In a tiny village far from the city, Iceland’s outsider music wants to cause ructions
If you were to read about Icelandic music in the press, then you’d be forgiven for thinking that all we listen to up here all day is a continuous loop of FM Belfast, Ásgeir, and Sigúr Rós, while employing secret cloning technology to keep our cultural industries stuffed full of post-rock non-entities and ethereal pop ninnies that sport woollen ponchos, face paint, and feather headdresses. Frankly that sort of stuff would send a sane person round the bend.
Oh, but reader there are much wilder sounds on this Island if you know where to look! From black metal, to feminist punk, gothic post-punk, broken power electronics and incomprehensible music that sounds dredged from an elf’s arsecrack, Iceland has long fostered music that’s as belligerent as it is unconventional. And several strands of Icelandic fringe and DIY music will be coming together for NORÐANPAUNK, a three day music festival held the first weekend of August in a small village in the north of Iceland. With our interest already piqued at such a proposition, I talked to one of the organisers of the festival, Jonathan Baker, to find out what they’re up to.
So Jonathan, can you tell us how Norðanpaunk came about?
There were a few guys involved, but it was mainly Árni Þorlákur Guðnason [From the band Norn] who came up with the idea and has been the main driver of everything. He comes from Miðfjörður, where the festival is happening. He just wanted something to do over the Verslunarmannahelgi weekend in terms of having an event that would be playing extreme Icelandic music, from metal, to noise and electronics. There’s only really been the Mayhemisphere off-venue at Eistnaflug doing this in the past, and we’re looking to take that and the mentality behind that and make a festival out of it.
Since Árni came up with the idea, how did you become involved?
Árni simply asked me to help with the organising and logistics, as well as having our band MASS apply to play there. But as well as myself, you have the likes of Hilmar Kári Árnason, Tómas Ísdal [from the black metal band Carpe Noctem], Ægir Sindri Bjarnason [from the bands Logn, Klikk, Morð, and World Narcosis], and Krummi Björgvinsson [from the bands Legend and Döpur] involved as well.
The festival is going to be held at Laugarbakki. What is it like there?
I haven’t been there, but my girlfriend has. There’s really nothing there to be honest [laughs]! It’s a tiny village in the north with a small school nearby, but the festival is being held at a community centre that is be used for yearly get-togethers, such as Þorrablóts, weddings and other stuff. It turns out the owner/manager of the venue is the mother of a girl that Árni went to school with at Laugarbakki. She’s supper nice, laidback and has been so happy in supporting what we’ve doing here.
In terms of facilities, what do they have there? Is there a Vínbuð [liquor store] for example?
No unfortunately there isn’t. The nearest one is in the village of Hvammstangi, which is not that far to get to, but there is also the issue that they’re only open until 6pm on Friday and not on Saturday. Because there is no licence at the venue, it’s effectively bring your own booze and we’d advise people to plan and organise themselves before they get there.
There is also a shop in the village, but we are at the moment looking into organising food options for festivalgoers with help from the locals. At the venue site, we simply have the camping site directly next to the venue so it’s not like, say, Eistnaflug where you have to do a bit of a trek from the venue to the campsite. The whole thing is going to be a DIY, nuts and bolts operation. We want the people who are coming to not just stay at the campsite the whole time. We want people to go and see the music or at least be right next to the venue so if there is something they like the sound of, they can simply walk in and check it out without too much trouble.
Do you feel that making a festival like this gives a measure of consolidation to what is essentially music at the fringes of Iceland music? Do you feel that this area gets enough support from people in general?
Well, I think that the bands and the “scene” supporting them have a dedicated following, but it’s a small following. This might be a controversial opinion, but in the rock and metal scene in Iceland, there are many people who would be classed at “part time” fans, those who like some of the big names, your Skámölds and Sólstafirs, but never go to live shows. That is of course up to them, but we want to do something for the people who do go to the shows, especially for the smaller, lesser-known acts. In effect this is going to be a weekend of shows downtown with our friends and people of the same mind-set, but a two and a half hours drive up north for a whole weekend.
It sounds that you’re following a similar path to that of other festivals in Iceland, such as Extreme Chill, Eistnaflug, etc, where you’re transplanting the music scene and culture from Reykjavík out into the country.
Oh yeah, it’s definitely the same attitude and vibe. We want everyone to be together to support something, but do it away from other people and foster our own community.
How has the organisation gone in setting it all up? Has it been easy?
There has been quite a lot to do, especially as we have no funding for this whatsoever.
Have you not received any support from arts of cultural funding bodies?
None at all. Part of that though is down to our general lack of knowledge about such things. We did apply for some support from certain areas, such as Straetó, the bus company. We hoped that they would be able to provide some support or a discount in transport from Reykjavík to Hvammstangi, but unfortunately they said no. I would say that for next year and the future we would look much more closely into what support could be available for us.
As well as many local bands, there are several foreign acts set to play at Norðanpaunk. Can you expand on whom you’re bringing up this year?
Well I guess the biggest act coming is DEATHSEEKERS [pictures above], who are from Belgium, while there are some slightly more random acts such as CHAINSAW DEMONS playing. These acts are people that Árni has either contacted or seen perform live while he was living in Switzerland and Germany.
So you haven’t needed to put a call out to bands to come and play then.
None, except for the band SPERMAFROST. They actually contacted us, asking if they could come and play. We’ve got no idea how they found out about us [laughs]! The foreign acts have been the biggest expense we’ve had to deal with in terms of flights and transport. But what’s been great is some of them are actually paying to come here and play. To them, this is like a busman’s holiday, and as well as supporting the festival, they also get to see a bit of Iceland in the summer.
So you guys have been promoting and fundraising for the festival through several warm up concerts. What kind of reaction have you gotten from people?
It’s been really, really positive and there’s been a lot of activity on social media as well. But what we really need from people is for them to buy their tickets as early as they can. The biggest challenge we’ve realised in all of this is selling tickets through our Facebook page, or by e-mail. To get a ticket, you just message us, exchange the money through a bank transaction, and we send you the ticket. But people have been a bit dubious about doing it this way because you’re paying directly to a bank account. People are just used to going through the likes of Midi.is to buy tickets. But Midi.is takes a 7% commission on sales and we want to have 10% of the tickets sales to go back into the local community.
So to help us out, we’ve spoken to LUCKY RECORDS and selling tickets at their shop, so people can go in there, and buy their tickets directly. And even if you don’t get them there, we will have tickets available at the venue on the weekend, but they will be 5,000 ISK instead of 3,500 ISK.
We are also creating a Bandcamp compilation of acts that will be performing at the festival, and as an incentive, those who buy tickets in the next couple of weeks will be able to download it for free.
For those who are not sure of the acts playing, whom would you recommend to see?
Hmm… Well, firstly there is a German guy who performs under the name of RVNES. He plays mostly experimental noise and drone, while playing with tapes. He used to perform in Iceland under the name Sunday Parlours and my band MASS played with him last year. He’s really good.
The next I’d recommend would be Ægir’s band WORLD NARCOSIS. They’re a great Icelandic trio and they have just released some new material. It will be great to hear them play.
And finally you have of course DEATHSEEKERS, who just fucking gnarly. They play this really nasty hardcore and it has to be heard to be believed.