Norðanpaunk, Iceland’s biggest DIY festival in the world
One does not simply go to Norðanpaunk. Firstly, because it is held two and a half hours away from the capital and the Icelandic public transport system is almost non-existent and dubiously reliable. Secondly, Norðanpaunk is more of a mindset, with its inside jokes and its special atmosphere permeating the pre- and post-festival, where the unexpected can and will happen — as it has since 2014.
Hail To The Volunteers
Norðanpaunk is a utopian community that only exists for a few days every year. It’s the kind of place where a bunch of dark souls listen to their deranged berserk music and then crawl to their tent with a bottle of delicious Tópas. There are always challenges, and as long-standing organizers and founder Árni Þorlákur Guðnason highlights, “It is not possible to create something like this without struggle.”
Norðanpaunk has the status of an association and is executed through volunteer work, funded through a yearly membership fee. This year, they also received a culture grant. Árni grew up in Laugarbakki and without his connection to the place and its community, I would probably be writing about something else. Maybe some unhinged techno festival in Hvolsvöllur, what do I know?
The locals agreed to this unusual gathering, giving him the keys to the community hall to be turned into the eighth gate of hell. Well, rumour has it that the community gradually grew fond of this strange event.
Norðanpaunk is mainly and purely its people, and we are all Norðanpaunkers, as Jónas from the organising committee points out. Being a volunteer-based organisation, the festival relies on many people – both veterans and newbies – to help out throughout the whole process.
Hildur is the main cook for the festival, the enchantress behind the warm healthy meals served free of charge to the paunksters. She took part in organising the very first one back in 2014 and hasn’t missed a year yet. “We had such great food the first two years, courtesy of former Norðanpaunk cook, Linnea,” Hildur says. “Her cooking is partly responsible for me switching to a vegan diet.”
Within the organization, there’s a fairly flat hierarchy. It is based on the principle that those who do the work make the decisions. If you take care of lights, you decide on lighting. If you’re a volunteer, you can have a say in how the lineup turns out. Those who come to meetings make the decisions. “The core group is around 12 people at the moment, but we have different work cells, such as food or safety,” says Árni. “We have a wide spectrum of people pitching in.”
It is also worth mentioning that Norðanpaunk enforces a safer space and harm reduction policy.
You Can Smell The Sea
Of the international artists I spoke with, many just fell in love with the place, the people and the concept and have decided to return. This year, the French music collective La Harelle brought its holy trinity of black metal, going as far as designing special Norðanpaunk merch for the performing bands Mór, Sordide, and Iffernet. They all delivered anger, despair and pain — not au chocolat — that everybody devoured, hungry for more.
“Our first experience playing during the 2022 Norðanpaunk edition was just perfect. We found what we love in music, humanly and in terms of ideas and visions,” recalls D. from La Harelle. “It was a unique moment, and we couldn’t have been happier than coming here once more, bringing all our friends to play.”
Apparently, they all have a secret wish and plan to attend the 2024 edition, but “I wouldn’t like this festival to be known too much more, so shhh,” concludes D. To be fair, he did know his answers were going to be published in a magazine, so no shade on that front. “It has the feeling of a big family reunion,” says Christoffer from Dödsrit, Swedish/Dutch black metal royalty who crushed the audience’s spirits with their set on the first day of the festival.
“It is a special festival because it takes place in the hall of a small village. The size of this village is very bizarre to people outside of Iceland,” comment Bob and Mink from the Dutch band Fluisteraars. Fluisteraars was founded in 2009 and held their first live performance this year in Laugarbakki. They deemed Norðanpaunk a fine and intimate setting in a very inviting country. Then they add: “It is something beautiful. The small deserted places. We did not expect the festival to take place in the community centre and on a campsite. But when you are there, you are immersed in the good atmosphere set by the crew. We saw an arctic fox run across the road and a band member was attacked by seagulls. You can smell the sea.”
Dirt, Grass And Sludge
From mind-blowing noise performances to strange rituals to chase away one’s demons around the iconic end-of-night bonfire towered by a giant sword, Norðanpaunk manages to bring together people of all ages and musical tastes. “It is quite incredible how heterogenous all of this is,” said somebody at some point – but at that moment, I was barely able to recognise faces.
“I thought it was going to be more punk-centric. What was very cool was the massive diversity of bands,” comments Erik from Aerial Ruin in a wind-propelled voice message. “I really enjoyed every set that I saw, which is a rare thing to happen.”
One of my personal highlights must be the waffles in the gas station/guesthouse/handicraft shop next door to the festival venue, Langafit. The guesthouse also has a camping ground where the Norðanpaunkers make the magic happen, usually in a semi-liquid state.
So, again, one does not simply go, and come back whole. Norðanpaunk stays, like a fragment of glass under the foot. Or like the scar from a joint which somebody put out on your arm (consensually) for fun. It is a place to atone for your sins and receive them back anew with a bunch of complimentary dirt, grass and sludge.
Next year is going to mark Norðanpaunk’s 10th anniversary and I’ll let you in on one secret: UK band Heriot is confirmed. Don’t tell anyone. See you in hell, next year.
Norðanpaunk 2023 took place from August 4 to 6, during Merchant’s Day Weekend — just like every year.
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