Foto: Linnea Nordström

Arctic Hippie Gathering

The Sixteenth edition of the Karlsøy Festival was a perfect way to get to know the local music scene, the beautiful Arctic nature, and the island’s rich history.    

Text: Lyonel Perabo // Photo: Linnea Nordström

The Karlsøy Festival is not just one of the many festivals that seem to sprout from every town, village and hamlet once summer finally arrives. The festival is indeed more than a simple outdoor gathering of music-loving drunkards; it’s a festival with meaning. Established in 2000 by local social activists that have been living on the remote island since the seventies and the eighties, the Karlsøy Festival seeks to bring global as well as local issues to the table while also listening to some good music and drinking beer.

This year, the ideological and the musical program once again complemented each other with artists and activists from Russia and Mexico (among many more) alternatively speaking and singing about issues that directly affect them.

Besides music and politics, the festival organizers also thought up numerous ways to entertain their guests. Various exhibits, workshops, and talks were also organized and provided festival-goers with the opportunity to spice up their experience with some more practical tidbits. Talking about spice, one has to praise the utter quality of the food served on site. Fresh and local delicacies, with good vegetarian/vegan alternatives, were for once the norm and not the exception. Thumbs up to the hard-working kitchen workers who helped everyone fight-off the cold with a seemingly endless amount of delicious food.

Cold because yes, even in the summer Karlsøy, situated 70 degrees north, is far from warm and the attendees thankfully took that critical fact into consideration. Instead of sarwells, low-cut shorts and bare chests, Arctic Hippies wisely chose to don woolen sweaters, rainproof jackets and thick hiking pants. In addition, the numerous fires lit next to the main stage brought additional comfort to those who courageously fought off dark birch smoke.

Besides all of this, there also was some music; of sorts.

On Saturday – the only day Utropia could be present -, a miscellany of bands of various styles performed on the festival’s two stages. The first band that we witnessed the performance of was DROMEDAR and Gods were they weird! While their mix of a somewhat jazzy Funk vibe with electronic elements was strange in and of itself, the addition of bone-chilling screams and the use of rather wacky costumes made me think that this band belonged as much in an art gallery as at a music festival.

The next artist the Utropia team managed to see was the Sámi singer Sofia Jannok who took over the main stage around ten in the evening. The last time we had the occasion to attend a concert by the famous Swede was at the Márkomeannu Festival back in 2011 where she very much delivered the goods, musically speaking. At Karlsøy, Sofia Jannok presented a maybe poppier version of herself, fueled by more recent songs like her hit ´Snölejoninna´, but remained as classy and impressive as ever.

Next band on the big stage was 1997 FOREVER, the side project of Carl Christian Lein Størmer from DIE A LEGEND. Considering that all the bands he has played in have been rather hard-hitting Hardcore acts, I expected 1997 FOREVER to keep up with the musical violence, but was completely taken aback when a band of suit-wearing dudes started pilling bongos on the stage. For a moment I feared the worst, i.e. Ska, but as the band started playing (featuring the famous MØRK on keys and Ariel Joshua Sivertsen on bass) all my fears disappeared. In fact, 1997 FOREVER simply Rocks! The band is indeed, despite the bongos, somewhat Hardcore-ish, but thanks to a hefty dose of Classic Rock and 90’s-y Alternative the end result ends up being both incredibly catchy while retaining a well-fitting heaviness. Not a good surprise, a GREAT surprise.

Following in the glorious footsteps of the Tromsø band, the Russia Leftist Rap trio MOSCOW DEATH BRIGADE entered the stage for a rather entertaining, albeit short set. The band, singing in both English and Russian, cultivates a very tough-guy-ish attitude, complete with hoodies, shorts and balaclava. Still, because of the band’s ideology, most of their songs weren’t actually that scary and mostly revolved around themes like camaraderie, freedom and basically being a good person. The trio performed two types of songs on Karlsøy, some very hip-hop-ish ones on one hand and some punchier on the other. While the band’s instrumentation was limited to a single MacBook Pro playing background beats, the energetic performance of the three anonymous Russians was enough to create a good atmosphere. Their punkier songs (like the very EXPLOITED-like ´Viking’s Life´) were even quite okay from a musical perspective, but I feel like the band can only unleash their true potential with an actual band backing them.

Following them was the Bodø-based band MANNA that spewed North-Norwegian Reggae onto the attendees’ ears for an hour and a half. Now we at Utropia might not be the most enthusiastic Reggae fans out there but we still have to concede that MANNA did a good job at drawing the attendees to their music and might even have had the most compact crowd of the whole festival. Still, an hour and a half of non-stop Reggae was maybe a bit too much for our inexperienced ears, and all the songs soon started to melt into one big blob of slow beats, smiles, and bongos. Not soon enough, MANNA left the stage to the kings of the festival, the one and only KARLSØY PRESTEGAARD that drew a crowd that had been somewhat thinning towards the end of the previous band’s show. As expected, PRESTEGAARD gave an energetic and effortless performance, very much embodying the very notion of playing on home turf.

Late on Sunday morning, just a few hours after KARLSØY PRESTEGAARD’s performance, and just before taking the ferry back to civilization, the few that had braved the sinister claws of sleep were rewarded with an additional performance by 1997 FOREVER in the island’s old church. This exclusive concert took the form of a live screening of Carl Christian’s yet-unfinished snow-boarding film, ´There’s Always Next Season´ with the band performing the score live and unplugged. The feeling that arose in that dinky XIXth century church, while an unfinished film about snowboarding was screened with a live acoustic Rock score, was unique and oh-so North-Norwegian. In many ways, this intimate gig was probably the pinnacle of the whole festival which kept true to its motto of being a festival with a difference.