From Iceland — Grapevine Milestones

Grapevine Milestones

Published June 10, 2013

Grapevine Milestones


The first issue was published on June 13, 2003. As the reader should know by now, we publish on Fridays, so the first issue went onto the streets on Friday the 13th. The thought crossed our mind that it might be bad luck, but we are still here and still going strong; knock on wood.


Separate your personal life from your work life, they say. But what about when the work you do is what you are? When you are passionate enough about something, you spend all your waking hours working on it. There is no personal life. The waking hours reached long into the night that first year, and from time to time, some of us literally lived in the office, a tiny cellar on Blómvallagata in 101 Reykjavík. There was no going home; the Grapevine was home. The first office had some strange features. There was no phone line, hence no office phone, and we got our internet connection via the electrical lines, something that Reykjavík Energy was pushing at the time but has since stopped offering. Also, the ceiling was strangely low, at only two metres. This caused some literal headaches, as during many a stressful or exciting moment the need to jump up and down was felt and acted upon while the ceiling had other plans. Other features were the round windows reminiscent of the Titanic, the dim lights and the scent of sleep deprived, chain-smoking, coffee-drinking magazine people. Those were the days.


After having published three issues, we decided we needed a short break and the whole staff went to a small village near Borgarnes to chill out and drink excessively. Nearby, the most popular band in Iceland since the 1970s, Stuðmenn, were playing a show. By this time we had worked up the guts to call up famous people and did just that. We asked for free tickets to the show, and to our surprise, tickets were granted. Furthermore, keyboard player Jakob Frímann offered us to join the band backstage after the gig. Thus, we got our first backstage passes, and had a swell time drinking with the grand old men (and woman) of Icelandic pop, while listening to not-fit-to-print stories about being in a popular band in Iceland in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Many a backstage pass has been acquired since, as it is apparently a part of the job, but there is no time like the first.


We started publishing again in May 2004 after hibernating for the winter of ‘03-’04. The time off was well deserved and other things needed to be attended to, but getting back to business was even better. We haven’t stopped since—in 2004, we printed 11 issues and in 2005, the grand total reached 16. From 2006 onwards The Reykjavík Grapevine has been published 18 times per year.


It was all fun and games (and long, sleepless nights) the first summer, but the financial means were limited, to say the least. With a freshly polished business plan we started work again, this time with the potential prospect of a paycheck on the horizon. After a month of labour we got the check sent in the mail, and it was glorious, even though the amount of zeros was a disappointment, both for us and the taxman.


Although The Reykjavík Grapevine got the odd mention by other media during its first few months, it was in mid June 2004 that everyone in Iceland was made aware of the magazine’s existence. This was due to the cover of the second issue that year, which featured a black woman dressed in Iceland’s national costume, and the fact that a local organisation refused to lend the magazine a national costume because of our intention to have it worn by the aforementioned woman. We didn’t see that one coming, and for a few days The Reykjavík Grapevine and this particular cover photo was discussed on radio, TV and in all the printed newspapers during the 60th anniversary of the Republic. We even got covered by NPR. The 21st Century Lady of the Mountain had received international attention.


Our first taste of fame was followed by the first death threats to members of The Grapevine’s staff. Most of these came from American Neo-Nazis, but local Neo-Nazis from the town of Grindavík soon joined the party. They did not seem pleased about the idea of a black woman wearing the national costume. Getting such threats in the middle of the night via phone calls and text messages is no laughing matter, but we still felt these indicated that we had, well, done something right. Thankfully, none of these threats materialized. Later threats have been more civil. Mostly.


As you may have noticed, coffee is a huge part of our lives. It’s not as if we are coffee connoisseurs, we just like the feeling of caffeine rushing through our veins. In 2004, we struck a deal with a coffee machine vendor. This machine has it all, it grinds beans for each cup, you can make lattés and cappuccinos (well, you could at some point, today it just makes regular coffee). The coffee machine receives an honourable mention as it is considered among the oldest staff members of the Grapevine.


The second summer of publication also saw the first world famous people on the cover of the magazine. First came Björk, of course, and for the first time we used a photo not taken by one of our own photographers for the cover. Next up was Gerard Butler, who was in Iceland in late summer 2004 shooting the movie Beowulf & Grendel. Mr. Butler however, didn’t really achieve world fame until a few years later, more due to his abs as portrayed in the movie ‘300’ than his Icelandic venture, which was, in all honesty, a bit of a flop..


Iceland held elections in 2004, and as would become customary, we felt it was our duty to cover the elections and interview all the candidates. The cover featured a man dressed for the part of president of Iceland, and who just happened to be father to one of the staff. The feature article discussed the need to have a president of Iceland. At the time, the position of the president was highly debated as he had just refused to sign the “media bill” into law. This legislation was intended to limit the influence shareholders could have on the editorial content of the media they owned. Despite the controversy, Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson won the elections. He is still the president of Iceland and has since then used his presidential right to not to sign stuff on more than one occasion.


Icelandic nature is close to our hearts. We featured the farmer Guðmundur Ármansson on the cover and entered the discussion about the hydro-electric project and the aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður. The Kárahjúkar dam debate was raging and many wanted it stopped. The article discusses the sandstorms caused by the construction, reminiscent of the ones Steinbeck writes about in The Grapes of Wrath. The Kárahnjúkar dam is a fact today and sandstorms are feared this summer in the area of Hálslón, while the Lagarfljót lake seems to be dying.


After having edited the first 19 issues of The Reykjavík Grapevine, Valur Gunnarsson decided to call it a day in March 2005 and was replaced by American born expat Bart Cameron, who had previously worked as a journalist for Iceland Review. Bart Cameron served as editor for the next year and a half. Both editors still contribute material to this publication on occasion. One of the founders, Jón Trausti Sigur›arson, also served as co-editor during the first summer. The Reykjavík Grapevine has seen six editors in its ten years. The longest serving editors were Sveinn Birkir Björnsson, from 2006 till 2008 and Haukur S. Magnússon from 2009 till 2012. Haukur still serves as editor-in-chief. The current editor is Anna Andersen, who became editor in early 2012 and is also The Grapevine’s first female editor.


Iceland Airwaves has been held annually since 1999. In 2005, The Reykjavík Grapevine decided, in cooperation with the festival and its main sponsor Icelandair to publish daily coverage of the festival. Foreign music journalists and a herd of photographers were flown in and we managed to put out three 24-page issues in three days. By the end of the festival, three foreign music journalists and three Grapevine staffers had matching tattoos, due to a lost bet involving a hot dog eating contest.


The Grapevine has always been a small operation. Currently we have about seven people on our staff, along with a rather extensive number of freelance contributors and interns. There once was a time, though, when we though we’d up our game, as was the style at the time. Yup, in 2006 we kinda lost sight of things, and that is an understatement. We moved into a huge office with two bathrooms, a cafeteria, a meeting room and as many as five large, separate offices and a huge open space (we now work out of “a room”).

During the following summer we had as many as fourteen people on staff, and countless other paid contributors. We even had a receptionist (that was nice, though). In short, we lost the plot. Why, and how, this didn’t bankrupt Grapevine is complicated, but to say the least, there are people out there, some of whom still work at this publication, that saved it from sudden death in the following years by working very hard, for very little pay.


The global recession hit the world in 2008, and as the Grapevine is part of said world, it was also hit. But with some restructuring (which involved moving to a smaller office and reducing the editorial staff to basically one person), good faith and a whole lot of patience, we seem to be pulling through OK. The króna lost its value but now tourists flock to Iceland giving us valuable foreign currency. There is always a silver lining somewhere.


Iceland after the collapse—and through some odd misunderstanding (we’re looking at you, Deena Stryker)—started inspiring people all over the globe to fight the power, say no to austerity and jail bankers (just like we had supposedly done. Ehrm). The idea that Iceland was a beacon of democracy and common sense was especially popular in Spain for some reason (Spain was and is going through some of the same stuff we did, albeit on a much larger, more serious scale). One of the results of Iceland’s newfound popularity in the region (we can only guess) was that during the summer of 2011 Grapevine all of the sudden found itself employing not one, not two, but THREE interns from Spain simultaneously; the very wonderful Félix, Marta and José.
They were eager and enthusiastic interns, ready and willing to do whatever it took. However, it soon became apparent that their English language skills left a lot to be desired and we found ourselves lacking in tasks to assign them. But hey, it was summer, we had plenty of pages to spare—why not go ahead and just print a Spanish language section every now and again? It made more sense than hiring non-English speaking interns at an English language magazine anyway. So for a brief period in the summer of 2011 we were a bilingual publication.


Why it took us eight years to finally get to making a complete Bar Guide for Reykjavík is a mystery, but we eventually got around to it. Having a list of every happy hour in town (of which there were few at the time) also seemed quite useful in the mind of borderline alcoholics on journalist salaries.

It was a rough birth—there were a lot more bars around than we had anticipated, but we pulled through like we mostly always do. A year later we debuted our fancy APPY HOUR GUIDE APP (“the app that fucks you up”—we are eternally subtle), which was based on all that, hic, research we did and is by now essential for any self respecting Reykjavík drinker. Turn to the centre spread to read our 2013 bar guide—it’s right here!


By the time you read this, it has been a whole decade of The Reykjavík Grapevine. An English language magazine distributed for free to anyone willing to read it. It was hard to pitch this idea to potential advertisers a decade ago, but now we are part of the life in Reykjavík and in Iceland. I wonder what ideas kids are pitching to potential sponsors these days, probably something involving some i-gadget or the interwebs. But we expect to still be here after another decade has passed.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Enough. Stop. Now.

Enough. Stop. Now.


Show Me More!