A real “DJ’s DJ”, Árni E. Guðmundsson is a tireless champion of other people’s music, often bringing unknown talents into the spotlight. Having started in drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep under the moniker Skeng, Árni now goes by his first name, playing techno at clubs like Berlin’s legendary Tresor. We chatted over some Thai food next to the German capital’s Kottbusser Tor station about his unrushed rise to prominence.
“I take DJing very seriously, but I don’t take myself as seriously,” Árni says. “I like to joke around. But no matter how high or low status the gig is, a weeknight at a small bar or Friday night at Tresor, I always take the time to prepare.”
UK roots, Berlin branches
Known for his passion for music and affable demeanour, Árni has been prominent in the Reykjavík scene for almost a decade. At 16 years old he started sneaking into club nights hosted by the Breakbeat.is crew, proponents of drum ‘n’ bass and later dubstep. “I showed up every month, usually by myself, before the bouncers arrived, sometimes before the DJs got there,” he says. “I started buying records soon after, even without owning a record player. I borrowed decks to listen to them and sort of started beat mixing by accident with no intentions of becoming a DJ.”
As the Breakbeat.is crew moved on to other styles of music, so did Árni’s style change and he co-founded the Plútó radio show with collaborators, including his mentor Ewok. “My DJ approach may be techno based, but my musical roots have always been with the UK scene,” he says. “Blawan played a Breakbeat.is night in Iceland in 2012, which was something of a turning point. He influenced a lot of us to explore techno.”
Árni moved to Berlin in 2016, with plans to explore the city and its venues, discovering new music. He started playing there in 2017, featuring on Tresor’s ‘New Faces’ night and returning for a weekend ‘Klubnacht’ a month later. He’s also been booked recently in Copenhagen, Wuppertal and Krakow, adding to his reputation of playing—and partly organising—Nina Kraviz’s annual трип (“Trip,” in English) label parties in Iceland. He gives Nina and her Icelandic трип labelmate Bjarki a lot of credit for giving him the opportunities.
Less yawning, more dancing
Árni is set to play a special set of rare music at Sónar Reykjavík’s car park stage this year. He’s known for playing unreleased tracks by Icelandic artists such as EVA808, Kosmodod, Volruptus, Hidden People, Fascia and, of course, Bjarki. “I’ve made it my goal to seek out new Icelandic music and bring it into the open,” he says. “It’s not about nationalism—there’s a specific Icelandic sound that fits what I play. A certain beautiful and frosty vibe that I like to unearth.”
To him, Árni explains, music has been more than a hobby. “It’s my passion,” he concludes. “I’ve never considered it something I need to make my job right away, it’s just what I spend all my free time and energy on. I’ve told myself that if the day comes that I start taking DJing for granted, I’ll quit. I’ve seen great DJs playing first-rate clubs, yawning behind the decks rather than dancing. It’s not a good look.”
See Árni at Sónar Reykjavík 2018.