Keen to play the Iceland Airwaves Festival? Northern Lights is your ticket in, and FBi’s Stephen Goodhew is telling us all about it

Sydney’s most celebrated independent, non-for-profit radio station, FBi are back again with yet another great opportunity for Australian artists to further their musical endeavour’s. If you happen to be out of the loop, let us fill you in; FBi’s Northern Lights competition is back.

Winners will be gracing the stage at the renowned Iceland Airways Festival alongside the likes of PJ Harvey, The Sonics, The Internet, Warpaint, and The Ills. This is merely scratching the surface of this tremendous opportunity…

FBi Northern Lights

FBI’s Northern Lights competition will once again send artists abroad to embrace all the wonders and spectacles the breathtaking Icelandic landscape has to offer.

2011 winner Rainbow Chan explains how she was enriched by the experiences presented to her through the FBI Northern Lights Competition:

“The Northern Lights competition opened several doors for me. I’d been personally interested and engaged with studying Icelandic music and traditions for a while, so performing there and observing its culture firsthand was great.

“Surrounded by incredible natural landscapes, it was difficult not to feel dwarfed yet inspired by mother nature. I came away from the experience feeling focused and wanting to work harder. As I’ve changed and developed as an artist over the last few years, FBi Radio has been very supportive.. And it’s humbling to think that it all started with a shitty demo I made in a wardrobe on Garageband!”

We has a chat with FBi Music Director, Stephen Goodhew about the competition. It has been seven years since Stephen initially joined the FBi crew, taking the responsibility of Music Director in 2013. If you’re looking for someone who embodies a genuine love for Sydney music and its industry, Goodhew is a your guy.

Happy: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to me today Stephen!

Stephen: No worries man, my pleasure.

Happy: It’s now been 4 years since the first Northern Lights Competition, how did the comp come about?

Stephen: Well, a long time listener of the station got in touch with us, he’s a benefactor of ours, so he supports a number of our initiatives and causes financially. He basically wanted to do something big with us by providing funding toward something that supported local artists in a unique way. We had a few conversations, ideas were thrown around; we eventually came up with the idea of sending artists over to Iceland to play some shows, perform in front of industry, do some networking, and mainly draw some inspiration from the Icelandic landscape because it’s a pretty unique setting.

Happy: FBi plays a significant role in the recognition of Sydney music nationally and across the globe. How would you say this ethos weaves into your role as Music Director at the station?

Stephen: I guess I am quite fortunate in my job, seeing as I don’t have to concern myself with things such as commercial viability. What I get to do is think very much about what is cool, what is good music, what is emerging, what’s pushing the boundaries. That’s why FBi Radio exists, we are a not-for-profit station so we don’t have to worry about commercial considerations. It’s this that really what drives my whole approach to music programming at FBi, I’m consistently looking for the stuff that stands out and pushes the boundaries of music forward.

Happy: I presume you receive a large inflow of music to listen over an average week. When sifting through piles of material, are there any traits you keep an ear out for?

Stephen: Not necessarily, I just wait for something to grab my ear. I receive hundreds of requests each week and try to listen to everything in one sitting, one day a week I spend back to back just listening to music so I can compare everything consistently. When you’re listening to that much music, in a given day I may be listening to anywhere between 150 to 200 releases, when somethings different it really stands out because you start to hear a lot of the same sound popping up over and over again.

When you’re doing something that’s a little bit different it does actually stand out quite a way, so I guess that’s what I’m looking out for and that’s the sound I try to shape on air as well; it’s about providing that point of difference, a station that sounds a little bit different and interesting compared to everything else that going on.


Happy: Definitely. So backtracking to the festival, Iceland is an interesting place to send Australian artists. I don’t think many Aussies are too familiar with the Iceland Airways Festival, could you do us the favour of telling us a bit more about the festival?

Stephen: Yeah, Sure. Iceland Airways Festival is maybe similar to something like CMJ in New York. It’s not a typical festival in the sense of a layout with two or three stages that host the majority of music over the weekend. Rather, its spread throughout Iceland’s Capital city, Reykjavik, which is a small city with a population of about two-hundred and fifty-thousand people reminiscent of somewhere like Hobart.

The festival goes on for about four or five days and has music everywhere. There are two components to the festival, the official line-up which is the line-up programmed by Iceland Airways, then there is the off-venue showcase which involves many artists coming into town who aren’t officially playing the Iceland Airways Festival but are in Reykjavik playing anyway; so a lot of music happens there.

It’s a weeks’ worth of non-stop music with a great vibe, visited by people from all over the world. It is also a great opportunity to play in front of industry from US and Europe, as Iceland’s only a three or four-hour flight away from both those continents. So yeah, it’s a really valuable opportunity and is quite a well-known and respected festival in the Northern Hemisphere.

Happy: Yeah for sure, it sounds as though it must have a great communal vibe.

Stephen: Definitely. The Icelandic music scene is quite a small tight-knit community, and there are quite a lot of Icelandic artist playing the festival. So yeah, it definitely does have that vibe about it.

Happy: Just skimming through the line-up, I can see a fair few stand outs such as PJ Harvey. It must be an enthralling experience for any artist to play alongside such renowned artists on the world stage.

Stephen: There’s definitely a focus on Icelandic artists, but just looking through the line-up there’s great acts such as Warpaint, The Internet, PJ Harvey… gosh, I don’t know, it’s a big line-up (laughs). There are some really great names there and it’s a great festival to discover new music, which is yet another reason why it fit so well with FBI.

Happy: It seems that this competition not only provides bands with a potentially career-expanding opportunity, but opens many doors for networking with various producers, artists and others involved in the music industry internationally. Would you say that the competition will expand the horizons for the winners here at home?

Stephen: Yeah, one of the best things about this competition is the winners get a massive confidence boost. Being selected by FBi in a national competition, and also in conjunction with Iceland Airways to play a festival overseas in front of international media is a big pat on the back. Having that confidence to trust in your own abilities is a really big thing for artists, and that’s what we’ve seen afterwards from the artists who have come back from the experience, they have that added confidence to peruse their musical ideas and to execute that to the best of their ability.

Happy: Aside from the spot on the official festival line-up, what other exciting perks does the winner of the Northern Lights Competition receive?

Stephen: So, there’s three days spent at 301 studios here in Sydney, which is a really great opportunity. However, on top of that in Reykjavik there is a day’s worth of studio time at Sundlaugin Studio, which is owned and operated by Sigur Ros.

Happy: Earlier you were saying that a big part of your role as Music Director at FBi is sifting through large amounts of music. Will you be listening to all the admissions to the competition yourself?

Stephen: Yeah I will be. Sifting through large amounts of music is something I’m pretty experienced with. I’ve already started, but there’s many more to go.

Happy: Many entries I presume?

Stephen: Yeah. Last time we ran the competition we had 500 entries, and we are currently on track to get a similar number this year.

Happy: Impressive. Is there anything you would recommend to artists trying to stick out from the pack in this year’s Northern Lights competition?

Stephen: No not really. Maybe this is a bit like dating advise, but, it’s important to be yourself. Put yourself forward as you are and if that’s what we’re looking for and we feel people want to hear more of that, then you’ll probably be hearing from us.

Happy: No worries, thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to have a chat. Before you sign off, could you tell our readers how they can sign up to the festival and any requirement’s they need to meet for eligibility?

Stephen: Sure, all the information is on the website. There is a form you will need to fill, which will tell you everything you need to submit. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

If you reckon you have what it takes to be Australia’s next talent who can champion at an international level, then may just be time to pull up those socks and get to work.

You can enter The Northern Lights competition via the this link and following the prompts. Please bear in mind, nominees must be an Australian Resident, over 18 years of age, and available for international travel in November. Good luck friends!