What It Means To Be A “Music City” - The Reykjavik Grapevine

What It Means To Be A “Music City”

What It Means To Be A “Music City”

Published May 18, 2017

Sigtryggur Baldursson is a quintessential musician. Although he first came to international attention as the drummer for the Sugarcubes, he’s been active in Reykjavík’s music scene since long before the band formed, and long after the band split up. He’s still active today, in fact, not least of all in the effort to try and make Reykjavík a “music city.”

In our previous issue, we touched on how Reykjavík and the tourism industry have sometimes been at odds with one another (“Tourism Vs. The Music Scene”), which touched on ways in which the ways that the tourism industry and Reykjavík’s music scene could get along better. The problem goes deeper than just noise levels of gigs near hotels, though. As we discovered, it also concerns how the tourism industry markets Iceland: what is emphasises, and what it ignores or underplays.

“Music city programmes are, in essence, where the city supports music within the city on different levels,” Sigtryggur tells us. This means music education—not just of children but also of musicians themselves—and “the city adapting its laws to be more positive towards music venues and such.”

It might seem like a given that Reykjavík, a city known internationally for its music, would be accommodating of the music scene, but that hasn’t always been the case.

More than just noise levels

“The venues have always been an issue in Reykjavík,” Sigtryggur says. “There are more venues now than there were before, but the problem is the tourism industry has had a negative impact on music venues, in general. That said, this is a common problem in city centres anywhere.”

Sigtryggur drew inspiration from how cities like Toronto and Seattle have handled their music scenes, and spoke with Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson on the subject. As it is, the tourism industry and the music scene can be at odds with one another, as complementary as they might seem to be. Now, that’s starting to change.

“We need to brand Iceland as more of a creative hub, rather than just a scenic place to go to.”

“Usually you can’t have a music venue close to apartments and other populated areas,” Sigtryggur explains. “And if venues are making noise, they’re always on the wrong end. Now, we’re flipping that around and saying, ‘There’s a music venue here, if you want to build a hotel, you have to do certain things to protect your hotel guests [from noise],’ basically moving the obligation from the music venue to the hotels. This is within the city’s powers. This also helps musicians stay within the city limits with their studios and practice spaces. So in effect, being a music city means giving support to music-related work within the boundaries of the city.”

Sigtryggur has been working with Promote Iceland to help market the city abroad as a cultural destination, because, as he says, “we need to brand Iceland as more of a creative hub, rather than just a scenic place to go to.” He points out that not only does the Iceland Airwaves music festival bring in several thousand music lovers who arrive for the sole purpose of attending—those visitors also tend to spend a lot more money than the average tourist. Nonetheless, the tourism industry has been slow to catch up.

Not just geysers and glaciers

“Over the last few years, the tourism industry is constantly complaining about a lack of cultural activity geared towards tourism in Iceland,” Sigtryggur says, “but at the same time, they completely fail to interact with any of the festivals. So part of our goal is to create better communication where that’s concerned.”

The tourism industry is in “survival mode,” as it were. The focus has been, Sigtryggur says, to “make the infrastructure cope with increasing tourists, rather than creating more interactive programmes with the creative industry to better that tourism.” He sees great potential in Reykjavík starting to market itself as more of a music town. “Reykjavík hasn’t really been actively marketing itself as a city of music and culture,” he adds. “I think the people involved in the tourism industry just haven’t been very actively aware of that. They’re aware of it, but they don’t know how to interact with it.”

This is starting to change. As coordination between Reykjavík and the tourism industry increases, Sigtryggur is optimistic that people will increasingly come to Iceland for the culture; not just for the geysers and glaciers.

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