Electric Castle Festival 2016 Review: Best bands and what we learnt from Banffy Castle, Romania

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Electric Castle Main Stage, 2016

Electric Castle featured a list of heavy hitters, fresh DJ’s, and a lot of lasers. Getintothis’ Ryan Craig looks back on the Romanian fairyland. 

Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Those are the wise words of medieval traveller and scholar, Ibn Battuta. Having already passed the speechless part, it’s time for the storytelling.

After taking virtually every form of transport possible – a train, two aeroplanes, a taxi and a coach – the glorious city of Cluj-Napoca was in sight. The short walk from the coach to the festival offered a chance to truly experience the famous Transylvanian architecture. Detailed pre-modern buildings clashed with the gothic influenced structures, the kind that would be fitting in a vampire film. Hm, sounds familiar actually.

Each corner seemingly came equipped with its very own watermelon stand. 100s of watermelons stacked up like some sort of bizarre temple. So much effort had been put into carefully stacking these fruits that it almost seemed a shame to watch it be torn down as passers-by exchanged their change for a chunk of Romania’s most popular fruit.

To put it simply, any foolhardy assumptions of Romania had vanished. The city was something not many people have the opportunity to experience, as visiting Cluj-Napoca probably isn’t on a lot of peoples bucket lists. It seemed almost like an insult to say we were just there for the festival.

Before jumping into the music, let’s talk about exactly what Electric Castle had to offer. While not a veteran of music festivals, Electric Castle was easily like no other festival you’d ever find back in England. For starters, one of the stages was enclosed in a 15th century castle.

Speaking of stages, the festival housed six of them (seven if you include the Silent Dance, which we will get onto later). There was no ‘Introducing stage’ as such, but the Booha Mansion offered plenty of fresh DJ acts including Quidbop, Brusten and Dex. Any time you wanted to just forget about life for a while and just dance, this was the place to be. And yes, we literally do mean any time, the stage played 24 hours every day.

If there was somehow a festival held on an uninhabited island it would undoubtedly look like the Hideout Stage. The whole area just oozed mellow and contentment. It was a small area, guarded by a lot of greenery and trees draped in dimly lit lights. Even though anyone and everyone at the festival could find it, the stage maintained a sort of secret club feel to it – festival goers lazing around on beanbags, half chopped tree trunks and hammocks, just simply listening to the live music. Artists like Jazú and Kosmic Blues completed the scene with their calming melodies and tranquil vibes which spawned the perfect zone to unwind after a hard day of castle gazing.

Then there was the RMBA stage, arguably the prettiest of all the stages at the festival. With the castle as its backdrop, the main attraction was used as a projection screen with plenty of hypnotising swirls that seemed to absorb you. This stage was all about shaking up the way people interact with music with the use of innovative visuals and a unique setting. To think that such modern music was being played in such a pre-modern castle shows the lifespan of said buildings. Those who built the castle all those years ago are now long gone, but their work and craft still exists and is now used as a place to party. It’s very bittersweet.

Opening for the RMBA stage was DJ act, Horace Dan D. Admittedly, we were not there from the start as headliners Sigur Ros were on at the same time, but we did manage to catch the end of DJ’s set. The decision to see Sigur Ros proved the correct one (not that it was ever in doubt) as the most impressive part of Horace Dan D was the castle itself. The positive was that the visuals were suited to the sort of deep house aura provided by the DJ.

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View from the Boiler Stage, Electric Castle

Again, not a stage as such, but the Silent Dance provided a place to sing your heart out and for nobody to hear a thing, as the name implies. Each person could only hear their own music via a stylish pair of headphones which allowed you to dance like there was nobody else watching – well, listening. Energy skyrocketed with disk jockeys pumping out their own mixes. The only time you could stand still was to sip your drink, the literal opposite of the Hideout Stage. Hilarity would ensue when you would take off your headphones only for it to appear like everyone was dancing erratically with DJ’s bouncing around to what appeared to be no music. Yes, we are that childish.

The food court is deserving of its own review entirely. The food, to simply put it, was impressive. No, seriously, if it wasn’t for the spectacular line-up of artists, we’d say the food did a fair part in keeping everyone happy. Considering the festival boasted an impressive attendance of over 100,000 people – becoming the biggest Romanian music event ever – the food court was never unbearably busy, never queuing longer than a couple of minutes for food and drink. Well, there was one exception to this and that was the queue for the donut stand. The stand must have attracted bigger crowds than some of the acts themselves, but it all made sense when first experiencing the sweet ring shaped treat. The plethora of variety provided by over 30 vendors created a world in one festival and offered a chance to never have the same thing twice (even though we did, because the quesadillas were amazing).

As for activities, hot air balloon rides, yoga lessons, water balloon fights, beer pong, volleyball and a cinema were all on the menu, along with the six stages positioned across the site and 170+ artists spread over the five days. It’s fair to say there was a lot to see and do. As with most festivals, the problem is not being able to see all you want to see. There’s just too much, with decisions between Camo and Kooked or Gramophonedzie, Gorgon City or Art Department, Flux Pavilion or KINK being made. For the record, we chose the latter of each of those conundrums.

Hot air balloon rides at Electric Castle Festival, 2016

Hot air balloon rides at Electric Castle Festival, 2016

What seemingly appeared like an escape from English weather was short lived as wellies and rain macs became a necessity to battle the mud that would have given Glastonbury a run for its money. Masses of hay was used as an attempt to cover the mud – which was a great idea for about 2 minutes – until the mud inevitably swallowed it all up, along with many people’s shoes.

Saturday brought the worst of the weather, but that didn’t dampen moods as thousands braved the rain to see the electric rumble of headliners Skrillex and Flux Pavilion. Two artists who need no introduction. Drenched in both sound and rain, the hyper, near overboard tempo of Skrillex along with the torrent of water created what seemed to be a competition of who can dance the most eccentrically and become the most muddy – with the prize being a one way trip to the showers.

The Main Stage had seen the worst of the mud and was unable to recover for the rest of the festival. Spirits were lifted as the stage played host to 8 and a half hours of headlined music, including God Is an Astronaut, Bastille, Bring Me The Horizon and Gorgon City. Now, don’t take these names as a tone for the whole festival. Are those names big? Yes, of course. Are they for everyone? No, definitely not. But if you didn’t manage to find yourself a hoard of new music, as well as seeing favourites, then you’re probably doing Electric Castle wrong.

If you haven’t already noticed, contrary to the name, Electric Castle isn’t just electronic music. There really was an act for everyone. Artists like Congo Natty and Skarra Mucci added an extra dimension to the festival with their reggae vibes, which the Roots Stage was blooming with. However, being tucked away behind the main protagonist that is Banffy Castle maybe caused a few people to miss out on stumbling across some great and new artists. An unwarranted criticism arguably, after all, everyone had access to a map.

Unwarranted criticisms aside, the organisers had done a fantastic job. They really have put Romania on the music map and redefined what a festival really is to so many people. Simply put, Electric Castle Festival is a truly unique, fairy tale experience that everyone has to try at least once. Sounds cliché but there’s just something about travelling to another country and connecting with people through music. You’ve heard it before, and you’ve cringed before, but music really is the language of the world. Now that the mushy part is out of the way, here are our top 6 acts of Electric Castle 2016.

Sigur Ros at Main Stage, 2016

Sigur Ros

Top 6 acts of Electric Castle 2016

6. God Is an Astronaut – Main Stage, Sunday 17 July.

Kicking off the last night for the Main Stage was ambient space rock quartet, God Is an Astronaut, whose guitar heavy sounds transcended any specific genre. Mixes of progressive and psychedelic rock, downtempo and electronica fused together to create an immense, powerful sound.

Opting not to use flashy lasers or any kind of visual effects – not to say those are a bad thing – the band focused solely on the music side of things. So much so that a word wasn’t even uttered from the frontman until 20 minutes into the set. Although the crowd was mostly just a sea of bobbing heads, songs such as Helios Erebus introduced a bit more life into the set as the band began to rock out on stage.

Admittedly numbers in the audience seemed to drop as the act continued to play, however this could have been due to interest of Romanian act Aria Urbana, who were playing over at the Boiler Stage.

5. Nopame – Boiler Stage, Thursday 14 July.

Wait, what do you mean “who”? Nopame are a project, born in the winter of 2013 with a percussion jam based electronic music. Hailing from Bucharest, Romania, the quintet attracted a crowd of originally just over 100 people, not the same numbers as other acts such as Bastille or Skrillex, but that is obviously to be expected, as most were still sleeping off their hangovers in the early morning. The more the band performed, the more they attracted. The crowed had now doubled in size as fellow music lovers followed their ears to easy listening style of Nopame.

Their stage offered something a little more intimate and almost elusive, those who were there just knew. Paying homage to all that came made them seem genuinely thankful for all there. But above all this, they played great music. So if you were one of the ~200 people who were there, shout out to you for making the experience so much more.

4. Congo Natty – Roots Stage, Sunday 17 July.

Congo Natty aka Rebel MC’s appearance proved that Electric Castle isn’t always, well, electric. The reggae artist provided a chilled atmosphere, a break from the hardcore dancing, with his calmly executed reggae. Admittedly the rain probably had a say in the amount of people there, Congo Natty deserving of 1000s was singing to an audience of only a few hundred.

Many chose to view the act from the safety of drinks stand located near the back. An almost backwards twist from the norm of everyone wishing to be as close as they can.

3. Slow Magic – Main Stage, Thursday 14 July.

Self-described as “music made by your imaginary friend,” Slow Magic seemed to be a personification of the festival itself – unique, energetic, full of great sound and something not many people know about.

The theme of breaking barriers was a reoccurring theme throughout the festival. The mellowness was broken with Slow Magic then grabbing their drum, placing it above their head, and then walking directly into the crowd. Surrounded by many, the anonymous artist then began to play. Displaying the use of the main stage’s pyrotechnics and strobe lighting in sync to the beat added to the experience, as Slow Magic continued to beat the drum as if it had insulted him.

2. Enter Shikari – Main Stage, Friday 15 July.

Now, hear us out before you start making mean comments about how it’s not 2009 anymore. Maybe not the most anticipated act, but Enter Shikari know how to perform live. Having existed since 1999, you bet they’ve learnt a thing or two about how to put on a show. Their up close and personal with the crowd type of performance made everything that little more meaningful.

Understandably not everyone’s cup of tea (including this writer’s, before seeing them perform live), Enter Shikari worked the audience to the max. After breaking a guitar only one and a half songs in, you knew this was serious.

The highlight of the show came when guitarist Chris Batton joined the crowd and had those form a circle pit around him while attempting to still play. When the song was complete, Batton was gracefully crowd-surfed back to the stage, albeit a bit wet, but with his guitar still intact.

1. Sigur Ros –Main Stage, Thursday 14 July.

Drawing one of the biggest crowds of the festival were Sigur Ros, and for good reason. Opening with the eerie track Óveður instantly offered an insight into their world. Chilling sound paired with trippy, mind altering visuals that matched the music in both the feel and awe. It’s no criticism to the music to say that the visuals impressed just as much.

As the trio suddenly moved forward from their curtain of lasers with a sort of pathetic fallacy as the rain came down as soon as they started singing and ending once the song stopped. This raw emotion of being in the moment, right there and then was nothing short of enlightening. You would think they had cued it, honestly.

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