Tucked away in the remotest of locations, Aldrei Fór Ég Suður is a rock festival in Ísafjörður. The name, translated as “I Never Went South”, reflects the dwindling population of this small fishing town tucked away in the West Fjords of Iceland.
Somewhere along the fjord, on the way into the old town stands a grey box, an engineering workshop that, once a year, is cleared out of machines to become a festival venue. There are big ideas behind this small grey façade. The festival is free, the line up is not announced in advance, and each band has a strict twenty-minute time limit on stage. A family affair, dreamt up by local musician Mugison and his father Mugipapa, no one is a headliner, no one gets a sound-check and everyone is eating from the same pot of plokkfisk (a fish dish made by locals that’s sold in the beer tent).
Friday promised a beautiful beginning with Orphic Oxtra and most certainly it proved funky, fresh and fun. The main show to turn up for, however, was clearly Mr. Ísafjörður himself, Mugison, the co-founder of the festival, winner of five Icelandic Music Awards this year and general good guy. Inevitably the man made magic on stage and the festival was ordained with his love. Waxing lyrical between the gruff and the sublime, the experimental and catchy, there wasn’t a corner left untouched and not a face left unsmiling.
With compelling drive Skálmöld, a folk metal band that has a fiercely loyal fan-base stood out with a great set. The real treat of the night came in a purple package, Agnes, the lead singer of Sykur. She was a breath of fresh air amongst an overwhelmingly male line up.
The weather was surprisingly good this year, so with enthusiasm parents turned up on Saturday, after a heavy night of drinking, with their children in toe to see a festival high-light. Pollapönk are something of an enigma in any country, a good children’s punk-rock band. Four men dressed in brightly coloured shell suits sending out messages like “Only real boys wear pink”, kicked the day off to an entertaining start.
After a slow start, and lots of hot-dogs, Iceland’s Bon Iver, Snorri Helgason cured hangovers and mended broken hearts with a voice that stroked the soul. A much needed remedy to cope with Muck, an extreme, hardcore punk metal quartet that set pacemakers off into the next fjord.
The rest of the evening was no less of a musical rollercoaster with vintage feminist rock chicks Dúkkulísur being followed by cult heavy metal band Ham and the disco elevator sounds of Þórunn Antonia. The stand out party of the night had to begin with ironically named Reykjavík! (they’re from Ísafjörður), a screaming hardcore rock band that makes you want to crowd surf and, apparantly, get married. There wasn’t a dry-eyed drunk in the house when a guy proposed to his gal on stage in the middle of Reykjavík!’s set.
Retro Stefson rounded off the festival in style with their melodic dance music. Up-beat rhythms, funky synthesizers and catchy one liners had the crowd contently winding down for a short walk into town.
The night didn’t end there, we could then be found at Krúsinn, a strange underground club with peeling dark red paint and a mirrored bar. Tunes were chosen by a local Icelandic woman with a laptop and a good time was had. For a moment there the irony of the festival’s title was lost, and it felt like none of us had ever been south of Ísafjörður, we could all live there, make ironic statements, play music and party forever.
Words and photo by Álfrún Gísladóttir