I experienced a number of things at Norðanpaunk that I never expected would happen at any festival, or much less any place, ever. I mean, have you ever witnessed a group of people drinking in a hot tub loudly imitating Silencer vocals, only to hear the campsite across the lawn respond by shouting their own imitation of Silencer vocals? No, you haven’t. You definitely haven’t. But at Norðanpaunk, that kind of unexpected was simply the norm.
Keep rollin’ rollin’
The Norðanpaunk festival is DIY in the most basic and lovable way. At Norðanpaunk, the performers clean up the venue and camping area every morning. Their friends and fans paint the banners and cook the food. Everyone is there to celebrate individuality and all the weird forms of counterculture that you don’t normally find at music festivals. At Norðanpaunk, experimentation is appreciated, strangeness is celebrated, and being a freak is just expected.
With around 300 guests in attendance (with maybe 100 of those performing at the festival), this year’s iteration, the festival’s second, was a small and intimate affair. The programme went from four in the afternoon and kept going past three in the morning, and the camping area was literally the venue’s back law. This meant going out to grab a beer inbetween performances was an easy task, and since the festival was BYOB, an absolutely necessary one.
Outside, people sat in lawn chairs and cooked up BBQ. They chilled in the hot tub and blasted music. I constantly felt like I was at a reunion of old friends. Everyone seemed to know each other. It was by far the cosiest gathering I’ve ever been to. All the concert-goers were so kind, which was a wonderful boon for a shy outsider such as myself.
But the glue of the festival—the music—is what everyone journeyed to the north for. What were my favourites?
Auðn were a real standout for me. After absolutely loving their performance at Eistnaflug, I was really excited to see them again at Norðanpaunk, and they did not disappoint. Not only did they boast the best sound of any band that appeared that weekend (by far – I later learned that they brought along two sound engineers), but they also had such a personal and emotive stage presence that they really came off as a group of seasoned professionals. I’ve already sung the praises of their singer, Hjalti, but those praises are definitely worth singing more than once. On stage, Hjalti exudes this eerie, creepy aura that is just so powerful. It fits the music so well, and completely drives home the band’s desolate tone. Easily filling up the large stage at Eistnaflug with feeling, Auðn felt even more personal in such a small venue. Though the crowd was unfortunately sparse, it seemed like many of those in attendance were entrenched in a trance—as was I.
I have to keep going. Not to sound cheesy or overly-grandiose, but these guys are the real deal. They are incredibly talented and something truly special. I will point out though, that as someone who prefers her music melodic, sad, and harsh, I just might be their perfect demographic.
All for the nookie
0 (pronounced “null”)—the most un-Google-able band on the roster—were similarly spectacular. I’ve been listening to their debut album (just try and find that bandcamp, seriously) for the past few months on repeat, and it has provided the perfect soundtrack to my supremely gloomy life.
Luckily, I was able to catch them at the Norðanpaunk warm-up show at Gaukurinn, as well as at the festival itself. Both shows were equally affecting because seriously, these motherfuckers are as misanthropic as it gets. Though the boys dress as thugs, donning Adidas tracksuits and mesh shirts, their silly clothes are just a vehicle to help them point out the ridiculousness of, well, everything. With a hauntingly despondent sound, 0 are intoxicating. They’re emotional, even addictive. This is a band that will make you relive your deepest fears until you leave the venue clutching your beer, wanting to curl up in a little ball. Their frontman, a small blonde in a hazmat suit, has some of the best and most emotive vocals I’ve heard in a long time. With his piercing screams, 0 manage to project hopelessness in the most beautiful way.
It’s hard to pin a genre on Kælan Mikla, because they are without a doubt the only ones doing what they are doing. If forced, I’d describe them as a cross between deceptacon-era ‘Le Tigre’ and depression. Or maybe—have you ever seen any ’90s movie involving goths? ‘The Craft’? ‘Jawbreaker’? Those guys would listen to Kælan Mikla. Does that make sense?
Anyway, these girls were so much fun. Their singer, wearing a pink frilly dress, came off like an angry porcelain doll who was finally allowed to scream about her life being stuck on the shelf. Kælan Mikla are one of the few acts that really make me sad I don’t speak Icelandic because I just really want to know what she’s so damn angry about. There’s also their little blonde bassist who screams and cackles like the witch of your dreams (or nightmares). Musically, they aren’t the most complex or innovative group out there, but there’s something about their inherent simplicity that’s really magical. They had the audience, made up of all types and age-brackets, nodding along and smiling in solidarity. For a festival that was sadly lacking in female presence (on stage and off-), it was nice to see some estrogen get a big response. Right after Norðanpaunk, Kælan Mikla reportedly embarked upon a European tour, so clearly their tunes are crossing linguistic boundaries.
Also noteworthy were Misþyrming, who brought some fury—albeit with a few technical problems. If 0 project hopelessness, Misþyrming just evoke pure carnality and rage. I’m not a particularly angry person, but watching them play always brings me back to the few instances in my life where I’ve been truly enraged. We listen to music to feel, and in that regard, this group is fucking cathartic.
At Norðanpaunk, Misþyrming started out strong, blaring fast chords that startled the audience. Their music pounded with eerie riffs and brash blastbeats until, just like that, it was over, and the painted band members unplugged from their amps. Unfortunately, the band’s set suffered from some obvious problems with sound mixing and monitors, but their stage presence—which is larger than life—proved a suitable distraction. Their frontman is fucking terrifying on stage, and the intimate venue just served to make him all the more potent.
With their brand of overwhelming black metal, however, the space almost felt too close for comfort. But that’s probably the point of a band whose album title translates to “Songs of Fire and Chaos”. If only they could be persuaded to do a split with Auðn… Now that would be the meeting of fire and ice for sure. While this was not a personal best for the group—their set at Eistnaflug vastly overshadowed it—Misþyrming are still good enough that it was still one of the best of the festival for me. I hope to hear better sound at their next gig, though.
The first band I caught at the festival was actually Grit Teeth, who I also saw at Eistnaflug. There, they played the off-venue space, which was unfortunately large for their small crowd and kind of dwarfed the band. Norðanpaunk’s smaller venue worked in their favour, and provided a great frame for their raucous and aggressive hardcore.
Hardcore music is, in my opinion, best viewed live. You have to really feel the speakers and watch the performers to get the intensity. And shit, Grit Teeth were intense. They also had this joy about them that was really likable—they are obviously people who love hardcore music, and revel in playing it. And that joy was infectious; they even had one guy hardcore-dancing like a fool at the foot of the stage. You know when you see those people going at it like they just don’t give a fuck? It was like that. I wish I could lose control like that, unfortunately I am a repressed American.
Grafir—who unfortunately have no Facebook and are in the process of recording their first album—were an unexpected surprise. I saw them at Eistnaflug off-venue Úlfsmessa, but c’mon, they were covered by hoods as part of a programme that mixed up a bunch of hood-covered bands, so I understandably couldn’t really pick them, or their tunes, out.
However, after seeing them at Norðanpaunk, I am going to boldly claim that they might have the best black metal vocalist of any band in Iceland. This guy’s howls are just so guttural and textured that it seems impossible that they are coming from such a solemn little man. Not only are his screams impressive, but so are his clean vocals, which have a tone colour that seems made for extreme music. I propose some sort of duet between him and the singer from 0.
Other shoutouts include Klikk for doing a Limp Bizkit cover; Draugsól for being black-metal enough to have a singer that eerily resembles trial-era Varg; World Narcosis for being raw enough to get me to headbang a little bit; and Krupskaya for having sweet hair.
Overall, Norðanpaunk was a great way to spend Iceland’s notorious Merchants’ Weekend, and absolutely an experience I hope to recreate. It’s only been a few days, but I’m already nostalgic.
So, see you next year, Norðanpaunk.
Bus ride to Laugarbakki provided by Strætó www.bus.is. The Strætó app is available on the App store and Android Market.