The clouds sit very low atop rugged mountains, each rising in a dramatic curve directly from the sea. Birds circle overhead while music seems to infuse with the mysticism of the landscape and oscillates over the sea. From 17 to 19 July 2014, this was the scene in Gøta, a small seaside town within one of the 18 remote Faroe Islands—an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of Denmark, found between Norway and Iceland. Once a year, around 8,000 people filter into the village for the G! Festival, a musical showcase of international talent coupled with the arts and other events. On an archipelago of roughly 50,000 residents and under a sky that's only dark for around an hour at this time of year, the small community hosts a wild celebration unlike any other.
A main stage is located directly on the beach, where festival goers stand on the sand for anchor acts from around the world. Five minutes away on foot, the ruins of an old building—now covered in graffiti—are home to rave-like parties with DJ sets that ultimately close the event each night. In between, four other stages provide performances, varying from a mid-sized stage resting among a field surrounded by a playground to a cliffside container venue that's been constructed by arts organization Bureau Detours from Denmark. Pop-up shops, multiple temporary bars and restaurants and even an LGBTQ kissing booth compliment the stroll between each outdoor venue. And the Faroese, many who cite this event as one of their favorites all year, are excited and eager to party.
The music's range and diversity astounds. At times, '80s-inspired electro-pop yields to Tom Waits-like vocals over gypsy folk in an 11-person band (where the clarinetist makes the most vibrant impression). The festival may have billed America's Sister Sledge as one of their top acts, but at the heart of it, Faroese bands demonstrate the islands' breadth of creativity. Both Teitur and Eivør have received global acclaim, and both made unique appearances—the former guested in another band while the latter hosted three living room concerts, in an actual living room. TÝR's guitar anthem rock and the growling doom metal of Hamferð, both local favorites, drew riotous swarms of people of all ages to the beach.
Many of the other Nordic nations sent sonic ambassadors as well, demonstrating the richness of the region—and each drew substantial numbers. Norway's Moddi captivated with charming pop-folk, as water lapped at attendees' feet. Denmark's Lydmor churned out mesmerizing electro-pop, while the Danish Baby in Vain (three girls all roughly 18 years old) tore up post-punk while managing to demonstrate tremendous guitar virtuosity. Iceland's Kaleo took alternative rock to new heights, akin to Kings of Leon but with a dashing likability. From outside the Nordic region, Greek DJ and producer Palov and the UK's Alpha Steppa provided beats for various dance parties. And not only was there a main stage singalong, but an entire venue space was dedicated to communal singing. When placed in an unreal environment and with exceptional festival energy, everything becomes a possibility.
In addition to the Faroese, the festival fills with many international attendees, from fans to booking agents and label owners. According to attendee Francine Gorman of Nordic Playlist (a UK-based recommendation website drawing listeners to music from all the Nordic countries), "There's no better situation to discover a wide breadth of Faroese music. For an international audience that might not be familiar with the music that this nation makes, you can experience both the biggest acts and the real emerging stuff, too." That was a mission for festival bookers.
Despite the exceptionally photogenic nature of the festival, one thing you won't find at the G! Festival is an audience with phones in hand, snapping away. Both locals and internationals—truly captivated by the festivities—were most often dancing and singing along. Even as clear skies turned to a heavy rain, the morale was still of sheer excitement and each event carried on with no loss in fervor. People even continued the routine of switching between the wooden beachside hot tubs and the cold North Atlantic Ocean. There is no shortage of music festivals in the world right now, but with its surreal setting, unique programming and enthusiastic Faroese, G! Festival is a magical universe all its own.
Keep an eye out for next year's festival line-up and tickets for purchase, both of which will be available online, with a one day pass starting at DKK 495.
Photos by David Graver