For the past few decades, art and culture have flourished in the small village of Seyðisfjörður in the Eastfjords of Iceland. An obvious example of that is the young artists’ festival LungA, which has been held annually in Seyðisfjörður since the year 2000. Ever since, the festival has been expanding enormously and is now one of the most interesting and enjoyable art and music festivals in Iceland. The eighth LungA festival, which ended last weekend, was the biggest ever. There were 130 participants, of whom 70 came from abroad from over six countries. The festival’s art program consisted of seven daily workshops, and ended in a massive final show with all of the festival participants. In addition, ten Icelandic bands performed two big concerts the last two nights of the festival.
I arrived at Egilsstaðir airport early on Saturday morning along with a number of tired but excited individuals who were also on their way to the festival. The weather was good – warm and sunny – and we waited in good spirits for a transport to take us over the heath which separates Seyðisfjörður from Egilsstaðir. Soon, a medium sized van appeared in front of us and out of it sprung a short elderly man who, with a few gestures and harsh words, got all of us – plus our luggage and equipment – into the van in under a minute.
After an approximately twenty minute drive over the heath we started descending. The small town of Seyðisfjörður appeared below us at the bottom of the fjord, sheltered beneath Mt. Strandartindur and Mt. Bjólfur. As we passed the huge glowing sign in the mountainside which reads ‘Seyðisfjörður’ we were eventually convinced that we had come to the right place.
Encountering the Remains of Last Night’s Party
On our way to Herðubreið (the town’s community centre and official LungA headquarters,) we saw a number of healthy-looking people picking up empty beer cans and cigarette butts off of the streets. And they were smiling. The night before, we were told, had been lively. “Great fun!,” as the guitar player Stefnir of Lada Sport described it after I accidentally woke him up in the TV-room of the hostel we stayed in. His band had performed the night before along with Foreign Monkeys, Mírí, Without the Balls and Tony the Pony. Half asleep and obscure, he informed me of last night’s events. The concert had been a real success, with people jumping and screaming and acting crazy in every way.
“It was like an authentic Sveitaball: really messy and wild,” he said.
Lada Sport closed the show and after they had finished the party was taken out to the streets and to the local bar, Kaffi Lára. When we arrived in town at about ten in the morning, it had just recently ended.
Saturday was the final day of the festival which had begun on the preceding Monday. Since then the village had been crowded with people from all over Iceland, and from abroad as well. The two hotels and one hostel were booked and the camping areas were gradually filling up. Many had come for the workshops, the core of the art festival, where you could get instructions in circus performance, urban funk, jazz and infusion dance, stomp, DJsound infusion, animation, clothing design and visual arts. Among the instructors were well known figures from the Icelandic music scene, such as Bjössi of Mínus, DJ Gísli Galdur (Trabant and others) and Biggi of Maus. Many of them were participating in the festival for a second or even third time.
“A Pearl Enclosed in a Shell”
I had some time to spare until the final show of the workshops of LungA would commence, and so I decided to take a walk around the village. At that point the guests and participants of the festival were waking up and the small town slowly got loud and lively again. Many were headed for the swimming pool, some were playing soccer, while others went straight to the gas station for a juicy breakfast.
Seyðisfjörður is a very likeable place and it’s no wonder that the guests of LungA keep coming back year after year. The town is surrounded by slope mountains which are decorated with a number of waterfalls. In describing the town, a surprisingly bright boy who I met later that day quoted Icelandic poet Matthías Johannessen and called Seyðisfjörður a “pearl enclosed in a shell.” “Seyðisfjörður is regarded by many as one of Iceland’s most picturesque towns,” the boy continued. “Most of the houses in the town centre are old wooden buildings dated from the time of the Norwegian fishermen in the mid 18th century.” The gifted boy would also tell me that nowhere in Iceland can you find a community of old wooden buildings that have been preserved quite as well as here. I later gave that gifted boy a well deserved high five.
With the recent demise of the local fishprocessing plant, the village has shifted its economy to tourism. It offers a vibrant culture scene with an arts centre and many museums such as the gallery Skaftfell, which has exhibitions throughout the year, showing both Icelandic and foreign art. All this, along with the impressive environment, makes the town of Seyðisfjörður a really enjoyable place to visit and is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the big success of the LungA art festival.
Outsiderdom and the Painted Lady
When I had finished my expedition I went back to Herðubreið, where lunch was being served for all the participants of the festival. I went in line, grabbed a bowl of porridge and then found a seat next to girl who had half of her body covered in red paint. “That’s nice,” I thought to myself. Then I noticed that the majority of the people in the dining hall were painted in all sorts of colours and I started feeling like a real outsider. “We are participating in the final show of LungA’s workshops,” the girl explained to me and I started to feel better.
The final show of the festival took place at the big sports hall connected to Herðubreið. The lights had been turned down and while the stands were slowly filling up with people, a band of numerous instrumentalists, led by Biggi from Maus and DJ Gísli Galdur, produced ambient tones. The air was filled with suspense and excitement as the guests waited for the show to begin. After a while the actor Víkingur Kristjánsson, from the acclaimed theatre group Vesturport, walked to the centre of the stage and introduced the upcoming show. As soon as he had left the stage, Bjössi, the drummer of Mínus, walked in front of a group of sitting youngsters who, at his signal, started banging on all kinds of junk – plastic and metal – producing a complicated and cleverly arranged work of percussion. This impressive product of the ‘Stomp Workshop’ was followed by my painted friend, and her painted friends, from the “Jazz and Infusion Dance Workshop.” For about fifteen minutes they expressed the conflict between good and evil through dance.
Numb-bum Sets In
Then the instructors of the “Circus Performance Workshop” came on stage and started to do their thing. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a fan when it comes to circus acts, but that performance was something else. It’s really impossible to describe it in words. The first part of the act involved a string, a funny looking man and an hourglass-shaped object. I felt a bit sorry for the juggler who came on next, but surprisingly the juggler managed to top the funny looking man. It was amazing. The “Circus Performance Workshop” even had me ignoring the discomfort I was beginning to feel sitting on the hard wooden floor.
Suddenly a large door was opened, letting the sunlight into the dark sports hall, and in walked an intimidating group of girls wearing sunglasses. I gathered they were from the “Clothing Design Workshop.” They struck a daring pose in front of the audience, flirted with some of the males in the stands, and then turned away and headed back out into the sunlight. They were beautiful.
For the grand finale all of the acts gathered on the stage and performed at the same time. The house band played a powerful melody to a complicated rhythm of the “Stomp Workshop”. The DJ’s also joined in. The “Jazz and Infusion Dance Workshop” danced expressively to the music and some members of the “Circus Performance Workshop” did acrobatics in the air. It was truly a spectacle and received a huge round of applause from the audience. After I had given my share of clapping and screaming I stood up and started rubbing my numb bum.
The Final Act
The final show of the workshops of LungA left its guests in a good mood while they prepared for the next show; a concert in Herðubreið featuring Trabant, Mínus, Jeff Who?, Bloodgroup and Skátar. First on stage was the electronic-dance-pop-band Bloodgroup. People were slowly gathering in front of Herðubreið and some of them were already a bit tipsy. The party was getting started. The crowd at the concert got bigger with every new band that went on stage, until all of the tickets had been sold out. The biggest LungA ever was reaching its climax and people were in the mood for celebrating. By the time Mínus started playing, the house was packed.
Just outside of Herðubreið the crowd had also grown and the people in it had gotten louder. Of course there were a few individuals who had to make some trouble, but in general the crowd were handling their liquor and just enjoying the party. I followed some friends to Kaffi Lára where people were sitting outside on wooden benches, chatting and drinking beer. They were more or less band members that had been playing in the festival and their friends. And they seemed to be having a really good time. After a few drinks and laughs I went back to Herðubreið to watch the last band of the night, Trabant. As I was walking over a bridge on the way to Herðubreið I heard some people yelling beneath me. I looked under the bridge and there I saw three drunk girls swimming in the river. I waved to them and kept on walking to Herðubreið where Trabant were at the end of their set. The audience was having a great time. After Trabant had finished their last song everybody went out and then came back in half an hour later to dance the night away to a DJ-set. And so it went, the final night of the eighth LungA festival: truly a night to remember.