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Greenland’s Arctic Sounds festival is not only a unique platform that unites indigenous talent with overseas artists in remarkable ways, it is also at the heart of a project designed to inspire young people to take action to mitigate climate change.

Some 75km north of the arctic circle, framed by icy sea and rugged snow-shrouded mountains, the tiny, stunningly remote and beautiful Greenlandic settlement of Sisimuit is an extreme and extremely unlikely spot for an international music festival.

Greenland’s second largest ‘city’, Sisimuit has a tiny population made up of 5,500 people, and some 1,200 husky dogs that reside in an area on the outskirts the locals call ‘dog town’. With the temperature regularly dropping to -15C in spring, and with no roads to link Sisimiut to anywhere else, it takes a tough and resilient spirit to live there let alone launch a festival.

Arctic Sounds festival attracts artists from across Europe and beyond, despite Greenland only being serviced by direct flights from Copenhagen and Reykjavik.

The opening show of this year’s festival illustrated just how unique an event Arctic Sounds is. In the Taseralik culture centre, located on the bank of a frozen lake, four artists took to the stage fresh from a five-day dog sledding trip from the town of Kangerlussuaq, some 130 km away across the arctic tundra. The performance consisted of songs written during, and inspired by, the artists’ journey through the frozen arctic wilderness, which involved sleeping in remote wooden huts.

“We work a lot with what we call the uniqueness factor.” – Jacob Froberg

To ensure the performance was a raw reflection of the emotions experienced on the expedition, the artists were asked to perform the freshly written material live on stage before they even had a chance to take a shower. “We’re not smelling great, I advise you to keep your distance,” laughed Manchester-based rapper OneDa (pictured) before delivering the first piece. She was joined by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Lucky Lo, local guitarist and songwriter Hans-Ole, and award-winning Faroese musician and composer Teitur.

The result was an emotionally charged and ultimately euphoric set made up of songs delivered direct from the heart. Over the following four days, the festival saw around 50 performances across 12 venues, along with a show on the edge of the Aqqutikitsoq glacier that required audience members to make a 40km journey by snowmobile.

With the event team’s focus being on encouraging creativity and artist development, Arctic Sounds also included a youth program that involved bringing 140 talented children from Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Greenland and Nunavut together for a week of workshops and co-creation leading up to the festival.

The driving force behind Arctic Sounds is Jacob Froberg (pictured), who founded the festival 10 years ago. Having run a recording studio in Denmark, and been a touring musician, Froberg came to Greenland in 2006 to start a music school.

He says, “We started doing monthly open stage events at the culture centre and in time the local kids got better at performing. We wanted to inspire them further and enable them to experience a different kind of live music scene from beyond Sisimiut. So, I started talking to people about creating a music festival here. At first we considered doing a metal festival because there were so many local metal bands, but a metal festival is hard to stage because there’s so much production involved.”

Arctic Sounds was born on the back of a song writing camp, with everyone from the bar staff to the sound technicians being volunteers. Since then, the event has not only attracted major international talent but played a huge role in progressing local artists.

“It’s been crucial for everyone involved,” says Froberg. “We try to get all the overseas artists to come for 10 days and take part in collaborative projects, workshops and master classes, so that they work with and build networks with other artists. Among the many offshoot projects was Arctic Assembly, which saw songwriters record an album in Nuuk.”

With the event being not-for-profit, there’s limited funding available to throw at artist fees. All acts, no matter where they appear on the Arctic Sounds bill, receive the same fee. Despite the limited remuneration, Froberg says Arctic Sounds has built a very positive reputation among international acts.

“We work a lot with what we call the uniqueness factor, which involves us offering truly unique experiences such as glacier trips, snowmobiling and dog sledding,” he says. “The festival is as much for the artists as it is for the audience, and so artists feel well treated here.  They often want to return, and they encourage others to play here.

“What I am most proud of is the impact the festival has had on local artists and the young people here who as a result have seen that there are job and education opportunities in the live music industry. That didn’t happen before Arctic Sounds.”

Taseralik Culture Centre in Sisimiut

Performing on the front line of climate change

 An ever-apparent aspect of life in Greenland is the impact climate change is having on the environment. “It is very obvious here, especially the glaciers and the permafrost,” says Froberg. “If you’re in any doubt whether climate change exists, come here, look around, and you won’t be in doubt anymore.”

The whole of Sisimiut and therefore Arctic Sounds, is powered by a nearby hydroelectric power plant, and Froberg says sustainability is a key focus across the running of the event. However, with no roads linking towns in Greenland, one of the obvious issues is that it is not just overseas attendees and artists that are required to fly to the event.

“The alternative to travelling by plane here is that we isolate ourselves completely or we move away from Greenland but that would exterminate Greenlandic culture. Greenlanders have been forcefully relocated by colonisers in the past, and that has been disastrous,” says Froberg.

In order to raise awareness of, and illustrate, the impact climate change is having in Greenland, Arctic Sounds has partnered with Ruth Daniel at the In Place of War charity and its EarthSonic initiative.

Daniel (pictured) explains that EarthSonic is a global project created with the aim of telling the story of climate change through music. To enable that, her team is working with indigenous communities, musicians, cultural organisers, scientists, climate activists and experts.

“We are using music to tell the story of climate change.” ­– Ruth Daniel

She says the project aims to distil complicated data and reach young people’s hearts and minds, inspiring a clear call to action and unifying a movement to stop climate change.

As well as the creation of a record label with a roster of artists reworking the sounds of climate change in the natural environment, including everything from whale songs to receding glaciers, a key element of the plan is to stage and stream live concerts featuring indigenous artists in disappearing environments.

As a result, Daniel is at Arctic Sounds with Bicep sound engineer Dom Morris and Andrew Melchior; a creative technologist and producer who is Massive Attack’s chief technical officer and has worked extensively with acts including David Bowie and Björk. Their plan is to stage an event on Greenland’s Russell Glacier at next year’s Arctic Sounds and stream it around the world. That will be followed by performances at other sites including a polluted river in Brazil and a melting frozen sea in Finland.

“The big theme that led us to form EarthSonic is using music to tell the story of climate change and to inspire young people to take action by creating unique musical happenings,” she says.

The plan for the Russell Glacier event is to stage a performance by indigenous artists of work they have created with overseas acts, including Bicep, that will be released as an album. Among the acts involved are Greenlandic rapper Tarrak, local death metal band Sound of the Damned and Inuit throat singing duo Silla.

The Russell Glacier performance will be streamed on Earth Day 2025 via partners including BBC, Resident Advisor, The Guardian and Beatport, and at venues including Outernet London and IMAX. It will form part of a four-year programme of climate change awareness generating activities supported by a major PR campaign and ambassadors including Brian Eno.

Melchior (pictured) is set to production manage the glacier show, working with Arctic Sounds’ tech crew and the In Place of War team. He is also involved in side projects including one designed to get local young people engaged not only in monitoring the impact of climate change but also creating music from it.

He says, “Because this town has got such a strong academic energy, where people are really keen to learn about technology, Jacob and I thought it might be fun to do a project where we get cheap minicomputers, such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and run classes with children teaching them to design their own sensor, distribute and maintain them. It would be a mass observational exercise, and then when we’ve got the data collated the idea would be to create a sequencer that was, in essence, creating generative music.”

Daniel says working with Froberg and the team at Arctic Sounds has been instrumental: “It has been the absolute pinnacle of the project. What’s great about Arctic Sounds is that it is a festival by night but then you have these opportunities by day to have conversations with the artists about what the music means and why it’s important to preserve the local culture, and to understand better what’s been happening here with climate change and what that means for the future.”