From Iceland — A Necessary Evil

A Necessary Evil

Published July 29, 2008

A Necessary Evil
Photo by
Leó Stefánsson

To a foreigner, the concept of a ‘Sveitaball’ can be confusing. The word “sveit” can be defined as “country” or “countryside”, and the word can literally be translated “country dance”. Which sounds innocuous enough (square dancing with neighbours and relatives to the tune of fiddles, perhaps?), were it not for the dense lore that surrounds it.

People have been physically threatened by rough characters, the target of unwanted sexual advances and beholden to all kinds of debaucheries at sveitaball. The events have a reputation for attracting extremely drunk people. Plus, the hip-hop group Rottweiler was scheduled to perform, which didn’t quite add up either. In the car on the way to Selfoss, I had absolutely no idea what a sveitaball was going to be. It was going to be fresh, dangerous experience.

Sveitaball that night was held in 800 Bar in Selfoss, and once I walked in, I knew it was definitely not going to be a “country dance”. The room was bathed in an acid purple light, a disco ball hung from the ceiling and the bathrooms smelled freshly of paint. Even the bar’s logo was modern, looking more like “ill” or “colon slash slash” than “800”. Rottweiler members drank heavily in the back room, with no fiddle or cowboy hat in sight. The bartenders were all young and attractive, wearing black. A strange combination in a place which I’d been told would be filled with hicks!

It wasn’t until people started coming into the bar when I started to understand what they meant. Each person looked drunker than the last, great herds of sloshed teenagers swaggering in waves. The bar became crowded, and the air was filled with squealing girls, and guffawing guys, gathering each other up into great man-hugs. It looked quite a bit like high school, plus six beers per person, the whole space exploding in pent-up drunken reverie.

As the night pressed on, Sprengjuhöllin came onstage, greeted by the fast-collecting crowd of excited teens assembling in front of the stage. Wasting no time, they launched right into their set. The kids furthest in front started singing along. Others spread out and started swing dancing. It was at this point when a tally of public makeouts on the dance floor began, with a sighting of three in rapid succession. The first glass of beer fell to the floor, its owner shrugging and grinning as the broken shards skittered across the floor. The evening was picking up. More beer was consumed, the space became more crowded, and the mood became more dynamic as Sprengjuhöllin started to take on the mood of the audience.

56bf22264abc6bd2“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucck!” they shouted in between songs, giving way to standing and slowly gyrating on amps. The crowd went wild.

Soon, the set was over, the audience sad to see them leave, but drunk enough so that they forgot. The crowd shifted back to the bar for another round of drinks, a few lingering behind, continuing to dance tirelessly.

About a half-hour later, Rottweiler came onstage, loosening a second, drunker crowd of teens from their tables. The music was wilder and fiercer to suit the audience, who danced, dropped their glasses and made out harder than before (the tally jumped to twelve). Casting off the courteous slip through the crowd, sveitaballers resorted to elbows and shoulders to smash their ways through bodies. Dancing feet ground shards of glass into pellets, then flakes, then dust to mix with the sticky grime of alcohol and dirt covering the floor. In the heat of the moment, a boy jumped on stage to dance with the musicians. After a tiff with a bouncer, he was deftly removed, dragged through the crowd to be deposited in a heap outside. In their giddy passions, barely a single person noticed.

This is what sveitaballs are good at. For teenagers (and a few adults) with raging hormones, and little opportunity to release their urges otherwise, this dance is just the catharsis they need. Fun groups like Sprengjuhöllin and tough, physical groups like Rottweiler work just the right pressure points to release a veritable fireball of drunk emotions. That may sound gross, but then again, what if it were anywhere else? We should be thankful for sveitaball, drunken violence and public sex and everything.

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