From Iceland — Secret Solstice: Delivering Music To A Hip-Hop-Starved Nation

Secret Solstice: Delivering Music To A Hip-Hop-Starved Nation

Published June 16, 2015

Secret Solstice: Delivering Music To A Hip-Hop-Starved Nation
Gabríel Benjamin
Photo by
Matthew Eisman

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full year since Schoolboy Q, Banks and Massive Attack played at Secret Solstice, but it has, which means it’s time to get ready for the festival’s second iteration.

Its inaugural edition, which featured a solid lineup of 150 artists performing on five stages over three nights in the beginning of summer, drew 10,000 festivalgoers and was highlighted as one of fourteen festival worldwide to check out by Time Magazine.

With the exception of a kerfuffle over drug arrests, with civil rights group Snarrótin calling the police’s random searches a violation of people’s constitutional rights, people seemed happy with the venture.

Murphy’s Law

The premise of the festival is simple: During the summer solstice, the three longest nights of the year, when the sun hardly sets in Iceland, a park in Laugardalur suburbs is transformed into a massive festival site with pagan Norse symbols and installations scattered throughout.

Given that it takes place at the peak of the tourism season in Iceland, it’s surprising that no one else had attempted to throw a festival in that time slot, or at that location for that matter, as there is a campsite and numerous hotels nearby, and it is within walking distance of downtown Reykjavík.

The festival’s marketing director, Leon Hill, tells us it’s been a godsend to have a full year to prepare this year’s festival. “From the time we announced last year’s festival to when we put it on was just a little under four months, so it was a fairly quick process,” he said. “We did almost everything right last year, but it’s a lot easier when you have three times more time to do it.”

Leon admits that a lot of things did go wrong, but that they were all behind the scenes and unseen by the general public. “Being in production, we saw everything that can possibly go wrong go wrong, whether it was transport, or things not getting to the festival site on time, but it all worked out in the end.”

More hip-hop, stat

In Leon’s mind, the only real mistake that they made was not booking more hip-hop acts. “Icelanders, as we’ve learned, are extremely serious about their hip-hop,” he says. “Our initial bookings last year were mainly directed at the foreign crowd, especially the British and US market, but according to the response we’ve gotten from Icelanders this year, I think we’ve definitely booked correctly.”

“We did almost everything right last year, but it’s a lot easier when you have three times more time to do it.”

He said this year has more diverse acts booked, with a greater number of hip-hop and rock acts, and plenty of up-and-coming artists. The line-up features FKA twigs, Skream, and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, and Leon said that when they announced Kelis and the Wu-Tang Clan, Icelanders went nuts again.

He heard a friend of his girlfriend’s bought a ticket just to see Kelis perform “Milkshake” live. “Kelis is one of those artists, regardless of the age bracket you’re in, you’ve heard her songs before,” he said.

“You might not like to admit it, but you’ll tap your foot to it, or sing along to it in your car. And Wu-Tang have a history, a fan base, and a hip-hop legacy. Although FKA twigs is not as well-known in Iceland as many of our other headliners, there’s so much hype around her, and I think we’re lucky to be in the position of showcasing her to the people of Iceland. She’s extremely talented.”

A very secret solstice

For this year, the art department is also getting a much bigger budget, and Leon said excitedly that he can’t wait to see the response to some of the installations they have planned, including an interactive one, but that he wasn’t allowed to go into any details until the announcements are made. “From the point of view of festival guests, wherever they look we want them to have no doubt in their mind that they’re at Secret Solstice, a Norse mythology-themed festival.”

Leon said the festival got permission to have 15,000 guests, but they’re aiming for around 12,000. “Although I do think I can sell a couple more thousand tickets than we’re capping at, we want to grow properly to avoid experiencing some massive growing pains.” He didn’t divulge exactly how many tickets have been sold, but said they’ve sold more than three times the amount than this time last year.

For now, all we can do is look forward to the sophomore run and hope that when something does go wrong, which it inevitably will, we won’t notice.

Secret Solstice will be held June 19-21.  Admission is 19,900 ISK.  More info can be found here.

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