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Four Days and No Nights: A Bleary-Eyed Journey to Iceland's Secret Solstice Festival

Twenty-four-hour sun's out, guns out.
June 24, 2016, 9:16am

All photos by Daniel Leeb, M. Alexander Weber, and Noisey staff.

When your country is a volcanic island home to Vikings, possibly elves, and a 24-hour summer sun, things are bound to get weird. Case in point: Iceland’s Secret Solstice festival, a four-day jaunt held last weekend under Reykjavik’s midnight sun, which was less the mystic kumbaya its name implies—though, make no mistake, it was ridiculously beautiful—than possible fodder for Harmony Korine’s next film.


The fest’s third year lineup included debut Icelandic performances from Radiohead and Die Antwoord, as well as sets from Deftones, hometown heroes Of Monsters and Men, Jamie Jones, Action Bronson, Róisín Murphy, Kerri Chandler, Lady Leshurr, M.O.P., Kelela, and more than 170 other local and foreign acts (Full disclosure: Iceland's WOW Airlines offered to fly us here for free on their inaugural nonstop flight from LA to Reykjavik).

Holy wow, can Iceland party. Which makes sense, given that the sun doesn’t rise the other half of the year, and you spend literally months in the dark in subzero temperatures. Fifty degrees in torrential rain? Hell yeah baby, bikini time! Everyone go jump in the on-site hot tub shaped like a giant glass of beer.

Things we witnessed include, but aren’t limited to: a roaming gang of teens yelling in the faces of anyone sitting down whilst stroking a lengthy green balloon phallus; people taking selfies with a guy who was slumped over projectile vomiting on the sidewalk; girls in impeccable makeup openly doing whipits; someone dancing on a used condom (see below); and, oh yeah, more vomit—just wet, sloshy, rain-diluted vomit, everywhere. Eventually the crowds would subside and retreat into town for some R&R (i.e. pick up more cases of beer), but just when it looked like things were dying down, a new wave of supremely lit youth would return to turn up once again.


That said, Secret Solstice was far from one big enfants terribles stereotype. Though still relatively new, people came from all over the world to share in experiences like Radiohead’s unique gig, and due to its small size (about 17,000 strong) there was probably as much good ol’ fashioned camaraderie between strangers as there was aggro teen raging. At Jamie Jones’ set inside the aptly-named Hel Stage, I met a British-American couple who met each other on the same dance floor last year, and were returning to the fest celebrate their one year anniversary. During Derrick Carter’s set, I bumped into a dancing, white-haired Mancunian in a blazer and khakis who travels to raves with his son. I watched a security guard hug a kid tripping balls for about ten minutes straight.

Secret Solstice’s ambitions are extending beyond the alpine-lined festival grounds, and this year’s iteration hosted the world's first ever concert inside of a volcano, featuring a solo performance by Deftones' Chino Moreno. That came in addition to an assortment of off-site afterparties and DJ sets held within the depths of glaciers and on the shores of idyllic lagoons just minutes outside the city.

A long-delayed, near no-show set from Die Antwoord (caused by striking airport workers) paid off with an unrelenting, tightly-executed performance that felt something like if Neil Blomkamp had directed the rave scene in The Matrix whilst subsisting off of only Red Bull and bong rips. Die Antwoord isn’t an act that warrants much overthinking, but they’re also proving once and for all that they’re no gimmick. Ninja and Yolandi delivered muscular live bars over juiced-up trance and techno production to a packed, sweat-soaked, somehow-still-raging closing night crowd for one of the best sets of the festival.


Secret Solstice also made a point of proving there’s a lot more to Icelandic music than Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Of Monsters and Men, though the latter brought the home turf love for a packed headlining set on the festival’s final day. Iceland’s nascent but burgeoning rap scene made a strong showing, with young up-and-comers like Glacier Mafia, GKR, Sturla Atlas, and Reykjavíkurdætur unleashing trap- and rave-influenced sets as part of the first true movement of Icelandic-language rap. Local electronic acts like DJ Hendrik, KSF, and Kanilsnældur showcased a tech-house ferocity and 4x4 ambition that rivaled any of the marquee heavy hitters I caught on the larger stages. And be sure to keep an eye on acts like Halleluwah, Kiriyama Family, Pink Street Boys, and Fufanu, who showcased a new wave of captivating pop and garage rock that won't stay confined to the island nation for long.

It’s hard to tell if I’m still jetlagged, if I just never adjusted to local time, or if I’m just exhausted and exhilarated by the fact that the whole affair was really just one long day. But boy was it a blast. Below, take a look at the sights, sounds, and madness of Reykjavik’s Secret Solstice 2016.


Die Antwoord

Róisín Murphy

Of Monsters and Men


Action Bronson

Sturla Atlas

Högni Egilsson

Andrea Domanick has no idea what time it is. Follow her on Twitter.