To the untrained mind of your average European, Iceland and the Faroe Islands suffer the same relationship as Spain and Portugal, England and Scotland or Holland and Belgium – they’re the same but different. How very wrong they are. Thankfully, to the unsuspecting visitor, nothing polarises these significant cultural differences more than a festival, in this case G! Festival on the shores of a remote fishing village called Göta.
Perhaps the only similarity between the two island nations is the approach by plane which, in both cases, is like something out of a disaster movie, but without the sticky ending. Iceland looks like you’re landing on the moon, albeit a cold, volcanic version, whilst the approach to the Faroes could be likened to the mass of green hills and blue water you see when landing in Hawaii or a lush tropical island.
With the airport behind us and the journey to Göta completed, I was given a tour around the festival site. The main stage was on the beach with calm waters lapping up from the fjord and mountainous hills overlooking the other three sides of the arena – it was like being in Valhalla’s own music festival except that maybe Valhalla wouldn’t have hosted a substantial whale kill the week before which, as it was explained to me in a very matter-offact way, was good as all of the blood had now washed off of the beach. Another stage was placed in a burnt-down fish drying house and a third on a synthetic handball pitch, which was a welcome change from the muddy field that normally hosts such arenas.
Faroese Brew and Eclectic Music
Two days later the festival sprung into life as the rocky camping field filled with tents, crates of the local Faroese brew and a crowd to whom this event clearly meant a great deal. Whilst veering towards the youthful end of the local population, the festival had also attracted many visitors from Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, France, Scotland and a few intrepid Brits who, by this point, where wondering if this was a giant joke – drinks called Jolly, Squizz, Peru and dried pilot whale aren’t normally available at Glastonbury or other European events but, for many, this simply added to the feeling of intrigue and charm that was already building around the festival.
Whilst the first day was heavily based around local Faroese bands such as 200, Gestir and Kári Svensson, the second day was a delight of eclectic music programming and bizarre experiences with Pétur Ben providing the first music display worthy of the glorious surroundings. He played a sensible mix of songs from Wine For My Weakness and it was clear that most people sitting on the synthetic grass had been waiting for his performance. They knew all the words to Do Something Radical and several other tracks, but the real highlight was when Pétur walked off of the stage. Not because that was the end of his set, but because everyone knew he couldn’t end his set there and there must be more music saved for the encore.
They were right and the crowd surged towards the stage as he re-appeared to play his solo version Billie Jean in the early-evening sun. Without Siggi Baldursson on drums and his laid-back bass player, Pétur was still able to tease the crowd with his gradual build up to the chorus and, as those not in the know realised who wrote the track, a cheer grew and hands reached for the baby blue sky in honour of an artist who made local star Teitur (who followed Pétur on the bill that day) sound like James Blunt’s less talented, slightly inbred cousin. The crowd weren’t the only ones who relished the festival, as Siggi revealed after his stint on drums: “I enjoyed it very much, despite the horrid hangover!”
Immediately after Teitur’s borefest came London’s Metronomy to save us all from turning to alcohol to make the day more interesting. They were very impressive in comparison. Consisting of three black-clad men behind three keyboards, they produced epic dance music. As well as being very amiable chaps, they also had one of the slickest sets of the festival so far despite their lighting system failing in the intense and unexpected sunlight.
Dr. Spock’s Mayhem
Sometimes it was as if the person who programmed the festival was trying to confound us – one minute the stage would be taken by a middle-of-the-road troubadour ike Eivør and the next a band like Sic would come on and you could almost see the salmon housed in the off-shore nets making a bid for the beach to see what was going on. Sic are the Faroese equivalent of a Slayer tribute band crossed with Korn’s less annoying brother, but sadly their hardcore rock image was totally destroyed as their lead singer consistently strode around the site pushing the very middle-class combination of pram and child, with his wife dutifully alongside. Ignoring this display for 45 minutes was, however, absolutely possible as their set was the heaviest thing to appear in the bay since last week’s whale visitation, but the result was a little easier to digest. “So”, we thought, “this is what Faroese counter culture is all about…” as the entire population of the nation’s metal kids danced like a handball pitch had never been danced on before. Sic are a special band but one that could do with adding some variety to the grunted vocals and thrashed guitar solos. However, they pull off the counter culture icon image pretty well when you consider that the total population of the Faroes numbers under 50,000 and there can’t be that many metal fans to propel such a movement from obscurity into the mainstream.
It’s rare that the festival goer would have the opportunity to make a fish-like bid for the ocean when a particular artist is playing, but the thought of watching Natasha Beddingfield on the Friday night inspired us to flag down a small boat to take us to the schooner anchored off-shore for an hour or two. This, we reasoned, would allow us to be as far away from the walking blonde bum note as possible without leaving the site. Sadly, the words of her many mediocre songs could still reach us, but, now safely dressed in a one-piece thermal suit with beer in hand, it didn’t seem so bad as it might have from the beach.
Saturday gave no similar reasons to escape to the high seas and, once again, the Icelandic bands provided some of the most unique sets of the festival. Dr Spock played one of the closing sets and the mayhem they instigated was something to behold. They handed out trademark pink rubber gloves like confetti and the whole display, from the music to the sprayon lycra outfits, was one of chaotic genius. Earlier in the day, Sweden’s Loney, Dear played for 45 minutes (but would’ve been welcome to play all afternoon) and Hatesphere took up the metal baton where Sic had dropped it.
Looking back, the festival brings back many happy memories – some of them intentionally brilliant, others brilliant in their strangeness, but all smile-inducing and enough to make the G! Festival an incredible experience, even if the music wasn’t quite as spectacular as the surroundings.