So that’s it then. Another venue bites the dust as last weekend saw the final closing of Faktorý and the surrounding Heart Garden area. There’s been much wailing and gnashing of online teeth at the continued “onslaught” of hotels popping up all over downtown as it also meant the closure of Hemmi Og Valdi (A cafe that hosted grassroots music gigs). It’s a crying shame it happened. I’ve had many good times there (Memories of going mental at a Reykjavik! concert during a fundraiser for Palestine a few years ago spring to mind). But the writing had been on the wall for that area for years now, so it was only a matter of time I guess.
There’s no real point in going over how I feel about this again as I would only end up repeating many of the things i said about the closing of NASA, but suffice to say that it’s pretty obvious now that Reykjavik, as with many other cities from New York, to London and Berlin, is suffering a fairly painful bout of gentrification. It’s not just that hotels are popping up everywhere. Thanks to the banks keeping hold of hundred of vacant properties, prices and rents in the downtown area are increasing big time, with students are getting squeezed out of accommodation that are now being used as B&Bs and guest houses for tourists, all the while the rough edges of 101 culture are continuously being brushed and sanded off as everything is made safe, trendy, and consumer friendly for the masses.
The issue of culture vs hotels has now been laid out in the main feature of the latest issue of the Grapevine. The piece itself is pretty even-handed, preferring to not so much go “GRRRAGH! Hotels bad! Cool bespoke hostels great!” Instead trying to get a bit more underneath the underlying tensions that increased tourism has wrought on the city.
A couple of things about the feature with regards to culture and tourism though really stuck out for me.
– The fact that Icelandair will be putting up the hotel where Faktorý/Heart Garden is situated. Now that’s interesting. Icelandair, eh?, The same Icelandair that pretty much has Icelandic culture by the balls? Whether it’s Airwaves or SONAR, If you want to do something major and international in this country, you have to go forelock tugging to the mighty chieftains of the Icelandic skies, what with them leveraging their monopoly over flights to Iceland. And they know this big time as they use Iceland’s culture as a mere tool to further their own ends. Take SONAR for instance. The fact is is that Icelandair (one of the main sponsors) put their weight behind getting SONAR, not because of its love for electronic music, blah, blah, but to create an event in February so they can put bums on seats to Iceland in the off-season after new year, Just like they did with Airwaves all those years ago. You’ve got to grudgingly admire the way that they can dictate and call the shots so well. I wonder if any of Iceland’s cultural wonks or tastemakers will speak out about Icelandair’s use of culture in this way. Probably not – they know which way their bread is buttered.
– The comments of Ghostigital frontman/city Councillor Einar Örn Benediktsson. This is the first time I’ve actually seen someone from the Best Party actually speak about this issue. It was always telling that throughout all of this, the silence from them on this issue was deafening. Not even a simple bland platitude along the lines of, “we’re all saddened by this, but hey, whatcha gonna do, right?” I remember when someone called Einar Örn out on FB a while ago as to why the city was not doing more to preserve grassroots music and he replied.
“The City of Reykjavik supplements Iðnó and Tjarnarbíó in the region of 40m kr a year. It supports Tonlistarþróunarmiðstöð (TÞM). It has a culture fund which all and everybody can send an application to. The city of Reykjavik supports Loftbrú, to name a few. It also runs via Hitt Husið, several programmes like Musiktilraunir. The problematic here, is that if the City decides to support a venue which is in the competitive market those in the market might sue. Having said this, then I am working on something for the grassroots which I hope will come to light in the next few weeks. BUT my main argument is that the grassroots have always had the ability to survive and be creative. And that will not change. We are not invalids. I will continue to play with ghostigital wherever I find possible.”
Now understandably there’s not much they could have done about Faktorý what with it being privately owned land, but it does seem odd that despite their lack of action on the issue, many of Iceland’s artists keep looking to the Best Party to do something about this. Well in the words of Einar Örn, the city already do enough, stop whining,and you are pretty much on your own on this.
– Paul Óskar stating that many tourists come to Iceland for the culture. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this being mentioned, as people were saying this around the time of the closing of NASA. And it looks as if I´m going to have to repeat myself here, but the reality is that over the last few years (Showing echoes of Cool Britannia in the ’90s), with the rise of Iceland’s cultural industries, much of the culture in Iceland has been used as branded content as a way of selling Iceland to tourists. From the music, to the design & fashion, to the “Legendary” party antics of downtown, culture and style magazines and newspaper lifestyle supplements the world over have been touting Iceland as one of the coolest places in the world to go. Of course I’m sure it warms the soul to see Reykjavik talked of in glowing terms, but alas one of the by-products of this is that everyone now wants to come to Iceland, ergo more tourists and hotels. Even professional bohemians such as Atli Bollason have noted the change it has brought onto their cool downtown party stage.
Man this is starting to all get really messy. And now we have the head of Central Hotels, (Who are right next to the Heart Garden), coming out saying that he’s hated the Heart Garden all along, even though he was happy to sell beers to the people who were partying there (We were dumb enough to buy them). We need to remember this – Money, culture, tourism, gentrification, politics. It’s all linked. Each affects and is affected by the other. And to say that you are not interesting with these issues is not an answer. We all need to start asking ourselves in what way are we feeding this beast and is there any way, if not to stop it (It´s too late for that), then to at least steer it to the least damaging route for Reykjavik, all the while showing that we’re not all merely puppets that can be used to shill shiny lifestyle tourist packages. And that’s easier said than done….