The inaugural 72-hour music festival in review
Reykjavík’s first Secret Solstice festival brought 10,000 people to Laugardalur for 72 hours of fun in the sun. With 150 artists performing on five stages, it was impossible to take it all in, and judging by all of the inspired dance moves in the wee hours, some festivalgoers’ memories are bound to need some refreshing. Here is a breakdown of some of the sets that were especially entertaining.
When DJs Eats Everything (pictured) and Artwork came on at around 20:00 for their back-to-back set, everyone standing around the festival’s main stage, Valhalla, promptly danced their lopapeysas off. Filling in last minute for Skream, each DJ played an exquisitely danceable mix full of house tracks. British duo Disclosure played their own critically-acclaimed garage house, they seemed disconnected from the crowd—disinterested, even. This aloofness may have been because it was only a DJ set, but there were numerous other DJs who had more entertaining and engaging performances.
For instance, the DJ sets in the late-night, indoor Hel tent—named after the Norse underworld—were great and almost frighteningly lively, with Damian Lazarus’s set standing out as particularly electric. There was barely any stage-watching or neck-craning, just droves of people getting down and dirty. And Hel stayed like that every night—all weekend long.
On Saturday, the Valhalla stage had a distinct Indie/Icelandic feel. The first highlight of the day was courtesy of Icelandic sister trio (+ DJ) Sísý Ey (pictured). Clad in attention-grabbing outfits and shimmering makeup evoking a retro-futuristic Cleopatra, they delivered impeccably sweet vocals over rolling house beats. Later, Icelandic indie rock mainstays Mammút impressed with their tight chemistry and Katrína Mogensen’s emotional delivery—on one occasion she let out a series of screams that must’ve been heard from Mount Esja. Despite some robotic dancing and posing, DJ duo Gluteus Maximus put on a highly enjoyable performance, keeping things fresh by bringing on various singers whose live vocals sounded fantastic over their electro rhythms. One particular highlight was their remix of Frank Ocean’s eerily funky “Pink Matter,” made complete by the impressive pipes of a mysterious, platinum-haired female vocalist.
Following Gluteus Maximus was múm, who put on what was easily one of the best sets of the weekend. The band sounded great, with a rotation of different instruments that kept the crowd’s attention. Each multitalented instrumentalist was a joy to watch. I was struck by the juxtaposition of quick, glitchy noises at the beat’s surface and the long, sustained cello, violin and melodica notes that drove the undercurrent. In retrospect, this is all there on the albums, but seeing this contrast laid out on stage made me look at múm’s music in a whole new light. The band played a number of songs from their most recent album, ‘Smilewound,’ and also pulled out the old crowd-pleasing favourite “Green Grass of Tunnel.”
Up next was L.A. singer BANKS. She was the artist I was most looking forward to seeing, and I did not leave disappointed. In addition to her arresting stage presence and spooky elegance, her voice sounded almost too good. For me, some of the most comforting parts of the show were the talking breaks she took in between songs, which allowed her to reflect on some of the inspiration for her material. Though at times verging on cheesiness, her honest, relatable musings had a deeply humanising effect. Because her music can be so dark and emotional, I was very happy to see that she doesn’t carry this venom (albeit magnetic venom) from her songs into the other segments of her show like some contrived, pre-fab sorrowful figure. BANKS treated fans to an acoustic version of “Fall Over,” and a playfully sultry cover of Aaliyah’s classic “Are You That Somebody?”Beyond those jams, highlights were future album cuts “Goddess” and her set closer, “Waiting Game.” It’s uncommon for a non-rapper to secure a pre-headlining festival spot before releasing a proper album (debut album ‘Goddess’ hits stores September 9). BANKS’s ability to deservedly snag this gig with only a short series of songs released piecemeal over the course of a year is a testament to her effortless appeal that is sure to attract more and more fans, especially those who see her perform live.
Sunday at the Valhalla stage was unquestionably a hip-hop affair. Some of Iceland’s best rappers took the stage leading up to the headliner, ScHoolboy Q. One early highlight was Cell7 (pictured), a veritable rap veteran who delivered what was probably the most natural, old-school sounding flow of anyone. Reminiscent of Missy Elliot and MC Lyte, the Filipino-Icelandic rapper and professional sound engineer delivered a head-bobbingly smooth set. From Outkast allusions to a cover of Slum Village’s classic “Fall N Love,” the old-school feel was palpable and extremely welcome. Another favourite was Reykjavík rapper Emmsjé Gauti. With solid trap beats and a confident stage presence that was engaging without being off-putting, it was one of the most fun shows of the day.
Sunday’s main event, ScHoolboy Q, brought his critically-acclaimed L.A. gangsta rap to Reykjavík, powering through a set full of album material as well as mixtape cuts and features. Q performed crowd favourites such as “There He Go,” “Hands On The Wheel,” and “Collard Greens.” He also pulled out Beth Orton-sampling mixtape track “How We Feeling” (which he rarely performs anymore) as well as fellow TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar’s Compton anthem “m.A.A.d. City” (the crowd went nuts). After reportedly being shot at outside a show in Colorado three days prior, he mentioned the incident and ensured the audience that he was all good. The German-born rapper seemed genuinely excited to be in Reykjavík, repeatedly assuring the crowd he would be back. A few ticks before midnight, the sun low but still shining, Q climbed up to the edge of the audience and performed a blazing final sequence. It was the rowdiest I’d seen the crowd all weekend and perfectly capped off a successful inaugural Secret Solstice festival. With a tastefully-selected lineup, great meshing of Icelandic and international talent, and a smooth concert layout, I’m hoping Secret Solstice will be here for years to come.
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