Breiðholt, just a ten-minute drive from downtown Reykjavík, is perhaps not an area often associated with culture. But as is often the case in Iceland, there’s more going on than meets the eye. One of the biggest suburbs of Reykjavík, with a population of over 20,000, Breiðholt also boasts the city’s largest immigrant population, and a history of artistic residents. The neighbourhood is home to the NÝLÓ gallery, the Gerðuberg cultural centre, and Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Greenhouse recording studio, home of the Bedroom Community label.
It’s from this musical family that the Breiðholt Festival sprang, headed up by Valgeir and his wife Sigríður Sunna Reynisdóttir. The 2015 debut edition was a convivial event, with a market, art, food stands, and, of course, music performances taking place in the studio and the surrounding area, including a pool, a sculpture studio and a grassy park.
“We had the idea one year prior to the first festival,” says Sigríður. “We had a moment where we were shuffling gear into a van and driving it downtown for a show, as always. And we thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, everyone came here?’ We do have a house full of equipment, after all…”
The 109 set
The festival focuses on artists with a connection to Breiðholt, whether personal, or through working with Greenhouse. “We include a lot of people who grew up here, then went on to live downtown, like the illustrator Lóa,” says Sigríður. “On Facebook, we have the artists talking about their connections and favourite places here. For example, Jófríður’s connection, apart from recording here, was that she used to see a dentist here. Funny little stories come out of this.”
Last year, festival-goers got the very special opportunity of seeing Nico Muhly perform piano works to a tiny audience, who sat on rugs in one of the studio rooms. “This year, Daniel Bjarnason will play,” says Sigríður. “It’s a rare opportunity to see him play a prepared piano and some electronics. And Pascal Pinon will play on an old piano—one of only four of its kind, and made by an Icelander.”
This year, as well as the pool and sculpture garden, the festival will also use some other buildings in the area for living room shows. “There are more houses like ours that were built around artists, to use as workshops, but also as family homes,” says Valgeir. “Some are now apartments, but we wanted to get access to those spaces that remain, and show people what’s going on.” Sigríður continues: “These houses were built as a way of getting more culture into the suburbs, and not just 101. We wanted to re-invoke that.”
Sigriður thinks things are looking bright for Breiðholt. “A lot of people are getting tired of downtown, and relocating,” she says. “There’s been a lot of power to the 109 atmosphere lately. So it was really easy to get this festival on its feet. The local council was great. And people just wanted to help.”