From Iceland — A Fishing Warehouse Comes Alive

A Fishing Warehouse Comes Alive

Published April 11, 2024

A Fishing Warehouse Comes Alive
Photo by
Atli Freyr Steinsson/Supplied

Three generations of women step into the changing room of Flateyri pool, one item of clothing catching my attention. Each of them is sporting the iconic “Aldrei fór ég suður” beanie, the official merch of the eponymous music festival that rocked the biggest town in the Westfjords over the Easter weekend. I may not have succeeded in getting my hands on the sold out festival’s merch this year, but I now know I have one thing in common with this unknown family of three — we all visited the festival and we were all subsequently stuck in the Westfjords.

Circling back to the start

Iceland doesn’t typically boast stable weather conditions, but when it comes to Westfjords, the weather is particularly unpredictable. Having checked the forecast for the Easter break and not seeing any sunny skies ahead, I gave a call to the Met office before embarking on the 5-hour trip to Ísafjörður. “It’s just going to snow a little,” the voice on the other end of the line reassured me.

Fast forward two days and I found myself stuck in a hotel 30-minutes away from Ísafjörður, with food running out and all roads to Reykjavík closed. I still had a tonne of fun.

The reason for it? Aldrei fór ég suður.

Easter break like no other

Iceland’s festivals have become known for repurposing the most unconventional locations and venues — popping up on fjords with 15 residents, bringing life to former slaughterhouses and the like. Thus, Aldrei fór ég suður taking place in a fishing warehouse in Ísafjörður is nothing unusual in Iceland, it’s a mere practicality. And, honestly, the smell was not so bad. 

This was my first time at Aldrei, but it felt like the festival had outgrown the fishing warehouse that has become its signature venue. Festival-goers, often attending with their multi-generational family in tow, use Good Friday to cram in with hundreds of others, hungry for music. The crowd felt mismatched when it comes to age — but it was one of the rare cases where teenagers and their parents were clearly getting the same enjoyment out of the gigs.

“Festival-goers use Good Friday to cram in with hundreds of others, hungry for music.”

Sweating at a music festival in the summer and in winter is a whole different story. Fluffy hoods of puffer jackets blocked the view, but no one seemed to be bothered. The audience was ecstatic — finally, the event of the year in Ísafjörður was here and everybody was eager to join in. Residents volunteered and sold merch, the rock legend-turned-first-time movie director Sigurjón Kjartansson guided a city punk walk, local brewers presented a festival-exclusive beer and the police ensured no car leaving the festival was driven by someone who had been imbibing.

Suðureyri siblings steal the show

The first night of the festival kicked off with a welcome speech delivered by none other than President Guðni T. Jóhannesson. I wasn’t ready to start my night at 19:00, so I watched the festival begin with the convenience of the RÚV live stream, snacking on my Easter chocolate egg and joining the festival as the evening progressed, just in time for GDRN’s performance. “I say Ísa, you say fjörður,” screamed Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð from the stage, before commencing an emotional performance together with her long-time collaborator Magnús Jóhann.

Next up were cultural phenomena Dr. Gunni and Heiða Eiríks, who sparked loud rounds of applause from the nostalgic audience, but left many questions unanswered for me personally. Could someone explain “Prumpufólkið” to me? 

For the last part of the show, Dr. Gunni and Heiða Eiríks were joined on stage by Iceland’s pop royalty Páll Oskár, who, as I understood from the people whispering in front of me, hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. Páll Oskár had some big news — he got married earlier that week. This could mean only one thing — everyone was invited to his infamous Pallaball at a nearby restaurant.

But the highlight of the first night of Aldrei was the trio of siblings from a nearby town, better known as Celebs. The band lived up to their description as a “party band” — with crowd surfing on an inflatable sofa and a man in a zorb ball, probably sweating his ass off as he rocked on the wave of hands.

As the snow piles up, the fun multiplies 

The snow hadn’t stopped falling in the Ísafjörður area since Friday and by Saturday night it was clear that it’s not going to get better. The nearby town of Súðavík got completely cut off from Ísafjörður, making it impossible for a friend of mine to attend the second night of the festival. The aura that something bad was about to happen filled the harbour, but inside that fishing warehouse of Aldrei things were only heating up. 

As Of Monsters and Men were about to take the stage, the crowd packed in tight, making breathing a challenge. Yet, no one seemed to mind. The person standing behind me sang louder than Bogomil Font and HAM reminded everyone that rock is not dead. But no one delighted the crowd as much as Inspector Spacetime. There wasn’t a single person in the warehouse who wasn’t singing along to “Dansa og bánsa” or begging for kisses when “Kysstu mig” was on.

Long way home

It might seem that Aldrei was over, but as the snowstorm progressed, fellow festival-goers and I extended our stay in the Westfjords because there was simply no other option available to us. The most amazing thing? There was no irritation, no begging to open the roads because you couldn’t miss your dentist appointment; everyone — artists included — was in the same boat. True ​​þetta reddast in action.

Instead, we enjoyed the local pool, sipped on too many cups of coffee while watching the snow fall from the window of a tiny hotel, had a few pints at Vagninn, and spent 11 hours — instead of the usual five — driving back to Reykjavík the following Monday.

It was the snowiest Easter break I’ve had in a while.

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