After acquainting myself with Secret Solstice Friday, I felt fully prepared to tackle it Saturday. My hangover was gone by noon, my ears had stopped ringing (and I remembered to bring earplugs with me!), my purse was stocked with a full bottle of water, and—this is the most important part—the sun actually came out for a good 40 minutes or so, a promising sign indeed.
I got to Solstice kind of late Saturday, so I missed the young Icelandic rapper Lord Pu$$whip’s set at Fenrir tent. I did, however, spot him running around the festival grounds quite a bit, donned in all black, galloping past like some mythical dark unicorn of Secret Solstice.
I spent most of the afternoon bopping around the Ragnarök and Askur tents, partly because it was a nice warm-up for the night with some easy electronic music, but also because it literally kept me warm (mmm masses of bodies under a tent… nothin’ better). I know I’m supposed to be used to this shit because I’m from Michigan, but honestly, “festival weather” to me means I’m sweating off five layers of sunscreen and body paint—not shuffling back and forth trying to dance in my shearling coat. Ah, but at least it didn’t rain. I was reminded of good ol’ Michigan, however, by some of the artists under these tents—the smooth dance DJs of Droog at Askur tent, for instance, definitely played at DEMF (Detroit Electronic Music Festival) a few years ago. The tents were a good way to ease into the festival for a couple hours, although something definitely felt off about dancing to techno in broad daylight with lots of space in between me and everyone else. But anyway. A good warm-up.
I headed to Valhalla, one of the outdoor stages, where I saw the reappearance of white girls with foreheads bedazzled with rhinestone bindis (nooooooo!). I wanted to catch the “secret headliner” Busta Rhymes, except when I got there, it wasn’t Busta Rhymes that I saw on stage, but rather a pair of Icelandic rappers, Tiny and (recently notorious Bam-puncher) Gísli Pálmi, trying to raise the energy of the crowd by grabbing their crotches and yelling at us to “put our fucking hands up,” etc. It was kind of entertaining for a second, until I realized the poor boys were stalling. I headed over to Gimli, the other outdoor stage, to kill time while I waited for Busta Rhymes to finish screwing around.
Icelandic electro-pop group FM Belfast was just getting started when I got to Gimli, and, okay, full disclosure: they are fun. They are a catchy, brightly-coloured group of fun, good-spirited, suspenders-wearing people who make music for people who like to hop around and feel young again. High school me would have eaten this shit up, but unfortunately, the light in my soul has long since extinguished, so I couldn’t stand FM Belfast. That doesn’t mean I won’t admit that they’re good at doing what they do—they are. They enticed a substantial crowd to jump around like idiots and forget their worries and their strife for almost an hour straight—pretty impressive, especially considering the fact that they were technically competing with Busta frickin’ Rhymes (that is, if he had made it to the stage yet).
Once I could hear faint echoes of Busta Rhymes over the electro-fueled joy of FM Belfast, I headed over to catch at least a half hour of his set. Apparently, I didn’t miss much, given that a certain Mr. Rhymes was tardy by about 40 minutes. But what I managed to see, at least, was entertaining. I have no idea what he was rapping in that growly voice of his. Howwever, whatever he was saying, he was saying it really fast! So there’s that!
He also spent quite awhile shouting at the crowd in an attempt to wake us up, shouting at one point to ask if we were tired, then yelling again, “Yeah, okay good, I don’t feel like fucking around!” He checked in again later to make sure people were still with it. “Hey, Iceland?” (Minimal response.) “HEY, ICELAND?” (Some murmurs.) “HHHEEEY, ICELAND?!” Yikes.
As a result of going on so late, Busta Rhymes ended up squeezing maybe half an album’s worth of songs into the last three minutes of his set. “Okay, here’s the first one,” he’d say, then play at most thirty seconds of a song before he’d shout, “Gimme another classic!” and switch to a different hit. At one point, he sang a rendition of O.T. Genasis’ “CoCo” and everyone expectedly freaked out, but only for about thirty seconds, before Busta Rhymes switched again. C’mon, Busta Rhymes! Time! Management!
I next headed over to Ragnarök tent to catch Berndsen and dj. flugvél og geimskip back-to-back. I was pleasantly surprised by Berndsen, a burly, beardy red-headed man in black leather and a “FAKE ART NOT WAR” t-shirt, who makes music that’s nothing like what he looks like. In this cosy tent, I got an hour of cheesy, unabashed, ’80s-inspired pop from the three grown men that make up Berndsen. But it wasn’t about Berndsen’s music so much as his performance, jazz-fingers-ing and melodramatic arm-flailing, jumping into the crowd at one point and taking off his shirt at the end of the show in a dramatic display of body positivity.
After Berndsen came the equally entertaining dj. flugvél og geimskip (“DJ Airplane and Spaceship”). Decked out in lace tights, endless sequins, and chunky sandals, she stomped around the stage precisely arranging her set just so—a touch of metallic streamers here, a disco ball there, a mini fog machine here, a giant cardboard cartoon something-or-other over there, and some lit incense to spread all around the crowd. Flugvél gives off an appropriately spacey overall persona, and the whole set was very zany and DIY in a way that tickles that childhood part of me that gets excited about turning a cardboard box into a spaceship for the day or something. Imagination—I think that’s the word.
Dj. flugvél og geimskip sings in Icelandic, so I have no clue what most of her songs are about, but I do know her first song was about the evil cats that lurk around Reykjavík, partly because I’ve watched a video with her explaining the meaning of the song, but also because the chorus of the song is “meow, meow, meow, meow, meow…” It was endearing for a little bit, but I think part of her show relies on this kind of “weird kid” image a little too much. But I don’t think it’s forced or fake at all, and again, we’ve established earlier that I hate fun, so, keep that in mind. Flugvél’s best song was her “hit” (relatively speaking) “Hjari veraldar” (“Edge of the Universe”), a boppy, beat-heavy, strangely off-key but melodic tune.
After flugvél og geimskip’s performance and killing time with some friends, I decided it was late enough in the night to head to Hel. I should mention that, following the barely-present theme of Norse mythology at the festival (there were a couple statues…), each stage is named after some area of the universe in Norse mythology. Valhalla, for instance, is the Norse name for the afterlife, while Hel, is, yeah, Hell. And man was that a fitting name.
I can say without a trace of irony that Hel is where I finally felt completely comfortable during Solstice. Located in some sort of arena, Hel was a dark, massive, steaming pit of bodies and pumping electronic music. It was easy to get lost in the crowd, dizzied by red lasers, but every now and then I’d wander outside of the crowd and sit up in the bleachers, staring down at hundreds if not thousands of bodies twitching under frantic strobe lights. I caught UK DJ Heidi and French DJ Miss Kittin in Hel, and both delivered solid sets, perfect for a hellish night away from that never-ending Icelandic sun. I danced away my sins for a few hours, finally emerging from the inferno to catch the sunrise over the water on the walk back, the true star of the show. Happy Solstice.