By: Richard Johnson Leave it to this infernal rag to celebrate last weekend's national holiday by leaving to go to another country. And not just any 'ol country. This year, All Tomorrow's Parties in Iceland (July 2-4) beckoned us with a far away adventure and a massive festival headlined by Public Enemy and Iggy Pop. Talk about a vacation for the ages! Not only that, but an entire NATO base filled with National acts and Icelandic buzz bands ensured that this would be one of the weirdest events we've ever attended. With visions of a shirtless punk legend dancing in our heads, we packed our bags and boarded a plane.
As we landed at Keflavik Airport and looked down over Iceland, our first impressions were that it looked more like we'd just landed on the moon or another planet--with moss covered lava rock going into mountains as far as the eye could see with very few trees. Yes, it was a bit surreal, but nevertheless breathtaking. From the time we exited the plane, everything seemed just a little different in Iceland. For one thing, there's no darkness this time of year, except for maybe a few hours a day.
Formed in the UK in 1999 by Barry Hogan as an alternative to larger corporate music festivals, ATP has always been a sort of prized festival for travelers and is always on the move at different locales around the world. It was moved to a former NATO base Ásbrú in the city of Keflavík this year with the help of Icelander Tomas Young.
Interesting fact: Iceland was not occupied by the Germans in WWII and was part of Denmark. When the Germans took Demark, the English invaded Iceland, who then handed the base it over to America and we, along with our allies, used it as a naval station.
The old NATO base made for a very surreal venue to see headliners Public Enemy and Iggy Pop. But if you know me or our little group of friends I traveled with, you would know that if Iggy was going to play in the middle of a lava field in an airplane hanger, chances are we are going to be there. We stayed in an apartment in Reykjavík, the largest city in Iceland, with a population of about 120,000 people. ATP had chartered buses to take us back and forth to the show. The fans were a mix of Icelandic, European and quite a few Americas.
As we approached the former military base, we could see a large airplane hangar with a large sign that read Atlantic Studios which housed the main stage. It had a large yard with storage containers set up as shops for food and beer vendors. In addition to normal festival fare-- hamburgers and fish and chips lots of beer--there were also Icelandic staples like leg of lamb and lobster soup.
Across the way from the main stage, there was another hangar-style building called the Andrew Theater that held another stage for less known and local acts. The highlight for me was an Icelandic garage punk band called Pink Street Boys that rocked the shit out of the little stage. Another area called the Officers Club was reserved for DJ's.
One more large hangar for the Kelir-ATP cinema with movies was curated by the band Mogwai in honor of the band's 20th anniversary. There was a long list of great movies from The Exorcist to a skate movie called Tent City. I was only able to catch a little bit of the original Roller Ball, a 1975 American movie about a future were the world is run by corporations and the settle their differences in a game called Roller Ball--a lot like roller derby, but played to the death. But there were so many great bands food art and DJs, sitting down to watch a movie wasn't exactly the biggest priority.
The first group on the must-see list was Public Enemy. This was their first show in Iceland and you could tell they were excited as Chuck D And Falvor Flav ran all over the stage, Flav delivering his trademark "Yeeaahhhh Boiiii!!!!" to cheers from the crowd. They had a dance team and of coarse there were hype men dressed in military camouflage, a nod to their surroundings. They did all the hits, from "911 is a Joke," to "Don't Believe the Hype," "31 Flavors," and "Rebel Without a Cause." The pair even broke into Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," with Flav on the bass! At the end of the set, Flav said to the crowd that it was the "best applause they had ever had at any show." Not sure if i believe the hype on that, but it was a great set.
Not surprisingly, the greatest moment of the weekend happened the minute Iggy Pop took the stage. Now this is the guy I crossed the world to see. After quickly downing three beers right before his set, I went looking for my hero Jos, one of Iggy's back line roadies, who I've met several times on my quest to see the Ig in concert all around the world. Once I fond him I peppered him with a few probing questions:
"Is there going to be crowd invitation to storm the stage this year?"
"NO!" "Is there going to be a make up show in the UK?"
"You having fun in Iceland?"
Jos was not in the best of moods as he is obviously there to work. My stalker friends and myself are the least of his worries.
Finally, around 10 p.m., Iggy hit the stage like an explosion, 143 pounds of leathery, shirtless rock and roll God. He actually did have a leather jacket on for about five seconds as the band launched into "I wanna be your Dog." The crowd went insane screaming in languages I couldn't understand except for "IGGY POP!! IGGY FUCKING POP!" Behind Iggy, the band featured guitarist Kevin Armstrong and guitarist/keyboardist Seamus Beaghen, who toured with Iggy on his Blah, Blah, Blah tour 1986 and 1987, with Beaghen continuing on during the rock star's Instinct tour in 1988 and 1989. Rounded out with Ben Ellis on bass and Mat Hector on drums, the band were incredibly tight, adding plenty of blistering fire power behind Iggy's raucous, one-man spectacle.
Barely taking a breath, Iggy launched right into "The Passenger." By the time he got to "La-la-la-lalalala" part, vikings were crying all over the place. He did all the classic tracks of course--"Lust For Life," "16," "Nightclubbing," and "1969." Motherfucker is 68 years old but it is the same Iggy as 1972, and he did not disappoint as he jumped on speakers, danced, and dumped water on himself and the crowd.
During "I'm Bored," he accidentally threw his mic stand across the stage and hit a security guard when the ricocheted off the floor. To his credit, Iggy stopped the song for a sec to say sorry, even though the crowd was probably collectively jealous they weren't lucky enough to absorb the blow themselves. Iggy shows are very Dionysian. You really don't know or care what is going to happen but you know it's going to be great. After the set I was talking with one of the security guards (not the one who got hit with the mic stand), and he said something that I thought was right on the money. He said Iggy is a performer in the same vein as James Brown and he felt honored to been able to see him--truer words had never been spoken.
After Iggy's set, we collected ourselves and went home before Belle and Sebastian and Run the Jewels--yes we are old and had to get up in morning. Or what they call morning because there is no night, to take in the touristy side of Iceland. After all, we did come all this way and there is more to do and see then you can do on one trip. Geysers, the blue lagoon water falls, wild horses, breath taking views for days. It all had to be done before ATP the next evening as we had to see Mudhoney and Drive Like Jehu, followed by Godspeed, You! Black Emperor.
We showed up the next night for the end of Mudhoney, which had a lot people upfront and the band really put on a good show. Drive Like Jehu, who have been traveling the festival circuit this year as well, were extremely tight as screams erupted from the mouth of singer and lead guitarist Rick Frogberg. Then came God Speed, You! Black Emperor. Though there were no shortage of performers on stage and sonically it was one of the nosiest sets of the weekend, by the end of the two-hour set, it seemed like there were more people in the band than in the crowd. We were all busy enjoying a beer and leg of lamb in the sun at midnight.
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By the third day we were pretty wiped out and spent most of the day at the blue lagoons but had to make it for the Swans two-hour set. I gotta say, when I saw they were going to play for two hours, I was getting flashbacks of Godspeed's tediously boring set before I even got to the stage. But to my surprise, it felt like the perfect amount of time. Swans have 13 albums and change in style from one song to another and I was glad we hopped on the bus.
All in all, ATP Iceland was one of the coolest festivals with nicest staff and great fans. I didn't see one fight or any kind of problems inside the gates or in all of Iceland for that matter. It is a wonderful place to go with wonderful people, food and stuff to do and I have a feeling I will be back with or with out Iggy. And that is saying a lot in my book.