PÓLAR FESTIVAL! THE FIRST FESTIVAL EVER IN ICELAND!!! Oh, wait, we have tons of festivals. All the time. Especially in the Summer. So, why another? With Pólar Festival’s debut weeks away, we sat down with one third of the festival’s collective mastermind, Marteinn Sindri Jónsson, to ask him personally.
From government fishing initiatives to the evolution of festivals in Iceland, Marteinn tells us about the role he hopes Pólar Festival will play in creating a new and responsible vision for experiencing the Icelandic summer.
Know your roots
In just the last decade we have seen a major evolution of festivals—from the village festival to the art and music-oriented festival. According to Marteinn, it all started with Þjóðhátíð in the Westman Islands, a village festival that has taken place since 1874. The festival has grown in fame and infamy alike to become the biggest festival in Iceland. “It’s become a carnival,” Marteinn says, “in a good way.” The essence of Þjóðhátíð is a spotlight on the village it is held in. Then came the rise of the music and arts festivals. “I think it probably began with Iceland Airwaves answering a demand for all of the musical output around here—there is so much music here,” Marteinn says.
Enter Pólar Festival. Marteinn describes it as a hybrid of festivals: “It’s not somewhere to go and get piss drunk like Þjóðhátíð, but we do want to highlight the village that it’s in. That’s what comes first and foremost, the setting. But it’s through music and art and lots of participation that it becomes attractive.”
“The setting itself is unique, in a very typical way,” Marteinn says. Stöðvarfjörður is a small fishing town, one of the smallest in Iceland. Its current population is down to 190. Just a few years ago it rested at around 400, but things changed very fast with the privatisation of fishing industry. Fishing quotas were consolidated amongst bigger shareholders, and the industry moved elsewhere. Naturally people followed, abandoning the economically ailing towns for areas where they could get jobs.
But it’s the people who stayed in these towns that play the real characters in this story. “Instead of giving up when everything was taken from them, they became very resourceful and creative,” Marteinn says, with an indirect sense of pride. A few years back there was talk of demolishing Stöðvarfjörður’s abandoned fish factory, until a group of “artists and innovators” got together and rerouted the fate of the factory. Today it serves as a community kitchen, a concert venue, and on July 12, it will be home to the first annual Pólar Festival.
The new cultural tourism
Though it may be physically isolated, Pólar festival is part of a bigger social and cultural context. “Icelandic tourism is changing very fast, and we have to adapt quickly,” Marteinn explains. He distinguishes between two “types” of tourism. There’s nature tourism, where people fly in, rent a car, and indulge in the vast scenery of the Ring Road or the Golden Circle and the countryside. Then there is cultural tourism, where people come looking for the music and arts and the downtown Reykjavík scene.
Again, enter Pólar Festival. “What I want to do is take advantage of all these festivals popping up in the small towns around Iceland and make them part of this new kind of cultural tourism, a cultural explosion around the countryside,” Marteinn explains, bridging the excitement of festivals and the exhilaration of Icelandic nature experience into one highly concentrated dose. “I want to tell people who are thinking about visiting Iceland: ‘take two months in the summer, drive the Ring Road around the country and go to all the festivals on the way,'” Marteinn says.
“There is a lot going on in Iceland that I don’t agree with right now,” Marteinn remarks, “like heavy industry. It’s not economical and it’s super taxing on the environment. Plus, we can’t have all of our eggs in one basket like that. Cultural tourism, and my vision for it, is a more responsible way to generate income.”
Workshops in poetry and dance improvisation run all weekend long, punctuated by theatre performances by local youth theatre groups, and capped with concerts by Just Another Snake Cult, Boogie Trouble, and other Icelandic favourites.
Stöðvarfjörður, East Iceland. 12 – 14 July.