Many months ago, my friend Fish, who was staying in Iceland to complete his book, told me about a shop where music was cheaper than anywhere else in Reykjavík. I had seen the shop in question, but I still hadn’t visited it. I had passed its windows many times going to my guesthouse to the city center, but all I knew was there was a drum kit inside and it had a minimalistic logo attached to its door. The store I am talking about is HAVARÍ, which in Icelandic means noise. It was born little more than one year ago when representatives of the local music scene joined forces to start a small-scale cultural revolution.
I remembered Fish’s words when I felt the urge to get music. Indeed, music was cheaper at HAVARÍ. But the first time I dared to go, I couldn’t really buy anything. Everything felt terribly extraneous. I come from a place where cultural or artistic forms of expression are often distinguished the one from the other and are kept separated. Also, their audience may or may be not the same, but live music and home consumption are two worlds that only very rarely come in contact. Live music to the theaters, to the clubs, to the discos, to the public celebrations, etc.; music shopping to the stores and megastores, to the supermarkets, to booths at local fairs, etc. Therefore it was puzzling to my foreign eye to see this “music shop” had a drum kit clearly visible from the outside, and bands were often performing there for free.
Later on, when I felt more at ease with the country’s nonchalant attitude — not that this means I’m less awkward though –, I went many times to HAVARÍ, either to get music or to attend gigs. Not as much as I would have liked — but I will never get used to Iceland’s opening times, I’m afraid: I will always remain a provincial southerner from this point of view — but still more than to any other music shops in the course of the last ten years. One of the problems with music stores, not only in Italy but also in many other countries, resides in the fact usually they’re either impersonal settings where you feel too much the pressure of being a consumer or they are much too niche and militant: if you don’t feel you belong to either, you’ll end turning to online retailers to buy music less painfully. Which is OK, but it doesn’t feel completely humane nor it is very exciting, if you know what I mean.
It turned out HAVARÍ not only delivers good music at competitive prices, not only regularly hosts live music shows, but also promotes other arts, with exhibitions and other events. In its brief history, HAVARÍ has become an alternative cultural reference in the already crowded but definitely not yet saturated Icelandic panorama. Given the premises, its influence could grow even stronger in the future. To what extent, it’s not up to me to say. Going to HAVARÍ, even though not all that frequently, sort of reminded me how it felt to be younger and genuinely experience the fun that with music consumption is connected. And I got jealous, because as a teenager I would have loved it, not only to acquire new music, but also just to hang around and get in touch with inspiring people. Instead I only knew a bunch of stores managed by highly unimaginative traders that only sold mainstream crap at exorbitant prices to us youngsters because… well, because, to put it simply, either we didn’t know any better or we had no other choices. We got to know alternative and indie music the hard way.
HAVARÍ in its current embodiment is closing down in just a few days. Austurstræti claims more touristy blood and new hotels are needed for this purpose. Friends, customers, curious visitors, simple bystanders, all shared memorable moments, alien-looking and notoriously delicious crêpes and pleasant instants of music appraisal. It was fun and we definitely hope there will be more. There are more than few indications that HAVARÍ will be back once a suitable location is found and new arrangements made. Special sales and live events are going to take place till January 29, 2011. If you’re in town, be sure to go and check the official site out for info. The small-scale cultural revolution is not over yet!
Images ©Pu the Owl. Don’t use without permission. Pu’s photography blog can be found at Manic Owl Works.