My wife and I shut our eyes to the ZAR:EURO exchange rate and travelled to Iceland in July 2015 for a first and possibly even last visit to this strange and magical island. For us, as for many others, the allure was a combination of Iceland’s stark volcanic landscape, its remoteness, stories about the pragmatism of its people and of course, the music of such artists as Sigur Rós, Amiina, Björk and more.
Music was part of the reason we timed the trip to coincide with 1-3 July, as it was the third annual edition of ATP Iceland. With a line-up that included Iggy Pop, Public Enemy, Swans and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, it was not to be missed. Included in the line-up was also a great selection of Icelandic bands, with artists like Börn, Grísalappalísa, Valgeir Sigurðsson and Mr Silla showing the musical diversity to be found in a country with just over 300,000 citizens.
Having spoken to many people in the South African music industry about the challenges facing musicians, promoters and live music venues, I admit I don’t yet understand the business model for such a festival. ATP as an organisation is known for its exceptional taste in curating festivals, and this one is held in an old NATO hangar with a capacity for a mere 5,000 people. That is not a lot considering the headliners they put on (like the 69-year old Iggy Pop, who showed his lust for life in a staggering 90 minute set). To fly such quality artists to Iceland, to a festival with limited sideshows which can also generate revenue (e.g. camping, food stalls and fringe entertainment) and only a few headline sponsors, must be an accountant’s nightmare. Yet the sound quality is top notch, the organisation is good, the entertainment worth every cent, but I kept wondering are there enough cents in this? ATP had a bad experience previously with the cancelled Jabberwocky Festival in the UK, yet over on Iceland it seems to work, because ATP Iceland 2016 has already been announced.
After this and some wonderful days in Reykjavik we rented a Suzuki Jimny and toured Route 1 (1,800km around the island) in 10 slow driving and joyous days. The sights are spectacular, even though our South African idea of summer weather was somewhat different from what we experienced at near zero temperatures in our tent.
Iceland is becoming almost too popular, so it might be worthwhile to go slightly outside the main June to August holiday season. Since camping sites open in May and close in September, based on feedback from other campers, even though those two fringe months are cold, they are just as worth it, with slightly less congestion on the roads. Or, the one Ring Road.