Earlier this year I was contacted by Siggi Jensson, the creator of the Eistnaflug 2014 10th Anniversary four-DVD box set. Was I interested in receiving a press copy for review? Unfortunately, I had to say, ‘No’ because I had already purchased the box set in question. But why would I sit on a historical document like that without reviewing it? No reason at all. So here it is.
These videos exemplify what I love about Iceland. Siggi wasn’t hired by the fest to document the 10th anniversary, he was just a fan with a day job who also makes films. In Icelandic fashion, he got fired up about an idea – to document the festival on film – and just went out and did it. Also in typically Icelandic fashion, he kind of went overboard. A normal person would make a documentary. An Icelander would record every single band that played the 3-day festival and make an hour-long documentary as well a few documentary shorts and package them all in a four-disc box set. As a freelancer. On spec.
First a bit of background (because I love a long-winded intro. What can I say? I read a lot of Dickens growing up. If it’s not your thing, skip below the landscape photo to read about the discs themselves.)
The first time I went to Iceland was in 2012 for the Airwaves festival. But everyone I talked to said I really should go to Eistnaflug instead. It took until 2014, but I made it back to Iceland for the 10th Eistnaflug festival. It was a hell of a trek from Seattle to rural Iceland, but it was totally worth it. I’ve already gone on about it here:
And here on KEXP:
And over on No Clean Singing, a three-part report of every damn band I saw:
So yeah, I liked it. And it took me two years, but I finally got the money together and made it back in 2014. This time I was not planning to cover the festival for any publications; instead my goal was to convince my husband to dig Iceland as much as I do. (I think it worked, I’m headed to Iceland with the whole fandamily in tow next week.)
Anyway, I saw the box set on the merch table while I was there, and even though it seemed a bit pricey, the cost paled in comparison to the amount we were spending on beer, so I bought it. When I got home, I mostly used it to torture my family – skipping around to show them the tracks of bands I liked best. But after Siggi contacted me, I decided to do things properly and watch all four discs in their entirety. It took a long time. There is more than 9 hours of material on the four discs, and my binge-watching days are over.
Here is what I saw.
In 2014, Eistnaflug was still a one-stage festival in the Egilsbuð venue (with unofficial shows in an abandoned fish factory down the street). Siggi ran a 7-camera, multi-tracked shoot that captured one to three songs from every single set in Egilsbuð. Of the 46 bands that performed, only one or two failed to sign the releases that would allow him to include them in the compilation, so the first three discs comprise 90 performance videos from over 40 bands.
I confess to spending too much attention searching the crowd shots for myself (I was rewarded on disc 3 with a painful reminder that my hair was too short in 2014) and the people I was staying with. I’m sure that particular pleasure would be shared by anyone who attended the festival that year.
More significantly, the performance videos reminded me of bands whose sets I loved but who were later unfairly forgotten, like Nevolution, Grísalappalísa, Jónas Sig, and Morð. It gave me great views of sets I heard but got stuck too far to the back to see the stage (like Mammút) and a chance to hear sets I missed (*cringes* At The Gates).
I was very impressed with the sound quality. Metal bands are not easy to mix and record, but the live recordings on these DVDs were amazingly clear. I’m sure it helps that the festival has great sound, mixed by folks who care about this kind of music (not always a given at regular shows). But the only band that seemed to overcome the filmmaker’s microphones was AMFJ, an old-school industrial act that played early in the day on Saturday, and who may have actually sounded blown-out like that.
The main feature on disc 4 is an hour-long documentary, called No Idiots Allowed, that traces the history of the festival, including interviews with founder Stefán Magnússon and his wife, as well as participating musicians, and locals from the tiny town of Neskaupstaður that hosts the festival. I enjoyed this documentary. I think it really captures the fraternal feeling of the festival and would be interesting to anyone with an interest in Iceland, its musicians, or festival culture in general, whether or not they have any personal connection to Eistnaflug.
There are some other goodies on disc 4 as well. Extra songs from festival-favorites, including the on-stage performance of “Eistnaflugdans”, a festival theme song I remember the coat-check girls singing throughout the weekend in 2014. A short documentary of the barnatónleikar (kids’ concert) held before the official start of the festival for the families in town shows the founder mixing his day job as a gym teacher with his festival founder identity as he introduces the kids to some of Iceland’s biggest bands. Anyone who likes the idea of little kids rocking out will enjoy this short film. There’s another short documentary that incorporates Iceland’s bathing culture by interviewing festival goers and locals at the local swimming pool. I made my kids watch it so they could the water slide and start getting excited about all the swimming pools we are going to visit on our family trip to Iceland.
I was glad the changes in the festival have been documented by these “the way we were” videos. Between 2014 and 2016, the festival expanded. Now there are two official stages; the main stage is the high school gym and Egilsbuð is the second stage. The old fish factory has been torn down, with only a few off-venue performances (some in a parking lot off the main street; others in someone’s back yard). Drone footage from 2014 showed a campground with a lot less crowding than I experienced in 2016. Other changes were more subtle; in 2014 Sólstafir packed the main venue, and everyone there sang along with every song. In 2016, the crowed was even bigger, but was less dedicated. This time, not everyone knew the words to sing along. Throughout the festival, the absence of formerly omnipresent drummer Gummi was felt. (His new project, Katla, is about to release their debut; I hope to see them on the bill at Eistnaflug soon.) All the documentary materials are subtitled in English.
Siggi tells me the documentary has been uploaded to a pirate site where many people watch the videos instead of buying them. It’s the same problem faced by the musicians. I understand the temptation, but it’s still a dick move. Bannað að vera fáviti at Eistnaflug – it’s a good rule for regular life, too, in my opinion.
The boxed set is available online for 38€ with free shipping worldwide, which I’m pretty sure is less than I paid last summer. You can also buy the DVDs on the Eistnaflug website (another of Siggi’s projects) where no one would blame you for succumbing to the temptation to buy festival tickets at the same time.