An international destination music festival needs to be something really special these days to standout from the glut of events that dot the globe each summer. This week alone there are fests kicking off in Croatia, France, Switzerland and Belgium.
But the Secret Solstice Festival in Iceland has it wired; they promote an experience where the sun doesn’t set for three-days during the summer solstice. Add that in with dozens of acts from multiple countries, and organizers have a leg up on the competition, with Reykjavík the northernmost capital in the world and only one able to pull off such a boast.
Now in its second year, this past weekend’s Secret Solstice has expanded, ironed out some of the wrinkles and gotten lucky with the weather. While the inaugural event in 2014 suffered from haze and clouds that put a slight damper on the overall atmosphere, this year’s planning had some options in addition to the music which took advantage of the unique landscape.
The big one was the world’s first ever rave inside of a glacier. Seventy lucky revelers headed to the man-made tourist attraction which opened earlier this month. Naturally dubbed the IceRave, there were DJ sets by electronic artists Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Artwork deep inside the cavern of ice. Drinks were served, a maximum of two, because this isn’t some club you can stumble in and out of; you’re traveling on a 20 ton vehicle just to get across the slick territory, heading some 1600 feet deep into ice, strapping crampons on your existing footwear, and getting a tour of one of the most gorgeous aspects of nature on the planet.
Back on the Secret Solstice site, the weather was strikingly cooperative, with the sun shining at full blast more often than not. In addition to the two major stages, DJ heavy club sections, multitude of restaurants and vendors peddling local wares – and even a nine foot high hot tub overlooking the main stage available for rent – there was a “secret lagoon party” Friday at midnight in the town of Flúðir which boasts the oldest geothermal pool in Iceland, built in the late 1800s which featured a disco set by Skream, Zero 7, Los Angeles based Droog and Sexy Lazer.
A hangover party was held on Sunday at Laugardalslaugin, the swimming pool next to the festival. It featured RVK Soundsystem, a local DJ collective whose goal is, “to present reggae music to the Icelandic public and build a strong scene around the genre.”
Speaking of, the music itself wasn’t so bad either. Following in the vein of last year, it was hip-hop, trip-hop and electronic heavy with the barely controlled chaos of Wu-Tang Clan as event headliners, FKA twigs, Kelis and Hercules & Love Affair among the most anticipated at the top or near the top of the bill each day, all delivering solid performances. Saturday had a “secret headliner” who turned out to be Busta Rhymes, which pretty much surprised no one in attendance as it had been all but confirmed by that morning. The Wailers, Charles Bradley and Nightmares on Wax also drew large crowds as the days wore on.
One act on the bill that many were curious about was Bam Margera’s Earth Rocker, a name derived from a 2013 Clutch album. Formerly known as Fuckface Unstoppable, the musical art project/metal/dubstep shitshow features songs like “Beers Drugs & Bitches” and “Bend My Dick” (sample lyric: “I wanna bend my dick to my ass/so I can fuck myself”). It’s hard to tell if it’s a joke, though that’s what one would hope as it would seem an awful lot of trouble for the Jackass star to travel all that way to perform (while seeming incredibly inebriated) to a pathetically sparse audience on a tiny stage if it was in sincerity.
Following the gig, Margera ended up getting knocked out during a scuffle he admittedly started in the media and artist backstage area. Reports are conflicting about whether Bam was under the influence during the throw-down, though it’s been confirmed the perpetrators of the KO were Iceland’s rap crew Glacier Mafia. And if that isn’t embarrassing enough, Margera showed up at the police station to press charges, but then split because it was taking too long.
In fact, the only main problem with destination festivals like this is the drunken American stereotype which is repeatedly on display. Whether it was loudly arguing onsite with bartenders over the temperature of their beer (served warm) or post-fest in the city at an establishment demanding those in attendance give a standing ovation for the dude who just played a barely tolerable acoustic version of Radiohead’s “Creep,” it’s sometimes hard not to argue with the “Yankee go home” line of thinking. Sometimes, it might be better if certain festivals actually were kept a secret.
Follow Michael Christopher around the world and on Twitter @BlackBranchMC