Summer in Iceland is like a fixed roulette game that you always somehow lose. Icelanders, though, never get tired of planning outdoor festivals for the summer so they can get hammered in that sultry wind and rain. Some of these festivals have been a huge success, like Þjóðhátíð í Vestmannaeyjum and Secret Solstice. But some are more like the notorious Fyre Festival, where Billy McFarland was sentenced for fraud and forced to pay 26 million dollars in compensatory damages to some devastated influencers with PTSD that got a sandwich with cheese and ham instead of avocado toast.
We at The Reykjavík Grapevine went down memory lane to relive some of the most notorious, funniest, and even the best summer festivals ever held in Iceland.
Mr. Iceland does music
While Keflavik had a legendary music scene in the 1970s with bands like Hljómar and Trúbrot, it’s an overstatement to say that they are still a cultural hub. Yes, those days of ruling the Icelandic music scene are long gone.
Óli Geir Jónsson, an entrepreneur in the tackiest sense of the world, cemented this knowledge. He first became famous as a provocateur when he was stripped of the Mr. Iceland beauty contest crown due to some bad behavior. But it was his work at the huge Keflavík Music Festival in 2013 that made him known across the country.
Shortly before the festival was held, international bands started to cancel. They said their contracts were not ready and so they had some bad feelings surrounding the affair. Icelandic artists soon followed suit with their own cancellations.
Those that didn’t cancel became furious once at the festival due to the awful accommodations. One of the best known bands in Iceland, Skálmöld, released a statement claiming that all the festival staff had literally fled the scene during the show. They said they watched Pétur Ben, a respected Icelandic musician, play on stage with absolutely no lights because the lighting guys had left. Skálmöld then played in pitch darkness.
After the disaster, Óli Geir went bankrupt, with outstanding claims for around 70 million ISK (around 550,000 Euros).
Biggest performers that actually played: Pétur Ben and Skálmöld
Biggest performers who cancelled: Iggy Azalea and Tinie Tempah
Eldborg, city in fire
Before we go into the most catastrophic outdoor festival, Eldborg, we must warn you beforehand that this will involve rape and violence. So there, you have been warned.
Eldborg festival was held in 2001 in Eldborg, Mýrum, in the West of Iceland. The festival planners expected about 3,000 guests, but around 8,000 people showed up for the event.
The first rape was reported on the first day of the festival. In the end, there were a total of fifteen rapes reported. Only two of them were investigated by the police, which in the end resulted in one conviction.
The festival was completely unprepared for the staggering number of guests and the security was little, if any. It became exactly what Eldborg means in English: A city in fire.
A lot of unconfirmed news reports emerged from the festival. The Icelandic tabloids said that there were brutal gangs of boys roaming the area, assaulting people and beating each other up. other story said that a group of boys were slicing the bottoms off tents, so when they found passed out drunk girls, they could then cover them up with a tent and rape them. There were also vague reports that one young man was raped with a tent pole. Most of these reports were never confirmed, but you get the idea.
The program manager of the crisis centre for rape victims in Iceland later revealed that the youngest victim was 13 years old and the oldest, 25.
The festival has become notorious in the history of outdoor festivals in Iceland and started a deep reflection for the nation to redefine how festivals should be held here. Nothing like this has repeated itself, although there are still reports of sexual assaults at these sort of festivals in Iceland.
Biggest performers that played: Stuðmenn and Skítamórall
Perhaps it was a sign of a healthier Iceland, but the Best Festival, which was held for the first time in 2010, was a smash hit. And, what’s more, there was not one report of rape.
Around 8,500 festival goers camped at Gaddastaðarflöt, Hella, in the south of Iceland, for some good ole’ fun. There were some reports of young people with drugs, but only cannabis for private consumption, so not really a big deal. In front of this fun, the German Eurotrash-God, Scooter, played ‘Hyper Hyper’ (or ‘Hypah Hypah’ in Scooter-German) for the guests.
Of course, it was too good to be true. The consumer agency—of all institutions in Iceland—started investigating the name of the festival after some nerd filed a complaint to ask this vital question: Is it the best festival?
The investigators at the Consumer agency came to the conclusion that the festival could not prove that it was the best one. The festival were allowed to keep the name for another year, and then it quit. Thank god for the Consumer agency!
In our opinion though, the Best Festival was arguably the best one.
Biggest performers that played: Scooter (or Skútah in Scooter-German) and Quarashi
Uxi-drugs and troubled youth
It’s safe to say that 1995 was the peak of the electronic music scene in Iceland. That same year, the owner of one of the most respected music stores in Iceland at the time, Kristinn Sæmundsson—usually referred to as Kiddi í Hjómalind—planned the most ambitious music festival ever held in Iceland. It was called Uxi, which literally translates to Ox.
The festival was held in Kirkjubæjarklaustur in the south and the lineup was absolutely incredible. Among the bands and artists that performed were Drumclub, Prodigy, Underworld, Aphex Twin, Atari Teenage Riot and, of course, our very own Björk, who, it’s safe to say, put this small island on the map when it comes to music.
From the start the festival had bad press that was strongly linked to the biggest party drug at that time, ecstasy. This bad press was probably the primary reason the ticket sales were much lower than expected. The festival became labeled as a drug festival for troubled youth, which, we’re not going to lie, sounds like our kind of gig.
While the festival was rape-free and had no major crimes—which is always a reason for joy in Icelandic outdoor events—it was never held again. The legend lives on in our ecstasy-fueled hearts though.
Biggest performers that played: Drumclub, Prodigy, Underworld, Aphex Twin, Atari Teenage Riot, and Björk