DJ culture in Reykjavík
By: Lovísa Arnardóttir
Photos curtesy of: Aníta Björk, Ársæll and Dj Kocoon
Article from the winter issue 2016
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I have been a DJ in Reykjavík for five years. I’m part of a duo called Kanilsnældur. We play house and sometimes techno, and we are female DJ’s. We both have day jobs but DJ’ing is an integral and important part of our lives.
As it is dark for almost nine months of the year in Iceland, I think a lot of people turn to music to express themselves. Mostly, it keeps us from becoming depressed in the cold, long and dark winter nights (and days).
Iceland has a large and thriving DJ culture. On an average weekend you may find everything from reggae to rock to hard-core techno. You won’t find all genres during the same night, mostly because there are not that many places to go, but over a whole weekend (which of course includes Thursday) you will find a good mix of genres around downtown Reykjavík.
Because there are not many bars or clubs that play each genre, it is hard for DJ’s to get booked every weekend. Some DJ’s have residencies, but places usually try to book each DJ one or two times during the same month. If they DJ two times in the same month, it’s common that they don’t play the same genre or maybe even join a collective.
Each genre has its mix of DJ’s in Reykjavík. Some have been doing it for years and some not. I think the best part of the DJ culture here in Reykjavík is that it’s not too closed-off to newcomers. If you’re interested in DJ’ing you might have to network and get to know the lay of the land, and meet booking agents and other DJ’s, but people are usually open to new people and will welcome you to the stage.
The weekends are almost always reserved for experienced DJ’s and weekdays for the newcomers. The weekdays serve as sort of a test run. If the newcomer gathers a good crowd, shows he or she has real skill, they might then go on to book a weekend gig.
The DJ never stops working
DJ’s in Iceland are a very hard working bunch. Abroad there are usually several DJ’s working every night. There will be a headliner and maybe one or two warm up DJ’s. In Iceland we have one DJ doing all the work. He or she will man the booth for about 7-8 hours. We show up at 10 pm or earlier to prep and leave at 5 am, or even later.
But it doesn’t stop there. Being a DJ means you’re always looking for new music, new inspiration. I listen to music all day. I can’t work without it. I listen to sets by other DJ’s, I follow my favourites on Beatport, Soundcloud and Spotify and use my Shazaam shamelessly when going out. It’s always there, in the back of your mind. Sometimes, songs you hear and don’t know the name of will stay in your head for months, until you hear them again and can finally add them to one of your sets.
Having a sit down and a drink after doing a set is also sometimes the most essential part of the night. Just to relax.
For me two things matter most when DJ’ing: my mood and my crowd. You feed the crowd, but you also feed off the crowd. They are intertwined. A good crowd will put me in a such a good mood! When you have a floor full of people dancing to the music you’re picking and playing for them, you feel invincible. A bad crowd will put me in a mood where it might affect my DJ’ing, and sometimes, there’s no going back from this. It will just be a bad night.
I think for most DJ’s we’ve experienced both good and bad nights, and they are both something to learn from. I always record my sets when I can and listen to them later. I am always looking for ways to improve, and it is good to go back and listen to where it went wrong (or right) and what I can do better next time.
For me a good DJ will find a way to both read the crowd but still stick to his or her own sound. It’s a balancing act that not all DJ’s have the skill for.
Where and who?
Iceland is small. There are only a limited number of places for DJ’s to work, so picking where to go means checking out who else is playing. For most of my friends, DJ’s or not, this is also true.
Where you go is of course determined by what kind of music you like. House music is rarely be played at places that play hip-hop and R’n’B or top 40 music, and vice versa. It has been known to happen, but traditionally, each place keeps to its genre. The vibe and the crowd is characterised by the genre.
For the best house you should check out Kaffibarinn or Paloma. Kaffibarinn is an institution in Iceland and usually has the same residents playing every month. They are all excellent and skilled DJ’s. Most of the weekend DJ’s play house music, but during the week there will be some easy going indie or even disco music playing.
Paloma is probably the closest thing Iceland has to a club. They have two floors, on top there is a dance floor and downstairs is a dark, sketchy basement. Paloma also has resident DJ’s, but be on the look out for DJ Yamaho, Áskell or IntroBeatz. Personal favorites and extremely skilled DJ’s.
For the best hip-hop, Prikið is the only place I would recommend. DJ Kocoon and DJ duo SunSura are absolute favourites. The crowd there is very hip, young and will be dancing during the weekend.
Boston is another personal favourite in Reykjavík. It’s only open until 3am on weekends because of residential housing in the area so I would recommend going a bit early. They have one of the best outside seating/smoking areas in the city. Boston is a rare find in Reykjavík as they are probably the only place that doesn’t really have a specific genre attached to it. They have disco DJ’s during weekends, rock music concerts and indie music playing during the day. I would recommend going there for happy hour, sit and drink until 1-2 am and then start walking down Laugavegur (the main street) to check out other bars, which stay open until 4.30 am.
As a house music DJ, I’m no expert on Top 40 or rock music, but Austur/B5 are popular hotspots for Top 40 and Ellefan (e. Eleven) is popular with rock music/indie music. Húrra also has a nice selection of all types of genres and concerts.
So I guess for me there’s only one more thing to be said. If you don’t like the music that’s being played, don’t ask the DJ to play something else. It’s both annoying and insulting. Just go somewhere else. Or consider that the DJ’s are there to take you on a musical journey. Just let them.
Lovísa Arnardóttir, Kanilsnældur
May 17, 2018
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