We’re back with the second part of our mammoth review of Bansko’s Horizon festival! In part one we looked at the location, the accommodation, the ski slopes and the stages on offer at the festival, but now, we turn to one of the main attractions – the partying.

The Night Time

Packaged alongside the snow sport is of course the festival itself, with night after night of hard hitting bass and rhythms to keep the partier out until the sun rises again. It’s no secret that the festival is aimed purely at the house enthusiasts out there, with heavy hitters such as Kerri Chandler making headline appearances on multiple stages. The music does extend into most reaches of the electronic spectrum though, with the secret party hosted by Exit Records being a drum ‘n’ bass bounty of treats and a singular set from the mighty Phaeleh breaking up the week with some ambient tunes.

PhaelehPhaeleh on the Tofana Stage (Laura Mackie)

This year the organisers even went as far as to get a live act on stage (at the outdoor venue of the Tofana stage) in the form of Andreya Triana. Andreya may well be a familiar name to those of you who’ve listened to the likes of Bonobo and Breach; she’s certainly collaborated with some big names in the circuit. The addition of a much more ‘acoustic’ set (although her band still used mainly electric guitars etc, it can still be considered acoustic under the circumstances) made a comfortable break in the lineup, reminding everyone that it is still, underneath all the ice and synthesised bass, a festival born of British minds. It’s common to see an electronic festival overseas (although perhaps not up a mountain), but the hint at combining bands with the DJ’s is exciting and could pave the way for expansion next year.

One of the often mentioned aspects of Horizon is the secret parties. These are extra events put on by record labels in conjunction with the Horizon staff that are far more intimate than the regular stages (each party had approximately 150 tickets available) for a small additional cost of £10 per ticket. Obviously, these are conducted on a first come, first served basis, and it’s no surprise that both secret parties sold out at this years event. Both were put on in strip clubs along the main strip of Bansko, providing a whole new meaning to the word ‘intimate’. The boys from Exit Records tore up the decks on the Monday night, playing to a packed out house and spinning tune after tune. By the end of Dub Phizix’s prime slot, the lads (Skeptical, dBridge, Dub Phizix and Strategy) were all playing back to back with each other, throwing more twists and turns into the mix than an M. Night Shyamalan film.

Dub PhizixDub Phizix (Laura Mackie)

It was somewhat concerning that the venue management team had to put into effect a stricter than one-in-one-out policy, where even the people already inside were refused access to the smoking area due to overselling the event, and more ticketholders could be seen queuing at the doors. But, this was later explained as an unavoidable and unexpected last minute venue change. One of the problems of being a new event (certainly in a new country) is that no-one has any reference as to how good you’re going to be. Incredibly, Horizon managed to show the entire resort that their events were the places to be throughout the week – hopefully proving said point enough to prevent a repeat of this unfortunate circumstance next year.

For the second secret party the location was in the Gardenia Hotel swimming pool for a – you guessed it – pool party. This was backed up by the Bristol-based record label Shapes, providing some calming chillout beats for relaxation with a beer. Whilst being a great concept in terms of a secret party, it could be felt that the execution was slightly missed. The heating in the pool was most definitely off, which didn’t exactly encourage partiers to jump in. It was certainly a slow start, but by the two hour in mark there was enough alcohol flowing to forget about the slightly nippy temperatures and start having some fun. It was good to see the DJ’s react to this change in atmosphere too, which must have ben difficult given how the set began. It certainly was something different to do in a day, and did give an excuse to rest aching muscles from the mountain. Hopefully next year they’ll turn the temperature up.

Kerri ChandlerKerri Chandler at Gardenia (Laura Mackie)

The third secret party, this time run by the guys at Critical Music/Raygun Youth, was also in a strip club, but of a much more appropriate size. Not only was there space now for all who purchased tickets to get in, but there was room to move around, dance, drink, enjoy the girls and revel in the night. Bringing some heavy beats down to their set, Kasra and Enei proved that the extra party was not a night to be missed, with people talking about the set long into the festival for the next few days.

For those who chose not to partake in the secret parties, there was still plenty of action to be had. Every night, there were four venues all spinning until the early hours, with the curfew sitting around 6am each day. Following from the two outdoor stages up the mountain, there were five main venues on the strip for the wristband holders: Oxygen, a small capacity venue which sometimes offered some astounding drinks deals (10 lev for a free bar was a favourite), Euphoria, a medium sized room with a modern setting and high stage, The Club, a single-room venue which can only be described as “like walking into the starship Enterprise on high alert”, Jack’s House, a large venue with a central bar toting flame-wielding bartenders and a rather spectacular visual show, and the Gardenia, a large medieval banquet style hall with two levels, some rather precarious stairs and an enormous cocktail and short menu. As the name suggests, the Gardenia stage was located beneath the hotel of the same name, making it a highly convenient place to end a night depending on where you were situated for accommodation.

Jack's HouseBar staff at Jack’s House (Laura Mackie)

Headliners were split throughout the week across all of these venues, so there was ample opportunity to get a good session in each during the stay. It was an interesting twist to have the individual set times released online each day via the Facebook and Twitter sites, which proved useful for those of us with WiFi in our hotels, but was perhaps slightly awkward for those without. The festival staff were about in Oxygen and the Pirin 75 bar each day, but this was also a bit of a trek for some just to find out what the timings were. It might be useful for posters to be about the site next year, or even just putting the times on a lanyard (who doesn’t love a good festival lanyard?).

The ClubFestival-goers at The Club (Laura Mackie)

One common act that we found ourselves caught up in was the constant flow of movement between venues throughout each night; it didn’t seem right to stay in one place with so much happening all around. Maybe you wanted to start out with a bit of drum ‘n’ bass to rave out to, but move onto some house, ending up on some reggae beats (courtesy of the mighty Channel One Sound System and friends on the Friday reggae night). Not a problem! Just check your programme, go find out the set times from your nearest WiFi hotspot (the Gardenia lounge bar is free for all festival goers to use and has free WiFi throughout), and make a rough plan that you’ll inevitably change halfway through. But, whatever it does change to be, you’ll still have a great time. And that’s more of the beauty of it, some of the acts are completely new to a lot of people, but not once did we hear a single festival goer saying “Did you see their set? It was TERRIBLE.” No-one complained about the artists, regardless of whether they knew them or not. It’s not very often that you come across that realisation at a festival nowadays.

The Festival

We were greeted by our friendly rep Michael Green on the transfer bus from Sofia airport, who checked us off and sent us on our way to the site. Instantly, one of the first noticeable things about Horizon is the equality of the artists, staff and customers. Joining us on our bus (which was just a normal coach with ticket holders on) was one of the guys from GoYo Records, with no special seating arrangements and no separation. This allowed everyone to talk freely, get some vibes about the fest and more importantly, get to know the artists a little better. Due to Horizon being quite a new event (this only being its second year), a lot of the artists are very up and coming. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, with the likes of well established names such as Phaeleh, Dub Phizix, Kerri Chandler and Roy Davis Jr playing the stages, but for many of the guests, the performers weren’t exactly ‘household names’. This is, however, the age of the independent festival and the great thing about Horizon is that while it’s not the goliath on the scene, it’s certainly looking to be the next David.

Roy Davis JrRoy Davis Jr behind the decks at Jack’s House (Laura Mackie)

New festival start ups aren’t easy. In its first year Horizon saw an intake of around 600 guests, with this year having doubled that into around 1300. It’s not clear whether the organisers were expecting this kind of response, and there were some teething problems encountered in the running of the week. The first secret party for Exit Records was one of the bigger ones, where some of the ticket holders were being actively turned away at the door due to a last minute change of venue to a smaller room. Although this was clearly not the festival’s intention and something that was out of their control, it does show an element of the limitations of working in a foreign resort. One of the other intriguing parts was how some of the stages went through the prime slope times. These usually were the stages on the mountain itself, which were accessible via a red/black slope, but this also raises questions. For those who were perhaps not capable of such runs, there was a shuttle bus, but this required a long gondola run back down the mountain and then a bus back up. The outdoor stages were where some of the larger acts were primarily placed, making it difficult to decide how to prioritise times for some. Luckily, most of the acts were playing night shows too, allowing for both snow time and show time, but this may need to be reassessed next year by the organisers.

 Dub Phizix & MC StrategyDub Phizix & MC Strategy (Laura Mackie)

Overall, the distribution of the venues was quite well done, with the main strip being where the majority of the action was happening and most of the venues were easily within walking (or staggering) distance. There was music happening in at least one of these until 6am each morning, with some sets lasting up to 4 hours (the incredible extended set by Âme was a highlight of the week), which made the mornings somewhat difficult to handle but continued the excitement each day. While going between the venues, we were lucky enough to talk to one Alex Duncan, who seemed to be the hardest working man on site. Each night we would see him running between venues, ensuring the smooth running of each event, but he always had time to ask how everyone’s festival was going and check that we were all happy. In the words of a well known tv series, “if you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all”, and I can’t think of a better way to describe him in his role.

In short, it was a mad week. There were injuries (on snow and pavements – mind your step once the night time hits!), there were laughs, new friendships forged, tricks pulled, shapes thrown and great times danced away. The DJ’s were on top form, the alcohol was flowing and it even snowed early in the week, providing brilliant conditions for the mountain. Horizon is still a budding festival, with some early problems still evident in the overall flow of the week. But, with year two done and some valuable feedback received from artists and guests alike, it’s all looking bright for the third year. 2015 will be the year that will really make this wonderful get away one to remember, where they can don their armour and enter the true festival arena.

While Horizon offers a similar setup to many other festivals, and faces stiff competition from other well-established snow fests, it proves that size doesn’t matter. It’s not how big you are, it’s what you do with it, and Horizon definitely made clear that they’re willing to fight for the crown in this game of thrones.

Shout outs to the people we met out there including the guys at In ReachExit Records and of course, everyone at Horizon!