So. We are ten. Free street rag Reykjavík Grapevine is ten. WTF.
I remember the first time I heard about The Reykjavík Grapevine. It was the spring of 2003. I was drinking coffee (or beer, probably beer) in at the Ísafjörður branch of Pizza 67 (RIP) and a friend of the publishers-to-be, who I also was friendly with, told me about their plans to publish a free English-language street magazine and asked if I wanted to write for them, about music maybe. I, the young, spiteful and dumb Ísafjörður fish-gutter, scoffed at the idea. “It will never work,” I thought, while on the inside my heart raged with jealousy for not having thought of such a brilliant idea (“I, not them, should be doing this!”—this happens a lot, irrational rage and jealousy come very naturally to me).
I found their third issue lying around in Ísafjörður later that summer (the one with the weird whaling drawing on front). “Boy I am so glad I didn’t involve my noble self with this fly-by-night bullshit idea,” I thought. “It’s ugly and horrible and it will never work and the articles are stupid and arrogant and I hate them.”
I was still jealous, of course (but that particular issue is still kind of weird).
Over the next couple of years, I ceremoniously ignored Reykjavík Grapevine. Or, I tried to. I wanted to hate it, I really did. I wanted them to fail. They were stupid and ugly and they were not me. Eventually, my small town insecurities faded and I got more settled in Reykjavík. I attended concerts and went to bars. I made friends. I explored.
Slowly, I started falling in love with the city; the spirit, the shape, the geography; its batshit crazy nightlife and its mostly wonderful music scene—all the creative, imaginative, impulsive, damaged, thoughtful and outstanding young people who make it up. Especially fascinating were the growing number of expats who saw something in Reykjavík and decided to make it their home (people like one time Grapevine power-couple Paul Fontaine and Bart Cameron, for instance).
Simply put, the Reykjavík I fell in love with was the Reykjavík depicted in the Grapevine, by the outcasts and the expats. The one that took its music seriously enough to discuss its negative aspects. The one that hadn’t grown up with Icelandic nature and was thus fascinated by it in a way that my peers and I couldn’t fathom. The one that wasn’t afraid to offend. The one that was of Iceland, but always slightly out of sync from the mainstream, perhaps due to its target market of visitors (or to its staff of terminal misfits). As an incurable outsider, an eternal disagreer of the world as depicted by mainstream media and pop culture, I felt I had finally found a medium that at times reflected my feelings and opinions (I would eventually learn that there are a whole lot of us out there who don’t quite fall into the popular target market demographic or subscribe to ‘common’ prejudice).
When I—much later—found out that Grapevine’s core group of founders are mostly Reykjavík outsiders such as myself, who fell in love with the city, such as myself, it made a little more sense.
I started looking up to the writers and editors and photographers and comic artists (and I still do). I had found kindred spirits, in a tourist magazine of all places. Every day of publication I would grab a copy at the Austurstræti ÁTVR along with my weekly sixpack of student-grade beer (Faxe, at that time) and read it over the weekend’s first pint. It became a bit of a ritual (I was horrified and saddened when Austurstræti ÁTVR decided to stop distributing us in 2010). I often disagreed, I sometimes was enraged, but I always recognized the content as coming from an honest place, that I had more to agree on with the writers than not.
I continued studying philosophy, and I even started writing for another street rag, the often great, female oriented Orðlaus (miss u), which was run by a classmate of mine (and later Grapevine assistant editor), the wonderful Steinunn Jakobsdóttir (who now lives in Cambodia – miss u). I joined a band and I stumbled around town, discovering fascinating new nooks and crannies wherever I looked. All the while, Reykjavík Grapevine stayed with me, alternately amusing and infuriating me (I cannot stress enough the importance of being able to read stuff you can disagree with passionately, without discounting entirely).
Eventually, I found myself working as a staff journalist for the Grapevine (I have no idea how this happened), and a little later I was suddenly the magazine’s editor (I’m still going “WTF”). It is the hardest, most taxing job I have ever undertaken. It left me physically and mentally ruined, and I think I lost a few friends along the way. Still, it remains the best thing I ever did and probably ever will do (this is sad, as I am only 32). Getting to stand on the shoulder of giants, working with enthusiastic writers and photographers and designers and illustrators (and getting to ask important questions in a time when such questions desperately needed asking)—nothing compares.
The average reader probably doesn’t know (or care about) the sheer amount of work and dedication it takes to create single issue of the Grapevine. Of the freelancer sweating all night in her apartment over an overdue interview that just needs a little more work to get right. The designer who works 48 hours straight to make sure it is presentable. The photographer on a last-minute drive to Hafnarfjörður. The intern chugging coffee at 3AM while going over galleys one last time. The manager who struggles to ensure everyone gets paid on time. The group of owners who continually, at a loss, insist on maintaining editorial independence and a free spirit. It is always a labour of love, and of passion, and it continues to show.
Anything that so many people pour their hearts and minds and souls into has to have some value. Of that I am sure.
For a humble street rag such as The Reykjavík Grapevine, turning ten is an incredible feat, a remarkable testament to the undying love and tireless work its founders, contributors and employees have put into keeping it alive and well. For a humble street rag such as The Reykjavík Grapevine, turning ten also presents a considerable challenge. One could reasonably argue that any medium that reaches such a milestone has become de facto institutionalized through sheer persistence. Instead of countering the norm, it might, even in its continued opposition, become an integral part of it—just another outlet that tells you who to be and what to think, rather than a venue to express or reflect on who you are and what you think.
Fortunately, I don’t see this happening any time soon. We are well staffed. We are aware. It was never Grapevine’s idea to write the rules: the whole thing was about providing a venue to challenge them. This will remain the case for as long as it remains in the hands of the rural kids who founded it, and who have kept vigilant (at a cost) for the past ten years (but let us know if it happens. Our email addresses are right there!) and the contributors who make it (including you. When are you going to send us that article?).
Happy birthday, The Reykjavík Grapevine. You’re an asshole, but I love you.