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Ten things that made ATP Iceland special

Ten things that made ATP Iceland special

03 July 2013, 10:20

When earlier this year ATP organisers decided to pull the plug on the much-loved Camber Sands festival and announced two final events at the end of 2013; they caused major disappointment to the festival’s long-term fans. The prospect of an additional weekend that bore the original holiday camp format but took place in the haunting surroundings of an abandoned US military base in Iceland seems, therefore, like a hugely exciting proposition.

I travelled to Keflavík, Iceland and discovered that this incarnation of the cult festival not only lived up to its British counterpart’s rich tradition, but also was a unique and compelling experience in its own right. An amazing line up included Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Chelsea Light Moving, The Fall, Deerhoof and The Notwist as well as local homegrown musical heroes like HAM, Múm and Mugison.


And what better stamp of approval could organisers have wished for the first – and very successful – edition of ATP Iceland, other than the presence of the country’s most prominent music figure? Late on Saturday evening, I spot the overwhelmingly familiar face of Björk, chilling out with her family in front of the main festival site!

In two days packed with amazing sounds, here are our ten highlights of a truly unique event

10) Mark E. Smith being himself

The Fall

The Fall frontman’s shambolic performances need no introductions.

During the band’s first Icelandic visit since 2004 (and fourth in total), they were all in exceptionally good form while revisiting material from their long back catalogue in front of an eager Icelandic audience.

9) Kimono’s knife-sharp guitar riffs

Local scene veterans Kimono only make rare appearances. The trio’s captivating Fugazi-influenced experimental rock is little known outside the Icelandic borders.

During their ATP set they premiered a brand-new track that hints to a confident comeback after their superb 2009 release Easy Music for Difficult People.

8) Amiina soundtracking Reiniger’s animated films


Having recently reverted back to their original four-piece lineup, Icelandic ensemble Amiina appear slightly undecided as to whether they prefer being a quartet or a sextet.

Either way, it was a magical audiovisual experience, their minimal sonic textures providing the soundtrack to the haunting 1920’s animated films by German director Lotte Reiniger.

7) Tilda Swinton and Jim Jarmusch-curated films

ATP Cinema

Film director Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers) curated along with British actress Tilda Swinton a well-selected series of films on the first and second day of the festival respectively.

We particularly enjoyed the 1942, Ernst Lubitsch-directed, controversial political satire To Be Or Not To Be.

6) Icelandic crowds having a blast.

ATP crowd

Given that events of this international calibre rarely set foot on Icelandic soil, Icelanders went 100% mental. It’s rare to see a crowd that appreciative and responsive at the same time.


5) Thee Oh Sees rock out

Thee Oh Sees

John Dwyer and his tireless, frantic gang delivered on Friday night a tide of garage, noise, krautrock and psychedelic; playing material from their latest outing ‘Floating Coffin’ and earlier releases.

4) Hjaltalín coming of age.


Hjaltalín have been a constant fixture in the local music scene for many years. It’s only with their latest offering Enter 4 that they have managed to truly exceed all expectations and deliver an elaborate and commanding oeuvre.

Sigríður Thorlacius, who is blessed with probably one of the best voices in Iceland, deserves extra credit for managing the single most difficult festival slot – right after Mr Nick Cave that is.

3) Ásbrú’s lunar landscape


For over half a century, more than 200,000 U.S. citizens lived and worked at this former military base, along with thousands of Icelandic employees, a very high number considering that the Icelandic population is just over 300,000.

The base closed down completely in 2006 and all military personnel departed, leaving a ghost town behind. Walking through the abandoned buildings at 2am (during Iceland’s 24h summer daylight) makes for an arresting festival experience.

2) Æla’s post-midnight riot


At exactly 00:30am on Saturday a small van parked outside the festival site. Two guys quickly set up loudspeakers and Halli Valli of Æla engaged in a spontaneous and utterly energetic garage rock performance from the back of the van, while he ripped off his shirt to reveal a fairy princess dress!

In seconds a crowd of levellers rushed to the van and it was only moments later that the whole thing had turned into a massive outdoors feast.

1) Nick Cave’s heroic stand

Nick Cave

Nick Cave’s return to Iceland proved quite eventful.

It was only a few seconds into ‘Jubilee Street’ – the set’s second song – when suddenly Cave fell of a ramp and disappeared from stage. To the relief of the organisers and the astonishment of an ecstatic crowd he re-emerged only 30 seconds later and proved tough enough to carry on with the entire show that featured classics from his entire career – with notable highlights ‘The Weeping Song’, ‘Tupelo’ and ‘Red Right Hand’.

The Australian rocker was briefly admitted to the emergency room of the Reykjavík University Hospital after the show, where he was given painkillers and was told that he was only badly bruised. His impressive stamina will be talked about in Iceland for many years to come…

All photos by the author

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