Sitting out at the old courtyard by Egilsbúð, Eistnaflug’s former venue, it’s strange to reflect how far this festival has come. Ten years ago it was just a few guys fooling around, playing music together and drinking in Neskaupstaður, Iceland’s easternmost settlement—now it’s a festival that attracts big international bands like Behemoth and Carcass, and it completely fills out the new sports hall venue.
The festival has grown more professional, with a more slick sound system, great lights, a large festival tent outside with merchandise and numerous food options. Media are also given lanyard passes, have access to a VIP lounge where they can watch the bands and throng of people, and I see some of the bigger bands are getting a few goodies, too.
The festival is now a mainstay of Icelandic cultural life, each time bringing in more and more people. This year in particular, I see more fresh faces than in my two prior outings, a growing village of tents rapidly filling the campsite grounds.
And yet, sitting in that old courtyard where I used to hang with the other festivalgoers, I can’t help but reminisce about times gone by. I miss stepping out of a gig and seeing the bay that stretches as far as the eyes can see, and the mountains that rise up through the clouds, looming ominously over the town.
Two years ago I interviewed numerous bands that all shared a similar concern: fear that the festival would grow too big, that it would lose its identity and charm. They were afraid that this haven for metalheads, where nobody wanted to be a dick, was in jeopardy.
Eistnaflug used to be a place where the backstage area was right by the courtyard, where bands would hang out, have a smoke together with the fans, and share their thoughts on the upcoming acts. Fandom was the name of the game, and everyone partook.
The new venue looks and sounds slick. But it also feels sterile. There is no grittiness.
It feels like a festival.
It’s understandable, and if anything, good news, that the organisers strove to bring the festival this year to the next level. With the older venue, fewer tickets could be sold, bigger acts couldn’t be booked, and the streams of revenue were limited.
Despite all of these meanderings and doubts, I still had a fantastic time. Yes, it was clean, and big, but it was still Eistnaflug and people found a way to bring the old vibe back. The square may be in disuse, but other spaces have been occupied, and no doubt years from now the fans will miss their new hangout spots when the festival upgrades again.
Change is inevitable, yes, but not all change is bad.
P.s. The one-day-only off-off venue was sick. The blues basement was covered in plastic sheets, with films projected through them, and the bands half a metre away from the fans. The sound was shit, there was smoke everywhere, I kept banging my head on the low ceiling, but people were merry, dark, and gloomy. I absolutely loved it to pieces.
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