Earlier this month, a new concert series premiered at Harpa, with artists Valdimar and Örn Eldjárn performing some of their best songs. The monthly series, Blikktromman (“The Tin Drum”), has scheduled a broad selection of Iceland’s top musicians, playing their tin drums for all the world to hear. But who are these people? What exactly are they doing? And why are they doing it? We sat down with organiser Borgar Magnason to find out.
Hey Borgar! What’s your story?
I’m a musician: my background is in classical music. I play double bass, I’ve played with symphony orchestras and have taught at music school. For the past decade, I’ve worked with every musical style except jazz. I have a close association with the Bedroom Community, a boutique music label run out of Breiðholt by Valgeir Sigurðsson, Ben Frost and Nico Muhly. Mainly, I’m just an independent music maker, beating the tin drum out of frustration. My mission is basically to try and exert a positive influence on the society I live in.
And what’s the story behind The Tin Drum series?
The story behind The Tin Drum, the machine… I was working with a few Icelandic musicians, discussing the state of cultural politics in Iceland, and the lack of venues for independent artists in the music scene to perform. I found that there is a far too common belief among local independent artists that Harpa is simply not available, because it is too expensive. So I just went to Harpa’s directors, and asked if they were open to having a discussion about it, if we could find an angle where we could solve that problem.
THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY!
To make Harpa financially available to smaller artists?
To make it financially viable to have a well-produced concert series in Harpa that showcased the best of the Icelandic music scene. And we found a way to do it; it turned out to be rather easy.
There’s not a lot of info available on the concert series in English. Could you tell us more about what it is and entails?
We’re just starting out, we don’t have backing yet; we’re producing this independently, for the independent scene. We’re basically working by our own method. So, the Tin Drum: we’re starting out with nine monthly concerts, with the aim of showcasing the best of the Icelandic music scene’s independent artists. Our main concern is the quality of the music, rather than the artists’ particular style.
As they say, there are really only two kinds of music: good music and bad music.
And who’s involved so far?
We’ve mapped out the first four editions, until the end of the year. Valdimar was the first one, for September. October is going to feature Úlfur Eldjárn, November is sóley, and Sin Fang is going to perform in December. Beyond that—we’re basically starting out in this manner, and I need to prove a lot of people that this is possible. I need to prove to a lot of people that we don’t need to take only artists that have a really wide audience. I need to prove that this is viable, and that’s the goal for the rest of this year. We aim at announcing the schedule for the rest of the season at the end of this year.
A COUNTER TO FESTIVAL FEVER
How did the first concert go?
We had a full house, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after Valdimar’s presentation. It went really well! We got Harpa’s catering service, and they put a restaurant in front of the hall overlooking the harbour before and after the concert. Everybody sort of worked together.
So Harpa is really on board with the Tin Drum?
They’re totally on board. They’re really nice, they’re really good to work with. We will be staging shows by the best of the Icelandic music scene on the first Wednesday of every month—so keep your eyes peeled.
Why Harpa, exactly? It’s mostly known for classical music, right?
The house was built under very strange circumstances. Halfway through the construction process, we realised we didn’t have any money. There was that economic collapse and all. Anyway, it’s a new house, and its purpose is slowly being developed. With the Tin Drum, we’re trying to find a new angle, to bring music into one of Reykjavík’s only purpose-built concert halls in Reykjavik. Now, Harpa is obviously home to Iceland’s Symphony Orchestra, which is great, but I think in Iceland our cultural life is very much based around festivals, with Mengi being one of the few exceptions. So, The Tin Drum acts like a counter to this, a year-round concert series, rather than a concentrated festival type thing.
The music scene serves as Reykjavík’s face to much of the outside world. With this series, we’re basically trying to create a venue for new artists to do what they do, showing a new face.
Why call it The Tin Drum?
The Tin Drum is a book about a man, a boy who hits the drum when he gets frustrated. He beats the drum to wake up the middle classes from their sleep. That’s kind of what we’re doing. Also, it’s a cool name.
So you’re waking people up to Harpa, hoping that others will pick up the beat?
Yeah! There’s not a lot of catering to tourists years-round, and not a lot of opportunities for independent artists to gain exposure. We want to fix that.
The Tin Drum is an ongoing concert series at Harpa, showcasing great Icelandic music on the first Wednesday of every month. The next editon is on October 7, featuring Úlfur Eldjárn (with Sóley heading November’s show, and Sin Fang in the December slot). For more info, keep your eye on our listings page, Harpa’s website, and hey, why not try our fancy Appening app for iOS?