Grapevine designer Hörður Kristbjörnsson, one half of the dynamic DJ-duo Skratch n Sniph, loves music festivals. He can’t get enough of them. Or at least of the Sónar and the G! Festival. In this extremely intimate Q & A, he tells all the Grapevine readers what makes a festival hot enough for his liking. And that is hot indeed.
What are the names of the music festivals you attended this summer? Woodstock 2005? Techno-Woodstock?
It’s called Sonar Festival for Advanced Multi-Media… ah what the hell. And G festival Faroe Islands. Techno-Woodstock would actually be a kick-ass festival. Live remixing of the Woodstock 69.
Tell me, you’re hip. You attend hip festivals. What makes a festival hip?
The hip people that show up make it hip.
So it’s not the music.
No I wouldn’t say it was the music. It’s all about the hype. If it’s cool magazines or cool people, people go there just to go there.
What magazines are you talking about? You were supposed to say music and I would mock you.
The lifestyle magazines like I-D, dazed and confused and all these hipster lifestyle magazines. Douche bag magazines, mainly from England.
So you intentionally put yourself in the path of hipsters.
No, I went to Sonar because it’s the kind of music I listen to. I’ve been there three years, but this year I realized I shouldn’t have gone. Because this year it was crowded with people who were there just to say they’d been there.
What are the highlights of Sonar festivals in the past?
De La Soul this year.
I saw them recently and they sounded canned and rehearsed, not something I like in my old school.
I thought they were okay. They were playing old stuff and their old albums… I just like.
Mocky, this guy from Berlin, he’s from the band the Puppetmasters. Subtle, from Oakland. They’re like a hip-hop with electronic beats. Miss Kittin. The future Ms. DJ Sniph. Soft Pink Truth, one half of Matmos, the producers behind Björk’s Medulla and Vespertine. And Jamie Lidell. His performance was interesting. People were dressing him while he was playing, wiping on make-up and glasses, it was just an interesting performance.
Are you surprised to hear that I not only know none of these artists, but I don’t think I know anybody who knows anybody who has heard of any of these artists? How many people came to hear them in Barcelona at the Sonar Festival?
20,000 for the whole festival. But the thing is it’s divided into two venues, day and night. By day you’re in a museum made into a concert place for three days. By day you see a lot of progressive and mellow music, some clicks and cut and weird music. By night it’s at almost an aircraft hangar. It has three concert stages. There you can see the DJs, it’s more upbeat.
It still surprises me how this large a music movement can exist outside the attention of many music fans.
It surprises you? Like I said, the people that show up there are people who want to say that they have been there. But originally it was a smaller crowd, more people listening to music.
Is it Björk that led you into this?
Yeah, you could say that. She was the headlining act the first time I went there three years ago.
Ah ha, so Björk is the sole reason everything is hip in Iceland.
She opens up a lot of new acts and stuff you haven’t heard before by collaborating with many of those artists.
So where can I hear the best of Sónar? Is it on the radio? On the internet?
It’s not on the radio. It’s basically hard to get. It’s the music you have to put effort into getting. Once you get into it, you see that Sonar really has the cream of what’s going on in that genre.
Turning from an alternative techno-festival in Barcelona to… what is the G-Festival, and would you recommend it as strongly as Sonar?
I would recommend G Festival, not for the music, though. I would recommend G Festival just for the trip to the Faroe Islands. It’s a weird place. Especially if you’re there seeing a music festival. It’s just weird. You’re in a town not bigger than Suðavík, with 500 people max, and it’s turned into a beach party with Europe playing.
There were 30 bands playing, I probably saw eight, I remember three, vaguely. I remember Europe, and it was by far the worst performance I’ve ever experienced in my life. I really can’t say in words how much they sucked, so I would have to use the photo from the trip to show how I felt. I mean I’m not kidding, it was really really bad. I’ve been to bad concerts, but this was absolutely the worst… ever.
Why would you want to see an exotic locale for a music festival? Doesn’t the festival overrun the town the same way a cruise ship might overrun a village?
Just to see it. It’s unbelievable how the people of the Faroes pull this off. It’s even in remote place in the Faroes. You have to rent a car or get a bus just to get out there. Though, thinking of the acts, is Faroes worth going to see Europe, I don’t think so. But drinking Faroes style is definitely worth it.
What about the mainstream festivals, then? In Europe? Like Glastonbury or Roskilde?
I wouldn’t want to go to Glastonbury, and Roskilde I’ve been to but it’s too big. If you go to one of those, you’re going just to have fun and party your ass off. It’s not about the music. If I had a favourite band, I wouldn’t want to see them at Glastonbury, because it’s not the kind of place you can see someone play at.
The other thing that gets me is that festivals now market themselves by having popular bands. Not to do an ‘In My Day’, but, seriously, for a short while they at least let bands with artistic integrity who would never be profitable come along for the ride.
Yeah, I know. People go for that because they don’t want to go to too many concerts a year. But seeing a band play a festival is not the same as seeing a musician play their own concert where they are their own act.
People are essentially multi-tasking by going to these festivals. Checking off their schedule.
They are. And you can see it with Vestmannahelgi, where people see the Westmans while seeing a festival, or even people who fly out to Iceland just for Iceland Airwaves and feel they’re going to see everything.
If you fly to Iceland Airwaves, at least you can see good bands in small venues. And good local music, something I don’t see promoted at other festivals.
Mainly local music. That is what’s good about it. As a foreigner all of this is new to you. And those Icelandic bands that know how to perform, perform world class.
Still, let’s rip on festivals in general. It seems like any band that plays a big tent and tits festival is pandering so badly, putting their sound quality and artistic integrity at so much risk to play in front of a hammered crowd, that it’s hard to respect them.
I would say that’s true for the average festival. But Sonar is different. The sound and how they treat artists is so impressive. And with that, you get to see so many good artists that you don’t have to see any more good concerts this year.
And you don’t want to see too many concerts a year either. You multi-task?
Not really. It just happens that way with Sonar, it has everything I like to see.
That’s because you don’t like local music. Admit it. You don’t like the local scene and need to jump ship to see this.