So as of tomorrow the 1st of June, a downtown Reykjavik institution will be no more. Unless some kind of 11th hour reprieve occurs (which is not likely to happen), the concert venue NASA will close its doors and the venue will be demolished to make way for the building of a hotel. NASA isn’t the first venue to suffer this fate and it won’t be the last, but the closing of NASA seems to have struck a particularly bitter chord amongst everyone.
Many people and musicians over the last few weeks have written (somewhat nostalgically i may add. NASA was only in its current form for about a decade. For a long time before, that it was the canteen for the Siminn telephone company, and was a “nightclub” before that) about all the great times they had there. As for me,well I’ve had some great times there too. I first saw Gus Gus there. I remember Thursday night at Airwaves 2010 (the rock gods from hell night), and several more. I’ve also had some rather awful times there as well, especially the first (and only) time I’ve seen Sálinn, thanks to my drunken wife at the time who SOOOO wanted to go and see them, only for her to pass out drunk 2 hours in. The lack of toilets also meant that by 1am, the area by the entrance looked like a war zone with some rather disgusting incidents fully on display!
But all this doesn’t matter that much. Because the fact is that NASA was the only music venue of its size and location in 101 Reykjavik, a middle-sized venue that was the bridge between the small venues like Faktory, and the gargantuan cultural death star of Harpa. People have said that the smaller halls in Harpa can be used, but that’s like closing the Brixton Academy and saying that you could use the Barbican instead. It’s just not the same.
Naturally there have been accusations and recriminations, namely the spat between the building’s owner, who said that he was heavily in arrears, and the manager of NASA, who said that she didn’t owe anything. Even the light-footed pop elf, Páll Oskar, weighed in with a opinion piece saying “Inga doesn’t owe him a penny!” The problem is that i have absolutely no idea who is right or wrong about this. And just because Páll Oskar says something doesn’t necessarily mean its gospel. Either side could have opened their books and cleared this up in an isntant (either the owner was losing money from incompetent managers, or the venue management were paying their way and it was just an excuse to throw them out). But of course this never happened. We’ll probably never know.
The anointed funny guys from the Best Party also came in for some criticism as well for not stepping in to save the place. Davið Roach Gunnarsson for example, wrote in Frettablaðið wondering why the governing political party for the city that contained musicians and numerous people of the arts weren´t going to step in save NASA, even writing that he didn’t take the closing of NASA seriously because he thought they would save the day, guns blazing!
Well, even taking into account that no council will get involved in the intervention of what is essentially a private enterprise, no matter how loved, the fact is that the Best Party were never going to do anything to save it. I even remember a few months ago Jón “mr chuckles” Gnarr saying, “we are not in the business of running nightclubs.” The Best Party may be full of arty people, but i suspect many of them have a slight puritan edge to their souls, that their idea of fun is rather different to mine. I honestly think some of them won´t miss NASA that much at all.
But despite all the wailing and back biting you can’t get away from the fact that NASA closing is a major fucking tragedy. It’s being made into ANOTHER hotel, even though that with this year looking to be a bumper year for tourism, hotels in the Reykjavik area will only be at 70% capacity. But tourism is the new aluminum (or is it the new fishing? i forget), and as such people are seeing $$$ signs in everything that can be used to sell to tourists. It’s the lovely human based gold rush and loads of local merchants want in on the action.
What’s especially sad about all of this is what my friend John Rogers mentioned about it all – “People want to come to Iceland for the culture, But they’re destroying the culture to be able to accommodate the tourists.” The fact is that for a long time now the culture of Iceland, especially the music scene, has been used to promote Iceland to the world. For example, the tourist season in Iceland runs till October thanks to Iceland Airwaves (they´ve moved it to early November this year, so to prolong the season by a few more weeks). And then there was Inspired By Iceland. Sheesh! Everything from the Advert, to the testimonials, to the big free concert, it was like putting a big knitted sign on Austurvöllur saying “Iceland: Cute as hell and open for business!”
But Reykjavik is not London, Paris, or New York. It’s centre is basically a small provincial town. And when you have a large influx of tourists coming to and fro over a period of time, it will almost certainly impact on the area, as more infrastructure is put in place to accommodate them all. Take a couple of days ago. I left my flat to get some lunch on Skolavöðustigur, but every cafe and shop was just packed to the brim with tourists and their backpacks. I was finally beginning to understand what Jónsi from Sigur Rós was getting at.
Many musicians have been a bit fatalistic about all of this, but i hope that this whole saga will act as a bit of a Red Letter Day for people. The warning signs were there when Útidur and Havari were closed in early 2011 because the owner of the building wanted to turn it into a hotel (right next door to NASA as well!). With the closing of NASA, i do hope that people will really begin to think about what ramifications increased levels of tourism in downtown Reykjavik will have on the cultural scene, And also, the next time another cool, shiny, glossy marketing campaign comes along wanting to use a band’s image and persona to promote Iceland, they at least give it a second to think about what it could all mean for the area. Or at least make sure that they paid shedloads of cash for it. I know i won´t be doing any more fucking ads for the airport, that’s for sure!
….And that’s all i have to say on it really. NASA, it was great knowing you. thanks for the memories and lets hope that somewhere new will come along so we can make some more….