Continuing our hunt for remote festivals, here we bring to you Aldrei Fór Ég Suður (which translates into English as: Never Went South). This year’s edition of the Icelandic festival takes place over the Easter weekend in Ísafjörður. Retro Stefson was one of the first bands announced to play (the line-up is still taking shape at the time of writing). If you are seeking a festival in an isolated location set in a stunning Icelandic fjord, this could be the one for you!
To get to Ísafjörður in the Westfjords, your options are (a) a fairly arduous 8-hour-drive up and over steep and (probably) snowy (yes, even in April) mountain passes from Reykjavik, or (b) what can be a pretty hairy 40-minute-flight from the capital (the shorter duration does not necessarily equate to a white-knuckle-free journey). It is worth it though, and I didn’t even have the delights of a music festival at the end of it. I was enticed ‘up north’ purely on an exploratory journey to get lost in this beautiful land.
That was last October, ‘out of season’ and maybe not the best time, just as winter approached. Nestled in a fjord, the airport is at the mercy of the weather, and once that storm rolled in, replete with horizontal blizzard, there was no way out for a couple of days. Cancelled flights and blocked roads, what was a girl to do except go and have a chat with one of the organisers of the local music festival, Hálfdán Bjarki Hálfdánsson.
Never went south
It’s kind-of ironic that I should have travelled over for Iceland Airwaves music festival, yet here I was stuck in Ísafjörður missing said festival, yet talking about another – slightly more remote – music festival. Hálfdán was very accommodating though, when I just turned up at his office (where, by the way, everyone was wearing slippers!) and asked if he might have time to talk to me about Aldrei Fór Ég Suður. ‘Sure, come in. Do you want a coffee? What would you like to know? We are already planning for the next festival, which will actually be the 10th one, although I’m starting to think about taking a backseat more, to let the next generation of organisers take over.’
Hálfdán tells me about how in the summer of 2003, local musician Mugison was having a chat to his dad (Papamug) and came up with the idea of putting on a festival in their hometown in the (north)westest part of Iceland; the following Easter, those initial ruminations became a reality. The initial idea was that ‘local workers would sing, DJ and entertain as if they were the main attraction, while they would get the biggest names from the Icelandic music scene to support them.’ That vibe still continues, with everyone pitching in. ‘It is essentially a community effort, with a huge team of volunteers; there is no entrance and everyone is on the same level – the bands, no matter how famous, play for free and for a similar amount of time,’ says Hálfdán. And no doubt get treated with an abundance of the local hospitality. It sounds like the whole town gets involved, with even the mayor on board to help out.
First acts announced
Due to the limited capacity (the venue is a warehouse that you drive past en route from the airport to the town, which is just a hop, skip and jump across the fjord), it really is all hands on ship. ‘In the past, we opted for artists with small bands, or for bands that shared band members, to cut down on costs,’ comments Hálfdán – which shouldn’t be difficult, as in my experience, that is pretty much most bands in Iceland…
Since our chat back in October, the organising committee has been busy and last month the first acts for the festival were announced (see here). These include a few names that might be familiar to Nordic Vibers – Mammút, Retro Stefson and Tilbury. The current bill already hints at an eclectic line-up, which the festival is renowned for, and no doubt there are a few surprises up the organisers’ sleeves for the 10th anniversary edition of the festival. Let’s wait and see what other Icelandic talent will be taking part – but don’t wait too long, because although the tickets to this free festival can’t exactly ‘sell out’, the town does have limited sleeping/floor space, so best book a place to lay your head sooner rather than later!