From Iceland — If You’re Looking For A Reason To Go North

If You’re Looking For A Reason To Go North

Published March 21, 2024

If You’re Looking For A Reason To Go North
Elías Þórsson
Photo by
Supplied by Aldrei fór ég suður

The joke that became Iceland’s coolest festival has a monster 20 year anniversary

For 20 years, the place to be each Easter hasn’t been mass in Hallgrímskirkja, or a reception in Bessastaðir. It’s a fishy smelling warehouse in the Westfjord capital Ísafjörður, some 400 km from the coast of Greenland. That warehouse is the venue for the music festival Aldrei fór ég suður (I never went south), which borrows its name from a Bubbi Morthens song about a man unable to join the great 80s migration of Icelanders toward the capital.

We found it hilarious to have a festival over Easter because quite frequently the weather makes it impossible to fly to Ísafjörður at that time of year

“I was playing a festival at ICA in London in 2003, and playing such a prestigious venue made me think that was the moment when I’d become world famous,” says Aldrei fór ég suður founder Örn Elías Guðmundsson, better known by his artist name Mugison. “My dad, who shared my optimism about my impending superstardom, had come all the way from Ísafjörður to see me play at this momentous occasion. As it turned out, rather embarrassingly, he was one of the very few who did.”

To deal with the disappointment, the two turned to the healthiest way to face your misfortunes. “The best thing to do in a tragic situation like this one is to get drunk and blame everyone else for your failures and in this case it was this terrible festival” says Mugison. “I had a hopeless five in the afternoon slot, didn’t get paid and I wasn’t even allowed backstage. As a joke, my dad and I decided to plan our own festival based on our principles and our rules.”

They were going to start a festival where everyone was treated equally. Where no band, regardless of stature, got a longer slot, everyone was paid the same and nobody would be barred from the backstage beer. As his father had recently moved to Ísafjörður, the pair decided that the town located a few kilometers south of the Arctic Circle with a population of just 2,600 souls would be the perfect locale for their festival.

“We found it hilarious to have a festival over Easter because quite frequently the weather makes it impossible to fly to Ísafjörður at that time of year,” says Mugison.

The alcohol-fuelled joke might have remained just that if not for a chance encounter in Reykjavík a few days later with now world renowned artist Ragnar (Raggi) Kjartansson.

“I was just getting to know Raggi at the time and we ran into him at Sirkus, which was the main bar for artist types at the time,” recounts Mugison. “He found our idea hilarious and rather amazing and, him being the amazing, beautiful guy he is, who everyone loves, he started convincing all these musicians to perform. Before we knew it we had a whole lineup of amazing artists, which included the guys from Sigur rós playing country. So in a sense, he turned this joke born out of frustration into a reality.”

That reality hit the next day during their hungover drive to Ísafjörður. They had a 16 act lineup for a festival that had no venue, no money and not even a soundsystem. But what you do in a small town at the edge of the world when faced with an unexpected situation is improvise, get help from the locals and work it out. The venue they found could hardly be a better representation of life in the Westfjords — a warehouse that, when not festival central, stores fish.

In many ways, this is a family festival or maybe rather a family reunion. People who moved away years ago come with their teenagers and people crash at their great uncle’s house.

From the beginning, Aldrei fór ég suður has been made possible by the local community coming together to make it happen. There is no entry fee and the locals donate their time each Easter to run concessions and help out where and how they can.

“In many ways, this is a family festival or maybe rather a family reunion,” says Mugison. “People who moved away years ago come with their teenagers and people crash at their great uncle’s house.”

As Mugison points out, such a small town can only receive so many people and an internationally known act such as a Justin Bieber wouldn’t be able to attract the crowds he could elsewhere because there simply would be nowhere to house attendees.

The lineup for the 20 year anniversary is rather interesting in that regard, as it includes Of Monsters and Men — arguably Iceland’s biggest music export of the past decade — as well as a number of the country’s biggest artists.

“We are sounding our birthday trumpets and many of the acts will be old friends of the festival who have played before and everyone should be able to find something to their liking. It’s gonna be the bomb,” says Mugison.

How’s this for a lineup!?

As first revealed in the Reykjavík Grapevine’s March 2024 issue, the lineup for Aldrei fór ég suður 2024 includes…

Bogomil Font
Of Monsters And Men
The Music School Trumpet Band
Mugison
GDRN
Emmsjé Gauti
Inspector Spacetime
Helgi Björnson
Ham
Dr. Gunni and Heðíírík’s
Nanna
Hipsumhaps
Celebs
Music Experimental Band 2024
Spacestation

See you up north this Easter!


Aldrei fór ég suður is happening March 29 to 30 in Ísafjörður. Check Aldrei.is for news and announcements as the festival approaches.

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