Presented by Studio Emissary and the Oration record label, the upcoming Oration festival will bring some much-needed black metal to the Icelandic winter this February. And with bands like Svartidauði, Wormlust, Slidhr and Abominor on the bill, the two-night festival (concurrent to Sónar Reykajvík) might be all the rock you need to keep that eighteen-hour darkness perpetual. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
I sat down to chat with Stephen Lockhart, the man behind the festival, the Oration record label, Studio Emissary, and Rebirth of Nefast.
So Oration is presented by Studio Emissary. How’d you start the studio?
Well, it all began with Rebirth of Nefast. I have this one-man band called Rebirth of Nefast and there weren’t that many people to work with in Ireland—where I’m from—so I just decided I would record everything on my own with Joseph (Slidhr) recording/performing drums. Then over the years I started recording friends’ bands and eventually doing other people’s stuff to the point where I was like—hold on, this is a lot more fun than my regular job! It started with Svartidauði asking me if I would record drums for them, which in turn led me to producing the Svartidauði album, and that’s it. Along with a bunch of other productions here and there, I also decided to study sound engineering at Stúdió Sýrland. This has now been my job for the last few years.
How’d you end up in Reykjavík?
I came to Iceland studying forestry. I have a Bachelor’s degree in forestry, which is [laughs] so useless to me now. I came to Iceland for my internship in my third year and I ended up coming back and just moving here. I worked here for three and a half years as a forest ranger, and then after three winters of cutting down trees in minus 0°, I decided, ok, this fucking sucks. I’m going to record people because it’s way more fun.
I can imagine! So who do you record?
I mainly do black metal, as much as I like to produce other genres. It’s actually quite nice to work with other music every now and again. It’s also very easy to get lumped into a category, so it’s good to branch out. I listen to a bunch of stuff, but if a band comes in and wants to record some indie album or something, their first choice is not going to be the guy who recorded the Svartidauði album.
But basically I am a black metal producer. I’ve recorded Slidhr, Sinmara, Zhrine, Abominor, Svartidauði, a ton of stuff. I also did all the Angist stuff and recently the Churchhouse Creepers.
Then you started a record label…
Well yes, with both myself and my friend Joe. A couple of years ago, we had this idea of doing this record label, but it was around the time of the crash, so getting stuff into the country—getting vinyl presses made—just wasn’t an option, so the idea kind of fell off the face of the Earth.
We actually did two t-shirts with some guy in Ireland, but we printed about fifty t-shirts each and after one wash the whole print came off. So it was kinda like, well that’s a fantastic start, let’s just let this fade away and hope people forget about it.
[Laughs] Yeah, we started like that but now we’re doing it properly. What rekindled the idea however, was that I had these bands coming through the studio, new bands, that often don’t really know how good they are yet! You can normally tell pretty quickly—like this band has got it, “the X factor”—if you wanna call it that—even at pretty early stages of recording.
So rather than me giving names and recommending other labels, it would make so much more sense for people to come to Oration, and we’ll just release it directly. Then they aren’t going to an unknown source. You know, if they are happy with my work in the studio, then they know they’ll get the same standard and level of integrity from the record label.
And then the other half is, we just want to do our own thing, rather than getting record labels to, I don’t know, make t-shirts? That’s basically giving them a license to print money. We can do that ourselves!
It’s kind of just the next step. It was bound to happen at some point. I like to do things on my own and this is not like “I’m a black metal guy” but the less people there are involved the less complications there are. It’s like if we can do it ourselves, we do.
And now the Oration festival…
Well, I was trying to think of ways to promote the studio and I thought, well, the bands that are coming out of the studio—that’s a large percentage of Icelandic black metal. Then I thought, ok, we could have a gig, but you know, I haven’t worked with Misþyrming or Wormlust, so we decided to expand it to what became Oration MMXVI. Still, 3/4ths of the lineup consists of bands that have worked with Studio Emissary in some form.
We considered different names, but Oration just kind of fit as the festival name. One word. Quick and easy. It rolls off the tongue, not like 50 million words that are all in Latin [laughs].
Ok—sorry to ask—but how did you persuade Wormlust to finally play live?
I am trying to think of a humorous answer, but really it wasn’t that difficult. I decided early that I wanted this festival to have a lot of bands that have never played in Iceland before. Like Slidhr has never played here—I’m a part of Slidhr-although Joseph has visited many times. We just played our second gig ever, which was in Ireland. We’ll play our first Icelandic show at Oration. The Wormlust thing—I just asked him and he said yes. That’s pretty much it. I told him the lineup and what I was thinking and he just said yes outright.
Now, Rebirth of Nefast — this is actually for me the most stressful and surprising element of the whole thing. It’ll be the first time I play it live.
That’s your project, right?
Yes. This project has been my baby since I was nineteen, so the decision for me to play live, that’s a bigger thing than the whole festival. Actually, as we talk, I’m looking at a screen on my other computer which has the Rebirth of Nefast album Pro Tools session on it. It pretty much consumes everything I do right now. But the lineup for Oration is solidified. It’s me, Þorir from Sinmara/Svartidauði, Tobbi from Zhrine, and Maggi from Svartidauði. It has been very carefully picked. I’m filled with apprehension, but also overwhelming enthusiasm, spending most of the last few months envisioning how everything is going to be. The show has to be mind blowing you know, or it’s a complete failure [laughs].
The festival is the same weekend as Sónar. Is it a competitor?
I think that actually Sónar might be an incentive, because Oration is not a huge festival. It’s just two evenings and, at least by international standards, tickets are cheap, so some can come for Sónar and pop in for Oration as well. I must admit I didn’t think of it, though.
The original idea for having the festival then was that there really isn’t much happening in February. In the summer there are festivals everywhere, and in November there’s Airwaves and then Andkristni (which both cater to Black metal), but then things are pretty quiet. I know myself from being an útlendingur [“foreigner”] that winter is one of the things that brings people here, more so than summer. If tourists are coming here, they are coming to see landscapes that look like ‘Game of Thrones’, you know.
So having a black metal festival in the heart of the Icelandic winter? You might get some northern lights, some snow, eighteen hours of darkness… It’s a perfect fit.