For techno heads, there are only two seasons. One is spent in darkened rooms, escaping the cold in the heat of the dance floor, the other is all about open air parties, sun and well, the heat of the dance floor. This is techno, after all. As the weather picks up, we all start planning our big getaways for the summer – from budget to boutique, here are Europe’s most cooler-than-thou techno festivals.
Dimensions, Pula, Croatia (30 August – 3 September)
If we’re talking summer festivals, then there a few elements need to come together. The location is all-important, with plentiful sun, a unique setting and easy access top of our priority lists. The line-up has to be killer, with big hitters and niche favourites both on offer. Dimensions has these two and then some.
Held in Pula on Croatia’s Adriatic Coast, Dimensions offers faultless weather, with blue skies and a beachfront location – not to mention that it’s hosted in an ancient fort. Fort Punta Christo boasts intimate boat parties and beach lounging in the daytime followed by a night spent exploring the stages situated within the walls of the fort. The main stage is 100 long and enclosed by 7m high walls, so when the bass gets going it reverberates through the whole arena.
The sound systems are way beyond anything else in their size category and the artists more than make the most of them. This year their lineup features a live show from Grace Jones and Moderat in the ancient city of Pula’s Roman Amphitheatre, followed by legends like Jeff Mills, Marcel Dettmann and Nina Kraviz along with underground favourites such as Randomer, Radioactive Man and the whole Hessle Audio crew.
Pula town is home to some of Croatia’s finest fish and seafood restaurants, should you need a little R&R after a long night dancing. We heartily recommend booking an apartment in the town too, rather than staying the campsite, to make sure that you are at your finest every day before you get stuck in. Dimensions is known as the festival that DJs want to play the most – so go catch them at their happiest, doing what they do best, in a truly astounding location.
Distortion, Copenhagen, Denmark (31 May – 4 June)
If you’re looking for the coolest anything in Europe, the chances are that eventually you’ll end up in Scandinavia. The most beautiful people, the best dressed crowd, the most intricately crafted location: these are all the calling cards of a Scandi classic, and Distortion in Copenhagen is arguably the best of the lot.
The format is a little different to the usual techno festival. Distortion is spread over 5 five days and various districts of the city. The first part is the street parties, in which the whole district of Norrebrø (Wednesday) and Vesterbro (Thursday) are turned over to the festival. Anyone can set up, from official stages to portable bike sound systems and live bands, with beer bought from local supermarkets and shops. As the sun goes down, all the clubs open and put on nights with specially constructed lineups that represent the best in local Danish talent.
As the weekend rolls around, the Danes are complemented by hordes of their Viking brothers and sisters from Malmö, who take the train over to join in the action. They meet at Christiania to walk to the Refhaløen island, poking out into Copenhagen harbour, where a quirk of geography creates a trippy ambience in which the sun appears to set on either side of the isthmus. At the end, there is a huge festival grounds with warehouses, skate halls and open air stages. The lineup is usually quite hush-hush, but Tale of Us, Maceo Plex and What So Not are already confirmed, plus the cream of Scandi talent.
Plötzlich Am Meer, Rogowo, Poland (25-27 August)
It’s impossible to write about techno in Europe and not mention Berlin, but even the most hardcore Berlin heads like to get out of the darkrooms every once in a while and head to the seaside. The destination of choice is Plötzlich Am Meer – suddenly at the sea for the non-German speakers – a festival that is about as underground as it gets without being solely attended by moles.
For one weekend at the end of August, the Berlin scene descents on a tiny village on the Baltic Coast of Poland, some 264km north of the city, to indulge in a party that is as legendary as it is mysterious. The organisers are low on specifics, with no lineup announced ahead of time and their marketing blurb going no further than the cryptic phrase “Fields, Forests, Beach, Sea”. They know they don’t need to announce more to sell the festival out, so why bother?
What you can expect is the coolest kids in Berlin, raving on a beach for 3 days straight to some of the best techno that the city has to offer. If you haven’t heard of who’s playing, just pretend that you have and you’ll fit right in with everyone else.
Melt, Germany (14-16 July)
At the other end of the German techno spectrum is Melt. This is as big and mainstream as techno festivals go, but they’ve gained that prominence because they deliver year on year. The location is astounding, an open air museum of iron machines known as Ferropolis that brings the industry back to industrial music.
Consistently named in Resident Advisor’s top five festivals worldwide, this year’s stars include Bonobo, Fatboy Slim, Dixon, Richie Hawtin, Sampha…well we could go on, but you get the point. There are live stages too – Die Antwoord, M.I.A and The Kills all play 2017’s edition – as well as more intimate venues that showcase the best in underground techno from Berlin, Amsterdam and beyond.
If that isn’t enough, there is also a huge lake at the centre of Ferropolis, an open-air cinema, a forest to get lost in and the famed Sleepless Floor, which runs around the clock from the beginning of the festival to the end. It’s big, dumb fun in a post-industrial playground right in the centre of Germany.
Freerotation, Hay-on-Wye, Wales (7-10 July)
Nobody knows techno like the pros, the people who play it, book it, promote it and produce it. They all go to Freerotation. In fact, to even stand a chance of a ticket, someone in the know has to invite you in. There is one day a year, usually in April, where existing members can invite new members to join, and even then they get so many applications that it has to be decided by lottery.
Should you manage to get in, however, you are in for a techno treat like no other. This is where the industry goes to party, and the acts are given complete free rein to play whatever they like to probably the most knowledgeable crowd in techno. The antecedents of Freerotation come from the UK free party scene of the 90s and thus there is no advertising, no sponsorship and the party is totally not-profit.
It’s intended as a networking space and above all, a place where the whole techno world can come together to let let their hair down – tickets are like gold dust but if you can get one, then we can’t recommend it highly enough. Go.