Electronic music festivals come in all shapes and styles. The biggest (EDC, Ultra Music Festival) focus on size and spectacle; some are there to celebrate a specific musical heritage (Detroit’s Movement); and others operate as industry gatherings expanded to encompass almost unlimited party options (Amsterdam Dance Event).
While all festivals fundamentally exist to celebrate music, some take a particularly meticulous approach to the experience offered to both the audience and the artist. Sound, size, and curatorial scope are all factored in to craft a party that delivers far more than a fun time. Today we explore five different events around the world that keep not just the fans but the world’s most respected DJs and performers coming back for more.
MUTEK FESTIVAL: MAY 27 – JUNE 1, MONTREAL, CANADA
Celebrating its 15th year as North America’s finest festival for fans of cutting-edge electronic music, Montreal’s MUTEK Festival has been a breeding ground for new ideas and collaboration since the beginning. It’s played host to a special performance of Richie Hawtin’s revamped Plastikman live show, set up an operating room for Matmos to stage their A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure album, premiered Amon Tobin’s ISAM Live, and boasted the first show by Narod Niki—a nine-man techno super-group featuring Hawtin, Daniel Bell, Luciano, Ricardo Villalobos, and others.
But beyond the big names, the festival has fashioned itself as a crucial axis for forward-thinking Canadian artists, with its Mutek_Hub offering an unparalleled music and commerce portal for countrymen who have appeared on the festival’s line-up.
Having joined forces this year with Montreal arts festival Elektra, EM15 (which kicks off next week) offers 47 international and Canadian premiers, including art and music by Tim Hecker, Audion, and Voices From The Lake—thus assuring that the experimental explorers of the scene have a seat at the table next to the techno iconoclasts who regularly return for MUTEK’s special vibe.
FREEROTATION: JULY 11-13, BASKERVILLE HALL, WALES
The uniqueness of this gathering in rural Wales starts with the audience. Newcomers must be “invited” by a previous attendee, and then can only purchase tickets during a tiered rollout that gives preference to repeat customers. This members-only policy assures a crowd that is especially clued-in to the vibe of the event. It’s something that makes Freerotation especially welcoming to regular performers like Surgeon, who took a break from his usual tough-as-nails techno sound to deliver a special sit-down ambient set last year.
“As a performer, I feel totally comfortable to enjoy the festival along with everyone else there,” Surgeon told us. “There’s a real sense that the divide between performers and audience at an event has been dissolved.”
Another huge fan of FreeRo is Move D, who said his recent mix for Fabric’s CD series was not inspired by the beloved London venue, but rather one of his Freerotation sets, which the press release described as a “near-spiritual event that brought him to tears.”
DIMENSIONS FESTIVAL: AUGUST 27-31, PULA, CROATIA
Nothing can ruin the festival experience for a performer quicker than bad sound. But it’s about more than just being loud. When the right system is paired with the right DJ, it can feel as if the audience feels every audible texture.
The incredible attention to sonic detail is a staple of Croatia’s Dimensions Festival, where six different configurations of soundsystems are used over the nine music areas, each custom crafted for the particulars of the space as well as the music being played.
“From varnished wood roots and dub stacks, across the now ubiquitous and much-loved purple-and-silver space-age design of Funktion-One, through sculpted conical horns, giant dance stacks that look like Transformers, and right up the very latest, revolutionary multi-cellular line arrays, the whole spectrum of audio is not only represented but celebrated,” Neuron Audio‘s managing director Kyle Marriott, who has handled audio installations at Dimensions, told Coolhunting in an interview.
Need more proof of their dedication? They got dubstep kingpin Mala, techno master Carl Craig, and UK soundboy Midland to speak on sound’s importance.
UNSOUND FESTIVAL: OCTOBER 13-20, KRAKOW, POLAND
Taking place each October in Krakow, Poland (with a smaller sister event in New York every April), Unsound stands out from even the other outlier events on this list. Each event is built around a particular theme, from “Horror” in 2010 and “Future Shock” (dedicated to author Alvin Toffler) in 2012, to last year’s “Interference” concept, which received special attention for its banning of all photography at the week-long event.
Any festival with such an “art first” attitude is sure to inspire performers to leave their comfort zone. Out of the self-imposed parameters, Unsound has curated some truly landmark performances, the most notable likely being Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnasson “Solaris,” which was accompanied by visuals by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson. Then there was the time in 2008 when Unsound commissioned Carl Craig to do a live soundtrack to the Andy Warhol film Blowjob.
THE LABYRINTH: SEPTEMBER 13-15, NIIGATA, JAPAN
Called “the most fastidiously crafted dance party on earth” by Time Out Tokyo, last year’s Labyrinth festival was cancelled due to a typhoon which forced the evacuation of over 400,000 people living in the area of the festival. One of the acts who didn’t get to perform was Labyrinth veteran Eric Cloutier who, despite the disappointment, offers nothing but glowing praise for the intimate annual gathering and its pristine Funktion-One soundsystem.
“Labyrinth is a dream in every respect, from location and atmosphere, to the production value and the instant connection to the audience,” he enthuses. “People play differently there because it is so different of an experience, mostly because there’s absolutely no excuse why you shouldn’t provide that pristine soundsystem with a flawless set. It puts you at ease while intimidating the shit out of you.”