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 huge international artists and 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 and 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 tunnel in 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. 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.
Slayer is the headliner of this year’s edition of Secret Solstice. It’s the American trash metal band’s first performance in Iceland. It will also be the band’s last performance on the island, since they have announced that this world tour marks the end of their almost forty-year career. With their slashing and fast metal songs, like Raining Blood and Seasons in the Abyss, Slayer will be sure to treat the audience on a hellish trip down memory lane.
Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler, known for her raw and husky voice, is performing at Secret Solstice on Thursday May 21. In 1978, her single It’s a Heartache reached number four in the UK and number three in the US. Total Eclipse of the Heart, released in 1983, is among the bestselling singles of all times, with over six million sales. Her latest album, Rocks and Honey, was released in 2013, and is described as a tribute to the eighties, on which Bonnie Tyler does what she does best.
Stormzy is a grime and hip-hop artist from South London. As main influences he names Wiley and Skepta, and also Frank Ocean and Lauryn Hill. His most successful song to date is the platinum-selling Shut Up. Stormzy received the Brit Award for album of the year for his 2017’s Gang Signs & Prayer.
Gucci Mane is an American rapper, known as one of the originators of trap music. He released his debut album in 2005 and has released 12 studio albums since. In the past, he collaborated with names like Mariah Carey, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Selena Gomez, Drake and Marilyn Manson. He also starred in Birds of a Feather and Spring Breakers, and has his own clothing line.
If you’re in the mood for hip-hop, check out Reykjavíkurdætur. This multi-member, all-female hip-hop group is known for their empowering lyrics and impressive stage-performance. Members have described their music as a mix between the Wu-tang Clan and Spice Girls, with a little bit of Björk and Cardi B. Most of their songs are in Icelandic, and a few are in English. They rap about corrupt politicians, body shaming and feminism.
Teitur Magnússon is well-known and much loved artist in the Icelandic music scene. You might know him from the reggae band Ojba Rasta, formed in 2009, but he also performs solo under his own name. He plays a mix of spacey pop, indie-folk and rock. His second album was one of the most anticipated releases in Iceland this year. His performance at Secret Solstice is going to be a mix of older and newer songs, some of which has never been played before.
JóiPé x Króli
New kids on the block JóiPé & Króli are a talented young duo that has earned their spot in the Icelandic hip-hop scene with their single B.O.B.A. They have also produced their first album GerviGlingur. They write songs about teen depression and anxiety, showing that there is a softer side to hip-hop. They impressed the crowds at Iceland Airwaves, Sónar Reykjavík and Aldrei fór ég suður and are now ready to conquer Secret Solstice.
Between Mountains is a band formed by two teenage girls from the Westfjords. They won first place at the Icelandic Music Experiments in April 2017, a contest won in previous years by bands such as Of Monsters and Men and Samaris. Currently, they play soft indie-pop, but they prefer not to be placed in a box and they like trying out different styles. Their name is inspired by the place they grew up in, in the middle of the mountains and fjords of the Westfjords. We expect great things from these girls.
For four days, between June 21 and 24, Laugardalur valley in Reykjavík turns into the biggest outdoor party of the summer. This is when music festival Secret Solstice is happening. The name of the festival already hints at it, the festival takes place during the summer solstice. In Iceland, this means 72 hours of consecutive sunlight. Bands are playing on five different stages, of which one is an inside stage. Secret Solstice takes place for the fifth time this year, with both international and Icelandic artists hitting the stage.
I went to Secret Solstice on the opening night, during which two of the five stages were in use. Compared to the other days, few acts were playing, and the crowd was still warming up. But with Bonnie Tyler closing the main stage, who cares?
Highlights Thursday June 21
Steve Aoki, main stage Valhöll, 19:20
You might know Steve Aoki as the DJ who throws pies into the audience. But he’s more than a DJ, he’s an electro house musician and music executive who has been nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronica Album in 2013. I know a lot of people going to Secret Solstice were superpsyched to see him!
Unfortunately, I just missed his performance, but friends told me Steve Aoki kicked ass! Playing at 19:00 on a rainy opening night in front of a crowd that is still pouring in, is not the easiest, but Steve Aoki – wearing an Icelandic football shirt – had no problem getting the party going!
Bonnie Tyler, main stage Valhöll, 22:30
Secret Solstice reeled country-legend Bonnie Tyler in for this year’s edition. Lots of people could not wait to sing along with It’s a Heartache, Total Eclipse of the Heart, Holding Out for a Hero and Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
(If we take that last one literally: yes, Bonnie, believe me, we have seen the rain…)
Bonnie Tyler and band owned the stage from start to finish. Bonnie Tyler was visibly having a good time, complimenting the audience and asking everybody to sing along, which was enthusiastically done. Even the youngest kids were shouting and singing, proving that Bonnie Tyler is a timeless performer, albeit with extra husky voice these days.
Following the trends of other European music festivals, Secret Solstice offers good food. The days of just eating fries and drinking beer are long gone. This year, the festivalgoers are in for a treat. Fresh salmon salads at Salmon Wagon, burgers and veggie burgers at Hamborgarbúllan, smoothies from Joe & the Juice, cocktails at the Don Julio & Bulleit Whiskey Bar, and fresh veggies and sandwiches at Rabbabarinn. There is something to fit everyone’s tastes.
Unfortunately, not all food trucks were open yet on Thursday, and there were long lines everywhere. I had a bad experience with chaotic lines and rude staff when trying to get food, which is a pity on an otherwise fun opening night. I hope this will be different during the next days, when more food trucks will be open.
New this year is the cashless payment system, making Secret Solstice Iceland’s first and only cashless music festival. In recent years, people had some complaints about long lines, and as a solution for this, they invented a system that lets people pay contactless using a RFID wristband. To pay, you just hold your wristband flat on a reader for a few seconds until it shows “successful payment.”
On Thursday, the contactless payment system worked like a charm. And compared to other festivals I’ve been to, everything on the festival terrain is reasonably priced.
That’s it for now, folks! Tomorrow, my colleague Sirrý will tell you about her festival experiences on Friday.
If you are going to the festival, remember to dress warmly and wear appropriate footwear, as the terrain gets a bit muddy with all this rain. But most of all, have a blast!
PS, to a drunk guy named Nathan: no, meeting you was not “meant to be,” I had to walk up to you because you stole my umbrella and I wanted it back!
As a first timer at the Secret Solstice, I had a lot of fun, and it was a great way to try to forget the fact that the Icelandic football team just lost against Nigeria in the World Cup! Despite the heart-breaking defeat, many chose to show their pride in the national team by wearing the Icelandic football jersey to the festival!
What I was most excited to see was the Icelandic singer Valdimar, and he most certainly lived to my expectations! His voice never disappoints and though there were not many people watching him perform, he did an excellent job!
Manchester-born IAMDDB certainly managed to keep the crowd energetic while performing on main stage, Valhöll! People were dancing all over and having a great time. As she was on the main stage, there were more people there than at Gimli where Valdimar performed.
Up next on the main stage was Goldlink, keeping the young crowd excited and energetic before Gucci Mane closed the show on the main stage. Gucci was a little late to the stage so by the time he arrived, the crowd was going crazy, with the help of his hypeman getting them revved up. Launching straight into some of his hits, they certainly got what they came for.
Yes, you did just read silent disco and yes it is as fun as it sounds. I went with my boyfriend who did not enter the silent disco tent with much enthusiasm, but we both had a great time and walked out of the tent in a better mood than when we walked in.
How it works: you put on headphones and you dance. With no actual music in the tent other than the headphones, it was really fun to hear people sing when I took the headphones off!
Did you not have the time like I did to put some glitter on your face to get into the mood of the festival? Then the glitter booth will come to your rescue! Heiðdís Austfjörð, the owner of the online make-up shop haustfjord.is specialises in everything glitter! She helps you set on the glitter so you don‘t have to any work!
Though the weather was not as good as it was as the day before, it did not stop me nor other festivalgoers having fun. When going to an outdoor festival in Iceland you should always be prepared for some cold winds or rain. For the weather like it was on day three, raincoats and waterproof shoes were a necessity.
At the stage Gimli there were many Icelandic performers, such as the young artists JóiPé x Króli who amazed the nation with their single B.O.B.A. in late 2017. Amongst other Icelandic artists on that same stage were Joey Christ and Sturla Atlas who both kept the obviously young crowd in a great mood. People were dancing and singing along, in true music festival manner.
What I noticed after walking to the main stage, Valhöll, was the generational difference between the crowd, which mainly was due to the difference between the genres of the music. Despite my little-as-non knowledge of rock and metal music I did walk amongst the crowd and I could really see the way bands Death from Above and Slayer managed to connect with the crowd in their own way.
Diversity was also a thing I noticed, not only with the music and performers but amongst people. Attendees were of all ages, from children just a few years old with their parents to grizzled old rockers. As this was my first time at this festival I truthfully thought that the festival would be only full of 20 somethings !
The food at the festival was really good. The previous night I had a burger and fries from Tommi’s Burger Joint, but last night I had a burrito, and oh my it was good! You truly can have everything: from vegan sandwiches to a salmon wagon (and my favourite: a cocktail bar!).
Tomorrow will my colleague Mariska will tell you all about her experience at the last day of Secret Solstice!
Sunday, June 24, was the closing day of Secret Solstice 2018. This day can be summarised in one word: RAIN!
It started raining around 16:00 and it kept raining non-stop for the rest of the day. Of course, this extreme rainy weather did affect the festival mood. Not only was the festival terrain turned into a muddy swamp, people were getting cold and wet. However, everybody made the best of it, getting ponchos and umbrellas out, and continued partying.
When I arrived at the festival for the last time, I was still reminiscing the previous days at Secret Solstice and Slayer’s bangers from the night before. But I was also looking forward to another day filled with exciting acts.
Highlights Sunday June 24
Between Mountains, Fenrir, 17:10
Between Mountains is a band formed by two teenage girls from the Westfjords. They won Músíktilraunir, the annual Icelandic Music Experiments in 2017, a contest won in previous years by bands such as Of Monsters and Men and Samaris. I love their song Into the Dark and was excited to see them play. For their live performance they had two guest musicians, drummer Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson from Agent Fresco and a bass player whose name unfortunately eluded me. The four of them put on a great show. Even though they seemed a bit nervous at times, they brought fresh energy to the stage.
Úlfur Úlfur, Gimli, 18:10
Úlfur Úlfur is an Icelandic rap duo, producing and performing songs since 2010. In 2015, their debut album was an instant hit and they have been an essential part of the Icelandic rap scene ever since. Their performance at Secret Solstice was brilliant. Right when they appeared, masses of people basically started running towards the stage. Even though it was raining heavily, a good crowd had gathered, and everybody was mouthing the lyrics to their songs from start to finish. Úlfur Úlfur really connected with the audience, asking people to sing along and dance, and everybody was going wild during songs like Brennum alt and Ég er farinn. Great show!
JFDR, Fenrir, 19:50
I watched GDRN’s concert at Fenrir before JFDR would play (lots of capital-letter band names). Fenrir is a stage inside a tent, and because of the rain, the place was packed. GDRN seemed to please the crowd, but I was waiting with much anticipation for JFDR, one of Jófríður Ákadóttir’s projects, also known from Samaris and Pascal Pinon. During JFDR’s concert, a wave of calm washed over the audience, with everybody attentively listening to the music. Jófríður had three musicians with her on the stage, a saxophonist, drummer and bass player, and together they put up a wonderful introverted show. A welcome serene moment during this four-day festival.
6lack, main stage Valhöll, 20:15
I had enjoyed staying dry inside the Fenrir tent, but now it was time to make my way through the rain to the main stage, where 6lack was playing. 6lack is an American rapper and songwriter, who received international fame with his single Prblms. June 24 was actually his birthday, and he was ready to get the party started. With a live drummer, DJ, MC, and cool visuals, it was a dynamic performance which exceeded expectations. The crowd sure loved every minute of it. After his show, I decided to stay close to the main stage to wait for Clean Bandit, who were supposed to start at 21:20, but when at 21:50 there was still no sign of them and I was soaked to the bone, I decided to go out of the rain for a while and warm up a bit.
Stormzy, main stage Valhöll, 22:40
Hip hop and grime artist Stormzy was closing the main stage of Secret Solstice. Stormzy was very enthusiastic to be back at the festival. In 2015, his gig at Secret Solstice was his first big performance outside of the UK and he was psyched to return as headliner of the festival. It was still raining cats and dogs while he was on stage, but this didn’t seem to bother people much, who had shown up in great numbers for his show. Stormzy played most of his hits, like Big For Your Boots and Blinded By Your Grace. All of this was topped off by a rad fire show!
Special mention: Mighty Bear
I kick myself for missing part of Mighty Bear’s show. I did not know Mighty Bear yet, but this was exactly what I was waiting for at Secret Solstice. Being surprised and discovering new music are the reasons I love going to festivals. Icelandic musician Mighty Bear brought something unique to the stage, and during their performance, the whole was bigger than the sum of its parts. Their dark electronic music, strong vocals and intriguing visuals formed an emotionally gripping concert, and I will be following their future projects closely.
Slayer, young Icelandic hip-hoppers, silent disco, a glitter station, amusement park rides – Secret Solstice really was a mishmash of fun stuff. And to give the festival a special Icelandic touch, every day Viking battle demonstrations were organised. It was funny to see people dressed in traditional clothing mixing with all the other festival guests after the battles.
What I like a lot about Icelandic festivals like Secret Solstice, is that you can see the bands that are playing in the audience just minutes after their concert. Icelandic musicians all seem to know each other and are at the festival to have a good time, show their talents and watch their friends perform. This everybody-knows-everybody vibe makes Secret Solstice an intimate festival, even though about 15.000 tickets were sold this year.
See you next year
Secret Solstice 2018 was a success, even though the weather tried to throw a spanner in the works. This year, I didn’t go to any of the side events, but the Secret Solstice planners are known for creating unique experiences and if you’re coming to Iceland for the festival next year, you might want to check out the excursion to a geothermal pool, or concerts inside a glacier or lava cave.
Oh yes, a shout-out to Kombucha Iceland. Thank you for the great service and tasty, healthy drinks. I think I was the only one enjoying a cup of kombucha during Slayer, though.
We hope you enjoyed the festival as much as we did. See you next year!
In this article, they will sum up all the highlights of the festival.
S I did really enjoy the Icelandic performer Valdimar. He always puts a lot of effort in his performances and it never fails.
M This must be Slayer’s 1.5-hour performance on Saturday night. It was Slayer’s first and last performance in Iceland, and all of their fans had gathered in front of the stage. I imagine that this crowd was a lot smaller than a legendary band like Slayer is used to, but even if they thought this, they didn’t show it and gave it their all. They had great interaction with the audience, a black mass of people excited to finally see their favourite band play live. People were singing along, raising their fists into the air, crowd-surfing and jumping. As a crowd-pleaser at the end, they took the time to flip a lot of plectrums and two drumsticks into the audience. Slayer put on a strong show, and seeing masters like Araya, Bostaph, Holt and King perform is just pure joy.
Best band we’d never heard of before
S IAMDDB was one of the performers I’ve never heard about and I think she did a really good job!
M I really enjoyed the concert of Godchilla, who apparently can be labeled as surf-doom, but on first hearing post-metal might be fitting. But who cares about labels, really? They were not afraid to dive into the deep and take the audience with them on an atmospheric musical trip.
S Silent Disco was without a doubt one of the best things I did at the festival, if you have the chance to try it, do it!
M Úlfur Úlfur earns the title of best experience. They were playing on Sunday, June 24 in the pouring rain in front of a cold and wet crowd, but managed to make everybody forget about this. The audience was very excited to see them perform, and Úlfur Úlfur seemed just as excited to be there. This resulted in a wonderful interaction between audience and band which lasted throughout the concert.
Our top 3 Icelandic bands we saw
S Valdimar, the energetic band Stuðmenn and the youngsters JóiPé x Króli were the three best Icelandic bands that I managed to see. Despite the pouring rain, Stuðmenn did not disappoint.
- For a Minor Reflection
In 2008, I had seen For a Minor Reflection as supporting act during Sigur Rós’ European tour and I was looking forward to seeing them play again. At Secret Solstice, they performed a captivating show for a dedicated crowd of post-rock lovers, like me.
- Between Mountains
Between Mountains put up a solid show and the guest musicians (the drummer of Agent Fresco and a bass player) definitely were a great addition. The four of them playing together just worked really well and they brought something fresh to Secret Solstice.
I had heard of Jófríður Ákadóttir before, but I had not listened to any music she produced under the name JFDR. I had listened to Pascal Pinon and Samaris a lot, which are two of her other projects. As I soon noticed at Secret Solstice, JFDR is just my cup of tea, elegantly combining poetic lyrics with soundscapes and electronic undertones.
Our top 3 best visiting acts we saw
S IAMDDB, Goldlink and EarthGang were in my opinion the best non-Icelandic performers. They all managed to keep their young and energetic audience in full sing-and-dance mode!
Slayer gave the audience what it wanted and with many people waiting for such a long time to see them, the energy during the concert was just great.
- Bonnie Tyler
Bonnie Tyler was the opening act of Secret Solstice. Everybody was in a good mood and Bonnie proved once again to be a timeless performer.
I didn’t know 6lack before the festival, but the live drummer, DJ, MC and cool visuals really added to his show.
S The festival gets a praise for me for the effort to have something for everyone, even if it is food and drinks or performers.
M I really liked the dark electronic music and performance of Mighty Bear, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival for me. I would also like to mention the variety of food on offer. It was nice to see many options for vegans. Also, I really appreciated having something else than beer or coke to drink.
What we thought of the festival as a whole
S Overall I had a great experience at the festival, and I would most certainly consider going next year! The weather could have been nicer, but as we all know the weather in Iceland is very unpredictable so you should hope for the best but prepare for the worst!
M There were a couple of things that I liked about Secret Solstice, and a couple things that could be improved.
First of all, I liked how clean the festival terrain was. Secret Solstice makes use of lots of volunteers and many of them were on cleaning duty. This pays off and is much appreciated by festival goers. Secondly, there was a lot of security walking around and they responded swiftly when something was afoot.
This year was the first time the festival was completely cashless and the top-up wristbands did their job. But it is unfortunate that wrong information was given about the refund process though, as it was mentioned on the website and through Secret Solstice App messages that you could get the refund on Sunday at the festival, but this was not possible. Supposedly, a refund link will be active today, but this hasn’t happened yet at time of writing.
The organisation has dealt with complaints about long lines in previous years, and for most of the festival, lines were managed properly. I think Thursday, the opening day, could still use a bit more attention, though.
I liked the festival terrain and size a lot, but stages Fenrir and Gimli are a little too close to each other, causing noise disturbances during concerts on both stages.
The weather was a challenge this year and it might be a good idea to offer more options for shelter at future editions. Also, having bales of hay ready to prevent the terrain from turning into one giant mud pool might be a good idea for next year.
And last but not least, the lineup could be a bit more edgy and less vanilla, but that’s just my personal taste.