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9 DJs told us their favourite small festival

Stuck where to go this year? This will probably help

  • Dave Turner
  • 5 March 2018

Picking a festival to go to isn't always easy. There's always so much to consider: the DJs you want to see, whether you fancy staying on home turf or going abroad and, as is almost always the case, how much money it's going to set you back.

With Glastonbury, the daddy of all UK festivals, having a year out in 2018, that leaves hundreds of thousands of people facing the important question: where do I go to party for a few days this year?

Similar to how we got DJs to recommend under-the-radar clubs, we spoke to a bunch of DJs about what their favourite small festival was to make your decision that little bit easier.

"I'd like to highlight Strøm festival, which takes place every year and was founded by Frederik Birketh-Smith (also known as drum 'n' bass and bass music artist 2000F). Strøm means 'electricity' and the festival spans a few days during late summer, presenting events, live performances and workshops within the whole city. For instance, everyone could experience Surgeon perform a stunning live ambient set in the church or Søs Gunver’s gloomy tribal in The Cisterns, a long-forgotten subterranean reservoir, which once contained the supply of drinking water for Copenhagen and could hold millions of litres of clean water. The festival is also responsible for the dopest event ever: live performances in a running metro. Copenhagen metropolitan and the festival have cooperated for nine years and present two hours of live electronic music on a metro each year. I was lucky to be invited to a November edition in 2017 and closed the journey with my own rave, techno and jungle beats with other Danish acts like Astrid Sonne and Code Walk. Having people jump and shake the whole train to your own music is a very special feeling. Big up to Strøm for this!"

"I want to talk about SXM Festival, which I love in many ways. I love the fact that it’s on a Caribbean island, such a beautiful place with the most amazing beaches. It’s kind of a boutique festival, which means you always cross paths with people you know, giving a real sense of family. Also, all the DJs stay together in this hotel/villa, so we get to see each other all the time, which is loads of fun and leaves plenty of moments to catch up properly.

"The various venues and spaces are really memorable as well: tiny beaches, intimate clubs and a big, open-air dancefloor, all of which are very fun to play. There is also a super cool rooftop to play in the evening, which shuts early before you move onto the bigger venues, running throughout the night.

"It's sad that SXM had to be postponed this year after Hurricane Irma hit the island, but I know the festival will come back stronger than ever. I'm really proud to see how the SXM team have coped and managed to recover so quickly. Not only have they been supporting the island musically, they've been very caring for the community as a whole, raising money after the crisis and doing their best to help benefit those on the island."

SXM Festival will take place from March 13 to 17, 2019 on a fully rebuilt island

"My favourite small festival has got to be Sequences in Bristol. As a city Bristol is very kind to [my label] Critical and drum 'n' bass as a genre. As a label, we've been involved in the festival's first two years as stage hosts, alongside the likes of Bandulu, Deep Medi and loads more. Rob and Tom, who put the festival on, are proper music people and that's shown in its interesting and eclectic programming."

Register for Sequences 2018 here

"Emmaboda is located in the deep Swedish wasteland known as Småland. It used to be the main Swedish indie/twee festival and it still is in a way, but the programming has progressed over the years, into covering all sorts of things, with a focus on loud and camp stuff from Sweden and beyond. You get everyone from Yung Lean to Vengaboys playing and the atmosphere is wild and free-spirited, something which can't be said about many Swedish festivals. My point of interest is the outdoor rave they put on every night after the other stages close. The DJ booth is a cozy wooden tree cabin and the dancefloor is the forest. I've been invited to play all-night set there regularly over the last few years. It's been a highlight of my summers. The crowd doesn't consist of your typical dance festival 'pros' but are perhaps even more open-minded for it."

Emmabodafestivalen takes place from July 25 to 29

"I played Garbicz Festival a few years back and now count it as one of my favourite festival memories to date. Some friends and I left Berlin to do a road trip to Garbicz so we left on a high note. As I remember we arrived just before my set, but entering the festival area totally set the tone for the whole experience. The lighting and decorations were just magical. Almost everything was made of wood and the light was playing with the surroundings so well. Taking over the booth after Jonas Wahrlich came naturally and, even though I had no clue where I was going music-wise before the first record, it just came together so well. I also got starstruck when Roman Flügel came on stage and I just had to play his track 'Mutter' before handing over the floor for his control. The rest of the morning was just a big smile. I met so many Berlin friends and colleagues there in the woods and we had a hard time collecting the group for the ride back to Berlin. I I just want to do it again!"

Garbicz Festival takes place from August 2 to August 5

"I'm going to opt for Farm Fest in Bruton. I first found out about it when they booked me and Adrian [Sherwood] for a Sherwood & Pinch show three years ago and we had a great time there. Hosting around 4000 festival-goers on a farm (surprise, surprise) it's a nice balance of being small enough to get anywhere within the festival in several minutes, but big enough to feel like there's plenty going on to entertain you. It's more family friendly than most festivals so folks with kids can come and bring them along, too, while having their own space to get away from it all with beautiful views all around. There's plenty of bars that you won't spend half an hour queuing to get served and an eclectic musical policy that moves inside a few different tents for the evening once the main outdoor stage closes up. It's so good I offered to play there for free last year in exchange for tickets for friends! It's only two days long so you'll get home on Sunday afternoon with half your brain still in tact."

"Smaller festivals have this sort of magic quality to them when the music, setting and vibe just line up for a weekend in an intimate setting. Inner Varnika, three hours outside of Melbourne, in a dusty, euphoric outdoor location, is widely considered one of Australia’s most treasured and anticipated events each year. It's the perfect compromise between intimacy and extraordinary festivity.

"Over 2000 people come together to celebrate an innovative and carefully curated international and local line-up, devoted to the dance. Running over three days, the weekend transforms in mood from blissful sun-drenched daytime frolicking to deep, immersive raving as the sun goes down, transcending to new levels of insanity on the infamous ‘Suit Sunday’.

"It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes the festival so unique and successful, but a large contribution can be attributed to immaculate sound, the beautiful outdoor setting, an inspired line-up, a respectful, music-focused crowd and environmentally neutral organisation. The other element comes from the indescribable spirit, the inclusive celebration of music; from all over the world as well as tapping into the essence of what makes Melbourne such a remarkable cultural hub. I couldn’t think of a more ideal event to debut my live set and contribute to the festival's fifth year of enchantment."

Inner Varnika takes place from March 30 to April 1

"It's a toss-up between Freerotation and Nachtdigital, but since I'm pretty sure that someone has already picked Freero for this article, I'll go with Nachtdigital. It's an intimate holiday camp festival in the countryside near Leipzig with a beautiful lake and bungalows. The small size of the festivals creates a great vibe and, since it's been going for almost 20 years, there's a really strong community. Everyone's really chilled and respectful.

"The line-up's often nicely curated, but not with the big names you tend to see everywhere. I played live there three years ago and have to say that's one of my best memories."

Samrai: "I'd heard great things about Unsound but with such a wide variety of different styles of music showcased at the festival I'd thought it would be hard for us to catch a vibe. I couldn't have been more wrong. The crowd in the room seemed knowledgable yet ready to party hard and the set flashed by. I remember pleading with the engineer for an extra 10 minutes. We were closing out the room and thankfully he was having as much fun as us and conceded!"

Platt: "You could feel the sense of community immediately - from returning DJs sharing restaurant recommendations to seasoned crews of ravers giving hints for the hidden party spots. You could just tell this was something people couldn't keep away from."

Fox: "The Unsound vibes were woi!"

Dave Turner is Mixmag's Digital News Editor, follow him on Twitter

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