The Secret Solstice festival is by now an established part of the social season in Iceland. For the past few years, the festival has taken over Laugardalur valley during the days of the summer solstice and thrown the biggest party of the summer!
With international artists as well as the crème de la crème of the Icelandic scene taking the stage underneath the Icelandic midnight sun, you can prepare for a music festival you’ll never forget.
The Secret Solstice planners are known for creating unique experiences. If you’re coming to Iceland for the festival, you might want to check out some of the side events planned by the festival, such as a boat party under the midnight sun, a concert inside a glacier and another one inside a lava tunnel cave! The unique nature of Iceland is an integral part of the festival experience, so make sure you use your time in Iceland to explore the island to its fullest!
Of course, the music is the main event and the festival line-up won’t disappoint. As usual, the festival features several heavy-hitters, most of them playing in Iceland for the first time, such as the Prodigy, Foo Fighters, and Chaka Khan. If you’re more interested in hearing up-and-coming acts, several interesting international artists are lined up to perform, as well as the best and the brightest of the Icelandic music scene.
Must see International Artists at Secret Solstice
Anderson .Paak & the free nationals
Anderson .Paak is a rising star and one of the most exciting artists playing Secret Solstice this year. Brandon Paak Anderson, better known as Anderson .Paak, started out as a drummer but after working with the likes of the Game and dr. Dre, his solo career has taken off and his most recent album, Malibu was received with critical acclaim. Anderson is also part of music duo NxWorries, along with record producer Knxwledge.
If you’re over the age of 18, prepare to feel bad about your accomplishments. Despite having already produced several hits and working with people like Skepta and Mumdance, grime legend Novelist was only born in 1997! Novelist has been credited with bringing old-school grime beats to a new generation, making them feel fresh again, so don’t miss his act!
The Prodigy will be playing Secret Solstice this year, no doubt kindling a happy fire of nostalgia in the hearts of every 90’s kid in attendance! Prodigy needs no introduction, but if you’re not familiar with these pioneers of electronic music, here’s one anyway. With hits such as Firestarter and Smack My Bitch Up under their belt, this UK group has been breaking boundaries since the 90’s and are sure to blow some minds at the Secret Solstice festival this year!
Chaka Khan is a music icon! She’s been around since the 1970’s when she burst out on the scene as the frontwoman for funk band Rufus. Since she started her solo career, she’s developed an international fan base, won 10 Grammies, released 22 albums, and played on six continents! This genre-hopping artist is probably best known for hits such as I’m Every Woman and Ain’t Nobody but during her multi-decade career, she’s tried her hand at R&B, jazz, pop, rock, gospel, country, classical and dance music and is sure to put on a memorable show!
Must see Icelandic Artists at Secret Solstice
Aron Can is a wunderkind of the Icelandic hiphop sene (yes, there is such a thing). At the tender age of seventeen, he‘s already one of Iceland‘s most popular artists, his 2016 mixtape “Þekkir stráginn” got so much attention that he was one of Iceland’s most played artists on Spotify in 2016. Think autotune, heavy basslines and melodic hooks! Icelandic hiphop is having a moment, so be sure to check out other acts such as GKR, Úlfur Úlfur, Gísli Pálmi, Cyber, and Emmsjé Gauti.
If you’re attending Secret Solstice hoping to discover fresh and exciting Icelandic artists, they don’t get any fresher or more exciting than Cyber. The rap duo has gotten some attention as part of Reykjavíkurdætur, the feminist rap collective that’s been kicking asses and taking names for a few years now, but these two are very much doing their own thing. Their music is a fresh take on the Icelandic hiphop scene and with crazy visuals and a high-energy performance, their shows are not to be missed.
Auðunn Lúthersson, who goes by Auður (pron. Author), actually got his start playing in hardcore and noise rock bands, although you wouldn’t know it from his slick electronic R&B. Auður dropped his debut album last year and was voted Best Newcomer of the Year at the last Icelandic Music Awards, so we’re expecting big things from this up-and-coming artist!
Kiasmos is made up of Icelandic BAFTA-winning composer Ólafur Arnalds, known for his unique blend of minimal piano and string compositions with electronic sounds, and Janus Rasmussen from the Faroe Islands, known as the mastermind of the electro-pop outfit Bloodgroup. A Kiasmos show is a study in letting go of your mind and body and getting in touch with the flow of the music, the audience joining together in a collective consciousness of music and dance.
Things that are useful to know for the Secret Solstice Festival:
- Although it’s summer and summer solstice is all about the midnight sun, it can be quite chilly in the night. Bring warm clothes or wear layers. Nobody wants to go home because of the cold. Unless you are the type to drink a lot beer to warm up.
- Show up early in the day, even just for one hour. Take a blanket, buy coffee and ice-cream and relax with friends and family to some good tunes!
- Food! There is food. And the prices are strangely low for Iceland. Try a taco in a paper-cup. Live a little.
- Don’t think too much abot following the “rules” of fashion bloggers on how to dress and how to do your make up—90% of the people look exactly the same during those festivals. It’s much more fun to wear something different!
- Don’t let the weather stop you. If it’s raining, bring out your rain coat and rubber boots and dance!
Secret Solstice 2017 in Review
Finally, it’s this time of year again! The Secret Solstice Festival is now being held for the 4th time. Every year the venues are organized in a different way, which means that they’re always improving. Last year, they had problems with long queues for concerts and tickets but it seems like they have solved that and I’m positive that they will master the festival this year.
The Secret Solstice Festival takes place over 4 days and for the first night, I headed to the festival site with a group of friends. As it was the first evening, the atmosphere was relaxed, people were warming up for the coming days and checking out the place. Not all the venues were open, which made it very cozy. There were plenty of food courts and me and my friends engaged in desperate hunt for an elusive taco court which was nowhere to be found, so we ended up at a random place – with tacos! Imagine my surprise when they handed me the vegetable taco – in a paper cup. I have no idea what I ate, and I ended up having Reykjavík Chips, which never fail.
Two stages were open: Hel (inside) and Valhalla (the biggest outdoor stage). I didn’t go inside although the music there tempted me. The weather was just too good! The music at Valhalla stage didn’t really reach to the crowd (I started out seeing the Icelandic band Stuðmenn), but people seemed to be happy to mingle and chat. Chaka Khan was the closing act. I know that many were there this evening only to see her. Fabulous woman and a flawless performance, just a little ill-suited for the lively festival crowd, many of whom were born several years later than Chaka’s heyday.
On the end of this great Thursday evening I walked home, with the birds singing in the trees and Chaka Khan singing “I’m every woman” in the distance. This will be a great weekend!
What a night! Day two at the Secret Solstice festival was yesterday, and it was a big one. Our fearless What’s On correspondents, Ásdís and Tara, spent the night at the festival, listening to new music as well as old favourites, tirelessly marching from stage to stage, taking in the atmosphere in order to share it with our readers.
Ásdís – I was looking very much forward to the Friday night. Usually I have a plan what to see but this time I decided not to plan ahead, and just go with the flow. The whole area was now open: few different stages, plenty of fun and food.
Richard Ashcroft was the first performer I saw and was the perfect act to start the evening with. It had been raining in the day, but at this point the sun came out. The performance was on the main stage, Valhalla and most of the people had gathered there. Hits like The Drugs Don’t Work and Bittersweet Symphony had the crowd singing along and people were clearly excited about the evening.
Tara – The ever cool Richard Ashcroft had the crowd all chilled out when we entered the festival. Not being a fan of rock, I’ve never heard of him before so it came as a pleasant surprise when he performed Bittersweet Symphony. There was something so intensely magnificent going on while the song was played, it completely filled every soul. Perfect start to my first ever music festival.
Ásdís – I didn’t know anything about Ata Kak before this show. This mature dance – electro musician from Ghana was a big surprise. He didn’t even need to dress up, wearing an old hoodie and relaxed attitude he managed to get the crowd going.
Tara – After Richard’s power ending we walked to Giml stage to see Ata Kak, which was completely unknown to me. His voice, his shape, his attitude, wow! His energy was beyond amazing, the crowd felt him and I still find remains of his spirit in my body.
Ásdís – The English rapper Roots Manuva surprised me. I’m usually not much for rap, but I ended up staying for several songs and loving every minute of it!
Tara – The moment I had been waiting for, people started dancing. All music that makes me want to move is my favorite music. The English rapper had me fallen for him and his music in the first three seconds. A beautiful energy and a powerful beat made him my personal favorite of the night.
Ásdís – I was pretending not to be excited about Foo Fighters, but who am I kidding, of course I had to see them play and had a great time. The best part of the show was definitely when Harper Grohl, the 10 years old daughter of Dave Grohl played the drums for a whole song.
By the end of the show it started raining, and people started leaving so we decided to walk downtown. Overall this was a great evening, plenty of different performances and good vibes. I can’t believe that there are still two whole days left of amazing music!
Tara – One word: professionals. They were they only act I had heard of prior to the festival but they went way beyond any expectations. They took me on a spiritual journey to America in the 90’s, and man, was it cool. Their humor, combined with their cool energy made for an unforgettable experience. In the middle of their performance came the 10 year old Harper to the stage, with so much confidence and played the drums for one song. That powerful moment had me in tears and was definitely the best part of the night.
Foo Fighters were the perfect ending to a life changing festival that has left me wanting so much more.
Saturday night was Iceland’s independence day and what better way to celebrate than to listen to some great music under the midnight sun (and a few clouds). Gréta and Ásdís spent the night quietly wondering why people plan outdoors festivals in Iceland, but mostly enjoying the great music
Ásdís – Arriving around 8pm on this beautiful evening, I started at stage Gimli, where Princess Nokia had already gotten the crowd singing and jumping. Princess Nokia is a young alternative hip-hop artist from New York, she’s cool, fresh and fearless. When coming to her hit song Tomboy, she crowd surfed, showed attitude and finally mooned the crowd resulting in a huge applause and everybody loving here even more. I admit, I was impressed by her i-don’t-care attitude.
After this, there was time to relax and meet friends. We sat on the grass in Askur for a small picnic with the tunes of electronic music in the background. To my enjoyment, I found the elusive taco truck and a craft bar which did not leave us disappointed.
Ásdís – After the gourmet picnic, I stopped again by Gimli stage to check out Novelist. He was a great surprise, he had such a good energy and clearly loved being there and I left me wanting to be his friend. With a thick British accent, he shouted to the crowd and got people singing with him. There was even a technical error which he totally managed in the best way, by rapping like a champion with the speed of light.
Gréta – Novelist was actually one of the artists I was most excited to see at last year’s Secret Solstice but unfortunately he had a last minute cancellation. So I was pretty excited to see he was part of the line up again this year. Even with the long build-up of excitement, I wasn’t disappointed, this infuriatingly young boy soon had the crowd chanting his name and jumping to the beats. He has some impressive lyrics skills as well, which were put to the test when some technical difficulties forced him to do a part of his set a capella. Needless to say, he passed with flying colours and for the rest of his set, the audience was eagerly jumping around in a carefree mosh pit or at least nodding their heads to the music.
Gréta – It’s the height of summer and the sun shines all through night this time of year, but it’s still Iceland, so the weather is not to be counted on. By the time Novelist finished his set, it started raining, infinitely adding to the charm of the acts performing in the Fenrir tent. Meeting up with a few friends there, we had some drinks and debated our next steps. I’m sorry to say I wasn’t paying all that much attention to KSFmusic but at least I have fond (dry) memories of his time at the festival.
Ásdís – It started raining at some point, and we continued our walk to Fenrir stage which is inside a tent. KSF, an Icelandic DJ set duo had started their electronic bliss going on. I fully enjoyed their music, and I would say that this was my favourite performance this evening.
Gréta – The rain didn’t let up for the rest of the night, drizzling on and off, but that wasn’t about to stop anyone from heading to the Valhalla stage to see Prodigy perform. Again, this is Iceland, so most people were prepared for the rain, with umbrellas and rain coats popping up like zits on an adolescent youth. I know I don’t have to tell you what Prodigy sound like but I can tell you that they’re best enjoyed with a solid group of friends, after filling up on delicious tacos, with vape-filled bubbles flying over the crowd, rain optional.
Ásdís – Ok, the rain was maybe not the best part of this evening, but that didn’t stop anybody in having a great time. Prodigy were situated at Valhalla, the biggest stage. I didn’t manage to get very close, and as I’m not the tallest, I feel like I didn’t really connect to the show. The light show they had was impressive and matched the music perfectly. Hearing their most famous hit songs was great, but perhaps my expectations were too high.
Gréta – Novelist wasn’t the only wunderkind at the festival last night, Iceland has got it’s very own Aron Can! Aron is currently one of the most popular musicians in Iceland, and recently got the nation’s attention when he had to get a signed letter from his mother in order to get to play the Aldrei fór ég suður festival this Easter! Despite his young age, he knows how to put on a show and I was dancing happily along to his shamelessly fun songs about having full pockets and no shame.
Ásdís – A young Icelandic rapper who has gained popularity in a very short time. He didn’t even have to sing half of the time, as everybody knew the lyrics. He has the most beautiful voice, he’s young, charming and a talented musician. What more do we need?
Gréta – When Aron wrapped his set up, there wasn’t a lot left on the program but Kiasmos were doing their thing on the Hel stage – INDOORS. Not only was getting inside the Laugardalshöll stadium a welcome break from the dampness outside, Kiasmos were also pretty good. The stage looked great, their music quickly got us in a dance trance, and if you can’t have a good time dancing with friends while your coats dry hanging from the fence around the sound technician, when can you? It was the perfect end to a great night and I’m already dreading the fact that tonight is the last night.
Ásdís – I was happy to go inside Hel, as the rain and cold had taken it’s toll on me. Kiasmos never fail in doing good music. The huge concert hall had been turned to a nightclub and it was a perfect ending of the evening. We hung our raincoats to dry and forgot ourselves in a dance.
It was the final night of the Secret Solstice festival but nobody was ready for it to end. The Sunday night line-up was looking good and people were making the most of their last night in the verdant Laugardalur valley. Gréta and Tara bravely went out into the Sunday night to tell you all about it.
Kátt á Solstice (Kid’s Program)
Tara – Being a mom, I love to share experiences with my four-year-old daughter Isold, and she was so excited to “party” with mom. The kids’ area at the festival is like a group of children came together to plan activities and then parents customise it to perfection. Where else could my kid get her face painted and get to hug teddy bears, get a tattoo and plant a tree at the same place? There was even a whole tent filled with diapers and wipes and kid -friendly snacks available at the shop.We came to the festival early on Friday and then again on Saturday afternoon and we both could enjoy ourselves there for hours, not minding the weather one bit.
If you don’t have a kid, I’d recommend you either get one or borrow one just so you can bring it to the Solstice Kids area next year.
Tara – From the kids area we could hear the Icelandic rapper Emmsje Gauti’s voice loud and clear so we ran to Valhalla stage to see his act. His show probably had the audience with the widest range in age, everyone singing like the rain wasn’t even there. Words are not enough to describe how exactly he reads the crowd and how on point he performs, even the visuals on the big screen were awesome.
I’m a huge fan of the American rapper Eminem and I’m so ecstatic for Iceland having Emmsje Gauti as a prettier version of him.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, even if you don’t understand him at all, you will love his charming presence and catching lyrics.
Gréta – By the time Sunday night rolled around, I admit the festival was starting to take its toll. I wasn’t about to let that stop me however since Sunday night had one of the best line-ups of the festival. I dragged myself down to the festival area and let Icelandic rapper Gísli Pálmi have the unenvious task of getting me into the party mood. Gísli Pálmi is a strange creature, ripping his shirt off as soon as he gets in contact with a stage, and usually performing with sunglasses on, even if the concert is indoors. At night. In winter. He takes inspiration from the American hip hop scene, usually rapping about being on drugs, having lots of money and taking more drugs. His music is not exactly always to my taste but I do enjoy his antics and despite my festival fatigue, he got my feet tapping and head nodding. He also gets credit for the impressive visuals accompanying him, adding layers onto the experience. In the immortal words of Gísli Pálmi himself: “Roro, efnið, slow-mo, flexing”.
Tara – Right after Emmsje Gauti we were going to see Gisli Pálmi but my daughter wanted a tattoo so we took a break from dancing and rapping. Next on the big stage was the proud Brooklyn rapper Young M.A. Opening the stage was a woman with a powerful voice with an energetic performance. It came as a surprise to me when after few songs she introduced the Young M.A. to the stage since I assumed she was already there! Another male rapper joined them and the sound of those three voices on stage braided beautifully together and made a thick soundwave that made the crowd moving.
Unfortunately, my baby did not agree with me and the crowd on Young M.A’s excellence so we skipped the second half, which I’m still grieving.
Gréta – We stayed by the grand Valhalla stage after Gísli Pálmi’s act to check out Young M.A coming up next. This Brooklynite rapper seemed unimpressed with the Icelandic weather but determined to get the crowd dancing, starting her show with her hype woman getting the people going with a medley of popular hip hop songs. When Young M.A came on we were all ready to be wowed. She’s an interesting act and I like the stuff I’ve heard before but her show wasn’t enough to keep me going. Her habit of playing half her song, then stopping the playback and doing the rest a capella was getting on my nerves by the end of the show.
Gréta – Since Young M.A wasn’t living up to expectations, we wandered around the festival site for a bit, figuring out what to do next. This included a visit to the shopping tents by the Askur stage, a collection of vendors selling clothes and accessories to the ill-prepared visitors who had forgotten their chokers, round sunglasses, and flower headbands at home. I’d fulfilled all my shopping needs before the festival so we wandered over to the Gimli stage where Kiriyama family were doing their thing. They’re competent musicians and seemed to have a good vibe going but somehow their music never seems to stick in my memory after they stop playing. We did get some decent burgers, though.
Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals
Gréta – With our bellies full, it was almost time for Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, the act I was most excited to see. I was actually so excited that I was beginning to worry that the show wouldn’t live up to my expectations, having had a disappointment or two during the festival. I’m happy to inform you that my worries were unfounded, Anderson .Paak was the highlight of the whole festival. As soon as he came out and started his seducing the crowd with Come Down, I was hooked. He had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hands and when he sat down to play a song or two on the drums, I’m pretty sure that about 70% of the people present fell deeply in love. A particularly intimate moment Anderson shared with a mic stand had me blushing and all the songs had me moving and clapping along.
Tara – Now it was mama’s time to party and who better to get me going than the rapper who travelled all the way from Detroit, Big Sean. With cool visuals and hit songs like “I don’t fuck with you” he had the crowd completely in his pocket. A perfect beginning to a baby free night with a drink in my hand and rhythm in my body.
Gréta – Next up was Big Sean, a musician I would describe as a guilty pleasure if I believed in associating guilt with pleasure. He did his thing pretty well but to be honest, Anderson .Paak was a hard act to follow. I did dance to the hits I was familiar with and shout some profanities at my fellow concertgoers when I knew the lyrics. Big Sean also had some great visuals going on and it’s always nice to have something pretty to look at while listening to songs about bouncing booties.
Tara – Taking a break from all the rap, the British funk innovators Cymande playing at Gimli was the place to go. Style apparently isn’t attached to clothes since they were wearing denim on denim and a Burberry print scarf and still had the most class of the acts that night.
If I was religious, watching them would be like going to church. Their music and their message got me high from meditative breathing and slow movements throughout their performance, leaving me as if coming from a Caribbean spirit retreat. Even the weather God agreed with their music and kept it dry for their whole performance.
Seeing other acts in between we always came back to the age presidents with the most beautiful energy I’ve ever witnessed.
Gréta – In the end, we left Big Sean’s show early to check out Cymande, a 1970’s funk band who’ve recently reunited and who my sister had recently discovered. I didn’t really know what to expect when about ten old men started lining up around the stage, all wearing adorably mismatched hats and scarves. It was refreshing to see people holding instruments as many of the shows relied on a DJ for the sound and Cymande went all out, with saxophones and other wind instruments included. Not only did they have an impressive amount of instruments on stage, they also knew how to use them! The smooth jazzy funk didn’t seem to be from the 70’s as much as timeless classics and their music had us returning to their stage again and again.
Tara – Next was checking up on the American rapper Rick Ross who had good hustle going on on the big stage.
Being the visual person I am I did feel as if he missed the opportunity to create complimentary art to use on the big screen behind him. Even though the crowd was cheering for this big star, my heart and body quickly wandered back to Cymande which made the perfect end to a fantastic festival.
Gréta – Leaving the Cymande show to check out Rick Ross at the big stage was a grinding change of gears from the laidback mood of Cymande. Having already seen Big Sean, Young M.A and Gísli Pálmi that day, I’d had my fill of swagger and bravado for the day so I’m afraid Rick Ross didn’t really have a chance to win me over.
Wolf + Lamb
Tara – A dance party at Askur? Hell yes. The stage was crowded with colourful artists and the music was like nothing I’ve heard before. The Brooklyn-made duo aim is to move hearts which they not only did but bodies followed. They didn’t need a big audience to make a fantastic atmosphere which left me wondering where they had been all of my life.
I feel incredibly proud being an Icelander after witnessing the Secret Solstice Festival.
Is it June 2018 already?
Gréta – It had been drizzling a little the first half of the night, not full-on rain, just enough to make you keep your coat on but by this time of the evening, the weather was beautiful, the air was still and warm(-ish, this is still Iceland) so when we headed over to the Askur stage, where a small group of people was dancing on the grass by the colourful stage. Joining the group, this was one of those perfect festival moments, when the music, the crowd, and the atmosphere line up perfectly for a period of carefree joy. When their set was over, we just moved over to Cymande’s show, still going strong, to finish the night.