Any conversation of a certain length between a visitor to Iceland and a native will sooner or later turn to tourism. Iceland, and in particular the capital Reykjavik, is currently one of the fastest-growing holiday destinations in the world. More than 1.7 million people made the trip in 2016—a 40% increase from the year before—and for the first time in the country’s history, tourism has replaced fishing as the main source of income. This has its pros and cons. Most Icelanders are welcoming and hospitable people who are happy to see their island doing so well, but they’re also proud and protective of their culture and customs. They don’t want tourism to dilute or damage their country’s singular charm.

For this reason, Sónar Reykjavik, the longest-running of the Barcelona festival’s franchises, has always pushed a strong contingent of local artists. 2017 was no different. There was soppy electronica (GusGus) and instrumental trap (sxsxsx), blistering techno (Exos) and pumping tech house (Áskell). Rap and hip-hop, which are particularly big in Iceland, were well represented by the likes of Sturla Atlas, GKR and 17-year-old sensation Aron Can. The international bookings, though equally broad in genre, felt less daring, with a few too many legacy acts (Fatboy Slim, De La Soul) and festival standards (Moderat).

All of this went down across three days and four stages at Harpa Concert Hall, an architectural marvel on Reykjavik’s waterfront. Doors were from 8 PM through 3 AM each night, which meant that the days were for hitting heated outdoor pools, wandering around the city’s many trendy shops and cafes, or venturing further afield to explore Iceland’s striking natural wonders and extraterrestrial landscapes. The overall experience was nothing but smooth from start to finish, with none of the usual bouts of fatigue that can plague so many festivals. In short, I had an exceptionally good time.

As it was one of the five keys performances for Sonar Reykjavik 2017

“Iceland is someway short of becoming a breeding ground for house and techno.” Four years later, club beats are among the nation’s biggest musical exports, thanks to the rise of artists like Bjarki and Exos. The latter played back-to-back with Blawan in the car park on Friday night, following Helena Hauff with two hours of functional, punishing, 135 BPM techno. Diehard locals, from lads on their own to groups of girls, elbowed their way to the front. Both DJs mixed quickly, to the extent that they only left the decks to flick through their record bags. As such, it was hard to tell who was playing what—I think it was Blawan who unleashed a volley of rave stabs around 2 AM, but I can’t be sure.

The music was, for my tastes, too linear, though there’s always something fascinating about watching DJs sculpt a performance without so much as looking at each other. As the 3 AM cut-off came and went, Blawan (I think) cut in Indo Tribe’s hardcore anthem “Owl.” Exos, desperate for a chance to respond, looked devastated when the lights went up. He picked up the record from the deck and waved it at the promoter, as if to say “look what I was going to play!”

Full-Set of Blawan b2b Exos at Sonar Reykjavik

In Session LIVE! At Sónar Reykjavik (#HCPSPIRIT Sessions)

Photo Credit: Berglaug Petra
Words: Carlos Hawthorn
Filmed/Edited: Samu Hintsa & Miika Koskela

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