Another day, another slice of grim apocalyptic action that is life in Iceland. While Grímsvötn’s eruption took a firm grip of the country by the balls and the airport was closed, one casualty of this was the cancellation of the long awaited Caribou gig at NASA on Sunday May 22. Ticketholders were generally devastated upon learning about the cancellation, as it was a highly anticipated show. So why was it that I then felt a sense of relief when I found out it was cancelled?
Don’t get me wrong. I like Caribou’s music and was hyped on the idea of seeing them play. But that was until I realised the show was supposed to start at 22:00. “Oh great [resigned groan] another fucking late gig”.
You see, ‘school night’ concerts in Reykjavík have become a drag because of the ludicrous times they start. In most cities in the civilised world, a concert during the week will usually start between 19:00 and 20:00 and you’d be out and eating your kebab by eleven. But Reykjavík has to be different. With a 22:00 start and the usual delays a gig will easily run until the venue closes at 1am. For most regular people that have to do boring things (you know, like get up for work, or take care of their kids) this is a major ball ache. And heaven forbid if you live outside 101, because public transport closes at 23:00, meaning you either get a taxi or have a friend drive you home. So frankly, you start to see gig going as something that’s not really worth the bother.
Bemoaning this state of affairs to my friend Gylfi, he had an interesting explanation for it all. The thing was, he explained, that many moons ago when Gaukur á stöng (now Bakkus/Sódóma) was the main live venue in town, it had to have a restaurant license for it to be open till 01:00. This meant that it was supposed to ‘serve meals’ til 22:00, whereupon it would then start showing live music till closing time at one. This, he reasoned, was why gigs now start so late during the week.
But are bands and musicians must be happy playing into the wee small hours? Apparently not, it seems. Just about every musician I’ve talked to about this, especially those who’ve played outside of Iceland, hates having to play so late. Not surprisingly, many musicians also have day jobs and families too.
So, if bands hate playing so late, just start earlier you say. And herein lies the crux of the problem. They can’t, they say. If you start at 20:00, people won’t turn up until later. It seems that people are ‘used’ to the late openings and won’t turn up early.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but that just feels that we’re just pandering to a minority who think it’s cool to be still sucking away on a beer on a Tuesday at 01:15. If a band like Agent Fresco, Retro Stefson or FM Belfast played at NASA at 22:00, are you saying nobody will turn up? Of course not, the place will be full to the rafters.
But I really think venue organisers and bands need to start banding together on changing this mindset. Because right now we’re effectively are almost creating a form of cultural apartheid, where live music is but the sole reserve of a chosen few who deign to live in 101 Reykjavík and don’t have stuff to do with their lives, while the unfortunate sods who live out there in the real world, either make do with the scraps or pay through the nose for the same experience. And for a city that supposedly prides and ‘inspires’ itself on the quality of their live music, that’s totally nonsensical.
Now excuse me, I have an early start tomorrow…