From Iceland — You Don't Know What You've Got...

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got…

Published February 4, 2011

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got…

By the time this goes to print, Havarí will be shut. Temporarily closed while they seek a new locale, the independent record store/bookstore/small venue/art gallery/recording studio/coffee shop has been forced to make way for a new downtown hotel after seventeen months of centrally located awesomeness.
Initially opened as an outlet store for local record labels Kimi and Borgin, Havarí gradually became all the above-mentioned things as time progressed, with the collective of artists/musicians who ran it, keeping an open mind as to the nature of the place. Word spread and people rather started taking them for granted, but their last month in business saw a flurry of press attention as everyone suddenly realised what was being lost here. The Grapevine, spineless conformists that we are, jumped on the bandwagon and hastily discussed some sad facts with proprietors Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson and Kristján Freyr Halldórsson.
The general attitude now is that the record store is a dying thing. Was Havarí your way of trying to save the record store?
Svavar: I have no particular aspirations on behalf of The Album, in the physical sense of the word. I don’t want to rescue it; it’ll just go its own way. Maybe this is a natural result of the fact that the record store is dying, it has to adapt and evolve into something else, something culturally and musically active. We’ve used this space for various different things, we’ve recorded albums in the basement. And then, of course, Kimi Records came and turned my studio into their warehouse. But it’s a very cosy warehouse. The cosiest warehouse in town. I want it to be like a downtown creative workspace.
So you do definitely think there is a place for a creative workspace like Havarí in Reykjavík?
Svavar: Yes, especially if you do it carelessly enough… don’t take it too seriously, then people will like it more. We were always ready to give it all up tomorrow. We took things day-by-day, week-by-week. If we don’t feel like doing this tomorrow, we’ll just close. We never made any kind of commitment… but we love running this place, and we will keep doing it.
Kristján: I personally think it’s a crying shame what’s happening, what with the hotel and all. You would’ve thought that with the Best Party in City Hall, this kind of thing would change, but nothing has happened. The only real progress being made, has been exactly this kind of activity, the kind Svavar and his ilk have been involved in the downtown area, [vintage clothing store] Gyllti Kötturinn and these design spaces, young people trying to establish themselves. The fact of the matter is, however, that places like that [Kristján points across the street to a vacant storefront that once housed a Subway], the rent there costs 1.000.000 ISK a month. If you can’t sell teenagers oblong pieces of bread, then what can you do? Are we going to have to resort to prostitution and drugs? I don’t want to get political, but we need to think about what kind of downtown Reykjavík we want to have. Do we want hotels and puffin shops [derogatory term for tourist shops] that are designed according to some imaginary concept of what tourists need? You can’t imagine that all tourists want to do is hang out in hotels and collect puffin dolls.
Kristján: It’s a degrading portrait of tourists; I don’t think tourists are idiots. Cultural tourism has grown a lot, and Havarí is a direct response to that. Tourists come here and piss themselves out of happiness… they aren’t buying some puffin… I mean, some of them do, but not everybody who comes to Iceland buys a puffin keychain and a picture of Geysir. It is a fact that most tourists who come to Iceland come for the culture: music and other art. It’s sad that there is no presentation of these things in downtown Reykjavík. The only people who so far haven’t shit their collective pants in Iceland are the artists.
Svavar: When Iceland is advertised, or attempts are made to improve our image abroad, it’s the artists who get the call. They’re asked to do pro bono work to present Iceland as having a flourishing culture, but the people in charge do nothing to support these artists or give them creative space. Sure, there is some funding, but…
Kristján:…but in the end, city officials have yet to formulate a policy regarding these matters. It’s Reykjavík’s existential crisis: what kind of downtown do we want.

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