From Iceland — A Summer Blockbuster?

A Summer Blockbuster?

Published June 20, 2014

With production on a cinematic scale, Secret Solstice prepares for liftoff

A Summer Blockbuster?
Tyler Clevenger
Photo by
Matthew Eisman

With production on a cinematic scale, Secret Solstice prepares for liftoff

Fredrik Ólafsson, the man behind the Secret Solstice festival, is a tricky man to pin down. A short while before we’re due to meet at the festival HQ in Reykjavík 105, I get a phone call from the press officer offering to chat in his stead, because Fredrik has been called away and is extremely busy.

After wondering if the interview will happen at all, a short while later I’m en route to Prikið for a late afternoon chat. Then the phone rings again, and I’m greeted by the disorientating combination of an Icelandic number, and a Southern English accent.

“’Ello mate,” says the voice on the other end, “it’s Fred. Wanna come over the road and sit in the sun?”

Fred is taking a call when I arrive at Sólon, and his phone rings throughout our chat. But he’s cordial and unhurried, apologising each time he ducks into a call, and taking each matter in his stride as it arrives. I ask what his days look like, with the first Secret Solstice just three weeks away.

“I’m probably getting 100 emails a day,” he says, putting his phone back on the table, “and I’m not on any of the general enquiry emails. A lot of the production is being done at the moment, and we’re advancing the bigger artists—locking in flights, hotels, ground transport, riders, both technical and hospitality, making sure they have a point of contact when they get here. Making sure that everything runs smoothly from the airport to the hotel. Having the artists leave very happy is key in running a successful festival—and the punters, of course.”

An Anglo-Icelandic Influence

Fred flips effortlessly between perfect Icelandic and English, bar the odd “og herna,” which is the Icelandic equivalent of slipping in an “uh” or “like” for thinking space. His roots are Icelandic—his father is apparently behind several large Icelandic businesses—but Fred spent some of his formative years in England.

“We moved to London when I was 12,” he explains. “I was enrolled in boarding school. It was a culture shock after Icelandic schools, where you can do what you want really. In Iceland you call your teacher by their first name, but in boarding school you call them ‘sir’ or ‘mister.’ There was a uniform and a lot of rules. I got myself in trouble a few times. Honestly, I absolutely hated it for the first year, I just wanted to go back to Iceland—it’s a difficult age to move, you know. But a couple of years later, I got into it.”

Since then, Fred has been quite the globetrotter, running clubs, gigs and parties everywhere from Reykjavík and London to Los Angeles and Denmark. He ran dubstep shows at Faktorý and NASA, and bitterly laments their closure. But things have moved on since then, with Secret Solstice staging an ambitious lineup on a large scale, especially for a debutante event.

“The area we’re using can probably hold 16,000 people,” he says. “We’re aiming for 10,000. We’ve got 1,500 foreigners that we know are coming. They’re 85% from England—all the flights from London are completely jammed. We know of people who are driving to Manchester or Bristol to fly with Easyjet—or even flying from England to Germany just to get to Iceland. It’s quite incredible. We’ve 180 volunteers coming from abroad, they’re doing the most amazing flight routes to get here.”

The Biggest Festival In Iceland?

All of which begs the question: does all this make Secret Solstice the biggest festival in Iceland?

“For the number of artists, Airwaves is the biggest,” Fred says. “For the number of stages, Sónar has five, and we have five. But for the number of hours we’re running the stages, we’re the biggest. Our outdoor stages run from noon till midnight, with an afterhours venue until 4 AM. Then there’s a pool party from 8 AM at Laugardalslaug, open to the general public. We’re lucky to have an amazing swimming pool right on site.”

Fred went full-time last October, after putting together an organisation that draws on various festival experts and organisations. His business partner Jack runs two successful festivals in Croatia that receive 20,000 guests each year, and Secret Solstice has the added backing of England’s Warehouse Project.

“There was interest from Ministry of Sound,” he explains, “and some other big brands were knocking on the door. But the Warehouse Project felt like the right fit. They run a festival called Parklife that’s 130,000 capacity. I met up with them in London, and they flew over here and got on board. Then we also have a couple of investors here.”

A Summer Blockbuster

In contrast to the 2013 Keflavík festival debacle, Secret Solstice sounds extremely well-organised. Fred is currently working in an office of 18 people, with over 400 estimated to be working on each festival day.

“It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve a really good team around me,” he says. “The production manager, the art crew—there’s some serious production and logistics behind the festival. We’re spending serious money just on decorating the place, using the same set companies that did ‘Noah’ and ‘Walter Mitty.’ A lot of the festivals that are done here in the countryside are basically one stage and a techno tent, but we’ve put a lot of thought into the whole experience—the look of the place, the food, stuff for sale, and five different stages to wander around.”

Word has spread fast, via aggressive marketing, with Secret Solstice running promotional campaigns and club events in various countries over the last few months. Fred’s enthusiasm is contagious.

“We figured that getting a few thousand people to fly out to Iceland at this time of year, with a nice lineup, shouldn’t be too hard,” he says. “Summer, 24 hour sun, Massive Attack, and the rest of lineup we’ve put together—it really hits the mark I think.”

And it’s certainly a different offering from anything else on Iceland’s festival calendar. “I think a lot of Icelanders don’t realise quite what we’re doing yet,” he smiles, “or what a large scale outdoor music festival is like. It’ll be fun to see how people react.”

And so, the scene is set. Let’s just hope the weather gods are kind, and Fred doesn’t have to call the production company and ask to loan the ark.

Heard It Through The Grapevine
Our Secret Solstice 2014 Playlist
Words By Tyler Clevenger & Liam Harrison


With three days, five stages, and over 120 acts, there will be plenty of options when it comes to seeing great music, from international and Icelandic artists alike. Here’s a taste of a few acts we are excited about seeing, and songs in particular that we can’t wait to hear them play.

BANKS-Prince-Club-RemixBanks: “Drowning”
With hints of Lana Del Rey’s sultry voice and a bit of The Weeknd’s R&B shadowiness, Banks has shown that she could potentially be more highly-acclaimed than both of them—her upcoming debut album, coming out September 9th, should be one of the year’s best.  Keep an eye out for “Drowning,” as well as her show-stopping cover of Aaliyah’s classic “Are You That Somebody?”

IMG_7818-3-e1381623834621Cell7: “To Tha Rim”
Icelandic-Filipino rapper Ragna Kjartansdótir gives off dancehall vibes in “To Tha Rim,” a joyful exercise in braggadocio. Equipped with a natural, concise flow, she is easily one of the most talented rappers in Iceland.

Disa 1000 looking straight -2013-Press-Photo-3 looking straightDISA: “Stones”
“Stones,” the latest track from Copenhagen-based Disa, sounds more like an army thanthe work of just one person. Her voice–airy, ephemeral yet intensely passionate–soars above brooding synthesisers and a powerful drum beat, fomenting the song’s crescendo. DISA’s music is cold, compelling, tense and exciting, complimenting and representing the Secret Solstice surroundings and making her a must-see act in the process.

Disc2Disclosure: “Help Me Lose My Mind ft. London Grammar”
UK garage/house duo Disclosure have taken the world by storm in the past year and a half, ever since they started teasing tracks from their debut album, ‘Settle’. As one of the most critically acclaimed EDM acts in the world, their set will surely prove to be one not to miss. While “Latch” and “White Noise” have proven to be more popular, we are perhaps most excited to see them play ethereal stunner “Help Me Lose My Mind ft. London Grammar.”

GorgonCityCoverGorgon City: “Here For You ft. Laura Welsh”
For fans of Duke Dumont and Rudimental, British DJ duo Gorgon City pumps out light, danceable fare that’s sure to please the crowd. “Here for You ft. Laura Welsh” is their brand-new single, and showcases their ear for creating catchy hooks.

Mammút: “Salt”AR-703159985
Creators of beautifully bruised melodies, Mammút and their vast and sombre sound are responsible for uplifting emotions you didn’t even know existed within you. “Salt,” a droning elegy, has singer Kata’s potent vocal chops exploding into life from quiet purgatory in its powerful conclusion.

                                        Múm: “Whistle ft. Kylie Minogue”

Kylie_Minogue_Feat._Múm_–_Whistle_(iTunes)_ Few, if any, would have expected Múm to collaborate with Australian superstar Kylie Minogue, let alone for a song this gorgeous. Múm’s signature glitchy electronic beats are all over “Whistle”, but they never overpower Minogue’s elegant singing and the gorgeous instrumentation that Múm always supply.

                                        ScHoolboy Q: “Man of the Year”

q-embedGerman-born, California-bred rapper ScHoolboy Q comes to Iceland for the first time, fresh off an extensive world tour. Be sure to check out the speaker-thumping “Man of the Year”—Complete with a Chromatics sample, it’s easily one of his most festival-ready tunes.

See Also:

Day 1 Festival Lineup
Day 2 Festival Lineup
Day 3 Festival Lineup


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