These words have been written before, and so they shall be again: Norðanpaunk is an event like no other. The annual gathering of the Icelandic punk community spans three days and boasts no less than 50 local and international bands. It is a full-on music frenzy that was founded to give “difficult” music a place to exist.
In 2013, a group of friends met at Reykjavík’s Dillon Whiskey Bar to discuss a problem plaguing Iceland’s extreme underground scene: the bands had no venue to call home. Six years ago, Reykjavík had a few more venues than it does today, but often such bands would be turned away by management concerned with turning a profit.
“If you have a karaoke night, you have lots of people drinking, singing and having fun,” explains Norðanpaunk co-founder Árni Þorlákur Guðnason. “If you book some kind of avant garde industrial artist, you will have him and his five friends, all of whom are broke.”
Yet, at the same time, Iceland’s biggest metal festival, Eistnaflug, was growing both in size and commercial success—but even there, new underground bands had difficulty playing, and aggressive music would be turned down due to (non-)accessibility.
The question remained: Where would these “difficult” bands be able to play?
The small community of Laugarbakki came to the rescue, and a Mecca for fans of underground music was found. It was decided at the very start that no band would play more than two years running, to give new bands a chance to be heard and discovered.
“The last piece of the puzzle was to avoid everything that annoys us at festivals,” says Árni. That includes paying a high ticket price, only to feel ripped off by the unholy cost of food and drink inside the festival. Norðanpaunk thus became strictly BYOB, and people felt less exploited and way more chill as a result.
The organisation is also completely DIY. Nobody gets paid, instead, it is built on the passion of the volunteers—and anyone can be one. “The people in attendance are aware that they can’t just throw trash on the ground and expect somebody to pick it up,” says Ólöf Rút Benediktsdóttir, who has been in charge of the visual art at Norðanpaunk since its inception. “We all have to work together and create a space that’s clean and nice to be in, so that we can come back next year.”
Visiting the family
The passion for music, the determination of the volunteers, the feeling of a community, and the strong core values of Norðanpaunk make it a unique experience that feels more like visiting the family than attending a music festival — art corner and late-night campfires included.
This year’s edition convinces, with a reliable blend of established acts like and brand new bands from the underground scene, including Godchilla, The Post Performance Blues Band, ROHT and Kælan Mikla. “The first half will melt your brain and the second half will melt your face,” says Árni. “As an extra treat, we offer hand-picked international artist to melt whatever part of your body that is still intact.”
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