From Iceland — The Changing Of The Guard

The Changing Of The Guard

Published September 8, 2023

The Changing Of The Guard
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Extreme Chill Festival favours the up and comers

Walking into Space Odyssey, a record shop slash clothing consignment store slash music label on Skólavörðustígur, you’re greeted by a warm interior and the cheerful presence of owner Pan Thorarensen. In simple lettering, a well-proportioned sticker labelled “AMBIENCE” is fixed on Pan’s laptop. “It’s almost like religion,” he answers when asked what meaning he derives from the word. “I can even party to ambient music – no, really!”

A prolific driver of Iceland’s electronic music scene, Pan is the co-founder and artistic director of the experimental Extreme Chill music festival. Now in its 14th year, Extreme Chill has seen its emphasis shift in recent years.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Preferring to call experimental music “adventurous music,” Pan founded the festival in 2009 with his father, Óskar Thorarensen, when the duo organised a release show for their music project Stereo Hypnosis. Starting out in Hellissandur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the festival changed locations a few times before ultimately settling in Reykjavík in 2017.

“I don’t want this to get any bigger. That’s something we decided a long time ago.”

“We’d been pushed into having the festival in Reykjavík, which of course attracts more people as opposed to having it out in the country,” Pan comments. “When we started out, people thought of it as the annual gathering of electronic musicians, which was definitely not the case.” Although initially perceived as a private party, that rumour finally subsided and the festival gradually garnered larger crowds.

Youthful exuberance

This year’s version presents a slow transition to Extreme Chill’s established, but intensified attention to young, up-and-coming artists. According to Pan, a committed effort has been made to diversify the festival’s lineup throughout the years.

“There’s a new generation coming up and that’s something I needed to learn to mature alongside,” Pan says, while mentioning other festivals where organisers still cling to the old guard. “You see these festivals that aren’t developing and are still booking the old heroes, which is fine,” he shrugs.

In past renditions, Extreme Chill has featured big headliners like Roger Eno and Tangerine Dream. After opening up Space Odyssey, Pan chose to shift the festival’s focus. “We wanted to present more of the stuff that I like today. It’s perhaps reminiscent of Iceland Airwaves in its early days,” Pan clarifies.

With change in the lineup comes a changing demographic. “As soon as we cut out the bands that I listened to in the ‘90s, our average festivalgoer changed from being in their 30s to a twenty-something, which was sort of the goal.”

The real journey was the friends we made

This shift of emphasis fits well into Extreme Chill’s overall ethos, platforming underground music and keeping things specific. “I don’t want this to get any bigger. That’s something we decided a long time ago,” Pan explains. “It’s been curated since day one and, if anything, it’ll only get more curated.”

Photo by Art Bicnick

Another key component of Extreme Chill is its dedication to connecting Icelandic and foreign musicians through music. This aim was further bolstered by the recent foundation of the North European Resonance and Dissonance Society, NERDS, whose main goal is to encourage information exchange between the various experimental music scenes in the region.

“The friendships made throughout the years are an important feature for us.”

“The main thing is all the relationships that have been made through the festival. The friendships made throughout the years are an important feature for us,” Pan says earnestly.

With the foundation of NERDS, Pan is hopeful for a deeper and broader exchange between Iceland and other participating countries. “It’s very exciting and I expect the festival to develop more workshop-based activities and panels in the future,” he concludes.

Extreme Chill Festival takes place in Reykjavík, September 21-24. Tickets are available at

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