The constant outsider reflects, by request
Dominique Lameule is a self-confessed, bona-fide Icelandophile. The 38-year-old Frenchman-slash-German has travelled to Iceland at least once or twice per year for twelve years running, owns upwards of 180 albums of Icelandic music, and has attended the Airwaves festival more often than most locals. Like many an Icelandophile we’ve encountered at Grapevine through the years, Dominique’s interest was spurred by exposure to a local band or artist—in Dominique’s case, it was the Gusgus hit “Believe” that entranced him back in ’97 (by now, he proudly counts members of that very band as his friends).
As an outsider constantly looking in for more than a decade, Dominique believes he has gained precious insight into the nation’s recent and ongoing evolution. And he is very interested in sharing his observations, as he has indicated in no uncertain terms for a while.
For our tourism-themed issue, we thought we’d take him up on the offer.
We begin with some background. Dominique says he currently works as a product engineer in Heidelberg, Germany, but is quick to add that he considers Reykjavík his second home. “I come here as often as I can,” he says. “I’ll visit the friends I’ve made through the years, and try to attend as many shows as possible.”
After “Believe,” Dominique’s Iceland affair started proper in 2002, when he came over for a six-month internship. “The best thing that happened was that I got an Icelandic flatmate,” he says. “Through him I learned a lot about the country, was introduced to people, made connections, and had a really good time.” He feels Icelanders for the most part greeted him with open arms, and notes that at no point did he feel left out for not speaking the language.
During that time, in between working and socialising, Dominique became enthralled by the local music scene, regularly attending shows by some of the heroes of the day (he mentions acts like Trabant, múm and Quarashi) and sometimes DJing at 101’s then-hippest club, 22 on Laugavegur (where Kiki and Bravó now stand).
Dominique says that one of the things that most appeals to him about Icelanders is how interconnected they come off, and how willing they seem to help outsiders, as well as one another. As a token of appreciation for the various acts of kindness and help he has received, Dominique has in turn helped promote Iceland at every opportunity, for instance by constantly encouraging the listeners of his radio show to attend Iceland Airwaves, and arranging for Maggi Lego of Gusgus to perform at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
As open and wonderful as he finds Icelanders, Dominique can’t help but worry what the future holds in store for them. “I’m too German,” he says, “I like to be organised and what I do is think what will happen in a year’s time, in two years, in five years, and then consider the different possible outcomes. I always wonder when the next bubble will come along.”
Along that line, he reminisces about the difficulties he encountered in finding a place to rent in 2002, because all the flats were listed for sale (at bargain rates, too). He draws a comparison to Reykjavík’s current rental crisis, which is spurred by altogether different reasons: homeowners renting their flats to tourists at extortionate rates. “Many property owners have dollar signs in their eyes right now,” he adds, “and I don’t think it’s under control—it’s happening too fast.”
Despite the housing concerns, Dominique acknowledges many positive aspects to the current tourism boom, particularly that there once more seem to be enough jobs to go around. “I know many of my friends really enjoy working a lot, and working has a lot of meaning for them, and I’m happy for them. But, it’s not all good. The hotels being built in the city centre aren’t for Icelanders—they’re for tourists.”
When your lover’s gone
Nostalgic, his mind wanders to the past. He starts recounting idyllic memories of the Reykjavík music scene he experienced in 2002, when he could see all his favourite bands perform on any given weekend. Dominique’s nostalgic moment quickly turns sour as he starts lamenting the departure of two of his most treasured venues, Faktorý (formerly Grand Rokk) and Nasa, which were shut down to make room for new hotels. It is apparent that this upsets him greatly. “There is a very noticeable lack of good places to stage proper shows at in 101 Reykjavík, and it is affecting the culture. These days, if I want to attend a concert, I’ll most likely have to go to a festival.”
In light of these recent developments, Dominique says he was thrilled when The Best Party won the 2010 Reykjavík municipal elections, trusting that a political party comprised of musicians and artists would seek to reverse the trend. “I thought they would transform Reykjavík into a hotspot for creative people,” he says, “where bands could play good concerts in good spaces and grow even more as artists.”
While this was ultimately, and unfortunately, not the case, Dominique retains his optimism for the city centre, citing some of the new venues that have popped up lately. “Húrra is the best new music place in town,” he says, “but you could easily have three to four more places like that in downtown Reykjavík.”
Very important people
One of Dominique’s biggest concerns for the Iceland of 2014 is that its current crop of visitors might be missing out on what he feels makes the country truly magical: forging a connection with actual Icelanders, which he again describes as an incredibly open and warm people. “Starting off with an Icelandic flatmate introduced me to the fascinating inner workings of the society and the culture, and this is what ultimately keeps me coming back.
“I really feel everyone who visits this beautiful country should meet Icelandic people,” he says, “but tourists nowadays often approach Iceland as if it were a safari ride. They hop on a bus, are herded to the beautiful sights, get their obligatory pictures of the Golden Circle attractions before being sent back home on a plane. They don’t get to experience the country as it really is, at its best.”
He adds, in closing: “We don’t know what Iceland will look like five years from now, whether it will continue being as famous and interesting as it’s considered today. If the tourists up and leave, there needs to be something left of downtown Reykjavík beyond empty hotels. The culture needs a space. The powers that be would be wise to bear in mind that the music scene played an essential part in raising awareness of Iceland and attracting visitors in the first place, that it is still a vital part of the country’s appeal, and that it needs support and room to grow.”
Dominique is a self-described Icelandophile and owns 180 Icelandic music albums.
Dominique works as a product engineer in Heldelberg, Germany, for the advertisement and creative sectors.