The harbour-side artistic cluster of Seyðisfjörður feels simultaneously alien and cosy to me. Like many who descend on Iceland in July, my real home is a few thousand kilometres away—5,732 to be exact. Seyðisfjörður’s towering mountains and punishing winds contrast with the sweltering humidity and sprawling suburbia in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. But thankfully, I arrive on the last day of the LungA Arts Festival, where a week’s worth of workshops reach a deafening climax of late-night concerts and a devoted throng of fans come ready to dance against the punishing winds until the sun rises again. At some point while I was fighting for air among the sweaty mass of bodies, Seyðisfjörður and Atlanta didn’t seem so different.
This year’s edition of the LungA Arts Fes- tival marked its fifteenth anniversary, and brought out an impressive and diverse bunch of Icelandic talent to celebrate. Even though Iceland’s music legacy abroad has been dominated by Björk and Sigur Rós, the artists showcased at LungA present a new breed of local musicians, constantly innovating whether the rest of the world cares to catch up or not.
Here’s my brief rundown of what I observed that night.
Underwhelmed, then infected
Admittedly, Sturla Atlas was an underwhelming opener. The young group of rappers and singers that accompanied hip-hop hopeful Sturla Atlas on stage represent the tepid intersections of brag rap and top-20 pop. Yet, the energy was palpable, and as a warm-up act the collective certainly whipped parts of the crowd into a frenzy. Perhaps given a less impressive group of artists to open for, Sturla Atlas would have left a deeper impression.
Within seconds of her off-kilter, child-like, kaleidoscopic re-imagining of dance music, dj. flugvél og geimskip completely transformed the lonely harbour’s air. Eventually after trying to wrap my head around her unique use of Indian scales, Casiotone percussion, and oddball melodies, I just accepted that she resides on a different plane than the rest of us. On paper, everything about her music should terrify audiences, but somehow dj. flugvél og geimskip synthesized her schizo-electronic glee into a dizzying mass of infectious grooves.
Taking a cue from atmospheric R&B artists such as FKA twigs and How To Dress
Well, Gangly provided a slow-burning pause to the evening. The group’s LungA performance was its first, and a promising start for a band that has only released one single (the enchanting “Fuck With Someone Else”). Throughout their set, vague and understated vocals floated over a dense mass of hazy guitars, airy drums, and glacial synthesizers. Like the band itself, Gangly’s future plans remain mysterious. However, if their fully fleshed out set is any indication of what’s to come, we can expect a proper LP from the enigmatic trio soon enough.
Not even a minute after Gangly’s set came to a close, a roar of dissonance poured from a nearby truck. Æla wasn’t on the roster for the night, but the post- punk quartet’s sudden appearance was a welcome surprise. Fans responded with lightning-speed intensity and started throwing people around in tandem with Æla’s thundering set. The group fused bits of hardcore punk, twisted time signatures, and jangly rock into a dizzying, beautiful mess.
A feminist hip-hop Voltron
Hip-hop has taken many forms, but a fiercely feminist 21-woman collective has not been one—until now. Reykjavíkurdætur, “The Daughters of Reykjavík,” brought twelve of its “fem-cees” out to LungA, and none of them were content to serve as background wallpaper.
The beats were varied, delving into trap-styled influences and sparse melodies centred around pulsing, tribal drums. However, it was the Daughters’ rhymes that stood out the most. To an outsider, the prospect of finding a rhyme scheme among Icelandic’s tongue-annihilating syllables seems impossible, but every verse was fluid and well executed. Any of these women would be a force on their own, but their combined presence into a feminist hip-hop Voltron is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed—Reykjavíkurdætur are undoubtedly one of Iceland’s most underrated gems.
Glitter, glam and sugary grooves
Grísalappalísa is a hurricane of glitter, glam, and gnarled post-punk. Enigmatic frontman Gunnar Ragnarsson has all of David Bowie’s androgynous sex appeal, with a ferocity to match any punk idol. His arresting energy was only a footnote’s to the group’s overall ability to concoct unwieldy song structures that teeter between anxious funk and cerebral art rock. Grísalappalísa’s sound gave echoes of Talking Heads, The Pop Group, and Gang of Four, but any comparison fails at cap- turing the raucous seven-piece’s unfettered energy.
The aptly titled electro-powerhouse Sykur closed out LungA with a consistently danceable set of sugary grooves that persisted, despite lingering sound is- sues. In a night already packed with stage-stealing frontmen and women, Sykur’s Agnes Björt Andradóttir presided over her rabid fanbase like some sort of dance rock priestess. Glitches in the sound interrupted halfway through the set, but after a momentary pause the band picked up the dance party with professional grace.
For complete outsiders and devoted locals alike, the LungA Arts Festival provided an eclectic and arresting display of Iceland’s perpetually inventive talent.
Flights provided by Air Iceland—book your flight here.