Yuka Ogura explains her love for Icelandic music
It was back in May 2003, I stepped for the first time on Icelandic soil. Since then, Iceland become my second home… Actually I would love to make Iceland my home. I am in love with Iceland! How did I came to feel that way? Well, here’s my story. I am a Japanese female working in music business since I was in high school. Back in October 2002, there was a phone call to see if I was interested in creating a website about Icelandic music. I had no idea about Iceland and the only artist I knew was Björk. I did not even know Sigur Rós back then. But I took the job and started working on it. As soon as I started some research, I noticed that there are many elements which both Japan and Iceland shares in common being an island country. It still amazes me as we are located far apart, yet so much alike. Falling in love with Iceland was easy. I got elated just by reading books about Iceland, listening to Icelandic music and imagining what it really feels like being there. It was like I think I like this guy, but I have to meet him and speak with him to see if we really are compatible”. My first opportunity to visit Iceland came as a business trip. I was hired by a company planning on launching a music label dedicated to Icelandic music. They wanted to create a website about it first. We needed to get to Iceland to collect some info and to further develop this project.
It was in mid May 2003, I landed on the old Keflavík airport. I still remember my first visit just like yesterday; my agenda, places I visited, people I had spoken with, outfits I was wearing, all the restaurants I had tasted etc. At that time, Icelandic music scene was filled with budding talents. As it is now and always has been, actually. Let’s see what was going on back then: Kitchen Motors was doing interesting series of events. Jóhann Jóhannsson was eager to hear how we liked his first solo album “Englabörn”. Apparat Organ Quartet debuted on Thule label and became a hit. Edda and Zonet was also doing well as music labels in Reykjavík. While we were there, Kristin Björk, a.k.a. Kira Kira, was always helpful and friendly keeping us informed. That was my first experience of underground music / culture scene in Iceland. As I have been working for major labels, like Sony, BMG, Universal etc. all my life, anything indie and underground was mind opening. Speaking about mind opening and mind blowing, I just could not believe when I saw president of Iceland visiting Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” opening with no bodyguards! And his car parked outside with no police attending it either!! Oh, everybody is “a big fish in a small pond” in Iceland. Nobody cares who’s famous or what.
Obviously I am “a small fish in a huge pond” in Japan. I have to admit that I loved the feeling of being a big fish in Iceland I ended up visiting Iceland 3-4 times in 2003. Without a doubt I fell in love with Iceland with my first visit. Due to various circumstances, the music label did not happen. But I had already felt for Iceland and I wanted to carry on doing something for Iceland. It could have been anything. It was just that music was the only thing I knew how to do. As a big music fan, naturally I wanted to experience Iceland Airwaves festival. My first festival was also 2003. It was a nice local music event back then. I do not like big music events. That may be because I was born and raised in Tokyo. I loved the smallness and closeness of Iceland Airwaves. To give you how local things were back then, live venue at Listasafn museum was the small space where they sell drinks nowadays. I remember watching Album Leaf supported by Sigur Rós and Amiina cohorts. In the audience, you could find 12 Tónar people, Mugison, members of Amiina, Sigur Rós, múm, kimono, Hudson Wayne, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Kristin Bjork, Eivør Pálsdóttir, Ólöf Arnalds to name a few. God know who else was there. That was such a memorable gig.
First, music was fantastic, exactly up in my alley and the atmosphere and the feel of the whole thing was just magical. Even the beer bottles rolling on the floor sounded like a part of beautiful music! Second, I was overwhelmed by the closeness of music scene in Reykjavík. I mean look at the list of names above. If it was a music event of some sort, it could well be Icelandic music fans’ dream list. And they were not playing, they were just attending and listening! Another impressive gig I’ve attended you can actually watch in a documentary film “Screaming Masterpiece”. It was a church concert of Jóhann Jóhannsson. His music was absolutely beautiful. Also it was a bit personal as I’ve helped Jóhann pasting the posters here and there in town, and I knew how 12 Tónar organized it in the last minute. Also I had dinner with Jóhann and Lárus Jóhannesson of 12 Tónar after the concert. Good old days, indeed. Music is all first class, yet Reykjavík keeps the cosiness of smallness. I made lots of friends through music. I just love the way how things are in Reykjavík. It feels like I have finally found a missing piece of my mind there. Yes, we are compatible!! I have been singlehandedly promoting Icelandic music, especially underground music, since 2003. Some people I had spoken with initially were sceptical about my plan I do not blame them. Prospects were not rosy as this was and still is a one-woman project with little financial security. It took me 3-4 years to establish professional relationship with local music businesses. To be honest, at one point I seriously wondered whether I should withdraw myself from it or keep it going. It was like “I love him but he doesn’t love me”. How I got through that period? Well, I love music too much and I love Iceland too much. I just could not let go. It has been so much fun getting to know the artists, their family and friends as well as witnessing some behind the scene stuff.
As I worked for major labels all my life prior to Iceland, getting to know them personally was something I could never expect. Major artists are protected with thick walls. I need to go through many layers of people in order to reach the artist. Even if you knew how I could reach him/her, I was still expected to go through politically correct route to get there. Yes, so much bulls**t with big business. 10 years after my first visit to Iceland, I am no longer a stranger there. Even people who were sceptical became my good friends. Sure, I screw up things from time to time but nobody’s perfect. I feel we had established mutual trust. After all Iceland loves me as much as I love Iceland. To share my wonderful music experience in Reykjavik, it has been my pleasure organizing a tour group for Japanese music fans to attend Iceland Airwaves. I make sure they enjoy great festival and go back home with wonderful memories. Hopefully, I am creating next generation of “I love Iceland”.