Organizer Q&A

Katrín Ólafsson and Jón Bjarni Steinsson (Secret Solstice Festival)

May 20, 2021

6 min read

Welcome to Festival Insider's Organizer Q&A series. Here, we have intimate conversations with some of the festival market's most exciting and influential innovators.

They come from the land of ice and snow with the midnight sun and the raves inside a glacier. Katrín Ólafsson and Jón Bjarni Steinsson are co-directors of the incredibly unique Secret Solstice Festival, an annual gathering of music lovers that showcases some of the biggest names in rock, hip-hop, and dance in Iceland.

Downtown Reykjavík comes alive each June for 72-hours, celebrating the forever-sun of the solstice with performances in and around the city, taking advantage of some of Iceland’s thrilling scenes. Chino of the Deftones once performed inside a volcano. Lava tunnel mosh pit, anyone? Secret Solstice has welcomed everyone from Radiohead to the Foo Fighters, The Prodigy, the Black Eyed Peas, Olafsson-fave Bonnie Tyler, and more, but there’s lots for electronic music heads to enjoy, from Steve Aoki to Kraftwerk, Jamie Jones, Skream, and more. Most of the attendees are Icelandic, but partiers come from as far as Australia and the UK, America, and Germany. The wildest part? It’s Iceland in the summer, so the sun never goes down, and it’s a sunny throwdown from morning to 3 a.m. and then some.

What is your name and what is the name of your festival?

My name is Katrín and the name of our festival is called the Secret Solstice festival. My name is Jón.

When did the festival start and what inspired it?

The festival started, the first year was 2014. What inspired it was our founder with his friends from the UK - he was drunk in downtown Reykjavik in June, in the midnight sun and they thought like, this would be an awesome time and place to do a festival. So they did!

Secret Solstice Crowd PictureSecret Solstice Crowd Picture

When and where does it happen?

It happens in Reykjavik, Iceland, during the summer solstice, which is in June.

Tell us about the site and how it influences the festival?

We do the downtown Reykjavik thing - that's amazing, but we also have the side events. We've had events happening inside a glacier, down a volcano, in lava tunnels. You've seen Chino Moreno, from Deftones play inside a volcano, and weird raves inside a glacier. So we tried to take things from Iceland and implement them into our festival so the people that come to see us have something to go to that they cannot get anywhere else.

Secret Solstice - BEPSecret Solstice - BEP

What kind of musical artists play at your festival?

All genres. Like everything, we try and include everybody, so that everybody can really enjoy the festival. We've had Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Deftones, Black Eyed Peas, Bonnie Tyler - our favorite. So yeah, we've basically had everything, and then we also had a host of electronic artists as well. We've had Steve Aoki, we've had Kraftwerk, we've had Jamie Jones, Skream - like all those guys. For the first few years, it was the electronic artists and hip hop was probably the main thing but we've gone around to a bit more mainstream now. You know, so we've had all kinds of...we've had The Wailers, we've had Wu-Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes, and your favorite, Josh Bradley. Yep. So we've had all kinds of music.

Who was the first act you ever booked?

I don't actually know. I wasn't doing any bookings for the first couple of years. But yeah, I can't even tell you because I don't really remember. We all know what the first act you ever booked was! I booked a bunch of Icelandic acts. No, but like, my first real booking was Bonnie Tyler. Best booking. Best booking I've ever done in my life. I've been doing constant booking for like 10 years and never had a better booking than Bonnie Tyler.

Secret Solstice Festival - Briet BlomeySecret Solstice Festival - Briet Blomey

What’s the most memorable set or sets for you?

Obviously, there are many but a standout would definitely be Charles Bradley. I just remember the day that he was doing a soundcheck, it was really sunny, and I was walking through the site by myself and he was just standing on stage and it was like the sun was like shining straight on him, and he just looked like this God in his outfit. I think that's definitely one of the most memorable moments I've ever had. Legend.

Mine is, apart from Bonnie Tyler, obviously, is the Prodigy. Yeah, 2017 - I got a call, I was like working somewhere and she came and grabbed me and told me that we could go on stage to see Prodigy, and Prodigy is like my favorite band of all time. Like, the reason I got into liking music is Prodigy. We went, we ran through the whole site, in the rain, went backstage, and went up on stage. I was watching Prodigy, like my favorite of all time, backstage in the pouring rain. Amazing. They were playing 'Smack My Bitch Up', and she was like poking me, look to your right, look to your right, and then I look to my right and Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and Ivano are like slamming with his kids on stage like right next to me. Then after the gig, we talked with Dave Grohl about how the Prodigy was his favorite band and my favorite band and I think that is probably the most amazing experience in my whole life as an admirer of music. So yeah, Prodigy 2018.

Who is the target audience for your festival?

Our main target is Icelanders, obviously, we have like, for a medium-sized festival, there's 350,000 people in Iceland. So, you know, we try and target all genres. But obviously, we want foreigners too and we have a fan base from pretty much all over the world. I think we've had people coming from yeah, all corners. Yeah, all corners of the world and surprisingly many Australians, Germans, I mean, just yeah, from everywhere. But obviously, we want more so you know, we want everybody to come.

Secret Solstice - Crowd PictureSecret Solstice - Crowd Picture

What is unique about your festival? What sets it apart?

I think, I'm pretty sure we are the only international festival in the world with that caliber of artists coming to it that's actually held in daylight, with sunlight all day round. I'm not sure I think we're the only one that has all these big artists playing in 72 hours of sunlight.

Then, of course, our side events, these events in volcanoes, glaciers, lava tunnels, and we're always trying to expand that, to do something different that you know, this is obviously we do this mostly for the foreigners, when they come to experience something completely different. And yeah, something that you can't just do anywhere in the world.

I think, I'm pretty sure there are not many festivals where you can go and see like a band like Deftones, Radiohead headline, and then go up in a bus and go to a rave.

Secret Solstice Festival - Lava TunnelSecret Solstice Festival - Lava Tunnel

Anything else you want to tell us about?

We might try to do a concert in front of an active volcano. Stay tuned!