Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Faroes' summer music festival

. Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fancy something less commercial than Glasto or Benicàssim? Then try the Faroes' G! Festival, with its quirky bands and amazing setting

G!-festival, Faroes
'We have a microcosm of the music business here in the Faroes," says singer-songwriter Teitur Lassen. "We have the community, the gigs, the radio station, the press, the festivals and the audience. It's just much more intimate. If you make a tuba album in your toilet, it's very likely to be reviewed in the national newspaper."
The Faroe Islands, a constituent country of Denmark lying in the North Sea between Scotland, Iceland and Norway, isn't the kind of place you'd expect to find a simmering music scene. With a population of just 48,000, some of whom like to spend weekends mowing their roofs, it's a place more famed for its brooding beauty than its blistering rock'n'roll. But then, everyone thought Iceland was just cod and volcanoes before The Sugarcubes.
While the Faroes may lack the dynamism of its larger Scandinavian neighbours, in the last few years it has undergone a major musical revolution – going from cover bands playing sports halls in the 80s, to the beginnings of a local scene in the 90s and then a real kick start by G!, an ambitious Faroese music festival founded in 2002 by local musician-entrepreneur Jón Tyril.
"G! was started in the wake of a kind of a cultural renaissance in the Faroes," explained Tyril as we drove out to the festival site from the pretty Faroese capital Tórshavn, an hour-long trip that offered glimpses of the country's fabled fjords and towering mountains.
"After an economic downturn, our first reaction was that somebody would save us. When that didn't happen, people looked to themselves and re-evaluated why they were living in these islands, and what makes us who we are. We founders thought it was time to make a festival that celebrated that – our music, our community – and our connection to the outside world."
The festival was so successful that, from 2005 to 2007, it lured one-fifth of the nation to the tiny seaside village of Gøta on the island of Eysturoy, where they drank and swayed and held lighters aloft beneath the midnight dusk. Financial troubles meant only a mini version was staged in 2008 but last year G! attracted 4,000 – and Tyril expects double that for 2010.
Music aside, the chief appeal of G! is its location. Arriving in Gøta, guillemots and gulls wheeled through the sky, green mountains sloped dramatically into a twinkling sea and cute, turf-roofed houses were dotted around the bay. It seemed a spot more suited to family outings than festival crowds. But then a large stage was constructed on the beach, schooners and luxury yachts began to drop anchor out in the bay, and several thousand music fans – many sporting endearing knitwear, despite the warm weather – pitched tents all around the village.
Around the corner from the beach, stalls offered beer, steaks, pancakes and local dried mutton, whale and fish. One stage was erected on the artificial football pitch and there was a DJ "stage" in a burned-out fish-drying shack. And that 19th-century schooner over there? The backstage area.
As we drank Föroya Bjór (local beer) and watched the crowd party, Teitur, backed by a brass band, showed why he's the closest thing the Faroes has to an international superstar, and Sombrero-sporting outfit The Ghost played a slick set of acoustic ditties, backed by electronic beats and interspersed with confetti-spray attacks on the audience. Pushing the homegrown scene is what G! is all about, and it does so in inimitable style. One band, Orka, made a haunting, captivating noise using a piece of string and a fence post, and between acts, naked, hungover folk hit the Finnish saunas on the beach. You don't get that at Glasto.
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