In the dark Icelandic winter, music is a beacon of light and hope. Every January since 1980, the Dark Music Days festival has taken place in Harpa concert hall on the Reykjavík harbour. “Myrkir Músíkdagar” in Icelandic, the festival is a great place for music lovers to explore experimental contemporary music from both Iceland and abroad.
Gunnar Karel Masson, an Icelandic composer, has been the artistic director of the festival since June 2016. Gunnar also runs Sonic Festival, an experimental electronic music festival in Copenhagen. He is bringing his unique vision and influence to this year’s Dark Music Days.
The festival’s focus this year is on compositions using mixed techniques, including electronics, acoustics and video. The use of mixed techniques provides a way to explore the boundaries of contemporary music. “For me electronics are an integral part of contemporary music, so I feel like they should be in every programme,” Gunnar says. According to Gunnar, electronics can include “synths, MAX/MSP, live electronics on computer.” He adds, “It can also just be amplification.”
The festival includes a lot of Icelandic contemporary music, but it also absorbs elements from both sides of the Atlantic. “Riot Ensemble from the UK will present a really interesting programme,” says Gunnar. “They’ll be visiting us for the first time.” Iceland’s very own Nordic Effect is the ensemble in residence since 2016, and will be recurring until 2019. Some other regular contributors are the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra and Caput Ensemble. “The Trondheim Sinfonietta will also be visiting us with a couple of new pieces,” says Gunnar.
Another exciting part of the festival this year is the experimental DJ sets set to feature at two off-venue locales, Húrra and Mengi. The only confirmed DJ set as of now is by Icelandic artist Sóley. “For me it’s really important to get the music out to people who would probably not hear it normally,” Gunnar explains.
As a festival, Dark Music Days is eclectic, experimental and forward-thinking. “The goal is that Dark Music Days will be a place where you can experience the trance of contemporary music,” Gunnar says. His aim is to introduce foreign music to Icelandic audiences, as well as build more of a stable audience from overseas.
The festival had an open call for applications in spring 2016, and they received almost 300 applications from all over the world. “I got to know a lot of music that I wouldn’t get to know elsewhere,” Gunnar says. He hopes to continue this global approach for Dark Music Days.
Find out more about Dark Music days on their website.