To off-venue or not to off-venue?

Óhefðbundið upphaf Iceland Airwaves 2014.

Óhefðbundið upphaf Iceland Airwaves 2014. mbl.is/Árni Sæberg

In recent years, the off-venue concerts during the Iceland Airwaves festival have been growing immensely and now it seems like there's an off venue gig at every local bar, shop, art gallery, restaurant, hot dog stand or even homes for the elderly. 

 The off-venue gigs do lend a certain magic to the whole city during this lively festival, with music  in your ears absolutely wherever you go. Everyone seems to want to take part, showcased in particular by the cutest off-venue gigs so far when a bunch of 5- year olds from a local playschool sang at Harpa concert hall on Wednesday morning.

In an article in The Reykjavík Grapevine, called "The Iceland Airslaves", musician Pétur Ben describes being left with a nagging feeling when playing these shows as Icelandic artists are not usually paid for off-venue gigs. 

Everyone getting paid but the artists?

"Despite all this, playing those shows often leaves me with a nagging feeling. There is, for some reason, a tradition that dictates that the musicians don’t need to be paid for their contributions to that whole party. Doesn’t that sound weird? You have a music festival where promoters, equipment rentals and technicians are all getting paid—everyone but the artists that people come to see," writes Ben in the article. 

Iceland Airwaves festival manager, Grímur Atlason says in an interview with mbl.is that he completely agrees with Pétur Ben and that Icelandic artists are victim of the fact that in Iceland, culture isn't really valued. "Icelanders think its normal to pay the people working for resolution committees 50 thousand kronas per hour but we find it really hard to pay money into music funds or art societies. We have politicians and whole municipalities against paying artists anything at all.  But there is no human life without culture. Culture has kept people alive for millions of years. You can build tunnels from one town to another but without culture a society doesn't thrive," says Atlason.

The festival remains a great opportunity for musicians

Iceland Airwaves of course, doesn't organise any of the off-venue gigs but just choose to publish the off-venue line-up in their programme for the benefit of all Airwaves-goers. Atlason however points out that some off-venue places do pay artists to play. "I think it must come down to the artists themselves what they want to do and feel right about doing. Some off-venue places pay, whether it be with money, accommodation or food and drink."

What might have changed in the last couple of years is that the off-venue gigs are being played by much bigger-league names in Iceland. To begin with, the off-venues were played by lesser known bands who were not playing at the festival. So aren't those bigger artists competing with themselves in a sense by playing both on or off -venue? " I don't think so," says Atlason."The whole festival rests a huge opportunity for local bands to get themselves known. But ultimately it's totally the artists choice whether they play off-venue or not, or whether they get paid for it or not. People should never be uncomfortable with anything that they undertake."

All bands are paid at the official festival

He believes the off-venue situation basically highlights the situation that Icelandic artists should be better negotiators." I think musicians also have to stop putting so many people on guest lists at regular concerts if they want to make any money at all out of a gig."

When asked about how much Iceland Airwaves pays local bands to play he says that again, it's all a matter of negotiation. " When I took on the festival a couple of years ago I made a clear rule that all bands got paid. The basic deal is not much, solo artists get a minimum fee of 25 thousand ISK and bands get a minimum fee of 50 thousand ISK plus food and drink. Better known local names will ask for more."

Festival manager Grímur Atlason believes people should never be uncomfortable ...

Festival manager Grímur Atlason believes people should never be uncomfortable with anything that they undertake. Mbl/SteinarH

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