Upprásin provides fertile soil for Iceland’s musical grassroots
Harpa is an imposing phenomenon – both literally and figuratively. The opulent glass figures encasing the hall is sure to fill performers and audiences alike with awe.
The home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera, it wouldn’t be out of character for Harpa to exclusively cater to penguin-suited and fur-coated opera goers. Surprisingly, despite the palatial appearance, Harpa’s programming has demonstrated an increased dimension of accessibility in recent years.
The venue’s current policy focuses on a revitalised role as the home of popular Icelandic music. One component of this arrangement is Upprásin – a series of concerts meant to connect Iceland’s grassroots music artists with the grand hall.
Filling a vacuum
A disparate continuation of previous concert series – namely Undiraldan in 2011-2012 and Blikktromman in 2015-2016 – Upprásin is dedicated to Iceland’s grassroots music scene, across all genres. “This time we thought, ‘OK, how can we implement this so it becomes firmly established?’” says Harpa’s project manager for programming Ása Berglind Hjálmarsdóttir, who incidentally also serves as a council member of Ölfus municipality. “I thought a key component of ensuring that would be to get Reykjavík Music City and RÚV to join us.”
This institutional cross-collaboration provides the participating artists with a world-class venue to perform in, secures funding for their performances and guarantees promotional coverage of the upcoming shows. With more than 200 applications received, it’s apparent that Upprásin fills a much-needed vacuum for lesser-known artists.
“The applications were each better than the other,” confesses Ása. “We could’ve organised multiple concert series, which we hope to do next year.” Of the 200 applicants, only 24 artists were chosen to perform over the series’ eight nights. “Our original plan only had two artists performing each night. But in order to accommodate the massive number of applicants we added one artist per night,” Ása explains.
Without any positive measures in place, the percentage of male-to-female performers came in at 50%, with six non-binary participants. “It tells us that the grassroots has arrived at a good place regarding gender equality,” Ása states.
Towards inclusive programming
With the recent closing of music venue Húrra, the scope for performing musicians in Reykjavík became narrower. Generally speaking, Reykjavík might not lack music venues. However, when one closes, it comes as a proportionate blow to the music sector as a whole. With fewer small to middle-sized performance sites, Harpa’s Kaldalón fits 200 guests comfortably. Filling it is short work for any of the artists involved, as demonstrated by my visit to Upprásin’s first night, which had minimal open spots.
Looking at the line-up for each night, it’s evident that great care went into curating a diverse showcase. On Upprásin’s second night in October, artists Drengurinn Fengurinn, MSEA, and Krownest performed. Spanning experimental, electronic and metal genres, there’s a true breadth of music – something for everyone. “The aim is to demonstrate diversity across music genres,” Ása says.
In addition to elevating the artists, Ása hopes that Upprásin will bring fans from different backgrounds together. “We realised that grassroots artists are usually playing at locations which might not be frequented by older music enthusiasts,” she explains, referring to the fact that divergent fans can opt for a more common ground like Harpa.
In recent years, international concert halls have turned to slow but necessary changes to accommodate different demographics. Harpa is no exception. With sails set in the right direction, Ása demonstrates Harpa’s positive development towards a more inclusive programme. Upprásin is only one part of a much bigger picture.
Upprásin is on for multiple nights throughout the year, scheduled into spring 2024. For more information and tickets, visit harpa.is
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