Days before the January 7th gig, the Grapevine spoke with concert organiser and talent manager Grímur Atlason. Typically reserved, Grímur is known more as a quiet businessman than as an activist, though he is an active member in the Leftist’ Green political party. As he planned the January 7th show, his political beliefs came more to the forefront.
/// Is the January 7th show a political concert?
– It is in a way. There are, of course, in this group, extremists. There are also more moderates. Everybody can go without feeling uncomfortable. We will have some propaganda and some of it will be in a way extreme. But you can buy Coca-Cola there, too.
The group is against the policy of the government. We think that the majority of the Icelandic people also are against what is happening in the highlands. But we have been fighting against a really good PR machine. They spend millions and millions every year on their PR campaign for Landsvirkjun (the Icelandic National Power Company). If you see what the protestors have been doing, it’s not really organised. It’s nice, but it’s not for the vast majority of the people in Iceland. The vast majority don’t know the truth.
The main thing about this concert is also to give people a chance to come there and enjoy music and also have a good conscience. I went to this concert and I paid my respect for that cause, for the country, and for nature on the whole beyond a national thing. In the world. I don’t want it to be that I’m just thinking about the nature of Iceland.
/// Can you explain to me and the readers what the government’s attitude has been toward this dam?
– We have have Siv Friðleifsdóttir, the former minister of the environment, and she sounds like the minister of industry instead of the environmental minister.
/// You’re suggesting that she cares more about big business. But this is nothing new. Can you speak to the timing? Why are you acting out now, two years after building on the Kárahnjúkar dam started?
– Somebody asked me, they said Kárahnjúkar is a done deal. It’s not Kárahnjúkar alone. We have Þjórsárver (Dettifoss) as well. In a couple of weeks, that will begin. There will be dams all over the country.
If you look at the goal for Landsvirkjun, they’re going to build three aluminium factories: Hvalfjörður, Breiðafjörður and Húsavík. If they do that, they will need to dam almost every big river in Iceland. The plan, as it looks like now, will have to include Dettifoss (the largest waterfall in Iceland).
We [the opposition] are going too slowly because the government is doing its best to portray it as not hurting nature. As though these are just minor steps. They aren’t. It’s really important that we get up and stand up. We are a heavy industry country destroying nature, if we take those steps [that the government is suggesting].
And that’s not talking about all the economic factors, like our foreign deficit because of our 26,000 new cars in the year 2005. That is of course really negative, the money going out compared to coming in. This has been going on for two years. Someday there will be a pay day, if it goes on for ten years. It’s like we’re living on credit cards. We’re living on the salaries of 2010.
/// Explain the Hætta plan.
– My agenda, the main goal is to make a wave and let the wave go on. The concert is a start. We’re not doing it to raise money. Some money will be put in a fund, but that wasn’t the plan in the beginning. But there’s going to be some money left. The main issue is to get discussion again. And not just some kids protesting on Laugavegur and in the highlands and having disputes with the police. But in the Alþingi and at home. Talk about it more than just stupid kids and big industry.
We want to talk about the pros, there are some, but there are big losses, and not just sentimental losses. That’s the big fight is to have a cause which will be noticed, and to carry on.
/// A concert like this even on January 7… Is it difficult with such big names? In the media, I’ve heard nothing about the environment, just about Björk and Damien Rice.
– When we made the posters and the press releases there were no actual headliners. I’m looking forward to seeing HAM as well. We tried to do it as a special thing. By getting those big artists, it’s important for the cause. You see there are artists who are concerned and willing to put their names to this cause. It makes it more serious. And we know it’s hypocritical to say everybody is the same. For the cause, it’s really important to say that Björk, Sigur Rós and Damien Rice are there. The core thing is not to get Björk on Kastljós or on 60 Minutes, but more that she is doing the concert and getting the focus, and others can represent the viewpoint. They are doing their end by performing in the concert.
/// Are any politicians helping out?
– No. There are some politicians who bought tickets, but … in all parties in Iceland there are people who are pro-Kárahnjúkar, and there are some who are against. There are environmentalists in every party. The people mostly come from the left, but… this is not party political in any way.
But mostly we are coming to enjoy and to get power. This is an energy concert. It’s going to fill us with positive energy to carry on. If things are going this direction, we have to at least be able to say our feelings. Say I don’t want to. The way Landsvirkjun has played it, if you’re against their project and you say it out loud, then you’re a stupid kid throwing skyr or sabotaging. But it isn’t like that. There are normal people who are opposed. Our thing is that come to this concert and you can see that it’s okay to be against damming the nation.