Despite some growing pains, Secret Solstice delivers a brilliant array of bigger artists than ever.
Secret Solstice, one of the largest music festivals in Iceland, entered its third and biggest year in the cloudy hours of last Thursday afternoon.
The first night was marked by fiery rap performances on Valhöll, the main stage. Flatbush Zombies dominated with a raw and angry set, often jumping into the crowd to continue the performance from there. Meechy Darko paused the show to headbang to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and concluded their performance by passionately demanding the audience open their minds. The trio tapped into the teenage angst in us all and left amid thunderous applause.
Gísli Pálmi in action. Photo: Ross Silcocks/Facebook.
By then, the crowd was ready for Thursday’s main act—and, luckily, Gísli Pálmi did not disappoint in return. Flanked by fellow Icelandic rapper Tiny and patterned visuals straight out of a mescaline trip, GP reminded Secret Solstice why he’s widely considered the best rap act in Iceland. He often paused to profess his love for the audience, declaring that without us, he’d be nothing. Throughout his set, the audience reciprocated, emphatically rapping along with him.
The ultimate performance, however, came on Friday night. Easily one of the most iconic bands of the last two decades, Radiohead was scheduled to play at 9:30 for their first-ever concert in Iceland. I didn’t want to miss a single minute of it, so I got in line to enter the festival just before 7:45. At that point, the line simply to enter was a daunting 300 meters or so. Upon passing the gates, I was met with another much longer line, a swirling menagerie of teens and twenty-somethings that barely fit within the space. Every ten minutes or so, we shuffled forward a bit, but soon enough, the truth became hard to avoid: I was going to miss part of Radiohead.
Once I finally got to the venue’s entrance at around 10:00, I met the reason I, along with thousands of other eager fans, had been held up so long: just two officials stood patting every concertgoer down before entry. Luckily, there was a lot of space still in the hall once I entered, but clearly the festival had not planned nearly well enough. In its third year, Solstice is experiencing some growing pains: they’ve managed to secure world-class acts such as Radiohead, but lack the facilities and forethought to give concertgoers the experience they paid for.
The crowd at Secret Solstice. Photo: Birta Rán/Facebook.
In poetic consolation, however, Radiohead was electric. The softer points of their set contrasted nicely with the oft-blaring intensity of the rest of Solstice. The whole crowd swayed shoulder to shoulder to poignant classics like ‘Nude’ and ‘No Surprises.’ At other times, Radiohead would give us the exact opposite: four of five members were on some type of drums for ‘There There,’ and ‘Paranoid Android’ was reimagined with much heavier distortion. Johnny Greenwood played just about every instrument I could imagine, and a few more—he even wrestled static out a radio at one point. Thom Yorke, the band’s front man, was a lot more animated than I had imagined him, and steered each song with controlled chaos. Following their second encore, I saw a number of concertgoers tearing up, proclaiming it was the best concert they’d ever seen. I wouldn’t dare disagree.
From Secret Solstice. Photo: SOLOVOV.be
On Saturday, my favorite act was M.O.P., who delivered a long stream of songs they’d erratically stop to engage with the audience. They brought a refreshing blend of classic hip-hop to the festival, and, interestingly enough, also paused to jam out to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’
Due to a last-second festival scheduling change and a venue with limited capacity, I was unable to see Die Antwoord, the South African counterculture duo whom I can’t quite pin to a genre. Many others suffered a similar fate—the concert was postponed to near midnight, after which laws prohibit a concert from taking place outside.
In the years to come, I think Secret Solstices must learn what it means to become a bigger music festival. But I’ll be with them every step of the way; in fact, I’m already in line for next year.
Björn Gunnar Björnsson is a rising junior at Cornell University, studying Computer Science and Spanish. In his free time, he composes music for the guitar and piano.