What It's Like to Go to the World's Most Remote Disco
A guy wearing steampunk goggles for no apparent reason has just arrived and taken up a central spot on the dance floor with gusto. One woman in dungaree shorts and a man in a bright red bowtie are dancing as though it’s their first-ever club night, forcing everyone in their orbit to jump out of the path of their unpredictable flying limbs. Two people have had passionate, life-depends-on-it kisses (we weren’t looking for them, they just crossed our eye line). There is a whoop and communal energy rush every time the antique, spotlit disco ball revolves into action, casting speckling gems of light around the hall.
So far, so typically discotheque–we could be in Bethnal Green on a Saturday night surrounded by East London’s regular merry band of eccentrics and artistes. But the thing that really stands out is that, when you draw back one of the vintage red drapes, it’s still daylight outside–at nearly 11 p.m.. So much so that other dancers crinkle their eyes and screw up their faces until you block the light out again. It’s also unusual for the security team to come and slyly watch the DJ sets themselves from the back of the room. “It’s nice to see people dancing and not just drunk,” one local mutters.
These are the giveaway signs that we’re actually somewhere a little further from home. A lot further. Because this is the inaugural Detour Discotheque, the so-called party at the edge of the world–“a pop-up nightclub bringing peace, love and mirror balls to incredible locations.” And the very first destination is Þingeyri, in the Westfjords of Iceland, population of approximately 326 – which means that when 200 or so visitors arrive for two nights of clubbing, most residents are going to notice.
We have snow to thank for the choice of venue. Editor, DJ and Detour Discotheque founder Jonny Ensall first visited the village in 2018. He was there to write an article about a co-working space that had opened the summer before, Blábankinn aka The Blue Bank, intrigued by the fact that true digital nomads could now travel to such remote places. The village is accessible via a short domestic flight from Reykjavík on a small, 30-seater plane, landing in a narrow, often windy valley that only top-level pilots can handle (the standard of the local pilots is a matter of pride), followed by a 45-minute drive. During Jonny’s visit, a snowstorm meant his return flight had to be postponed, leaving him with a surprise extra night in town. His hosts took him to the annual Hjónaball–a couple’s dance in the village hall – and the rest is disco history. “There was something so special about the vibe at the venue, I knew I had to share it with more people,” he says. Throw in some blue-sky thinking triggered by a boundary-shifting global pandemic, and the idea for Detour Discotheque was crystallized.
By the time the actual dates roll around in 2022 they’re both sold out. “We actually held back some tickets, as we’d been told that typically laidback Icelanders are likely to think about what they’re doing that evening on the day,” Jonny explains. In the end, the crowd is about 60 per cent local, 40 per cent international visitors. The hall, with its grey exterior and peeling paint on the windows, looks a little lackluster from outside, but this only makes its transformation into some sort of community Studio 54 once you step inside (and squint) all the more unexpected, with its gold tinsel draped from the DJ booth, rustic-chic fairy-lit chill-out area, hundreds of colorful balloons taped to the ceiling and traditional stage framed by heavy red curtains.
The two-night DJ lineup is split between the soul, Afro, Latin, Seventies, and Eighties sounds of the Friday-night residents, Jonny with Joss–his co-jock since they were 17, playing together everywhere from Yorkshire to Oslo Hackney, where they’ve spun for the last five years–and three guests on the Saturday. Coming over from his home city Chicago Rahaan travels the furthest of anyone, partiers included, to play the first set in Iceland of his 40-year, disco-purist career, while rising star Norsicaa makes it from London to blend her mix of modern disco, house and Afro rhythms (as the closing DJ she also wouldn’t stop playing until her decks were manually taken over). However, the real musical highlight, aptly, is the only Icelander on the agenda: the distinctive, red-pigtailed Hermigervill, an old-school big name on Reykjavik’s music scene, whose live set of electro-bleeps-meets-deranged-voice-distorter gets the crowd almost as excited as he is.
But going to a remote Detour Disco is far from being just about the club nights themselves. You don’t even have to really love disco, to be honest. It’s the preparation beforehand (combining packing for both a one-off Seventies-themed night out and Icelandic between-season weather). It’s the travel there (one dedicated British woman hitch-hiked from France as part of a summer of backpacking). It’s all the people you meet on your travels. And it’s what else you squeeze onto your itinerary in a wholly different place on earth from the one you know back home, or have even experienced on other, more traditional trips.
We spent a night wandering the surprisingly low-level, multi-colored little streets of Reykjavik, stunned every time we spotted mountains at the end of the roads. After sampling its appropriately famed restaurant scene at Apothek (trying Arctic char for the first time, caught just a few feet away) and its bustling, creative clusters of bars, we boarded the tiny plane to the Westfjords. The landscape we saw both from thousands of feet on high and once grounded was unlike anything we’d ever witnessed: dramatic black crevasses criss-crossed with snow like icing, peppered with moss and wild grasses and noticeably naked of trees.
After a visit to a local bakery teeming with intriguing pastry concoctions–and finding out that, on particularly stormy, cold winter days, coffees laced with all sorts of spirits appear on the menu as early as 9 a.m.–we were out at sea. Huddled in life jackets aboard the Aurora, a ship that has sailed around the world four times, we searched the horizon for whales and puffins (spotting the latter, casually bobbing on the waves), fished off the side, sampled craft beer by the Westfjord’s only brewhouse, Dokkan Brugghas, and learned from our hosts that all Icelandic films must have three ingredients: funerals (at least two), lots of nudity and something weird (the 2022 BAFTA-nominated Lamb is a fine example.)
Other unforgettable Icelandic experiences included visiting Ósvör maritime Museum, a replica of a 19th-century fishing station, discovering how fishermen lived not so long ago in freezing conditions (sharing single beds for warmth by night, wearing sharkskin slippers by day). Somehow, the morning after the final party, we managed to climb to the arrestingly beautiful and head fog-vamosing Dynjandi waterfalls, known as the jewel of the westfjords, seeking out rainbows in its froth. Once back on the outskirts of Reykjavik, we slathered on purifying volcanic facemasks in the Blue Lagoon, steamy mist rising all around us, the water so electric blue it didn’t seem real.
Still, while all of these vivid experiences will no doubt stand out in our travel memories, they are already woven into Iceland’s tourist trail. Detour Discotheque 2022 was something entirely new and unique, seeing curious people from entirely contrasting backgrounds, at all different stages of life, sharing one special weekend on the dance floor together.
Those in the hall at 3am(ish—once Norsicaa was dragged off the decks) on Sunday morning gather together to pose for a photo taken from the DJ booth; evidence they made it to the bitter end, before walking home in an ethereal, early dawn light. Apparently, the Northern Lights had been wheeling across the skies above us as we danced inside. Three men, inexplicably painting the inside of a nearby house at this time in the morning, invite us all in for an after-party. The event’s scheduled bus to the slightly less remote town of Isafjörður sails by with only one person on it. The rest of the crowd appears to have already disappeared into the dawn mist. It seems you never know exactly what’s going to happen next at Detour Discotheque. The 2023 edition is taking place on the Scottish Isle of Coll in September, and is set to be as dramatic as exciting as the first.
Detour Discotheque is taking place on the Scottish Isle of Coll from 22-23 September 2023. Tickets are £95. Sign up to the newsletter at detourdisco.com to find out when the second release of tickets is dropping; See westfjords.is for the ultimate things to do in the Westfjords of Iceland.
This article was originally published on Condé Nast Traveller UK.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler