A comprehensive overview of the 2016 Secret Solstice experience.
Flatbush Zombies incited a minor riot on the Valhalla Stage. The Brooklyn rap trio tore up the stage with an amazing performance, most of it shirtless. Their music is under the obvious influence of horrorcore groups like Gravediggaz and copious amounts of cannabis. Middle fingers and joints were up in the air everywhere in the audience and at one point one of the rappers ran into the crowd and started a mosh pit.
Gísli Pálmi is a phenomenon. I think he has similarities with both Riff Raff and Die Antwoord, in that his thang is equal parts music and performance art. I don’t know where to put his music on the irony-sincerity scale or if I should not believe the hype, denounce it or just tag along with it. But this night he brought his A-game and owned the stage and every person in a 200-metres radius. The intoxicated youth went berserk over him and a disproportionately high percentage of the crowd seemed to know the lyrics to every song.
GusGus is an Icelandic dance music institution, and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word. I don’t like to use the cliche “well-oiled machine,” but that’s what the Gus-Gus live show is, except with a soul inside. Daníel Ágúst, dressed in all red, holds a long note like no other Icelandic singer and he manipulates his own voice live with a reverb/echo gadget. And you should never forget the brain of the whole operation, Biggi Veira, standing in the back tweaking the sounds, pushing all the right buttons.
After the biggest heat wave Reykjavík has seen in years the gods suddenly decided to rain on the Secret Solstice parade; it was gloomy grey, raining and cold.
The sound at Hjaltalín
I love Hjaltalín, especially their latest LP, but good sound quality is absolutely crucial for their live show. That was nowhere to found at the Gimli stage during their show so I promptly left.
And The Middle-Aged Mediocrity
I can’t say I wasn’t a bit disappointed at the announcement of the Secret headliner Sister Sledge. While I love many of their songs, their greatness is mainly the product of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, aka Chic, who wrote, performed on and produced all of their classic albums. With them nowhere to be found (to be fair, Edwards is deceased), the sisters’ backing band was a very competent but quite white gang of session players. The sisters still had some dance moves but their voices were obviously past their peak. They also did a lot of medleys, covers and “woop woop”’s that were too middle aged and Las Vegas-y for my taste.
Not of the drum’n’bass generation or a Goldie enthusiast, I still danced my rectum off at the Goldie show. He had two rappers with him to pump up the crowd and the main man behind the turntables and gadgetry was smirking through his gold teeth the whole time, visibly still enjoying his work after 20-plus years.
Thom Yorke, his lazy eye and the rest of the gang started quietly but slowly gained momentum throughout their amazing two-plus-hour set. Though not a Radiohead fanboy that knows all their album cuts and b-sides, I enjoyed the amazing playing, especially Thom Yorke’s inspired epilepsy dancing and Jonny Greenwood’s pyrotechnica; guitar playing and effortlessly cool demeanour. By “Idioteque,” the last song before the first encore, I had fallen into some sort of a trance and when 10,000 people sang, “For a minute there, I lost myself,” I felt like one piece of a large collective-consciousness puzzle.
I have no idea what DJ was playing but I was in a techno trance for about three hours. Good times.
The heat at the Radiohead concert
The “new” Laugardalshöll has the capacity for about 10,000 people but has serious problem with ventilation. It was not so packed, I was quite far up by the front of the stage but the crowd wasn’t shoulder-to-shoulder, there was personal space for everyone. But the heat was almost intolerable, there was an Amazon river of sweat running down my whole body and I almost left at one point, despite the awesomeness of the performance.
And the Wacky
The keyboardist and one of the founding architects of Stuðmenn, one of Iceland’s most enduring pop groups, played an unbelievably weird set at the Valhalla Stage in the afternoon. He was dressed like a bishop, one of his guitar players like an Orthodox Jew and he also had a female dancer in a burka. They played an odd mixture of progged-out fusion jazz and world music that sounded like Weather Report if they came from Japan crossed with a weird variant of afrobeat.
M.O.P. are masters in crowd control. The 90s hip-hop legends ploughed through their catalogue to a crowd that went repeatedly apeshit and the screaming and jumping were paramount. They sure upped the ante.
The Icelandic national team played Hungary at 16:00 and the game was showed on a big screen at the main Valhalla stage. Before it started, Högni of Hjaltalín and GusGus fame performed a beautiful rendition of the Icelandic national anthem, just alone singing and playing the piano. It struck a chord of nationalism that I thought I didn’t have in me. A large crowd gathered to sit and watch the game that we unfortunately did not win, but the experience was communal and beautiful.
And the lame
A gang of about eight policemen roamed through Laugardalshöll with a sniffing dog intimidating people. Though you could see some drug use at the festival I didn’t see a single fight or anything but love and brotherhood. That was totally unnecessary, plus a lot of people are afraid of dogs.
Armed with an army of guitar pedals, an oldöschool wooden wind organ and a shades-wearing drummer, Par-Ðar played a mind-expanding mixture of ambient 70s rock that featured both long instrumental stretches and beautiful three-part harmonizing. The young band channelled the high spirits of the LSD 70s with a playful spirit that was unmistakable.
The ex-Moloko songstress and disco goddess played one of the best shows of the festival, in many different costumes. She also brought a live band with guitar, drums and synthesizers and even a banjo in one song. She changed outfits at least three times while I was there for about half and hour. Her dance moves and costumes made her own body a living, breathing and moving visual art. She’s like a way classier version of Lady Gaga, or, no, wait a minute, Lady Gaga is a way trashier version of Roisin Murphy.
And the motherfucking BEST IN SHOW
Die Antwoord are not a band. They are an unfuckable trilogy of South African white trash alien ravers who produce sounds and images that affect the no man’s land between your body and soul. They are a visceral experience that pierces your senses and squeezes your muscles. There was a riot going on, but it was focused, primal and pure. It was the very best show of the festival and one of the best I’ve attended in a long time. Part early 90s old-school hardcore, part helium raps, 100% ENERGY. We were all partaking in an ancient tribal ritual worshipping the spirits on stage. The rolling r’s in the “Fok jo Rrrrrrrrules” chant might have caused a rift in the space-time continuum. Wham Bam slam dunk thank you ma’am.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!