Report on You Are In Control 2013


The conference, which took place at Reykjavik’s Bíó Paradís cinema, was officially opened on Monday 28th October 2013 by Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, Iceland’s Minister of Industry and Commerce.


The evening reception set the tone for the next two days – allowing speakers and delegates to mix freely, and featuring performances from Icelandic artists including DJ Flugvél & Geimskip, visual artist Ásdis Sif Gunnarsdóttir, a Skype poetry reading from Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, a series short films from the Örvarpið website and music from Úlfur Eldjárn.


The following day, the conference kicked off with a welcome from Promote Iceland’s Kristjana Rós Guðjohnsen, who headed up the production team behind YAIC2013, before team member Remi Harris introduced a compelling keynote presentation from international branding consultant Peter Economides (Felix BNI, Greece).


Peter explained how re-branding a company involves more than changing the logo and advertising – you also have to change the attitudes and behaviour of the staff. “You have to find yourself before you talk to the world,” he insisted. “You can’t do anything unless you connect back with yourself. When people feel good they do great things. It’s about how people feel…”


In a talk that held immediate parallels with Iceland, his presentation also touched upon his work in helping to rebrand Apple which, in 1997, was practically bankrupt. He talked with optimism about his belief that the same could be possible with his home country of Greece.


Other speakers on the Tuesday morning included Finnish designer Teemu Suviala of Kokoro & Moi who explained the benefits of collaborating in an open process involving the input of citizens.  Another Finn, Timo Santala, who co-created the worlds biggest ‘Food Carnival’ – called Restaurant Day – spoke about activism and citizen engagement.


All three speakers then participated in a discussion with Guðjón Már Guðjónsson, CEO of Icelandic technology and communications company OZ about openness as a facet of design and creative projects.


This spirit of collaboration was upheld during lunch, which was curated by Icelandic event designer Kristín María Sigþórsdóttir and involved the presentation of a “Virtual Bonfire” for conference-goers to gather around (as well as delicious food).


We then enjoyed a second keynote presentation, from theAudience’s Oliver Luckett, CEO of a fascinating company that circumvents ‘traditional media’ on behalf of more than 700 brands, artists and celebrities – enabling them to broadcast direct to fans over social networks.


In a wide-ranging talk, Oliver explained how ‘broadcast’ media – from the church to television – was essentially a one-way, top-down communication channel. Social media, meanwhile, operates more like a biological system – connecting millions of individual ‘organisms’.


He concluded by explaining the huge efficiencies in marketing that can be created by employing ‘frictionless’ social media, as well as the importance of creating content that touches users emotionally and encourages them to share.


Oliver was followed by Ingi Rafn Sigurdsson of Icelandic crowd-funding platform Karolina Fund – that, despite only being in operation for a single year, has already achieved a 7/10 hit rate of projects that successfully achieve their funding target – before the day concluded with a passionate debate about the challenges for artists to gain a foothold on social media between Oliver, Ingi, Seth Jackson (Strange Thoughts, UK), and Julia Payne (The Hub, UK). This was moderated by conference team member Adam Webb.


Outside of Cinema 1, YAIC2013 also featured a variety of workshops – many of them free and open to the public. Julia Payne (The Hub, UK) presented two of these – Business Planning for Creatives and The Art of Pitching - which provided practical hands-on experience of how to get support for your creative project.


Kristen Harrison (The Curved House, UK/Germany) ran a Digital Surgery For Writers which touched on the importance of both physical and digital books, and how authors can use the web for self empowerment.


Timo Santala ran two free workshops about Restaurant Day at Iceland Design Center, which were attended by approximately 40 people in total. Meanwhile, Iceland Music Export and STEF won the prize for best-titled workshop with “Mayday, Mayday, We Are Synching…” for their free event on music sync licensing (to film, television, advertising and games) with Joel Thomas Jordan (Synchtank, USA) amongst the speakers, and E4‘s Daddi Guðbergsson moderating.


Also well-attended was TechCrunchTV’s Felicia Williams’ practical workshop about online video, and expert tips on digital marketing and innovation from Seth Jackson of UK-based agency Strange Thoughts.


Finally, the largest workshop was organised by Karolina Fund and featured Jóhann Ágúst Jóhannsson of Kraumur Music Fund (Iceland), Sara Marti (Iceland), Ívar Kristjánsson, CCP Games (Iceland) and Eldar Ástþórsson, CCP Games and Ylir Music Fund (Iceland) explaining the process of funding for creative projects.


And then to Wednesday 30th, which began with a fascinating presentation from technology writer and consultant Shane Richmond (UK) about Wearable Technology – a subject he became familiar with when working as Technology Editor at the Daily Telegraph. Covering innovations like Google Glass, activity monitors and mobile-enabled watches, Shane concluded with a dystopian vision of the future when humans could be, to all intents and purposes, turned into computers.


Other speakers included Kristen Harrison, of The Curved House, who highlighted the opportunities for publishers and writers in the digital sphere, as well as a new project of her own called Visual Verse, and Ragnhildur Jóhannsdóttir, an editor at Endemi art magazine, which aims to popularise contemporary Icelandic art.


More evidence of Icelandic innovation came from Halldóra Rut Baldursdóttir & Harpa Fönn Sigurjónsdóttir who provided details of Örvarpið – a new online short-form video platform and festival – and musician Úlfur Eldjárn who discussed interactive composition and his ‘Infinite String Quartet’ which is seeking backers via Karolina Fund.


The morning session was completed with a focus on music. First from Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir, Programme Director, NOMEX (Nordic Music Export) & Dagfinn BachPresident, BACH Technology AS (Iceland/Norway) who gave delegates a sneak preview of a soon-to-be-launched pan-Nordic service called Nordic Playlist. This will showcase the best new music from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, partnering with streaming platforms such as Spotify, WIMP and Deezer, as well as BACH Technology’s MusicDNA. The playlist model, they said, could be used as a blueprint for other creative sectors – providing an easily-accessible window for outsiders to understand the Nordic market.


As a counterpoint to Tuesday’s discussions around social media, this was followed by a panel focussed on the validity of professional criticism in the digital age. Featuring writers Árni Matthiasson (Morgunblaðið), Robert Forster (co-founder of The Go-betweens and latterly music writer) and Paul Bridgewater from the UK music website The Line of Best Fit, the session was moderated by Shane Richmond.


“The newspapers as gatekeepers have exploded,” admitted Árni Matthiasson; while Paul Bridgewater added that the real change was that “…print writers have increasingly been cloistered from reality. Online you can track what people are worth in terms of their words.”


Robert Forster argued that the cultural critic is just as important as the political journalist. The overriding issue is how to pay for them, as the economic shift from physical to digital does not add up.


Following another lunch around Kristín María Sigþórsdóttir’s “virtual bonfire” (and some fine goulash soup), the afternoon’s focus was predominantly on visual art. This began with academic Ruth Leary from the University of Warwick (UK) who talked about the recent Happenstance Project which saw “creative technologists” placed in residence in art galleries, in a bid to change the way they operate.


Then Frosti Gnarr (Iceland) spoke about his Grotta Zine website and magazine (which has already accumulated over 100,000 online followers) and his ambitions to extend the brand into a TV channel and even a music site.


Acclaimed Icelandic visual artist Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir (Iceland) presented some of her work, and detailed the processes of her creative output, before US-based Dutch artist Rafaël Rozendaal gave an intriguing presentation about his fascination with animation and interaction.


A pioneer in the digital space, Rafaël creates works online that are then hosted on a domain name and sold to collectors. He also originated the BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer) concept – a series of one-night exhibitions curated by different artists around the world. The idea behind this is simple: find a place, invite many artists, ask them to bring projectors. The speakers were then joined by Þóroddur Bjarnason of the Icelandic Art Center who moderated a discussion about digital technology in art.


Finally the conference was closed by co-producer Ragnheiður Gestsdóttir and the guests followed on to a free BYOB event, the first ever in Reykjavík at The Living Art Museum curated by herself and Curver Thoroddsen.


GROTTA ZINE: The past, present and future of an Icelandic art platform



Iceland’s Grotta Zine has been the talk of the town over the last year. Run by art aficionado Frosti Gnarr together with his business director Giuseppe Russo, the magazine and web platform is dedicated to Iceland’s visual arts scene and currently has more than 100,000 online subscribers.

Frosti showcased each of the six issues so far of the print magazine, each of which focuses on local subcultures and artists (i.e. MUCK, Einar Orn, Hellcat) before announcing that, actually, sales are low and that print seems indeed dead. Hence the online version of the magazine, which is hosted on Tumblr and documents the wider scene. “We are not negative,” he said, “we prefer to focus only on the positive side of the scene, especially as it’s all based on my own personal favourites and preferences.”

The site has a focus on big images and minimal text, and he uses his “own taste and educated judgement” to choose the art and give the exact information. “Readers understand quickly what the art is about and continue to discover that artist’s previous or future work.”

He explained how his work has brought him closer to gallerists and curators, and opened a dialogue on how to present Iceland’s native visual culture. The Tumblr now has 108,056 followers plus more from outside users – yet they have chosen not to sell advertisement or share endorsed content. “This puts us in a weird position as we need to grow and flourish. I want us to be financially sufficient without being tied to a company. We would like to make video content, curate events abroad, make merchandise, and publish a better quality print version more often.”

Frosti also used the opportunity to showcase a brand new project dedicated to music. Called, it aims to bring together existing local organisations – IMX, Airwaves, Gogoyoko, Icelandair to become a one-stop-shop for Icelandic music.




Rafael Rozendaal: visual artist (USA)


Born in 1980, Dutch-Brazilian Rafaël Rozendaal lives and works in New York. A visual artist who uses the internet as his canvas, his artistic practice consists of websites, installations, drawings, writings and lectures and attracts an online audience of over 40 million visits per year. He is also the creator of BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer), an open source DIY curatorial format that has been rapidly spreading across the world.

Rafaël began his talk by explaining how his work lies somewhere between the cartoon and the painting. “I thought of self-empowerment as soon as I saw the internet,” he says. “I loved the way everyone on the internet has the same sized screen and platform to work with, whether you are an anonymous individual or Coca Cola.” His first successes were a ‘farting game’ called Mr. Nice Hands and a repetitive perspective illusion involving towers of dollar bills that never seem to get closer or further away as the stacks automatically rise.

Rafaël explained how he uses domain names as frames – “the title is name of the work as well as its location and part of the work.” He told us he is interesting in “interaction for the sake of interaction” while showing us works that involve a simple button that clicks on and off with no results whatsoever, a hand whose fingers fold and unfold as you click them, and a toilet roll that scrolls to infinity.  “My ideas are so basic it’s sometimes embarrassing,” he admits.



Impressions of YAIC 2013
















PANEL: Do critics matter in a 140-character world

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This panel on the role of music critics in the age of social media and bloggers included Robert Forster from the Go Betweens (also a critic), Paul Bridgewater from The Line of Best Fit and Arni Matthiasson from Morgunbladid. Moderated by: Shane Richmond (see earlier post), the panel discussed how journalists have long been essential curators to the wider media and general public.

However, this model is being eroded by social media and digital distribution: now everyone has an opinion and the means to broadcast it, while publishing businesses to seek viable revenue models.

“The newspapers as gatekeepers have exploded,” admitted Arni Matthiasson from Morgunbladid, who has been writing about music since 1886. He also mentioned that he writes now about up and coming bands rather than established ones due to the constraints of working in a small community.

Paul Bridgewater said that “…print writers have increasingly been cloistered from  reality. Online you can track what people are worth in terms of their words. It’s become all about polemic, so people can be being paid due to the traffic that’s being generated. That said, the money isn’t there for longer, deeper pieces – but the audience and critics are much closer today than they were, even if there was always a relationship.”

The panel discussed the different roles of niche/online and bigger/traditional media, for example how a review on an indie website like TLOBF might influence sales for an indie band’s record, but not on bigger records like David Bowie or Radiohead. More commercial media outlets like The Guardian, it seems, still holds sway at that level.

Paul Bridgewater explained how reviews today are less about saying whether a record is categorically “good” or “bad” and more about augmenting understanding. “It’s more about being part of this broader complex community, which is brilliant. In the end it’s just like being with your mates having a discussion in the pub – but without alcohol.”

As to the question of whether we still need critics, Robert argued that the cultural critic is just as important as the political journalist – who aren’t being laid off like the former are. The problem of course remains with how to pay critics in the shift to online where there is not so much budget available in many cases. In essence: the landscape is continuing to change and everyone is trying to keep up.

Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir & Dagfinn Bach: The Nordic Playlist

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A familiar face to those attending previous YAIC’s, Anna is currently programme director of NOMEX (Nordic Music Export) – an initiative that aims to strengthen the pan-Nordic music market, as well as establishing a Nordic brand internationally.

The service will partner with streaming platforms such as Spotify, WIMP and Deezer, as well as BACH Technology’s MusicDNA that will allow monitoring of real time data from thousands of sources. Anna and Dagfinn will explain the importance of this project, and how the playlist model could be adopted by other creative sectors.

Anna described the challenge of trying to make a Nordic playlist based on chart mentality – one that showed the top songs in the Nordic region (and the broader Nordic region like the Faroes and Greenland). But there were too many obstacles, it was discovered, and people couldn’t understand the rules. After going back to the drawing board – and came up with The Nordic Playlist – a soon-to-be-launched digital platform to promote the best new music from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

On the new project, playlists are curated each week by a different tastemakers from around the world. There is also a Nordic Top 10 box which will be published each week as well as new DJ mixes and an Up and Coming section that allows lesser-known acts can be presented.

Dagfinn Bach, President, BACH Technology AS, then talked about how they would work behind the scenes. He described how MUSIC DNA captures audio and classifies it and then analyses it via bringing all the data together with visualisation techniques. The project will be launched soon at


An audience member asking questions

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Halldóra Rut Baldursdóttir & Harpa Fönn Sigurjónsdóttir from Örvarpið

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Game-changing services like YouTube and Netflix have altered forever how audiences use and consume video – the former now has more than 1m creators earning money from its Partner Programme, while the latter has led the way in terms of content creation, investing millions of dollars in shows like House Of Cards & Hemlock Grove. Both offer considerable opportunities outside of the traditional broadcasting constraints.

Örvarpið is smaller scale to such digital behemoths, but it too hopes to make a significant impact. Launched in September 2013 and supported by RUV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting TV Station, the online platform encourages artists and filmmakers to make and submit short videos under 5 min in length.

Each month, one of these films will be selected by committee and hosted on the website, before being screened at a special showcase festival of Örvarpið, to take place in early 2014 at Bíó Paradís.

Kristen Harrison: author empowerment and making books work online


Described by The Bookseller as “the ultimate hybrid company”, The Curved House is a creative agency that bridges the gap between traditional publishing and digital media – designing and producing books and limited editions for the likes of Random House and Waterstones, building websites, developing marketing ideas and running web and social media training sessions designed specifically to empower authors.

Founder Kristen Harrison highlighted some of publishing’s most exciting developments – especially the fine work of Faber & Faber – and some exciting new projects of her own. First was Visual Verse, an online anthology of art and words that counts among its patrons the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and the artist Mark Garry. The project is an online anthology of art and words where a series of images are curated and writers are invited to respond to them with a piece of poetry or fiction written within an hour.

“It came from the idea of producing a notebook for writers with these kinds of activities,” says Kristen. “My designer friend Pete helped me make the site. I could have done it as a book but it’s more effective this way as it’s more organic and shows writers how their work can manifest in a digital way. Anyone can upload a piece to the website and it’s not moderated (within reason).”

Kristen also unveiled an excellent new project she’s created to help develop children’s creative and visual literacy. There are two kinds of books: in the first there is text and kids can create their own illustrations; the second type have illustrations but no story so kids can write their own.





Shane Richmond: are we being turned into computers?



Today’s first talk came from Shane Richmond, the formerTechnology Editor at the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Now a writer, lecturer and consultant with a key interest in consumer technology, digital media, books and music, Shane released an eBook last month called “Computerised You” which investigates the closing gap between people and machines.

Shane started with an overview of what defines wearable tech: it’s hands free; it’s always on; it’s aware of the environment around it; it’s connected; it’s less distracting; and it works as a platform too.

“We already have powerful pocket computers – the smart phone is many times more powerful than the computer that sent man to the moon in 1969. Sensors and batteries are getting increasingly smaller and helping drive a boom in wearable devices.” He showed how the technology is already happening: by 2017, it is estimated that 64 million wearables will be shipped worldwide (which is where smartphones were in 2007 just before the iPhone came out, suggesting that a similarly revolutionary trend will occur with wearable tech).

Shane defined two kinds of wearables: inside-out and outside-in. He shows how wearable tech can give us some kind of baseline for our lifestyles. Activity monitors are becoming more common, for example, and even becoming part of smart-phones, and these things are helping us combat our destructive western lifestyles.

He outlined the problems and opportunities of wearable tech. Problems include data privacy, data control, compulsion and isolation – not to mention the adjustment of social habits. Opportunities include a better understanding of our lives and environment, but we need more analysis services to help relate the information to us.

The future already includes smart tattoos and implants – tech being worn on or under the skin – everything from patches to detect the criteria that causes Sudden Infant Death syndrome to a guy in the U.S. who has built headphones directly into his ears. He ended with a fairly fascinating yet potentially nightmarish scenario that could happen in the next ten years – where we all become computers.





Kristen Harrison, The Curved House (Germany)

yaic lit

One of the afternoon workshops was run by Kristen Harrison of The Curved House, a creative agency working primarily for
publishers and publishing­related businesses. Folllowing posts at Penguin Press (production and editorial),­ Kristen founded Berlin-based The Curved House in 2011, which works on a wide range of digital and non-digital projects for publishers like Random House and Waterstones.

Kristen also hosts regular digital surgeries with the UK’s Society Of Authors, which­ helps writers maximise the impact of their work online. In the cosy, informal confines of the Bíó Paradís main room, Kristen drew an eager crowd of British and Icelandic writers, poets and authors for a conversation about how to get their work “out there”.

“You can have amazing things to say, but it’s also about saying them to the right people,” said Kristen. “It’s about understanding who is going to listen to you and understand you; you need to try and seek them out and develop relationships, just as you would friends or acquaintances that you click with.” She also advised creating posts and especially visual content (photos, videos) as an essential promotional strategy.

Many of the gathered were either about to put out books or had done, and Kristen fielded questions about digital vs print and the virtues (we all love print but e-books can be a good starting point since the overheads are lower and the risks are smaller), and extolled the virtues of DIY print-on-demand platforms like – while pointing out their limitations.

Kristen praised Iceland for the ‘natural respect’ the country has for books – something she doesn’t feel exists so much in other markets such as the U.K. where books can be “associated with the middle classes and be seen as educational rather than fun.”

The workshop also touched on the benefits of exploring various aspects of story-telling and how a good idea is sometimes all you need – so long as it connected with people.

Oliver Luckett, The Audience


The Audience’s Oliver Luckett started his talk with a look at the role of traditional broadcasters – the church, mainstream media – and how their emphasis is very one way and, in contrast with social media, does not encourage feedback and sharing. He then began to break down social media platforms into biological metaphors (his background was in biology) such as Mycelium, a “platform” that allows mould to evolve and spread. The Audience, he told us, now reaches a billion unique users a month on behalf of its clients, channeling content throughout multiple platforms like Pinterest, Google+, Facebook, YouTube.

Among the many wisdoms he shared were how traditional marketing just doesn’t work any more – or at least is very wasteful in terms of budgets; how you need to nourish the internet’s “organisms” with content; how inspiring people emotionally is the key to getting your content shared (not telling someone what to do and think), how these systems are built around frictionless sharing and therefore require strong flow dynamics (never create a dead end – or a microsite); that social organisms react poorly to negativity and bad marketing; and how the creation of memes is important to keep the systems going.

Among the many examples he gave about the potential power of the internet was how when he worked for Disney they spent a fraction of the immense marketing budget for Toy Story 3 with superior result than the traditional marketing techniques, how they managed to create one of the biggest viral videos ever for Unilever (165 million views in 25 languages over 90 days); and how their work utilising networks for the movie Spring Breaker completely overturned traditional marketing methods in Hollywood.















Scenes at YAIC 2013!

yaic general

Peter Economides – BRAND ME!

yaic screen

The first inspirational talk can from Peter Economides, former Executive VP and Worldwide Director at McCann Erickson Worldwide, was called BRAND ME!: rebranding a city, a country, or yourself.

A compelling and relaxed speaker, Peter talked about how re-branding a company involves more than changing the logo and advertising – you also have to change the attitudes and behaviour of the staff. “You have to find yourself before you talk to the world,” he insisted. “You can’t do anything unless you connect back with yourself. When people feel good they do great things. It’s about how people feel…”

He talked about the “sweet spot” – that vague point where your strategy comes together within the context of what the market needs, what you want to do and what you can do. He looked at Angelina Jolie’s success as a “brand” noting that “a brand is everything you say, everything you don’t say, everything you do and everything you don’t do. Brand is reputation and managing reputation. Everything communicates. My dog has a brand.”

Some examples followed, such as Tony Hsieh’s quote that “every phone call is a chance to develop [his] Zappos brand”. Avis’ “we try harder” campaign, which helped customers support them as the “underdog”, and Simon Sinek’s quote about how “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it“. “Branding is the thing that makes me get up in the morning, the reason I want to write a book. Great brands tell great stories and those stories are centred on the why.”

Peter talked about the importance of narratives, making more examples like the CitizenM hotel in Schiphol Airport, and his own role in the re-launch of a bankrupt Apple back in 1997. “I met Steve Jobs for four hours and came away with two comments of his: ‘Let’s make a dent on the universe’ and ‘good enough is not enough’.”  The result was the iconic Think Different advert, which created a narrative that has helped Apple now become the world’s most valuable company.

Peter also expanded on the role of social media and its importance and how it’s changing the world. Examples came from the Johnny Bit My Finger video (650 million view), and the United Airlines guitar song, which got 150 million views and spawned a best selling book and places on high paying conference circuits. The video, Peter pointed out, cost UA stockholders $180 million. “Social media is not about media but a fundamental shift in the way people feel and act. Everything has changed. And in the same way, nothing has changed, since what we do has always been a basic human need to communicate. Facebook might disappear but social media won’t…”

Timo Santala, Co­founder & Chairman, Restaurant Day (FIN)



The first North Korean restaurant outside North Korea took place at Helsinki Restaurant Day. Photo: Remi Harris.


Timo Santala opened his presentation with a video of the Restaurant Day campaign – a tantalising insight into a phenomenon that is gradually taking over the world. Having started two years ago, the event is now in over 50 countries and over 700,000 take part. Santala explained how Helsinki has embraced the concept with a dizzying array of pop up day events: people lowering home made sandwiches to street level in a basket; viking menus available in tattoo shop; even the first (joke) North Korean restaurant outside of North Korea, which gained 6 Michelin stars before it even opened.

The days offer musical entertainment as well – from Flamenco and male choirs to hip hop and chanson – and inspire all kinds of concepts from raw food restaurants, juice bars run by kids, and a lot of interesting food created by immigrants who want to contribute something that’s not already available in the city (fried grasshoppers baked into cookies being one memorable example).

“It’s cheap, it’s accessible, you get to try something new,” said Timo. “I could do that every day. You can also peek into people’s homes. I can’t think of a better way of socialising than at the table.”

The day also offers opportunities for market research on new trends and emerging ideas. “We just wanted to do something different for a day. The key to the success is to let people’s imaginations fly. Most people have a dream to open a restaurant, cafe or bar at some point and this way is low risk and with access to customers. We give people total freedom to do what they want, wherever they want and however they want. We just help and facilitate that.

“You need to make it interesting and make it good. We had no permission, no license, we just did it anyway. You must believe in what you do and love what you do. Make it interesting for others too. And share your ideas immediately, even when they’re not ready – it’s the only way to get things really fly.”