From Iceland — Do It Together Kind Of Magic

Do It Together Kind Of Magic

Published July 18, 2023

Photo by
Joana Fontinha

Hátíðni, a festival that also feels like home

Nestled in a tiny village of Borðeyri in north-west Iceland, one couldn’t think of a better backdrop for Hátíðni. Never-ending fields of lupines, a fjord stretching as far as the eye can see and a profound silence – a rarity for a modern city-dweller. A short walk downhill and the sound of music slamming fills the air, emanating from a former slaughterhouse. What’s going on here?

Collective fun

Run by the art collective Post-dreifing for the fifth consecutive year, Hátíðni feels like the cosiest music festival in the world and simultaneously not a festival at all. Imagine crashing a birthday party where you don’t know anyone but end up having a wonderful time nonetheless. The line between visitors, organisers and artists is so blurry, it almost feels like it doesn’t exist at all. It feels simultaneously like the most organised festival I’ve ever been to and an obscure, structureless event where no one knows what’s going on. And yet, it works perfectly well. 

As I join a sleepy cook on the kitchen shift after the festival’s opening night, I experience a feeling of camaraderie – everyone volunteers, lending a helping hand wherever it is needed, picking up trash and keeping their surroundings clean. At least two of the eight Borðeyri residents pop into the gigs, observing the stage with curiosity. Lilja, whose granddaughter’s boyfriend is playing tonight, is unimpressed, but is still there to support him. “This is what family does.” 

“Everybody at Hátíðni should feel like they own it.”

With a striking contrast to any other music festival I’ve been to – crowded, anxiety-inducing, to a certain extent too loud and sometimes aggressive – Hátíðni seems like a utopian haven in the world of festivals. But what about the crowd?

Misfits meet oddballs

A mismatched group of people wearing layers of wool (it’s July, yet temperatures at night drop as low as 5 degrees Celsius), Hátíðni’s crowd embodies something stereotypically Icelandic. And yet, Hátíðni welcomes everyone despite how you look, where you come from, what you do for work, or whether your grandma knitted you a lopapeysa. “What brings me to Iceland is that the people here have this authenticity,” says Suraj Bharti, a 20-year old from Nepal doing an internship in Iceland, while he takes a break for a smoke. “They’re not trying to act like, ‘oh, I’m an artist.’ My friends are in a heavy metal band, so, you have this image — big, scary. But they are the nicest guys ever.” 

In a similar vein to Suraj, Finnish artist KEliel was drawn to Hátíðni by its unique atmosphere and the people it attracts. Having performed at the festival the previous year, KEliel found himself on the opposite side of the stage this time, but no less enthusiastic. In fact, his experience at Hátíðni had such a profound impact on him that he decided to relocate to Iceland.

“I was so inspired last year that I ended up creating 22 songs after returning to Finland. Now I’m working on finishing the album and it felt quite fitting to come back here to complete it,” KEliel shares. His connection to Hátíðni goes beyond the music; it’s the spirit of the festival and the friendships formed that have left a lasting impression. “I got to know so many people last year and I met some good friends. I felt that it’s my responsibility to come because I’m here in Iceland.”

You own it

Snæi Jack, who stood behind the first ever Hátíðni back in 2018, as well as many other festivals and events in Iceland, finds himself in a new role this year — he’s learning to be a guest again. “Over the last years, in the organising team, we have tried to ensure that we are inviting new people to come in and making everybody feel like they own this too,” he shares. “Because they do. We feel like everybody at Hátíðni should feel like they own it.” According to Snæi Jack, while the 2023 edition is not much different from the previous year, it’s сompletely different from the first Hátíðni. “There’s no one organising it right now that was organising the first Hátíðni in 2018. It’s kind of graduated now.” 

One of the festival’s organisers, Simon Valentin Hirt, says that at first it was challenging to enjoy the festival while trying to run it. “On the first day, that’s definitely the case — you always have to do something, set something up and you’re looking more closely if things are working or not. But then after that, things were just rolling. It was also easy to enjoy the festival, see shows and have fun.”

Most people involved in Hátíðni’s organisation this year, have never done it before. “It was just really amazing and beautiful to see how things worked out and how everyone worked together,” says Simon. 

The festival has expanded the venue this year, adding an extra space for an art gallery. The day programme also featured creative writing and incense-making workshops. 

“Is this a noise festival?”

This was the first question a friend asked when I told them I was going to Hátíðni. While it partly makes sense, translating ‘hátíðni’ as noise, there’s no easy way to describe Hátíðni in terms of music. Post-dreifing welcomes a diverse range of artists representing multiple genres, and the weirder and more experimental, the better, from raw punk Sucks to be you, Nigel to energising Ókindarhjarta – the ultimate party band, if you ask us.

Dream pop artist lúpína appeared on the stage with a choir of her friends, adding to the homemade atmosphere of the festival. The artist now lives in Norway and performing in Iceland feels like a homecoming. “It feels really safe to come back and play here. This bubble kind of dared me to make music,” she says.

Hátíðni is a very beginner-friendly festival, admits a band who flew to Iceland all the way from the USA. “I’ve been learning Icelandic for a while and, as a way to practise, I started listening to Icelandic music. Then I found out about Post-dreifing and Hátíðni and I got really interested in it,” shares Aliza, a high school student from Washington. 

Only at Hátíðni

“The vibe here is really great. It’s a group effort,” agree members of the experimental post-punk band Virgin Orchestra as we meet during breakfast on the festival’s final day. 

It’s just before 11:00, but everyone is trying to finish their food before an acoustic show of Supersport! at the gallery space. It was only the night before that the festival’s infokeeper, Kári Fjóluson Thoroddsen, made a speech from the stage, offering a special sign-up sheet for those afraid of oversleeping the gig. He promised that a member of Supersport! would personally wake them up. The gig turned out to be a full house, and legends have already started circulating about Kári’s speech. Modestly, he admits, “It’s been going really well. Well, like my friend says, ‘This is a shitshow. But it’s supposed to be a shitshow.’”

Hátíðni took place in Borðeyri on June 30-July 2.

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