Event production company Sena Live has bought the Iceland Airwaves festival. Sena Live CEO Ísleifur Þórhaldsson spoke to mbl.is about the purchase and the company's future plans. Its goal will be to bring the festival back to its roots, says Ísleifur, showcasing up-and-coming Icelandic artists rather than big names. Sena Live has also bought the Airwaves brand, which previously belonged to Icelandair, the festival’s main sponsor since its inception 20 years ago.
Ísleifur affirmed that Sena Live is very aware of the festival’s history as a bridge between emerging Icelandic musicians and the international scene, giving new acts a chance to show their stuff and attracting foreign journalists and talent scouts to Iceland. He says that will remain the festival’s main goal, and is one condition that was discussed with the festival’s largest sponsors before the sale. “We take these obligations seriously,” Ísleifur stated.
Better-known bands will also be booked, “but they will always have to fit into the basic ideology of the festival,” he added. “Airwaves should be a festival where you can show up, even though you don’t know the band that’s performing, and their show is good. You should see bands that make it big after one, two, or three years.” The ratio of Icelandic to international acts at the festival has been around 140 to 60 in recent years, and Sena Live intends to maintain that proportion, possibly even increasing the emphasis on local acts.
Ticket sales for the festival have been decreasing in recent years, with the 2016 edition resulting in a loss of ISK 57 million (USD 570,000/EUR 460,000). “We definitely have to make cuts here and there, but we’re still not talking about people feeling like the festival is downsizing,” says Ísleifur. “It’s not about booking as many [bands] as possible, but booking well.” He admits balancing the books while maintaining the festival’s character will be a huge challenge.
Another matter facing the festival organizers is whether or not to hold shows in Harpa, Reykjavík’s main concert hall. “Harpa is a ‘fancy’ concert hall, really classy, and it’s significantly more expensive to book it than other places,” says Ísleifur. Sena Live plans to meet with the venue soon and discuss if and how they could work together on the festival.
Sena Live will also be looking at off-venue gigs which occur during the festival. Organized by music venues, bars, and restaurants in Reykjavík, these concerts occur during the festival but are free and open to non-ticket holders. Last year 50 venues around the city held off-venue concerts, while official festival events took place at 13 venues. Ísleifur considers it problematic that Airwaves is generating profits for these unofficial venues, while shouldering costs and seeing little of the revenue. “There must be a fair relationship there,” he insists.
Sena Live has produced some of Iceland’s biggest concerts in recent years, bringing artists like Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber to the country. Ísleifur says Sena Live will be focusing on Airwaves this year and will likely not produce a large concert before 2019.
“Airwaves is a deep-rooted cultural institution which we know and feel immediately that everyone cares about,” Ísleifur says. “We will not be the people who destroy Airwaves.”