Fanø: A Haven for Music

By Søren Jensen Lund |

Fanø is the home of various traditions. The most noteworthy would probably be the folk music and the folk dance traditions from the city Sønderho, yet new traditions are emerging. One of these is Fanø Free Folk Festival which celebrated its six year anniversary this year. This summer took the pulse of the old and new traditions on Fanø.

It was not a coincidence That Rasmus Hjortshøj Steffensen in 2010 chose the small Danish island Fanø as the host of the Fanø Free Folk Festival. He was already familiar with the inhabitants of the island, people who, like himself, were interested in experimental folk and psychedelic music in all its varieties.

– I knew the author Jeppe Brixvold. He had told me about the music and of the art community that exists here. I was very intrigued by it, Rasmus Hjortshøj Steffensen explains.

Jeppe Brixvold uses spoken word as the singer of the trio ‘Det Yderste Hav’ (The Outermost Sea), which also consists of violinist Peter Uhrbrand and guitarist Jørgen Bjørslev. In the summer of 2015 the trio released their album ‘Sønderhoninger’.

Traditions and new experiments
-The idea of creating a festival on a island allured me. Rasmus Hjortshøj Steffensen clarifies; I believe that there lies some form of magic in the notion that you have to go across water. I chose Fanø because of my personal relations to the people here but also because I was interested in establishing a connection between folk music and new experimental music. Therefore, I found it exciting to do it in a place like Fanø, and in particular Sønderho, as they are places which are overflowing with folk music traditions.

Rasmus Hjortshøj Steffensen characterises the musical profile of Fanø Free Folk Festival as a meeting between folk music traditions and new experiments. It is a folk festival that unearths the recesses of the folk genres.

-It is not only folk music as a genre but as a concept, which this music is seen in relation to. It might be electronic music with only a hint of folk by the use of, for example, ethnic instruments. It can also be rock music with rays of folk, or it might be people who are venturing into experimental territories and into free and jazzed up improvisations, according to Rasmus Hjortshøj Steffensen.

-Furthermore, I believe that the reason the festival came to be on this island is because of the wish to create a more intimate space for this kind of music. Music that is related due to its fragility and intimacy, which I find can be difficult to obtain at a large festival such as Roskilde Festival. I feel that the size and the scope is relevant for the experience of the music, which is also the feedback we get from our audience.

The music is not self sufficient
A couple of years ago violinist Tove de Fries moved to Fanø. She has been playing folk music her entire life, and the music from Sønderho made a special imprint on her. Yet, according to her the music is not self sufficient. The dance, the party and the culture surrounding the music is vital.

-It would be nothing without it. We are often asked about the music of Sønderho and more often than not, we tend to describe the music as something which can be technically learned and the better you are as a musician the more you are able to play. However, in reality it is all about being a good artisan because it is the interaction between the people dancing and the music which sustains it, makes it evolve and creates a fun experience, Tove de Fries explains. She is often amongst the musicians who play at balls at the Village Hall and at other venues on Fanø.

-It is a mixture of fun and seriousness, people here possesses an immense sense of pride. They know very well the value of the music and that their dance and music traditions are unique. If we, the musicians, stood there, on stage with the intention of becoming mega stars and that we should decide what to play and how to play, it would all fall apart. We play according to the dancers. In that sense it is extremely local and that is what the rest of the world comes to experience – the sense of community surrounding the music and the dance culture of this town.

The poetry and ‘Det Yderste Hav’
Rasmus Hjortshøj Steffensen was not that familiar with folk music and dance traditions on Fanø – other than what he had gathered from friends from the island.

-I became curious about it, and throughout the years we have tried to implement parts of it in different ways. The very first year we hosted the festival we chose to let ‘Det Yderste Hav’ open the festival which was very well received by the audience. Even though their version of Fanø music is not typical it still has roots there. And people, who would not normally go to concerts of that kind, thought it was a fine way to open the festival. We have tried to do something similar each year – to somehow introduce local musicians or to present something else with ties to the tradition.

Tove de Fries holds a huge amount of respect for the way ‘Det Yderste Hav’ interprets Fanø music:

-When you hear Jeppe sing Fanø music or when he uses spoken words… that takes guts! For us here in Sønderho it is a great perspective to be presented to. Theirs is a very, very honest approach which makes the music become something other than the usual. They are able to do what the Sønderho music is all about, that is to uncover the poetry, the interpretations – all that which is present in the underlying layers of the music you hear at the balls. And it takes a certain amount of experience to be able to do that properly, ponders Tove de Fries.

Micro festival with a global perspective
-Rasmus [Hjortshøj Steffensen ] told me to speak with Laura Cannell, a violinist who is playing at the church tonight and at Exners Art Trade tomorrow. She is supposed to have a certain interest in and to have studied the music, thus I am curious as to her character. She plays traditional English and medieval music. Our music here in Sønderho is very old fashioned and it can often be described with medieval terms. She has never been here before, so it will be interesting to discover what she has made of the Fanø music she has heard beforehand. Normally, the Sønderho music can only be comprehended if you are present at Fanø. It will be exciting to know what a musician makes of the music, when it is presented without all of the other parts – the dances, the party at the village hall, the town and the combination of it all.

Rasmus Hjortshøj Steffensen has no ambitions to make the festival bigger. This year 150 tickets has been sold and the Fanø Free Folk Festival holds a maximum capacity of 200.

-Our ambition is to make the festival a micro festival with a global perspective, which fits with the kind of place that Sønderho is: A place from which people have travelled and a place to which people have brought inspiration from the world. Our mission is to make Fanø Free Folk Festival a haven for music that will impact Sønderho, Rasmus Hjortshøj Steffensen concludes.

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