It’s five in the morning and I’m just rolling back to Siggi and Rúnar’s sailboat-slash-home away from home, which sits on the dock on the easternmost side of the Faeroe Islands village of Gøta.
The first day of the G! Festival has come and gone, the sun is just coming up and as I pass the techno stage, there are still dozens throbbing away to a drum ‘n’ bass drone. Overhead, gulls are squawking blue murder, diving at the fringes where sea meets land. Some even dive on the pavement straight in front of me, where French fries and bits of kebab lie scattered among compressed beer cans and the occasional passed-out drunkard.
Some are dressed up in gaudy outfits gone limp: silver mini-skirts, neon pink sweaters, some toss scraps of half-finished hamburger bun at the gulls. Then, looking across at the bay below, a red hue lights up the skies and a small fishing trawler rolls out into the ocean. It feels great to be alive.
Orka means power
Six hours earlier, I am almost dumbstruck by the talents of the Faeroese band Orka: a continually evolving cooperative of musicians, headed by the diminutive schoolboy-looking Jens Thomsen. Orka plays groove-driven industrial music on all manner of things Jens dug up on his parent’s farm. They sound bloody good.
A day or so before, I’d listened to their latest album, Livandi oyða (Living Wasteland), having had it recommended by the sales guy at the Tutl record store in Tórshavn. Upon first listening, I wasn’t that impressed. At first, it sounded like just another quasi-experimental band with stacks of sampling and a half-decent beat. Seeing Orka live was another matter altogether. When I realised that they created all their sounds on bits and bobs that were lying around the farm—concrete mixers, oil drums, angle grinders, a single-string violin made from chicken wire, and a hammer— my mind changed. They earned all the respect they get.
Jens himself plays a fretless, stand-up bass comprised of an amplified, pointed fence stake and something that he tells me is used on fishing vessels. It sounds funky as hell. Lead singer Kari Sverisson strums a kind of hand-made harp that sits astride an oil drum. In the background, someone is sweeping the stage with a broom. And no, he’s not part of the maintenance crew, he’s one of the band; that broom is being miked. Bogi a Lakjuni plays what they call a hydro harp; basically it’s a bunch of plastic coke bottles with varying levels of water and an airgun blowing air across the top.
My head is reeling watching this spectacle, angle grinder sparks literally spew across the stage. I wonder, are all Faeroe bands this utterly mad—and talented?
“A little country has a chance to make it”
During a quiet moment, I ask Jens how he feels about the Icelandic music scene, if the more recent rise of Faeroe artists such as Orka, Teitur, Lena Anderssen, Boys in A Band, has in some way been influenced by Iceland.
“Of course Iceland has inspired us,” he says. “With Björk and Sigur Rós, they paved a way, proving that a little country has a chance to make it. We have a lot of friends in Iceland, people like Mugison and Bubbi Morthens, but has their music influenced our sound? Not really, we’re kinda doing our own thing here.”
Over the course of the next few days, I drift in and out of the backstage area, flirting with the girl behind the bar, seeing if I can get inside the mind of the G!Festival. During the days, while most of us are recuperating from the night before, a giant tent sits on the beach just a few strides away from the stage; it’s a make-shift sauna, and half-naked women and men ramble out of here, beer in hand, making a mad dash for the icy ocean.
Squeezing their womanhood
On the second night, the Faeroe’s most famous singer-songwriter, Teitur Lassen, graces the stage, performing the mostly soft-spoken songs from his newest, highly-acclaimed album, The Singer. This is when the crowd is possibly at its thickest, girls rumble into the stage squeezing their very womanhood into steel railings, fluorescent headbands glow, beer cups slosh. Yet the mood is subdued, sensitive, just like Teitur’s personal music.
Supported by a lean crew of a drummer, bassist, pianist, and three brass players, who I am told are all home-grown from Gøta (one of them looks no more than twelve), Teitur’s sound shines. This is not music for the masses, this is heartfelt, slow poetry, and strangely, as I have seen countless times at the G!Festival, the crowd absolutely seems to get it. This is all lit-up Bic lighter slow-dance music. Listen to the words and you’ll start to understand what the Faeroes is all about: “You said that songs were what the world needed,” sings Teitur. “That you liked those singers that really meant it!”
There are three stage areas in all. There’s the main stage on the beach, near the make-shift sauna. There’s a smaller one, hidden behind a kind of Ali Baba’s Bazaar (or Gøta’s three-day answer to Kolaportið), where most of the lesser known, but no less interesting acts perform. Then there is the techno dance area that only starts to fade when the sun comes out.
No Björk here
Presently on the second stage the Faeroese/Danish group Valravn is setting up. Now here’s another entirely new take on Celtic-Arabic-folk-rock-trip-hop. The sounds couldn’t be more eclectic-electric-mind-boggling. Most of the songs are in Faeroese, performed by lead vocalist, and Björk-styled jumping lady, Anna Katrin Egilstrøð, accompanied by flutes, hurdy-gurdy, davul and frame drums and a wild array of electronics. There is something tribal-elemental about this group. Here, once again, the crowd settles in to a slow sway, almost hypnotised.
Later when I ask Anna Katrin if she has been influenced by Björk, I’m expecting a resounding yes, but strangely she says, “I love Björk, but no, not really in the music.” Yet, take one look at her outfit, or in fact, just listen to her vocal inflections, and you have Björk ten or so years ago, all over again.
Over 500 bands from all over the US and Europe wanted to be a part of the G!Festival, and in the end they narrowed their selection down to a meagre 46. A number of Icelandic bands made the cut, including Fjallabræður, Maggi Lego and the part-Faeroese Bloodgroup. Quite frankly, there’s so much going on here, it would not be humanly possible to see them all perform. It’s an amazing testament to the efforts of all of the village of Gøta that the G!Festival is still going strong, basically the whole thing creates utter havoc for two sleepless nights and three whole days. No one can sleep, not only for all the music and the hulaballo, the frantic flurries of seagulls, but for the fact that there is no real hotel here, and half of the village puts up most of the bands and many of the visitors. This, friends, is what raw, unbridled, sparkling live music is all about!