Extreme Chill Festival co-founder Pan Thorarensen sure has a lot of plates spinning. Sitting in latest venture, Space Odyssey—a record store, venue and vintage clothing shop on Skólavörðustígur—he exudes calm and warmth while listing his various projects. In addition to the shop, the festival, and the record label that underlines them both, he is also programming music for iconic Reykjavík venue, Sirkus, which has recently reopened. “And I’m a musician myself,” he adds with a smile. With so much going on, it’s a marvel he’s so serene.
“It started when I was a teenager,” Pan says of his life-long, ever-evolving musical escapades. “I was making music in the Icelandic hip-hop scene in the beginning.” Pan was a member of famed hip hop crew Twisted Mindz, making beats and travelling with the band internationally at a young age to places very much unlike Iceland, like Tokyo and New York.
Pan’s ability to travel outside of Iceland and purchase records abroad had a big impact on his musical journey, and ultimately made him kind of an expert when it came to experimental and electronic music in Iceland.
“It was really hard to find the stuff, of course,” he explains. “But we travelled a lot. We went to underground record shops in New York and were buying a lot of music there. New stuff that nobody had back home.”
“It was a lot harder than it is today,” he laughs. “Now because of Spotify and so on it’s really easy to discover something.”
As a result of his growing record collection and interest in the unusual, Pan’s own musical tastes began to change and widen, as he was exposed to a community of musicians beyond the local Reykjavík scene.
“I was always producing beats that were a little bit different from what people were doing here in Iceland,” Pan says. “Over the years I became more and more experimental with my music, and ultimately I started creating electronica music. Of course, at that time there were no computers—it was all hardware.”
Eventually Pan teamed up with his father, Óskar Thorarensen, and the father-son duo began making music together. While this might seem like the ultimate uncool move, Pan’s father happens to be a legend of electronic music in Iceland, whose band Inferno 5 were one of the first electronica acts in the country. In other words, pretty cool.
“I remember in the house when I was young, it was Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Cluster, Harmonia… all this krautrock stuff, that was my childhood music,” Pan says. “It was quite unique.”
What’s in a name?
Pan and Óskar called their musical project Stereo Hypnosis, and in 2009 they had the wild idea to have a concert in Hellissandur, Snæfellsnes.
“It was free entrance. We had Myspace at the time and were trying to promote it there, to get people to come over,” Pan says. “But we were really surprised, over 150 people came to what was basically a joke—or more of an art performance,” he corrects himself.
With the event being such a success, the following year they returned to West Iceland for the first ever iteration of Extreme Chill Festival. They named the festival after a compilation series Pan and Óskar had started to make of underground electronica music.
“This is the key,” Pan says, of the mixes (which are now available online—although not many know this). “In addition, we had these Extreme Chill nights at Kaffibarinn for years, so when it came to naming the festival it just made sense.” It seems fitting, as well, that the name itself represents an oxymoron. How can something chill be extreme? Pan smiles: “it can mean a lot of things.”
There’s no place like home
Over the years Extreme Chill has moved, grown, and gone through many changes. From small town venues in places like Hellissandur and Vík í Mýrdal, to overseas showcases, and even a cop riot thrown into the mix, the festival has now landed in what was probably always its spiritual home: Reykjavík, which Pan wryly describes as, “the electronic music capital of Iceland.”
“We came here because I felt like Reykjavík needs this,” he explains. In addition to being easier for those who might be interested in electronic music to stumble across—compared to being based in the middle of the Icelandic countryside—Pan also feels like there is a real gap in the Icelandic musical calendar for a festival like Extreme Chill.
“With Sónar gone, and Iceland Airwaves focusing more on pop music, we’re the one festival that is doing electronic music in Iceland,” he says.
“It’s an honour to be doing that,” Pan continues. “To take care of everything electronic here. It’s amazing.”
A decade of change
Pan clearly takes his role as guardian of electronica very seriously, and the calibre of the artists playing at this year’s festival reflects that. From local Icelandic artists like Grapevine Music Award winner Sóley, to big international players representing various electronic music genres, such as Austrian producer and guitarist Fennesz and Kenyan artist KMRU, the expansive list of acts has Pan thrilled. “It’s our best lineup ever,” he says—and not for the first time.
“I met someone the other day who told me, ‘Wow, [the lineup] is amazing,” Pan says proudly. “But on the other hand you have people of course who say, ‘I don’t know any of these artists.’ He grins: “When people don’t know the lineup I’m really happy—I know it sounds crazy. I tell people, just google it and listen. I know it will be fantastic.”
Thirteen years of Extreme Chill mean that the landscape that the festival takes place in is very different, and yet Pan is sure that it’s here to stay.
“Ten years ago everyone looked at me like I was a lunatic,” he says. “They said, ‘electronica music, ambient music, what’s that?’ And now, today, it’s so popular. Everybody loves it.” He tilts his head and his smile widens. “Everything is so changed, and it’s really good.”
Extreme Chill Festival takes place from October 6th – 9th, 2022. More information and tickets available via extremechill.org.
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