The Faroe Islands seem like a very unlikely place to hold a music festival. This is a chain of rocky islands in the North Atlantic between Scotland, Norway and Iceland, with a population of about 56,000 and, as any tour guide will tell you, about twice as many sheep. The weather and terrain are wild and unpredictable: Last week, with the Northern Hemisphere roasting, it swung between clear and sunny and cold with pouring rain, with temperatures between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The country has a strong musical tradition, but there are only a handful of venues and one record label: Tutl (“total”), which, true to its name, plays local music of almost every genre, from classical music to hip-hop to death metal, and whose office also houses the only surviving record store in the Faroe Islands.
There is a thriving music scene in the country which has been showcased almost every year for decades at Féile G! A festival, which takes place on and near the beach, in a small town called Syðrugøta (“SID-ru-GO-tah”), and attracts about 5,000 people every year to a place of about 400 inhabitants, no hotels and a few shops.
However, the G! It is now the Faroese Mardi Gras, a de facto national celebration of the country’s music and culture. In recent years there have been major international talents such as Fatboy Slim, José González, Kris Kristofferson and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, but most of the best Faroese acts are at the top, as well as many acts from Norway, Iceland, England and elsewhere, and there would probably be more international acts if some of his staff understood the reasons for the lack of glamour. “Sometimes we have to explain to them: ‘We give you four limousines,'” says a local musician. “There are many taxis in the Faroe Islands, but not limousines as they think.”
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The Nordic countries tend to have a lot of fun during the summer, and needless to say, that’s even more impressive when about 10% of the entire population is at a festival. The sun hardly sets at this time of year – evening comes around 11:30 pm and lightens up again about two hours later – and on the last day of the three-day festival, the first performance started at 11 am and the last at 3 am the following day; we ran past several groups of people still drinking beer and smoking cigarettes as we stumbled into a taxi to the airport at 6am on Sunday morning.
But most of the day is a family and community affair: there are hot tubs, volleyball and other beach games, swimming (although the water is icy cold), and young children everywhere, with annoyingly oversized headphones in areas where the music is loud.
The performances took place on three main stages: the big stage was on the beach, right next to the sea; a smaller outdoor stage was a block away, on a playground soccer field; and a covered stage was located in a small concrete warehouse nearby (although nothing in Syðrugøta is far from anything else). On Saturday there were more experimental performances in the impressive Gøta kirja, an ultra-modern Lutheran church with great acoustics, and some loose performances in a cozy room at the back of a building called Tøting, which housed the festival office (as it were).
There weren’t many non-Nordic artists this year – the “biggest” were the Franco-Breton composer Yann Tiersen, who gave a great performance on Saturday at Gøta kirja, the Palestinian-French TikTok star Saint Levant and a wild performance by the British female agit-punk trio Lambrini Girls – but the most interesting local artists, but not all: Some of the local artists were not all, but they could not: Eivør (probably the biggest show the country has ever put on), local hero Evanescence, rappers RSP and Marius DC19 year old alternative pop singer elinborg (Eivør’s sister), R&B singer Tamara, city pop singer, and city pop singer, elinborg (Eivør’s sister). (Eivør’s sister), R&B singer tamarathe veteran punk group 200the electropop duo Byrtaalternative rock singer Brimheimthe pan-Nordic group Klingra (sort of a cross between Sigur Ros and Godspeed You Black Emperor), and best of all, “surprise” from the surreal hip-hop compilation Aggrosopparwhose name means “mushroom” and which is something of a cross between Odd Future, Madlib and Mac Miller’s crazier moments, with surreal lyrics, heavy beats and bass, and a wild sense of humor (translated for us locally as the group did).
The popular local group Joe and the Shitboys, who describe themselves as a “queer vegan shitpunk band from the Faroe Islands” and have often played outside the country, did not play this year – the festival tries out specialist groups that have not played recently, and Eivør is an exception as the annual headliner – but their members were all over the festival.
There was even a “chain dance”, a local custom in which singers dressed in traditional costumes sing traditional a cappella songs, and dozens of people hold hands and dance two steps forward and one step back while singing. People of all ages participate, from children to the elderly, and even the hippest and wildest locals.
The country has a great musical tradition and almost every local act has strong and nuanced singers. Many in Faroese and some of the most ambitious singers sing in English, some very well and others with the difficulty of most ESL lyricists (almost the locals speak English, often fluently). Not surprisingly, given the sparse population, many of the artists collaborate: drummer Eivør was seen playing with at least three other artists; some singers supported different groups; another guitarist played with three different artists, he played solo, and on Saturday night he played drums in a jam with two other musicians.
The director and godmother of the festival is Sigvör Laksá, the manager of Eivør for many years, although his daughter and some friends founded it in 2002. That first festival lasted one day and there were a dozen performances -nine Faroese and a group of Bulgarians who happened to be on the islands-, and it was held on the stage on the beach “built in memory of Sigör”. “I thought it was a crazy idea, but it worked and people loved it.”
Since then, it has been held almost every year, and the largest attendance came in 2005, when the Swedish hair metal group dominated Europe, attracting 10,000 people (probably a large percentage were visitors). “The festival was created [principalmente] to celebrate it, an event that young people would enjoy,” continues Laksá, “but secondly, to bring Faroese music [más allá] “So, the second year they invited people from the industry from Germany and Iceland,” explains Laksá, who says: “The spread has continued over the years with the creation of Faroe Music Export and has increased in the last two, with Glenn Larsen, Norwegian artist manager and industry veteran, who was in charge in 2021.
The country has multiple music venues, especially in the capital and tourist hub of Tórshavn, which has an impressive bar called Sirkus, not far from Tutl’s office, which serves as a meeting point for the music world and hosts concerts on the second floor.
Tutl, led by Danish classical musician Kristian Blak, has released a wide range of music from many of the country’s most active artists, which it sells online and in store. The store also hosts performances: During our visit, Aggrasoppar played a very different 20-minute set from the one they were due to perform that night. In the store, there was a live fluid band of guitarist, bassist and drummer (with Dania Tausen, a powerful singer with a flair for pop melodies, samples and effects); Trygvi Danielsen made sure the group impressed by rapping properly against some visitors to the small shop.
But that night’s set was complex and wild hip-hop, the musicians drumming and growling at the back of the stage. There were strange dancers as well as a flashing light show, and almost everyone on stage had strange animal masks; They were joined by Marius DC and Fríði from Joe and the Shitboys for “Kolasalat” from the group’s 2020 album. The songs follow each other with a crushing, stony beat, with lines of Faroese rap unintelligible to English-speaking ears, except for the occasional lines ending in y and a few f-bombs and hip-hop terms like “bitch-ass” and “fuckboy.” “It was the most exciting, imaginative and just plain weird performance we’ve seen all week hip-group, the crowd and the other crowd-barrier seen all week. .
Of course, the small size of the country and the language barrier are major obstacles that prevent these artists from reaching the ears they could reach in larger countries. Blak explains that his label’s wide range of music prevents him from promoting releases in a more genre-focused way, and he plays his metal artists in particular (although he focuses on licensing deals with California-based Metal Blade for a few of them).
But the festival and the country’s recovery from the pandemic have gained momentum: Eivør has worked outside of Denmark for many years, but has returned to the Faroe Islands; Joe and the Shitboys play frequently in England and Europe; Aggrasoppar and four other artists performed at Brighton’s Great Escape festival this year. For many of them, the first step towards something bigger is the Icelandic festival Airwaves, when last year Rolling Stone UK named the energetic rapper and powerhouse performer one of the three best artists at the event.
Surprisingly, two of the leaders of the world of country music – Laksá and Blak – are decades older than most of the musicians they support: “I’m 60 years old now and sometimes I think a young person should lead,” says Laksá, “and in a few years I hope someone else will. But I do it because I think it’s very important for the identity of Syð, the young people in ðrugø usually. [del país] because they think it’s boring, but the people from this town usually come back because they have a strong feeling about it, and it’s a big part of the festival. I think they are very proud of it.”
During his performance on Thursday, Eivør pointed to the beach and said in English: “I grew up in this town, I played in this sand.”
“Féile G! is not a business: almost everyone who works here is a volunteer,” concludes Laksá, “but it has a huge social value, and that cannot be counted.”