In the economic recession, one business sector is thriving. Every weekend the legendary Reykjavík nightlife turns the main street Laugavegur into a hedonistic harbor for a troubled nation. New venues pop up like mushrooms after the rain, while old ones dry up. The cafés switch off their espresso machines and turn on the disco balls as the party takes over any ground available, raging on till morning as people dance their troubles away. Sari Peltonen met with four local DJs, the conductors of these chaotic 101 nights.
Published in the 2009 spring issue of Iceland Review – IR 47.01. Photos by Páll Stefánsson.
Rock & Roll Grandmother: Andrea Jónsdóttir
Her DJ booth is barely a shelf, where she stays like a hearth cat just a couple of inches from the ceiling, in the corner of the local rock bar Dillon. She looks like a lady gnome, a heavy metal sweater in place of the red gnome hat, her long white hair down, shining in the dark, and a CD close to her nose so she can see the text. On closer examination I spot her photo on the wall, a portrait with Robert Plant—she is a very beautiful woman. I can only imagine the numbers of love songs in Icelandic rock history that have been devoted to her.
Andrea Jónsdóttir, 60, was born in Selfoss. She listened to Radio Reykjavík, fell in love with Elvis Presley and became interested in music. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were the bands of her teenage years. She preferred The Beatles. She was 13 when their first single came out in 1962. “I don’t think you could have a better way of getting to know music and grow with it.”
Jónsdóttir played her first gig in the cellar of the local swimming pool in Selfoss, which had been turned into a youth center. She moved to the capital at the age of 16 to attend Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík (Reykjavík Upper Secondary School). After finishing school she studied English at the University of Iceland and played records at parties thrown by the English department. “University wasn’t for me, I liked life too much,” she says and smiles.
In 1972 she took a proofreading job at the left-wing daily newspaper Thjódviljinn. After a while she was writing about music for them. She then ventured into radio and has hosted a number of music programs, currently her own Popppressan on the national channel Rás 2.
It was only much later, at the bar Dillon, that she began spinning records on a regular basis. “I sometimes went there on Sunday nights and they had the same CD running the whole night.” Jónsdóttir took the situation into her own hands and started playing.
“Then someone told me I should come again, so I started appearing on Sundays and then also Saturdays and Fridays. Life is a bit like that—things happen. I think that people that try too hard miss out on the good things,” she says.
Since then, the ownership of the bar has changed several times. “I have been sold with this place,” chuckles Jónsdóttir.
Our conversation is interrupted several times by coworkers and friends. Their affection toward her is not what I expected to witness in a bar filled with tattoos and heavy metal attitude. When she leaves for a moment one of the staff explains: “I am sorry to disturb you, but it is such a rare treat for us to have Andrea here during a weeknight. May I sit with you?”
The music in Dillon tends towards classic rock, but Andrea herself plays a wide array of music. “Nobody has as many bags as I bring. I sometimes play Björk after Led Zeppelin, they are somehow similar I think.”
She never plans the set in advance and never plays anything she finds dull. “I am not a technical DJ. I just play the songs and go with the feeling. One song reminds me of another. I sometimes even connect songs by words, which is not musical at all,” she laughs. “Mine is a mind mix rather than a musical mix.”
Her interest in language and history is revealed in the way she DJs. “Maybe that is my way of teaching. I know I am entertaining people so I don’t push things down their throats. It is a really, really nice job, being a teacher without a fixed timetable.”
She admits it does have its tough sides. She plays requests and believes that she is there for the people, to make sure they have a good time. But this can be trying when she has to grab unsteady patrons with her legs to prevent disaster as they climb the furniture to talk to her. “People sometimes think they can tell their entire life stories to me while I am trying to play.”
“And it is a very nerdish job,” adds the grandmother in her Nine Inch Nails shirt. “If I get invited to a party I always end up in the corner trying to put people’s CD collection in order. I don’t know if we are like this or become like this.”
Andrea says she has informed her employers at Dillon that she will retire when she cannot get up to the shelf anymore. “They say they will lift me.”
“Three years back I bought an electric guitar. I’ve never smoked so I’ve said that when I am put in an old people’s home I may start smoking but I will definitely start learning to play the guitar and hide whiskey bottles in the toilet if they have rules against daily refreshments.”
You can read the remainder of this article in the 2009 spring issue of Iceland Review – IR 47.01. Four times a year the print edition of Iceland Review brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country's majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe and here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.