day of free (!) music and other arts events in the hopes to lure people out of their homes and listen to (and participate in) some local jams.
IT STARTED WITH A STROLL
I spoke to one of the festival directors, Valgeir Sigurðsson, who is also an accomplished producer, composer, and founder of the record label Bedroom Community and Greenhouse Studios. He has been living in the Seljahverfi neighbourhood of Breiðholt since 1999, he was surprised to discover that there was already a street full of artists’ workshops and studios in the somewhat sleepy suburb. While these artists remain mostly concentrated in one neighbourhood, Valgeir hopes to attract outsiders to Breiðholt as a whole rather than excluding and dividing Reykjavík even further. “We thought about calling the festival the Seljahverfi Festival, but then we thought we’d embrace it as Breiðholt —all or nothing.”
Breiðholt, for unfamiliar readers and 101 rats who can’t be bothered to get on a dang bus, is a southeastern suburb of Reykjavík. It’s situated on a large hill, and has a lot of green space and blocky apartment buildings more reminiscent of Soviet sameness than cutesey, colourful images of RVK houses. With a population of around 20,000 inhabitants, Breiðholt is the largest suburb of Reykjavík, as well as the most culturally diverse, and is home to a large Polish immigrant population.
While Breiðholt has gotten a bad rep from some Icelanders, it’s not as rough around the edges as rumours may lead you to believe. In fact, Valgeir described the area as a quiet, if not dull, place to live, as it lacks coffee shops and any sort of cultural events. “That’s also one of the reasons for the Bedroom Community name, because it kind of describes the area,” he explained. “People sleep there and then work somewhere else…”
But he also acknowledged that Breiðholt can offer some much-needed relief from the cement congestion and constant buzz of 101, which he described as quickly becoming “a museum for Gore-Tex-wearing tourists going puffin watching.” When describing the perks of Breiðholt, Valgeir of course spoke of the creative community of which he’s become quite an active member (if not pioneer), but he focused even more on the outdoorsy appeal of coming out to Breiðholt. “This area has a countryside-in-the-city kind of feel, so originally people had some farm animals around, and it’s very close to nature. I like the idea of a space that is close to the city, but also completely self-contained and as isolated as you want it to be.”
It was precisely Breiðholt’s secluded and underdeveloped nature that inspired the festival one day when Valgeir was on a walk with his wife, Sigríður Sunna Reynisdóttir, who is co-artistic director of the festival. They wondered why people never visited the area near the Ölduselsskóli elementary school, a rolling valley somewhat hidden from the rest of Breiðholt, and why there’s never much going on in this open space. “I realized from living here that we can’t just expect those things to be created for us, we have to provide it for ourselves—those of us who live here—and know what we need and want and try to make it happen.” And Valgeir seems like just the man for the job given his experience in music and connections throughout the area.
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
Valgeir is hoping that the festival’s impressive and diverse line-up of artists and lack of a price tag will attract people—both from Breiðholt and from other areas in Reykjavík—to be a part of the community. “We’re just hoping that people come out to the festival and crawl out of their shell and mingle.”
One of the biggest names on the Breiðholt line-up is Icelandic-Australian composer Ben Frost, who will be performing—or rather, conducting—his “6 Guitars” piece, a dramatic 30-minute performance that involves six different guitars playing the same cords repeatedly as rigorously as they can while Frost controls the sounds in the background via mixing console, deciding which guitars the audience can hear at a given time.
The line-up also includes quite a variety of other artists, including Icelandic electronic group Samaris, American composer and Bedroom Community member Nico Muhly, Filipina-Icelandic rapper Cell7, Icelandic composer Kira Kira, Icelandic DJ KGB Soundsystem, and several others.
All of the artists have some connection to Breiðholt, and Valgeir tried to be conscious of gender when selecting artists, explaining, “We thought about it a lot and tried to keep [the lineup] as equal as possible.” And if you’re not content simply listening to music and happen to be a girl aged 12-16 that wants to smash gender norms with a guitar, you can make some of your own with Stelpur Rokka!, a nonprofit that will be organizing workshops for ladies looking to rock out at the festival.
Other performances and events will include an opening parade, yodeling, readings (including Icelandic poet and author Sjón), games, photography exhibits, and dance workshops….basically anything artsy, fun-for-the-whole-family kind of stuff your heart may desire.
The concerts et cetera will be scattered around the valley between the Í.R. sports center and Ölduselsskóli elementary school, all within a ten-minute walking distance. Event locations include the aforementioned outdoor valley, a sculpture garden featuring the blocky works of Hallstein Sigurðsson, inside the cosy and absurdly ambient Greenhouse Studios building, and even at the Öldusel pool—not only will there be DJs outside of the pool, but there will also being music played within the pool via underwater speakers in case you feel inclined to duck your head all the way under. Valgeir certainly recommends it, assuring me with wide eyes and quick nodding: “Oh yeah, it’s possible. Water carries sound really well.”
While the area of the festival grounds is small, you can find a map on the Breiðholt Festival website, as well as the full line-up with set times and locations. www.breidholtfestival.com The festival officially begins at 13:00, and will go on until 21:45, ending with Samaris’s set.
Breiðholt is just a 10-minute drive or a 20-minute bus ride from downtown Reykavík. The weather gods are currently smiling down on this weekend (currently…this is Iceland, so we’ll see), and this thing is free, free, free, and will be full of beautiful people who love this neighbourhood and want you to, too. So come hang!