For a free two-day event that involves airlifting the better part (in every sense of the word) of Iceland’s musicians to a remote part of the country and keeping them stocked on beer, food and blankets for two days, during the economically ravaged 2009 shouldn’t bode too well. The days of cash-bloated corporations throwing money at anything that moves in an artful manner are behind us, and most corporate sponsored events are now forced to dramatically scale down—lest they shut down completely.
Not Ísafjörður’s Aldrei fór ég suður.
“The first time we did the festival, we just enthusiastically asked a bunch of bands we liked to come,” AFS honcho Mugison tells me over tea and scones in his Súðavík flat. It’s a beautiful day in the northwest corner of Iceland and the burning sun sparkles off the ocean through his windows. “We didn’t have any idea how we’d pull it off; no money for airfares or lodging. But we managed to hustle in some sponsors and it somehow worked. Since then, we’ve been doing that, pretty much. Making it happen, for better or worse—it always winds up working like a miracle. Right now we’re in the process of securing financial sponsors for the upcoming bash, and things seem to be coming together nicely.”
Every Easter since 2004, the cream of Iceland’s musical crop has collectively made its way to the Westfjords town of Ísafjörður (pop. 3.000), where they join local artists to revel in the pure, unabashed joy of music. A celebration of local talent and rural heritage along with the best of what’s happening in the capital, the ‘Aldrei fór ég suður’ festival is the brainchild of Ísafjörður’s own Mugison and his father, local harbourmaster Guðmundur M. Kristjánsson (Muggi or PapaMug).
Mugison waxes on, emphasising the nature of AFS as one big group effort of modern-day barn raising. “A lot of people pitch in and help out, and that’s what’s important. AFS really wouldn’t be anything were it not for the awesome folks that put in tremendous work each year to ensure we have a festival. Some of them, like Ísafjörður’s son-in-law Jón Þór Þorleifsson, reel in sponsors and funding relentlessly and creatively, while others build our stage or man the soundboards.”
A socialist endeavour for the whole family
“This festival has always been like some weird Biblical fable of folks coming together to make a good thing,” he continues, “and I think that reflects in the event itself, all the good spirit that goes into creating it makes up the joyful and celebratory atmosphere that guests and performers alike revel in. People sometimes call it ‘Mugison’s party’, and that is one misconception I’d like to correct. AFS and the ideals behind it are much bigger than myself: it’s a socialist endeavour that consists of everyone who lends a hand, the bands that come to have a good time and play their 20 minute sets for free and every single audience member that shows up and contributes to the spirit.”
Putting together each festival’s line up is always a feat. In booking acts, festival organisers put tremendous effort to bring together a carefully proportioned mix of veteran pop superstars, local Westfjords talent and eclectic indie darlings; it’s probably the only festival in the world where troubadours and bar-bands play alongside experimental ambient techno artists and growling deathrockers. The crowd cheers on every single act equally. “This really contributes to the spirit of the whole thing—people stay and take in to artists they’ve maybe never heard of playing music they wouldn’t normally give five seconds. Grandmothers get in the groove of Kippi Kanínus and hipsters rock out to Siggi Björns and Villi Valli. It breaks barriers and brings people together.”
“I guess our biggest problem has always been saying no,” Mugison continues. “Almost every good band in Iceland approaches us to play. Even after expanding AFS to a two-day event we still can’t fit in everyone. But we try our darnedest.” The festival’s track record of featuring everyone from Kira Kira and Sigur Rós (in country mode) to Megas to SSSól to everyone in between supports that indeed almost every musician in Iceland has played there at some point.
The Aldrei Fór Ég Suður Festival will take place in an undisclosed Ísafjörður location on April 10th and 11th, from around 2pm ‘til late. At the time of writing, the following acts were confirmed to appear: múm, Dr. Spock, Reykjavík!, Kraftlyfting, Hemmi Gunn, Sin Fang Bous, Agent Fresco, Sökudólgarnir, Sudden Weather Change, Stórsveit Vestfjarða, Klikkhausarnir and Fjallabræður. Close to 30 acts will perform at the festival in all, so stay tuned to www.aldrei.is for up to date info.
Trip provided by: Air Iceland
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