Nordicana – A Review

Exactly when the first convention occurred is still very much open to debate. Written records dating back to the 1930s prove the existence of a creatively active fan network long before the age of DVDs and Twitter. In 1935 two struggling young would be comic book professionals premiered an embryonic version of Superman in a mimeographed fanzine three years before the character made its first appearance in Action Comics. What we consider to be modern fandom may have been born in the 1960s when American enthusiasts came together to launch a letter writing campaign in an attempt to save Star Trek from cancellation.

Despite a substantial amount of evidence demonstrating its history in terms of being a vibrant and dynamic social network the press has displayed a tendency to stigmatize fandom through the use of words such as ‘geek’ or by portraying fan behaviour as abnormal.

William Shatner famously appeared on the American comedy show Saturday Night Live telling fans to ‘Get a life’. More recently, in an episode of The Sarah Silverman Program Christopher Eccelston played a character called Dr. Lazer Rage which parodied his Doctor Who screen persona and ,via a direct to camera address, characterised fan behaviour as abnormal and social destructive. Negative stereotypes such as these have very little basis in reality and as the Nordicana event showed, fans of Nordic Noir have active lives, are creative, celebratory, erudite, and inclusive in terms of welcoming newcomers into the accompanying social network.

Nordicana was a two day convention specifically designed to commemorate Scandinavian culture. The first event of its kind, this expo was sponsored by Arrow Films, Danish Arts Council, Film Institute Denmark and Danish Broadcasting Corporation in association with English and Danish PEN. What Nordicana represented was a bold initiative that demonstrated how in a relatively short space of time Nordic Noir has gone from being an under explored literary curiosity to a visible brand with an ever growing fanbase that is warm and welcoming.

Housed inside the Farmiloe Building, a venue that in the 1980s was the base of operations for the Clerkenwell Crime Synidcate it has more recently been featured in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. That the Batman connection was not mentioned in pre-event publicity suggests that perhaps Scandinavian literature, films and TV shows have enough recognition factor within the commercial marketplace to not need propping up via being directly connected to an American owned intellectual property.

Covering so many areas of Scandinavian culture the event could all too easily have been a scatter gun affair in which the various elements were just thrown out into the arena for consumption but instead it was an acknowledgement that both Nordic Noir and a fascination with Scandinavia means has a multitude of meanings for the many sectors of fandom. As this is not a fan community that fetishises specific authors, movies, or series and condemns others this remarkable openness was built into the event’s schedule and the choice of exhibitors. With so many activities slotted into the weekend two separate and unconnected fans may have very well come away convinced that they had experienced entirely different events.

Emphasizing active engagement and celebration Nordicana enabled fans to interact directly with authors, actors, and exhibitors. For many, this would have been the first time that they would have the opportunity to meet the Scandinavian actors and writers whose work they had seen on BBC Four, DVD or in print. Contact was not restricted to the panels or autograph sessions as the organisors had taken great care to foster an atmosphere in which the guests and the attendees were united in expressing their enthusiasm. Here was an event in which fans could chat with guests in the bar area and meet the people from Arrow Films who take great care and attention in sourcing the finest Scandinavian films and TV shows for the benefit of our ever enlarging DVD collections.

For two days it really felt as though one Victorian building had been transported to Scandinavia. With so much high quality food and drink on offer as well as live music from some very talented performers in addition to screenings and talks the convention was elevated from being a question and answer event into a simulation of a Nordic summer arts festival. The playful and creative selection of events and exhibitors led to an exuberant atmosphere in which Twitter friends met face to face for the first time and found that they had even more in common than their online profiles suggest whilst complete strangers could meet in an autograph line or queuing for a drink and become social media buddies. Nordicana was testament to how swiftly Nordic Noir has gone from a little known subgenre to a fully fledged cultural phenomena and an opportunity to reward long term enthusiasts and welcome new ones.

Fans of Nordic Noir frequently find themselves simultaneously gazing in multiple directions; on the one hand attention is firmly focused on what new books, shows, and films will be coming to the UK within the next few months and on the other curiosity may lead them to engage in finding tantalising hints of information about those titles which up until now haven’t managed to secure distribution within English language territories. Prior to Nordicana this information was fragmentary but for the first time fans of Nordic Noir and media professionals were presented with a two day window in which they could pool their collective knowledge banks and suddenly we were given detailed facts about Sidse Babbet Knudsen’s career choices prior to Borgen, Marie Askehave’s latest series, how David Howson translated The Killing from TV into a cracking book, why Arne Dahl introduced the cleaner into the TV adaptations of his novels, Adam Price’s dual role as chef and writer of Borgen, etc…

In film and literature, Nordic Noir existed long before BBC4 screened The Killing or UK publishers printed Steig Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy. When Ian Ousby’s The Crime and Mystery Book was first published in 1997 it was quite rightly regarded as an excellent overview of the genre. One that managed to weave a coherent historical narrative account despite having to accommodate disparate schools of crime writing. Texts such as this are provisional, it is impossible to produce a permanent record as new perspectives and/or discoveries necessitate revision. In 1997 when Ousby’s book was first issued Scandinavian crime fiction ma\y have been regarded by the critical community with little more than mild curiosity. The book devotes a single paragraph to Swedish fiction and does not consider the cited authors to be the vanguard of a new movement. With so few titles available to us back then it was practically impossible to predict that Nordic Noir would become a commercially viable mode of fiction with an appreciative audience large enough to warrant a two day convention let alone define it’s generic parameters.

Despite the dual modes, literary and visual, Nordicana showed that fans of Nordic Noir are not divided. This was an event in which the very act of attendance was a statement that expressed an emotional attachment for all forms of Scandinavian drama. Nordicana was an instance in which the participation was an opportunity for fans to show how the act of being an enthusiast has brought meaning to their lives, given them access to a an incredible social circle, and led to a desire to learn more about and directly experience Scandinavian culture. Nordic Noir may still be a relatively young subgenre but those who attended Nordicana may very well testify that they were enhanced by it and would be very eager to attend another convention. Being a fan is an amazing thing. Being a fan of Nordic Noir is Scandi-tastic.

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