Meet Fríði Djurhuus, frontman of the Faroe Islands' first queer vegan punk band

Fríði Djurhuus performs with Joe & the Shitboys on the streets
Fríði Djurhuus performs with Joe & the Shitboys on the streets Copyright Gwenäel Akira Helmsdal Carré
By Jonny Walfisz
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Ahead of their third album launch, Euronews Culture spoke to Fríði Djurhuus, frontman of the barnstorming Faroese band Joe & the Shitboys.

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In the north Atlantic, halfway between Norway and Iceland, there is an archipelago of stark cliff faces, gulf stream-blasted land, and sheer volcanic peaks. Howling wind and lashing waves are the main soundtrack here… alongside a young queer vegan punk band changing attitudes.

Just 54,000 people live on the Faroe Islands – part of the Kingdom of Denmark – and its inhabitants often describe the entire territory as a small village. Life in the village comes with its benefits. “You have to be nice to each other. You have to coexist in harmony,” says Fríði Djurhuus.

“Let’s say you and I have a disagreement and I think what you’re saying is absolutely terrible, like ‘holy shit, how can you think this?’ If I confront you too harshly, even if you totally deserve it, I’m still going to have to see you at the store or a friend’s house or at church or a family reunion,” Djurhuus explains.

There’s an irony to Djurhuus’ analysis of Faroese small village theory. He’s the lead singer of Joe & the Shitboys, an abrasive punk band with political songs that are the definition of confrontational. Just the song titles: ‘Save the Planet, You Dumb Shit’; ‘If You Believe in Eating Meat Start with Your Dog’; and ‘Drugs R’4 Kidz’ give you a taste.

Watch Joe & the Shitboys live and their confrontational nature is taken up a notch. Not content with just thickly ironic lyrics like “I miss the good ol' days/When dad would beat the piss out of me/When we killed the gays and only I felt free”, Djurhuus spends a significant portion of gigs taunting audience members for their political contradictions.

Why has such a confrontational band gained traction in the Faroes? “I think it’s fresh to people. You’re not supposed to say exactly what you feel. You’re supposed to cover it with a bunch of stuff,” Djurhuus says. He’ll call you out. But he’s calling everyone out in an odd perversion of inclusivity that somehow makes sense. “I want it to be a safe space where you’re gonna get called out.”

Joe & the Shitboys are on the verge of their third album’s release on 1 March. They’ve only been together for a few years but their rise has been huge for the country. They won Band of the Year at the Faroese Music Awards in 2020 and have toured extensively outside the Faroes.

It’s a far cry from Djurhuus’ upbringing, in the bible belt of the Faroe Islands. While capital city Tórshavn is hardly a bustling metropolis, Søldarfjørður, the village he grew up in on the island of Eysturoy is another level of remote entirely. It had one convenience store but even that closed when he was nine years old.

Growing up in Søldarfjørður meant your social life revolved either around church or football for a young boy. Unable to fit in, Djurhuus spent his early childhood at home playing video games before expanding his repertoire to drugs and vandalism. “It was a very lonely experience in a lot of ways. But I think a lot of people share this loneliness if they don’t fit in those two boxes.”

Via the influence of older brother Heini, aged 17, Djurhuus started going to bars where metal bands were playing. Through metal, he started to form a new family. Even among the metal fans though, a culture of misogyny and homophobia were rife. “I turned a blind eye to it at first,” Djurhuus says. “Finally, I had some people. I didn’t want to fuck it up.”

A village in Fríði's home island of Eysturoy
A village in Fríði's home island of EysturoyCanva

“Eventually it became too much though and I started calling it out,” Djurhuus recalls. This rejection was the basis for his band Iron Lungs. Where Joe & the Shitboys revel in simplistic punk musical stylings over minute-long songs, Iron Lungs’ music is complexly composed melodic metal. 2017’s single ‘Andromedan’ is a sweeping epic that dashes through genres, with Djurhuus alternating between screaming and singing.

The evolution of Djurhuus to punk frontman happened almost by accident. Many drinks deep, his friend Ziggy offhand suggested they make something low-fi. Ziggy then formed a band of friends called the Shitboys and demanded Djurhuus join as Joe to make a “bullshit one-off single”.

Over a two-hour session, the newly formed band wrote, rehearsed and recorded two songs. Everyone was so blown over by how well they worked together, they got back in the studio. Over two five-hour sessions, they recorded the entire first album ‘The Reason for Hardcore Vibes’.

Joe & the Shitboys resonated beyond just the recording studio. Their rise as a “Queer Vegan Shitpunk” band makes them unique in the Faroe Islands. Although Djurhuus points out other queer artists like Heidrik á Heygum (who Ziggy Shit also plays for), queer people are thin on the ground still in the Faroe Islands.

“When I was younger, I remember hearing that there was a gay guy in the capital. One gay guy,” Djurhuus recalls. Today, Djurhuus is comfortably out as a bisexual man with a large queer social group, but he still faces prejudice. Sometimes it’s bi-erasure coming from the queer community itself. But it can also come from outside the community, where it can be a lot scarier.

Fríði, in a calmer state than his on-stage persona
Fríði, in a calmer state than his on-stage personaGwenäel Akira Helmsdal Carré

“I got called a ‘fucking faggot’ and was physically attacked as I was walking home with my then-girlfriend. It’s very stupid but it does happen,” Djurhuus says. With the small village mentality of the Faroes, Djurhuus often can’t even confront his abusers with the violence he’d like to. “If I were to confront, then I’m the one creating problems. Even if someone calls me a ‘faggot’ I have to respond calmly. Usually I ask some questions and they think we’re friends. But we’re not fucking friends.”

On stage, there’s no sense of the polite withholding Faroe culture requires. Djurhuus is more than happy to scream his beliefs into a mic. Since their inception, they’ve become a regular feature of Faroe Pride’s unofficial afterparty. Originally in 2019, the official party wouldn’t put them on the bill despite being a rare queer band as they didn’t want to upset the conservative public. The Pride organisation has since offered Joe & the Shitboys a spot that the band refused.

The idea that music can change lives sometimes feels like one from a bygone era when rockstars changed perceptions about sex, drugs and the Vietnam War. In the Faroes, Joe & the Shitboys can feel the cultural shift they are a part of. Some fans have told them they’ve been inspired to go vegetarian. Others have come out of the closet listening to them. Another fan even chose to move back to the Faroes seeing new possibilities for acceptance.

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In one instance, a trans boy came to the Pride afterparty a few years ago and met the band. A few years later, he reintroduced himself to Djurhuus. “He showed me his arms that were covered in scars. He told me that after the [Pride] show, he’d never cut himself again.”

Just seeing the band perform and chatting to Djurhuus, the young boy had seen there was space for him in the isolated archipelago. “That was pretty cool. It means we’re definitely making a difference.”

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