The Icelandic town of Ísafjörður lies some 500 km to the northwest of the capital Reykjavík and only 50 km south of the Arctic Circle. The scenery here is spectacular. A set of large precipitous rocks and snow-beaten mountains surround the tiny Nordic settlement. This is one of the most isolated locations on the European continent. Its entire population amounts to a mere 3,000.
Getting to Ísafjörður is far from being an easy task. The short flight from Reykjavík takes around 40 minutes. A first attempt to land there proved completely fruitless. The second one too in fact… With a layer of thick fog and zero visibility our plane duly returned to Reykjavík. We were luckier the morning after, but our anxiety remained as we learned that the local airport’s short runway caters for a landing apparently known among pilots as one of the world’s most dangerous…
The reason why Best Fit is visiting the Icelandic Westfjords is to attend Europe’s most remote festival, fittingly named Aldrei Fór Ég Suður – meaning ‘I never went south’ in Icelandic. Aldrei Fór Ég Suður is organised by iconic local troubadour Mugison and his dad, PapaMug. It’s definitely not your regular festival, and how could it be? Taking place in such a breathtaking location…
“The idea for Aldrei was actually a joke in the beginning,” Mugison explained. “My father and I were playing at a festival in the UK in 2003 and were the least known act on the bill. You could barely see my name on the poster! We got less soundcheck and less stage time than any other band. The whole situation irritated us a bit, so after the show we jotted down on a piece paper our manifesto of how a festival should be run. Rules included that everyone should be treated equally and that all bands get equal chances to present their music,” Mugison continued. “When we came back to Iceland we mooted the idea to a friend who knew a lot of people in the Icelandic music scene and a few months later we had 20 bands playing at the first edition of Aldrei!”
Throughout the years Aldrei has offered numerous attractions to its audiences ranging from a country set by members of Sigur Rós dressed in cowboy suits to an extravaganza by the Westfjord female accordionists association boasting a lineup of 13 grandmothers; or even a DJ-set featuring seasoned dancefloor specialists GusGus followed by the mayor of Ísafjörður himself on the decks.
The festival is attended every year by 4,000 to 5,000 people with figures up by 30% this year, it seems Aldrei is becoming Icelanders’ favourite way of spending their Easter weekend. True to Mugison’s rules and egalitarian values local school acts support the bigger names from Reykjavík.
Here are Best Fit’s weekend favourites:
Hardcore punks Muck gave us an unexpected kick in the stomach. Their raw energy was delivered with urgency and precision. Hidden behind their European screamo influences and the thick layers of noise are well-thought-out songs. Easily Iceland’s best noise band.
An early-evening appearance by Mugison stirred much excitement in the crowd. Mugi speaks to the hearts and minds of the locals. Seeing him perform here at his own festival is even more special. He’s one of them. He’s at home. Best Fit feels privileged having witnessed this strictly internal Westfjord moment.
Counter to what their name suggests, Reykjavík! are actually from Ísafjörður and have been regulars of the Icelandic music scene for a few years now. Recent accusations that they have mellowed out with their latest album were quickly dismissed as their set started. The ever-energetic singer Bóas Hallgrímsson engaged in his routine crowd-surfing backed by a band in extremely good shape. An unexpected turn is taken when a girl called Halldóra was called up on stage and festival attendants treated to an on-stage marriage proposal!
If you want to get a glimpse of the beautiful scenery and the landing at Ísafjörður airport check out the Reykjavík!’s music video for ‘Hellbound Heart’ below.
Lo-fi psychedelic indie kids Nolo proved to be upbeat and inventive. The surpisingly young Icelanders have a love for electropop and MGMT. All elements are there for them to stand out in the future in the already crowded Icelandic music scene. We eagerly await their next moves.
Former schoolmates’ collective Retro Stefson have developed into a fully-fledged entertainment machine. Forget all clichés about how an Icelandic band should sound like. Retro Stefson mix rock, disco, African and soul elements resulting into a fresh and enticing sound. Their colourful music palette offered the perfect festival ending…
Further weekend highlights included the undisputed fathers of the local metal scene HAM, the brilliant electro-hopefuls Sykur, gentle-voiced songsmith Svavar Knútur, national gay icon Páll Óskar and reformed ‘80s female pop ensemble Dúkkulísur.
Thinking back to Aldrei Fór Ég Suður, the most remarkable thing about it is the extent it becomes a focal point for the local community. In times of bitter economic downturn Icelanders offer a bright example: “Lots of people are offering to help out by selling merchandise, making the beds for musicians or providing the security at the venue. It’s an organic thing! Everybody is pitching in and nobody gets paid for it. But the main reason why we still do it is because it’s an amazing group of people behind it. We’re all friends.” Mugison summed up.
A big thank you to Tómas Young from Iceland Music Export for his remarkable efforts to provide flawless travel arrangements despite the persistently difficult weather conditions. This feature wouldn’t have been possible without him. Furthermore a warm thank you to Gústaf and Albertína for being such great hosts.