Thursday: The madness begins
It’s that Solstice time again! Whoop whoop (family!) Thursday was as soft segway into a festival which this year leans heavier on the hip hop and electronic side that ever before (Foo Fighters and Richard Ashcroft notwithstanding).
Boiler room warm up
My weekend actually started with a Jamie XX Boiler Room set at the Petersen Suite above Gamla Bíó in downtown Reykjavík. This was actually the second attempt at currying favor with the Boiler Room taste making overlords, but the first official event broadcast live on their channel. While not strictly part of the Solstice festival (Jamie is headlining the Night & Day festival by Skógarfoss next month and is being produced by some of the same crew behind Solstice. A slow-burning set to start with, but built up to a strong finish.
So, Thursday started with a proper hangover, which was saved by Black Madonna. I seriously do question the decision to front-load Thursday with some of the best electronic producers in the business, but I was immediately struck by a much stronger organisation and a more intuitive layout for the fest.
Walking into Hel (“hell” in Norse mythology) I was greeted with a pitch black indoor football stadium which lit up by flashing, hellish lights backlighting the performer. It was what Hollywood imagines eastern European fetish night clubs look like.
Black Madonna has become a staple in the festival circuit, in small part because she has been outspoken about supporting women in electronic music and therefore the first name that comes to mind when patriarchal festival organisers try to fill their gender quota in a last minute panic, but mostly because she is a fantastic producer and DJ. Her sets are eclectic but display a firm understanding of the history and building blocks of house, disco, techno, ballroom and beyond and how to manoeuvre those moods and sounds into a tight set of pounding drums overlaid with lighter disco vibes.
The other notable act on Thursday was the legendary Chaka Khan. It struck me during the set that I was watching a team of mothers, grandmothers and dads on the stage. As i get older there is something amazingly cool about seeing working musicians at that age (“hey honey, mommy has to go to Iceland to entertain a bunch of stoned teenagers, buh-bye”). It’s their damn job in a world where a lot of us have to settle for power suits, hard hats and dishrags. Of course they were a perfect display of consummate professionalism. Backing vocals were amazing and they moved in perfect unison, but in a way that seemed almost improvised. You do this for 30 years and this shit is in your blood. Cut them, they bleed funk.
The weather started off strong despite a grim forecast and the festival started even better despite only running the two stages.
Friday: Pusswhipped lords and Foo Fighters
First catch of the day was esoteric, druggy doom prophet Lord Pusswhip. Icelandic, but based in Berlin as all true hipsters do. A winding, diverse set deeply in synch with the current, somewhat controversial, thread in modern hip hop. Aided by a homunculi hype man in a yellow sweater channeling a little of human internet meme Rich Chigga and featuring emerging artist Countess Malaise (alias of Dýrfinna Benita) on a couple of tracks. One of my favorite of the new batch of Icelandic hip hop (and keep in mind that hip hop dominates the Icelandic music scene these days so that’s saying a lot).
Next door at the Gimli stage, Ghanaese musician Ata Kak proved that you can spin a working live show out of sudden internet fame. Know for the strange, weirdly-contemporary cassettes of himself rapping rapidly over Casio beats lifted out of obscurity by blog/youtube channel “Awesome Tapes from Africa”. The set was half tongue-in-cheek kitsch celebration and half banging afro pop set.
VIP piss roots
From the pissing queue in the main stage VIP area (smart move to give the journos access to it) I heard the remainder of the barren, brit pop, acoustic rawk wasteland that is Richard Ashcroft’s legacy. I never had time for his post psychedelic Verve work in the late 90s and nothing has changed. To each his own though, I suppose
Next, Roots Manuva lit up the Gimli stage. Been a major fan since the 1999 “Brand New Second Hand” album (back before Rap Genius could tell me that he was saying “Movements fi make, typhoons grew. Strong and cold-sheist them a still coast through” and I just tried my best to sing along). Fantastic set, which set the crowd on fire when he finished with “Witness the fitness” in all its deep bass dembow glory.
Foo Fighters and monotone techno
Having caught Foo Fighters live a couple of times i knew to expect a thoroughly professional mainstream rock set. Men with a surprising amount of passion and love for what they do that know how to banter and light up a crowd. One of the better touring old school rock bands around and thoroughly loveable.
The night ended in the e’d up throng at club stage Hel with a disappointingly monotone set from the London production duo of Nick Harriman and Alfie Granger-Howell. I wrapped it up halfway through and fought my way into the midnight sun to brave another day of Solstice.