The wind is strong, strong enough to contort my borrowed tent and make it look disfigured, ramshackle even. It’s a strong contrast to the tranquility of the glacier Snæfellsjökull looming in the distance, which will watch over the small burg of Hellissandur as Extreme Chill Festival, Iceland’s premier electronica shindig, takes over.
Most of the festival goers aren’t even here yet, but when they arrive they do so in style. Nearly everyone comes in a car, some bringing ten-person tents or RVs, and armed with enough booze and drugs to kill a whale. Women are dressed in fur coats and smart but camping-ready shoes; men are wearing sunglasses, trendy T-shirts and look ready to rave.
Hours later I head to a building with the word RÖST (don’t ask me) on the front. The inside is rather nice. There are chairs everywhere, candles on tables, incense burning. People sit listening to the opening acts, mostly ethereal, ambient stuff that Moby would get off to. Acts to note include Jafet Melge/Inferno 5 and Kaido Kirikmäe. Estonian-born Kaido builds his music in loops, layering a bit more sound each time with either his four-string p-bass, his soft, wooing voice or sounds from the electronic ether. Jafet (AKA Extreme Chill co-founder Óskar Thorarensen) and Inferno 5 are some of the Icelandic electronic music scene’s pioneers. Their music comes in waves, building up until they’re crashing into the room and reverberating off the tabletops and walls. It’s a monster playing peek-a-boo; it builds but backs away, then builds again but backs away. A record player and what looks like a power drill are featured. It’s a pretty weird scene, but I’ve seen weirder things.
THE NAKED MAN IN THE CAGE
Then I notice the naked man in the cage. He escaped my attention before, but there’s undoubtedly a naked man in a waist-high cage. He wears red headphones and as the set progresses he gropes at the cage’s bars like a shaved gorilla on mushrooms before finding his way out, facing upstage and walking off.
The nude man is Pan Thorarensen, Óskar’s son. Pan and Óskar (who make music together together as Stereo Hypnosis) are at the heart of Extreme Chill: the impetus for the festival came from a 2009 Stereo Hypnosis album (which was recorded in Hellissandur) release party.
“We were just walking and we see this building,” Pan says. “We look in the windows, see the stage, and we say, ‘maybe we’ll have our release concert here.’ My life is always like that; everything comes to me, music, family, everything. All my dreams.”
The album release party featured Stereo Hypnosis and three other acts, including the third founder, DJ AnDre, (AKA Andri Már Arnlaugsson). The next year 25 artists played, and 2011 and 2012 boasted more than 30 sets.
“We actually are really happy how this festival is evolving and how it’s going in that direction that we always envisioned,” Pan says. “It’s a very special and good feeling for us.”
The emphasis here is on the atmosphere, but Iceland couldn’t have an electronica festival without at least a little club noise. Later Friday night it arrives, prompting attendees to evict the tables and chairs from the floor and start dancing as Yagya pumps out solid dance-worthy jams. People cheer when Bix plays, but eventually the night’s festivities end.
MY FIRST TIME WITH A MAN
Saturday puts the chill in Extreme Chill Festival, no joke. It begins around noon but outside, sun shining brightly. Light-skinned Icelanders pass sunblock around and bask in summer, sipping beer and occasionally walking away to smoke a joint. A few people still have the energy to dance.
As the music goes I head to the single restaurant in Hellissandur, Kaffi Sif. I chat with Andri and Þórður Hermannsson, the cellist from Tonik (who will perform a truly epic set later), for a while about some American techno sounds when he mentions family, reminding me what he said earlier when asked about the festival’s origins: “It just happened. It’s like a big family.”
Back at the show, a crowd of people sit on the floor in front of the stage listening to Samaris’ otherworldly sounds and entranced by the admittedly trippy visuals (even the sober are in a trance; it’s Medusa-like). Stereo Hypnosis, Ruxpin and Mixmaster Morris of the United Kingdom get people off their asses and back into dance mode. People are shouting inside randomly, no longer at shout-worthy points in the music. I go outside; a bottle thrown in the air arcs silently before shattering on the ground. Someone cheers. I take a hit of some dude’s joint and turn around to see Pan, who then kisses me. I tell him he should get tested. He’s as giddy as a kid on Christmas, laughing and generally hugging everyone he sees. If this group is like a family, Pan is the jolly cousin everyone wants to have around at the family reunion.
The next morning the campsite is trashed. Everyone’s pretty slow to stir as the glacier continues to watch in the distance. Techno blared from the camp all night, yet somehow the sound of silence deafens the groans of hungover party animals.
“It’s really good this music, this nature, the birds, everything,” Andri says Saturday. “It’s tied together, the music and the nature. It’s like a big symphony.”
Indeed, only at Extreme Chill could such natural splendour meet manmade pandemonium so seamlessly. Go there before you die.
Extreme Chill Festival is put on every year in Hellisandur. For more information about this year’s festivities, visit www.extremechillfestival.com, and check back later next year for upcoming acts. Transportation was provided by Sterna.