Preview: Secret Solstice Festival 2017
With its inaugural run back in 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland’s Secret Solstice Festival has quickly become one of Iceland’s largest music festivals, featuring a diverse and eclectic array of established and internationally recognized artists, locally renowned acts and up-and-coming artists from all over the globe, performing in one of the most unique backdrops in the entire world – the roughly 72 hour period of near constant daylight Iceland experiences during the Summer Solstice, because of its proximity to the Arctic Circle. (After all, Reykjavik is the northernmost capital and administrative region of the northernmost country in the entire world.) Building upon its growing reputation as one of the world’s most unique music festivals, the fourth edition of the festival may arguably be one of the biggest and most diverse lineups to date as it includes Foo Fighters, Rick Ross, the UK electronic act The Prodigy, The Verve’s former frontman Richard Ashcroft, Pharoahe Monch, Chaka Khan, Foreign Beggars, Dubfire, Novelist, Rhye, Dusky and Chicago house music artist Kerri Chandler. Along with those artists, some of Iceland’s renowned acts, including Högni, Úlfur Úlfur, Amabadama, Emmsjé Gauti, GKR, Tiny, Aron Can, KSF, and Alvia Islandia will be performing. And adding to the 72 hour party vibe, the festival’s organizers have planned a series of electronic dance music takeovers and showcases featuring some of the world’s best party crews – including Ibiza’s Circoloco, Above & Beyond Records’ deep house imprint Ajunadeep Records’ dance floor collective Crew Love, ATG and Dubfire’s SCI+TEC among others.
Interestingly, for the second consecutive year, Secret Solstice is currently the only major music festival in the world to be certified CarbonNeutral®, as the festival sources almost all of their power needs from the use 100% renewable geothermal energy, hybrid vehicles provided by Toyota Iceland – and from offsetting any residual emissions through the purchase of high quality, verified carbon credits. Unlike any other festival I’ve attended or heard of, festivalgoers and artists alike can know that they’re being environmentally responsible while partying and catching some of the world’s most interesting artists. Of course, during a multi-day festival like Secret Solstice, it’s difficult and damn near impossible to catch everyone and everything, so consider me as a helpful guide – with some information on artists I’d love to catch while in Reykjavik.
Foo Fighters: Unless you’ve been living in a Tibetan monastery over the past 20 years, you’d be familiar with the band and its frontman and primary songwriter Dave Grohl. Joining iconic grunge rockers Nirvana in 1990, the multi-instrumentalist can trace the origins of Foo Fighters to songs he surreptitiously wrote during free moments while on tour with the band. As the story goes, the Grohl occasionally booked studio time to record demos and covers of songs he loved – and under the moniker “Late!,” Grohl released a cassette featuring some of the things he recorded in the studio. After Kurt Cobain’s death and the eventual breakup of Nirvana, Grohl received a number of offers to work with an impressive list of bands. At the time, there were rumors that he’d join Pearl Jam and he almost accepted a position with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; however, Grohl declined and went to Robert Lang Studios in October 1994 to record 15 of the 40 songs he had written. With the exception of a guitar part on “X-Static,” which featured The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli, Grohl played every instrument and sang every vocal. Upon the album’s completion, Grohl handed out cassette copies to friends and associates and as a result, Grohl’s Foo Fighters debut began to receive serious industry buzz.
Shortly before the 1995 release of Foo Fighters’ full-length debut, Grohl recruited former Nirvana touring guitarist and former Germs guitarist Pat Smear, bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, both formerly of Sunny Day Real Estate to flesh out the band’s first lineup. And although the band has gone through several lineup changes — the band currently features Grohl, Mendel, Smear, Taylor Hawkins (drums, vocals) and Chris Shiflett (guitar) – they have managed to be one of the more commercially successful bands of their era, as they’ve sold more than 12 million records domestically and 30 million records globally, and have won 4 Best Rock Album Grammys.
Now, as a voracious music fan and as a music journalist, blogger and photographer, I’ve seen at least 1,000 shows in arenas, stadiums, clubs, basements, DIY art spaces and festivals of varying sizes and after catching Foo Fighters live in 2011, during their tour to support Wasting Light, Grohl and company may arguably be one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. The world renowned act will be headlining the festival and if you’re somehow in Iceland around the time they are, and you haven’t caught them live, do whatever you can legally to see them live. Trust me. You won’t forget it.
Richard Ashcroft: Perhaps best known as a co- founding member, occasional guitarist and frontman of one of my favorite bands ever, The Verve, which formed in 1990 and featured founding members Nick McCabe (guitar), Simon Jones (bass) and Peter Salisbury (drums). Initially signed to Hut Records, with the release of their first two albums, 1993’s A Storm in Heaven and 1995’s A Northern Soul, the band quickly became known for a psych rock-leaning take on shoegaze while being part of the first wave of Brit Pop and for their appetite for drugs and alcohol. After the band’s first split shortly after the release of A Northern Soul, Ashcroft had written a batch of songs he intended for what would have been his first solo album. However, by 1996-1997, Ashcroft had changed his mind about his solo ambitions and the band reunited with new member Simon Tong (guitar) initially replacing McCabe. Interestingly, during the sessions which would eventually comprise their most commercially and critically successful effort together, 1997’s Urban Hymns, McCabe re-joined the band, recording additional guitar parts and some of my favorite songs off that album. Speaking of commercially successful, Urban Hymns’ lead single “Bittersweet Symphony” landed at number 2 on the UK charts and number 12 on the US charts with the album’s second UK single “The Drugs Don’t Work” being the band’s first ever UK single. By August 1997, Urban Hymns had knocked off Oasis’ Be Here Now from the number 1 spot on the UK charts, with the album reaching number 12 on the US charts, by far the highest ever they had reached Stateside; in fact, the album wound up going platinum as a result of the success of its first two singles.
Unsurprisingly, for a band that has almost always had extremely bitter, internal tensions as part of their creative process, McCabe left the band mid-tour in 1998 and by the following year, they announced their second breakup. Ashcroft then became a fairly successful solo artist in his own right, releasing three commercially successful solo efforts including his 2000 full-length debut Alone With Everybody (which is by far his best solo album to date, in my book).
In early 2007, Ashcroft, McCabe and Jones had made peace and announced a reunion tour, which included headlining sets at some of the world’s biggest festivals to support 2008’s Forth. I happened to catch the band during that tour, and as a huge fan of the band, it was arguably the best show I’ve ever seen. But admittedly, I’m a little biased here. Sadly, the band broke up in 2008 for the third time, though it wasn’t announced until the following year. And based on several interviews from members of the band, including a recent interview with Nick McCabe, a reunion seems extremely unlikely.
Since then the members of the band have gone on to a variety of different creative pursuits. Ashcroft went on to form a new band RPA and the United Nations of Sound, which featured Steve Wyreman, Dwayne “DW” Wright, Qyu Jackson and Rico Petrillo and released an album in 2010. And as recently as 2016, Ashcroft released his fourth solo album These People. Nick McCabe and Simon Jones went on to form The Black Ships, which later changed to Black Submarine with Coldplay and Goldfrapp collaborator Davide Rossi, Michelle “Mig” Schillace and Amelia Tucker. Jones and Tong also were briefly together in The Shining a Brit Pop supergroup, which briefly featured The Stone Roses’ John Squire and later featured Mark Heaney, Dan Macbean, and Duncan Baxter.
Ashcroft has written a great deal of songs that have meant the world to me and then some – and I think I’d likely give my left arm to see him again.
The Prodigy: Originally featuring Liam Howlett (keyboards, composition, production), Keith Flint (background dancer, vocals), Maxim (emcee, backing vocals), Leeroy Thornhill (background dancer, occasional keys) and Sharky (emcees, backing vocals), the Braintree, UK-based electronic music act derives their name from a Moog Prodigy synthesizer that Howlett wrote some of the act’s earliest songs – and interestingly enough, the act can trace its origins back to the early 1990s. With a sound that incorporated elements of rave, hardcore techno, industrial electronica, jungle house, breakbeat, big beat, drum ‘n’ bass and punk, The Prodigy along with the likes of The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Fatboy Slim and others are considered pioneers of the big beat subgenre, while being one of the more critically and commercially successful acts of their time as they’ve won two Brit Awards for Best British Dance Act, three MTV Video Music Awards, two Kerrang! Awards, five MTV Europe Awards, two Grammy nominations, and they’ve sold over 30 million albums globally.
The act’s third full-length album, 1997’s The Fat of the Land was a bit of a departure from the sound and approach that first won them attention in electronic music circles, as the material featured simple melodies, sparser use of sampling while retaining tweeter and woofer destroying beats, buzzing synths and an aggressive, punk rock sneer – and as a result, it was a massive commercial success, thanks in part to album singles “Firestarter” and “Smack My Bitch Up,” which featured a vocal sample from Ultramagnetic MC’s “Give the Drummer Some” and was accompanied by one of the most controversial videos in the history of MTVLo. In fact, the “Smack My Bitch Up” video was originally played a handful of times – between the hours of 1am – 5am, and featured a sobering disclaimer from renowned music journalist and MTV personality Kurt Loder. And perhaps because of both the controversy surrounding “Smack My Bitch Up” and the act’s incredibly unique, aggressively hard-hitting sound, The Fat of the Land was a massive crossover success, receiving airplay on Top 40, electronic music and rock radio stations while entering the UK and US charts at number 1. Adding to their enormous international profile, the act headlined at some of the world’s biggest music festivals, including Lollapalooza and Glastonbury.
Over the years, the act has experienced a series of lineup changes and a three-year hiatus at the turn of the century; however, a re-united act featuring its founding members Howlett, Flint and Maxim and a retooled sound, as the band went more for an aggressive, electronic rock sound. But with the release of 2004’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned and 2009’s Invaders Must Die continued the band’s commercial success. Always Outnumbered topped the UK charts, thanks to three singles, including UK Top 20 hit “Girls,” helping the album earn silver certification and Invaders Must Die was the act’s fourth consecutive album to top the British charts, thanks to the success of two Top 10 hits “Girls” and “Warrior’s Dance.” Reportedly, the act is working on new material that would be released sometime this year; but in meantime, with this year being the 20th anniversary of the release of Fat of the Land, I hope that they can play material from what may be the act’s seminal release.
Pharoahe Monch: Born Troy Donald Jamerson, the Queens, NY-based emcee Pharoahe Monch first came to national and international attention as a member hip-hop duo Organized Konfusion, with whom he released three, largely self-produced, critically acclaimed albums – 1991’s self-titled album, 1994’s The Extinction Agenda and 1997’s The Equinox, all praised for the duo’s complex, conscious lyrics, internal and multisyllabic rhyme schemes. After the group split up, Monch signed with renowned hip-hop label Rakwus Records, who released his critically acclaimed and commercially successful 1999 debut album Internal Affairs, an effort which narrowly missed a Top 40 on the Billboard 200 and had a Hot 100 hit “Simon Says” .” Although the single later had placements in two major motion pictures in the year 2000 – Charlie’s Angels and Boiler Room, “Simon Says” hit upon some controversy as the Queens-born and-based emcee was sued for the use of an unauthorized sample of Akira Ifukbe’s “Gojira Tai Mosura” during the song’s hook, which halted the album’s further distribution; in fact, from as a result of the lawsuit, the album was re-issued without the track. Understandably, as a result of the lawsuit, Monch didn’t release solo material for several years – although he did make a series of guest spots. Since then, the renowned emcee has been busy releasing 2007’s Desire, an effort that revealed a subtle change of sonic direction, as it included a couple of gospel and R&B-influenced sound; 2011’s W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) and 2014’s PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve seen the brother live on a couple of occasions, most notably teaming up with Talib Kweli and Soul Rebels Brass Band, and he’s one of the more commercially underappreciated emcees out there.
Rick Ross: Born William Leonard Roberts, II, the Clarksdale, MS-born, Miami, FL-based emcee and entrepreneur Rick Ross, derives his stage name from infamous drug kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross – although in his early years, he wrote and recorded under the pseudonym Teflon Da Don, making an appearance on Erick Sermon’s only album for DreamWorks, Def Squad Presents Erick Onasis. Slowly building up a regional and national profile, Ross’s 2006 debut effort, Port of Miami, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, selling over 187,000 units, eventually being certified gold later that year, thanks in part to the success of album single “Push It,” which sampled “Scarface (Push It to the Limit)” the theme song of Scarface and two guest appearances on DJ Khaled’s debut Listenn . . .the Album. 2008’s sophomore effort Trilla was equally, if not more commercially successful than its predecessor, thanks to the success of album singles “Speedin’” feat. R. Kelly, which peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles; “The Boss,” feat. T-Pain, which peaked at number 17 on the Hot 100.
In 2009 Ross founded his label Maybach Music Group with whom he’s released 2009’s Deeper Than Rap, 2010’s Teflon Don, 2012’s God Forgives, I Don’t, 2014’s Mastermind and Hood Billionaire, 2015’s Black Market and this year’s Rather You Than Me. And along with that Ross has the distinction of being the first artist signed to Diddy’s management company Ciroc Entertainment. And the incredibly prolific, smash hit artist will be in Reykjaviik, adding to an insane diverse array of internationally known and local known artists.
Chaka Khan: Born Yvette Marie Stevens, the legendary Chicago-born vocalist Chaka Khan has had more than enough real and virtual ink spilled on her throughout her five decade recording career, both as the frontwoman of Rufus and as a solo artist. Khan is arguably one of the most successful female artists in the history of the recording industry, as she’s been nominated for 22 Grammy Awards, winning 10 and selling 70 million albums globally – with her seminal album I Feel For You being certified platinum. Of course, her cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You,” was not only a smash hit, she was the first R&B artist to have a crossover hit featuring a rapper. She also has the rare distinction of being nominated for induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame twice – as a member of Rufus and as solo artist. The pop legend is playing the festival’s opening ceremony along with special guest, so there’s something to look extremely forward to.
Kiasmos: Comprsied of Mofesllsbaer, Iceland-born, Reykjavik, Iceland-based Ólafur Arnalds, best known for his stints as a drummer in hardcore metal bands Fighting Shit, Celestine and others and for his work crafting the music for ITV program Broadchurch. and Faroe Islands, Iceland-born, Reykjavik, Iceland-based Janus Rasmussen, best known as a member of Bloodgroup and for work with Guðrið Hansdóttir in Bryta, the experimental techno duo Kiasmos can trace their origins to when the duo worked together, when Rasmussen was a member of Bloodgroup. And with the release of four EP’s – 2012’s Thrown, 2014’s self-titled effort, 2015’s Looped and Swept, the duo established themselves across Iceland, Scandinavia and elsewhere for pairing string and piano arrangements with looped synths and boom-bap beats to create a sound that manages to be elegant, cinematic and yet intimate.
Hopefully, I’ll be in Reykjavik for Secret Solstice as it looks like it’ll be one of the most unique, most interesting experiences as a traveler, blogger and music fan – and hopefully I’ll see some of you guys there!
Check out the following links for more information.
General info: http://secretsolstice.is/info/
Tickets + Flight and Accommodations: http://secretsolstice.is/packages/