Damon Albarn | Interview in Iceland – January 2006

Words: Bart Cameron, Sveinn Birkir Björnsson and Paul F. Nikolov

Known to sniff out BS from a mile away, Kristján Kristjánsson is one of the most respected journalists in Iceland. On January 5th and 6th, Kristján attacked celebrated musician and long-time proponent of Iceland and its culture Damon Albarn, only to follow up with a soft-edged interview with controversial Minister of Industry Valgerður Sverrisdóttir.

Leaders affiliated with the Hætta movement are claiming foul: the state-owned television station obviously defended the government with little care for journalistic integrity. We at the Grapevine are unsure. To be fair, Damon Albarn is an easy target—often soft-spoken, often searching for words, and often coming up with the wrong ones, music journalists love to mock him, so we understand that Kristján may have wanted to take the bait. And it is possible that Mr. Kristjánsson was unable to see through Minister Sverrisdóttir’s logical fallacies and factual errors (we have appended the four most egregious errors and corrections). Or perhaps Mr. Kristjánsson just didn’t like Damon, and liked Valgerður, as was indicated by his facial gestures and mannerisms.

Below is the transcript of both interviews. You decide.

Interview with Damon Albarn,

Kastljós, 5 January

Intro: Announcer points out that Damon Albarn “was a pop star in the late 1990s”, and will be playing a concert with Björk on January 7. (A curious introduction, as Damon Albarn’s band Gorillaz was both one of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed bands of 2005.)

Kristján Kristjánsson: Are you very much involved in these issues, nature conservatism [sic]?

Damon Albarn: This is actually the first kind of event that I’ve been involved in, but I’m definitely active in quite a few areas.

Kristján Kristjánsson: But not in this particular area or anywhere else?

Damon Albarn: No, I think in Britain we’ve virtually destroyed our countryside anyway. What’s being done here should have been done 50 years ago in Britain and was never even considered, really. I think the interesting thing about this is that Iceland is such a beautifully preserved piece of nature. That is something very tangible that we’re talking about. In Britain it’s just kind of little bits and yeah, we’ve got preservation orders on what’s left of Britain. Compared to Iceland it’s almost irrelevant.

Kristján Kristjánsson: Is this an issue you feel strongly about?

Damon Albarn: Well, yeah, I think amongst friends in Iceland it’s been a discussion point for many years. I remember before the first aluminium factory was built and I’ve sort of really watched it grow. And like most of these things, once they’re there for a while, people just sort of accept that they’re part of the landscape, and I think what people need to do is not accept that in this case. Actually really say, “No, we don’t accept that.”

Kristján Kristjánsson: But you’re a little bit too late, aren’t you, protesting, because the undertakings are so well underway?

Damon Albarn: Yeah they are, but speaking as a frequent visitor, a sort of migratory bird, I think it sends a really bad message to people who want to come here that things like this are happening. I don’t know how much Iceland values its tourist trade, but it’s certainly sold on the fantastic nature, of the people and the place. I think that this will be harmed dramatically if this goes ahead. And you can stop things like this. I was heavily involved with the Stop the War campaign and we managed to get two million people to march in London, but our biggest mistake at the time is that we didn’t do it again. We thought we had achieved our goal but really it has to be a relentless thing. So this concert on Saturday I’m sure will garner a lot of new support and open people’s eyes to what potentially could happen. But it needs to be ongoing because government’s don’t change their policy from one event. It needs to be a relentless thing.

Kristján Kristjánsson: Yeah, of course, but we’ve had this discussion for years now; should we preserve the nature or should we or build a big power plant –

Damon Albarn: I know but it’s just a ridiculous argument, isn’t it?

Kristján Kristjánsson: Try telling that to the people who are getting new jobs, building new houses *–

Damon Albarn: But what’s always struck me about Iceland is the people are very inventive people. Surely you can find another source of development other than destroying the one thing that you’ve got that’s unique?

Kristján Kristjánsson: Which is the nature, you mean?

Damon Albarn: Yeah.

Kristján Kristjánsson: Do you meet many people in London, or Britain let’s say, who know about this at all?

Damon Albarn: I don’t think anyone’s aware of it.

Kristján Kristjánsson: No?

Damon Albarn: No.

Kristján Kristjánsson: It’s not something people discuss?

Damon Albarn: Well, it really wouldn’t be a blip on our kind of radar as far as news is concerned because, you know, it’s all about Iraq and terrorism. But this is another form of destruction, and it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s really depressing. I’ve been coming here since 1997. I’ve built a house here. My daughter’s been coming here since she was a baby. And I hate the idea that any sort of legacy that I’m going to leave her is going to end up somewhat tainted by greed.

Kristján Kristjánsson: But don’t you think that most people would consider this just an argument from sort of a young, rather wealthy man who lives in a big city somewhere else and just doesn’t understand the needs of the people who live on the eastern coast of Iceland?

Damon Albarn: Well, you could say that about anything that I get involved with. I didn’t understand the needs of the Iraqi people, but I felt very passionately about that. I felt it was absolutely the wrong thing for my country. I don’t really like to stand as a representative of my own country; I like to be a representative of people and I don’t think anyone would advocate something like this, really. Our future is dependent on our management of it. This is bad management. You’ll lose something that you’ll never retrieve, and the soul of Iceland will in some way be sort of darkened by it.

*Mr. Kristjánsson suggests, in his tone and language, that locals in the east of Iceland are getting jobs and buying houses. Our study of Hagstofa, (Statistics Iceland), indicates that the native-born population of east and especially northeast Iceland has fled during the construction of the Kárahnjúkar dam. In other words, only a few people are getting houses, and those are not the same people who are getting jobs—the vast majority of the newly employed are foreigners, and those who are Icelandic are rarely from the section of the country in which the dam is being built. Therefore, Kristján’s response to Damon Albarn is extremely misleading



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