Scotland, Europe, the world

Entering the ice age

Iceland’s music scene seems to be symbolic of its status as a tourist destination: intriguing yet gloriously unexploited. We investigate Europe’s best kept secret. Words: Anna Millar

jork’s the new Elvis, Sigur Ros are the new Beatles

and we’re the new Stones. I like that idea.’ As up-and-

coming rock band Jan Mayen swig Gull beer from their omately designed bottles backstage at the Grand Rokk bar-cum-club in Reykjavik, it seems this group articulate strangely the subtle complexities of their native milieu. Iceland: an ethereal desert (50% of it is uninhabited) finding its place in Europe’s economic and social landscape. Not unlike these wanton, cherub faced rock stars. And breaking the European, or indeed the US, scene is something they regard with a refreshing deal of nonchalance. ‘One in 15 people is in a band here, apparently. No one minds that much about the wider market; sure we’d love Bjork’s label to sign us up but we’re just doing our own thing.’ This antithesis of the modern day rock dream is symbolic of the whole of this country. And it’s one that, while hospitable in the extreme, doesn’t feel the need to encourage visitors to its doorstep.

Thursday 1pm

As the plane sets down in Reykjavik, the landscape isn’t too inspiring: drab and barren, this is not the stylish, mini metropolis of £8 pints that I’ve been expecting. First impressions can be deceiving, though. Stepping into the airport, the perspective changes dramatically. Calling it an architectural delight would be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly extraordinary. A surreal serenity warms the chill as wood complements beautiful glacier shaped lighting. Not

114 1’"! LIST 5—19 Feb 2004

only is a bus waiting outside. it takes us direct to the hotel. A native Icelander introduces himself. The population here is ‘selected by nature’ to survive its conditions. I’m told. Nice. but it’s the unapologetic randomness of such a mindset that fascinates. And he’s right. Inhabitants have faced testing conditions since they first arrived in 874. Famine. plague. volcanic eruptions among other horrors have resulted in a population of just 290.000, 60% of whom are based in the capital. ‘Quality. not quantity. is an attractive trait though.’ he tells me.

Thursday 2.30pm

Arrive at Hotel Bjork. Much like its namesake. this three-star hotel’s simple visage enhances its beauty. Centrally located a ten minute walk from the main shopping area. a black and white colour scheme dominates the reception. while the restaurant provides pared down sophistication. all brown leather and gloss wood effect. The rooms are clean and more than ample in size. Thirty minutes later (hat/gloves/scarves at the ready for minus four degree temperatures) we brave the elements. After several wrong turns. the glittery lights of the high street herald our arrival at the heart of the capital. and I’m surprised (and reassured) by the absence of Zara, H&M and their like. Reykjavik is no tourist trap. In fact. I’ll eat a whole plate of Svidasulta (sheep’s head and jelly a national delicacy) if anyone can locate a tourist—friendly signpost. But the alien environment is a reassuring nod to the prospect of an

Geysirs, Blue Lagoon and Gullfoss Waterfall (this page). A puffin, and Gus Gus (opposite).