This winter saw the emergence of a new mountain music festival in Bansko, Bulgaria. Whitelines sent Jess Cattlin out there with her dancing shoes firmly on to see what it was all about…
Just as the daffodils began to peak out of the sleepy hills of Bansko, rumours began to circulate amongst the Bansko locals about the army of hedonistic British party goers en route to invade the Bulgarian resort. Traditional folk and church choirs would soon be traded in for a week of underground dance music of the deepest order.
Horizon Festival March 2013 was coming to town! This new event was created by one of the Co-Founders and the curator of Croatia’s Outlook and Dimensions festivals, Jack Robinson, and if his other festivals are anything to go by this was bound to be a banger!
Perhaps boldly, he’d decided to stage his event during the same week as the daddy of all of Alpine festivals, Snowbombing. But then the ravers who would be heading out to Mayrhofen for the ‘Bombing’s 13th edition would generally be of the more commercially-minded sort. This lot were all about cutting edge music.
Not that cutting edge meant unknown – throughout the week both established industry favourites and up and coming talents took to the decks. And like snowbombing, every taste was catered for, from house to techno, garage, drum n bass and hip-hop, all spread across three mountain stages and eight nightclubs in the town.
Now when you think of Bulgaria what springs to mind?
Crazy cab drivers, gypsies, stray goats, mystery meat kebabs and mastic-seasoned liquors?
Well… you’d be just about on point.
After white-knuckling it for 3-hours on the steep winding roads from Sofia to the Pirin Mountains I had arrived just in time to grab a mystery meat breakfast kebab from the awesomely named Café la Crack and head up to the slopes to get the fix I’d been waiting for all season.
After a fresh dump of powder the day before, the Sunday slopes (Bansko boasts 70km of runs reaching 2600m) were buzzing. There was a good mixture of locals, holiday makers and Horizon party-goers. By noon the music was getting in full swing as Bristol’s Shapes went back to back with London’s Trix on the Banderitsa Stage. This pair set the tone perfectly, serving up a healthy dose of deep house against the backdrop of the Pirin Mountains as skiers and snowboarders congregated, got the beers flowing and got into their groove. It was about this point that I forgot all about life at home and the stresses and strains of London life and became fully immersed in the hedonism that is Horizon.
It continued like this – Rattus Rattus put the ‘Secret Hotel’ stage on the map before the crowds took the slopes down from Banderitsa for an afternoon knees up. Next stop Happy End(ings) bar for new East London party Flight Rhythm, which tore up the traditional wooden Apres Ski shack at the bottom of the mountains. Later the concrete basement nightclub (that’s not it’s name, that’s just what it’s like!) in the Gardenia Hotel hosted the evening’s main entertainment, Tief vs Trouble Vision. These are two massively established parties hailing from London which featured the likes of Casino Times and Jackmaster.
The next few days became a Jäger-bomb fuelled blur as crowds cruised from slope to stage, to restaurant to club to bar to club to bed and back the slopes again! With the mountain-air hangovers become a thing of the past. Sleep deprivation is your only opponent, but it doesn’t stand a chance when you’ve got adrenalin, boozy shenanigans and pumping music to carry you through the week.
Mystery meat stalls aside, the food in Bansko is not bad at all. Bulgarian food culture borrows heavily from Greek and Turkish cuisine, and the town of Bansko is chocka block with traditional restaurants stocked with salads, meat, potato dishes and locally produced wines. Best of all, it’s all cheap – if you fancied an escape from the madness and a civilised sit-down meal, you’d still be left with change from a £20.
The beer is also awesome setting you back about £2.50 a pop. Spirits from the supermarkets are even more budget-friendly. Even the local specialities such as Rakia (fermented fruit spirit) and Mastika (fermented tree sap spirit – no kidding!) will only set you back a couple quid. And a few hundred brain cells.
Monday’s biggest attraction was the Mountain Stage (aka Secret Hotel), where the DJs smashed it. The building is only reachable from the slopes and the DJs were playing from a first floor balcony down to the crowds who filled up the terrace. The likes of Reggae Roast, Throwing Snow and Route 94 warmed up the ravers before Bulgarian house and techno legend Kink showed up (with his DAD!) and put everyone in their place with a heavy live set. His energy and sheer love for music was palpable and spread through the crowd like wild fire.
As the crowds drove, rode or in some cases rolled down the mountains back to the town to carry on the carnage, Shapes vs Trix residents took over club Euphoria opening the night with another dose of bumpin house. A few Jäger-bombs later we found ourselves running around the town to catch the action and found Kink still partying (and still with his dad) into the wee hours.
Tuesday’s treat was a private guestlist-only party set in Bansko’s finest strip club. Klose one vs Loefah along with appearances from garage/ dub/ bass acts including Benton ripping the place apart.
Smash Hits as the unforgettable MC making sure the boys stayed off the podium and poles and all the girls got up… and stayed up. Despite a few awkward lapdances and some seedy locals, most of the half-naked staff found themselves useless – all eyes were on the DJs (most of them anyway).
The week continued in much the same vein, with parties left right and centre throughout the day and most of the night. In general, the atmosphere was awesome, the locals friendly and accomodating. The only set-back was a few meat-head bouncers who are evidently going to need to couple more seasons before they warm to these kind of 24-hour party people… But I’m sure they’ll be tamed eventually.
All in all, Horizon smashed their first year. If there were any teething problems or the odd logistical nightmare, it went unnoticed. The crowd were there for the music and nothing else – no shufflers, no hood-rats, no problems. Just good vibes, good booze and good times! Judging by its success this season, we’d say it’s almost certain to be returning to the slopes of Bansko next year, so get it down in your diaries now!