Pristine beaches, sweeping mountain ranges, scorching deserts: the world has some incredible natural dancefloors. As the Northern summer approaches, we went roaming to find some of the world’s most unique festival locations.
Some festivals with one-of-a-kind settings, like Germany’s Melt Festival at the open-air museum of industrial machinery Ferropolis or the Kazantip marathon on the shores of the Black Sea, were covered in our 25 Festivals To Discover Before You Die. The destinations here range from the gargantuan and internationally name-checked to the intimate and exclusive. All of them, though, have an epic backdrop to the party.
#15 Echo Festival, Croatia
With its promise of postcard-perfect beaches, sun-soaked days and long, balmy nights, Croatia’s one of the world’s most desirable festival destinations. Throughout summer, there’s an enviable party happening every weekend. One boutique-sized festival that makes the most of Croatia’s natural beauty is Echo, which will stretch across four days and nights on the Adriatic coast this June.
The line-up is built to match the surrounds, with house and techno authorities like Andres, Fred P, Magda, Redshape, Delano Smith, Kassem Mosse and Space Dimension Controller playing in the sunshine and under the stars. Then there’s the distinguished drum & bass contingent led by Marcus Intalex. (Tickets are just £65, too.) As compelling as the line-up is, Echo’s defined by its “personal vibe” and the fact that you’re never far from a head-clearing plunge into sparkling water. Sign us up.
WHEN: June 6-10 2013
WHERE: Kanegra, Istria, Croatia
#14 Golden Plains Festival, Australia
The Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, home to Golden Plains and its older sister Meredith Music Festival, has a near-mythic reputation. Australia’s not short of picturesque locations perfect for festivals – Perth’s Belvoir Amphitheatre, for example, is up there with the best – and you’ll only need to experience one Golden Plains to be smitten.
The Supernatural Amphitheatre is set on a private farm in rural Victoria, flanked by eucalyptus trees and rolling views of surrounding bushland. With just one stage where all the music happens, Golden Plains consistently provides those tingly sunset moments. After midnight, the blissful middle-of-nowhere dancing continues courtesy of acts like Mount Kimbie, Gaslamp Killer, Julio Bashmore, Moodymann and Seekae. In 2012, the 12am slot went to disco untouchable Nile Rodgers and his hits-machine Chic. If there’s a better way to party under the stars at the tail-end of an Australian summer, we’d like to see it.
WHEN: Early March 2014
WHERE: The Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, Victoria
#13 Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival, France
As his acolytes will tell you, musical tastemakers don’t come much more distinguished than Gilles Peterson. He also knows how to pick a great spot for a party. Each summer, the DJ curates his Worldwide Festival in the port of Sète on the French Mediterranean coast. For 51 weeks of the year, Sète’s an idyllic fishing town built around a network of canals, but when Gilles visits, he brings the cavalry.
From the beach to the open-air Théâtre de la Mer on the water’s edge to the labyrinthine streets, Worldwide makes the best of its location. The line-up is in good hands, too. In 2013, Four Tet and Floating Points will be right here, Todd Terje and Dark Sky perform against the backdrop of a shipyard, and there’s five days of beach parties under the Mediterranean sun. As Gilles Peterson himself puts it, Worldwide’s “a festival on a human scale”.
WHEN: July 1-7 2013
WHERE: The small fishing town of Sète, South of France
#12 Meadows In The Mountains Festival, Bulgaria
Want to wander off the beaten path on your next festival adventure? Welcome to the rabbit hole that is Meadows In The Mountains. Set in the Rhodope Mountains near Bulgaria’s Greek border, this intimate gathering is surrounded by stunning scenery. As you can see in the video below, this isn’t your regular rave-in-a-carpark proposition. You climb high into the mountains with an assorted cast of friendly freaks, pass horse-drawn carts in the sunshine and arrive at an idyll stacked with Funktion-One speaker rigs.
After setting up camp in the nearby meadows, it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure. The acts run from live bands to after-dark DJs, and dancefloors don’t come more scenic. This year’s cast of characters includes Wolf + Lamb’s Gadi Mizrahi as Baby Prince, German deep houser Moomin, London four-piece Mt Wolf and Amsterdam-based Rush Hour Records recruit San Proper, to highlight just a few. The festival itself probably says it best. Meadows In The Mountains is “three days of the freshest, most underground, most magical music, complemented by the most scenic, breathtaking Bulgarian backgrounds”.
WHEN: June 7-9 2013
WHERE: Polkovnik Serafimovo, Bulgaria
#11 Rhythm and Vines, New Zealand
Tired of your regular New Year’s Eve routine? Here’s an idea: book a flight to New Zealand and make a beeline for Waiohika Estate in Gisborne. There you’ll find spectacular sunsets, panoramic views, acres of grass to stretch out on…and a camping festival called Rhythm and Vines. From its humble beginnings for 1,800 people on a family vineyard, the three-day party marathon now attracts over 30,000 campers from around the world.
Once you’re settled in at Waiohika Estate, Rhythm and Vines moves at full velocity towards the New Year. In the lead-up to 2013, the mainstage heaved with Netsky, Knife Party, Breakbot and Chase & Status, while over at Red Bull Music Academy’s corner you could soak up Hudson Mohawke and Frank Booker. Party in the natural beauty of New Zealand wine country and you’ll never want to do an indoor New Year’s again. (If you’re looking for another unique festival location to trek to, the festival’s offshoot Rhythm and Alps happens under N.Z.’s beautiful Southern Alps.)
WHEN: December 2013
WHERE: Waiohika Estate vineyard, Gisborne, New Zealand
#10 Mysteryland, Chile
Mysteryland is an icon of the Dutch festival calendar, stretching back to the early ‘90s. The grassy fields and rolling hills of Voormalig Floriade, just outside of Amsterdam, have hosted the party and its 60,000 attendees for nearly a decade. Journeys across the sprawling site take you over rivers dotted with lily-pads, along winding paths and down hillsides (either on foot, or sliding like a kid). As you can see in this fly-over video, ID&T transforms the Voormalig Floriade into another world.
While the hometown Mysteryland is a steadfast calendar fixture, in 2011 ID&T decided to take its famous festival to Chile. In December, you’ll need to head to Hacienda Picarquin, in the town of Mostazal, where you’ll be rewarded with a lush, dramatic setting for a festival. After all, we’re talking about the foothills of the Chilean Andes. As ID&T sells it: “It’s for a very good reason that the Mysteryland location is often described as one of the most special and unique in the world”.
In 2012, the site’s wide spaces and intimate groves were populated with a line-up that spanned Luciano and Green Velvet to Sander van Doorn and Wildstylez. And you know South Americans are among the world’s best party people…
WHEN: December 2013
WHERE: Picarquín, Santiago, Chile
#9 Taico Club, Japan
The photo at the top of this article, from Taico Club’s official 2012 gallery, captures the beauty of the mountain-top festival. That’s the consummate Josh Wink against the backdrop of the Nagano Mountains, where the air is clear and the scenery is striking. It’s not too far from Tokyo, either, but the fast-paced metropolis feels a world away.
In 2013, Taico Club will take over the site on the first weekend of June with a line-up worthy of the location. Returning hero Ricardo Villalobos will be there again, alongside fellow innovators like Clark, Jimmy Edgar and Machinedrum as JETS, Magda and Zip. The vibe is kept warm and intimate, with tickets selling swiftly. With natural acoustics accompanying the very-Japanese attention to sound, Taico Club’s the place to lose yourself, without once losing your friends.
WHEN: June 1-2 2013
WHERE: Kodama no Mori campsite, Nagano Mountains, Japan
#8 Ultra Music Festival, Croatia
You don’t need further convincing of Croatia’s charms. Just stare longingly at the photo above, taken on Hvar Island, where one part of Ultra Music Festival’s European expansion will be staged. The Miami giant will arrive in Split at the peak of the European summer with a weekend’s worth of EDM headliners.
On Friday 12 and Saturday 13 July, the beautiful city overlooking the Adriatic Sea will welcome Armin van Buuren, Carl Cox, Avicii, Hardwell, Porter Robinson and other top-line names, with a savvy undercard led by Jamie Jones, Guy Gerber and Umek. Split will also welcome the hordes of up-for-it ‘Ultranauts’ from around the world. Then on Sunday, an exclusive Ultra beach party is planned for Hvar. No-expense-spared production is a given, but this time the surrounds could steal the show.
WHEN: July 12-14 2013
WHERE: Split and Hvar Island, Croatia
#7 Coachella, USA
From Hot Chip to the xx to James Blake, inthemix heard countless acts gush at Coachella this year about the iconic setting. The view out from the stages to the Empire Polo Fields is certainly special: rows of palm trees stretching up to an open sky, shadowy mountains on the horizon and an enormous Ferris Wheel surrounded by a dusty haze. The desert backdrop seems to bring out the best in bands as well.
For punters looking up at the headliners, it’s quite a sight too. The open sides of the mainstage let those vivid desert sunsets glow through, creating the kind of moments you can’t get from the YouTube broadcast. After dark, Empire Polo Field is transformed into a glowing wonderland by art cars, the Do Lab village and luminescent installations. The 2014 dates are already locked in, with presale tickets beginning on 24 May. See for yourself.
WHEN: April 11-13, 2014 & April 18-20, 2014
WHERE: Empire Polo Fields, Indio, Southern California
#6 Fuji Rock Festival, Japan
It’s for good reason that Japan’s longest-running music festival is also a must for any bucket list. You could start with the line-up – which in 2013 features headliners Nine Inch Nails and Bjork alongside everyone from Skrillex and Feed Me to Maya Jane Coles and Julio Bashmore – but it’s the location that really wows.
Fuji Rock doesn’t actually take place at Japan’s famous Mt Fuji, but in the ski resort town of Naeba relatively close by. The site has five main stages and four smaller ones set in the valley of bucolic green mountains, with a river running through the site. There’s the ‘Field Of Heaven’ surrounded by woods, the Green Stage with its mountain backdrop, a camping ground on the slope for 17,000 people and ‘the world’s longest gondola’ – in other words, a chairlift – up to the peak for a panoramic view. Fuji Rock is a festival for all the senses.
WHEN: July 26-28 2013
WHERE: Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata, Japan
#5 Tomorrowland, Belgium
Tomorrowland wouldn’t be the world’s most coveted festival if not for its surrounds. ID&T’s flagship event has transformed De Schorre National Park in Boom, Belgium, into a dance music Mecca. Tickets for this summer’s extravaganza once again disappeared with astounding speed, with 180,000 pilgrims set to trek to Boom.
The Park’s infamous natural amphitheatre hosts the insanity of the ID&T Mainstage; and it’s hard to imagine a natural space that could have been any more perfectly formed to host such a massive dance event. Stretching out from the front of the stage is a big flat, grassy plain, which eventually the plain reaches the foot of a hill that circles the stage on both sides. (It’s steep enough to ensure there are some hilarious slips and slides over the course of the weekend, typically met with a roar of appreciation from the crowd). Away from the mainstage, every corner of the Park is filled with colour, from the floating stages on the lake to quieter corners.
WHEN: July 26-28 2013
WHERE: Boom, Belgium
#4 Exit Festival, Serbia
“Exit Festival is a suspension of reality,” wrote inthemix’s reviewer of his Serbian adventure in 2011. “Punters literally party all night and sleep during the day, lose track of time and hang out together in specially set-up hostels. Beer costs less than a dollar. There is no curfew. Musically, Exit is an absolute treasure trove for fans of any genre, patently because it dips into all of them.”
Then there’s the simple, deal-sealing fact that the festival happens in the Petrovaradin Fortress of Novi Sad, on the bank of the Danube river – an epic venue if ever there was one. This year, the foundations of the ancient fort will shake with sets from The Prodigy, Dubfire, Eric Prydz, Jeff Mills and many more. Spend a morning in the Dance Arena as the sun comes up, surrounded by Serbian nutters, and you’ll understand the unhinged magic of the place.
WHEN: July 10-14 2013
WHERE: Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia
#3 Hideout Festival, Croatia
For this list’s final trip to Croatia, we’re singling out Hideout Festival, which has fast become one of summer’s most enviable weekenders. Only in its fourth year, Hideout 2013 has already sold out (it helped that you could pick up a ticket for a very reasonable £99). With a location this stunning, the festival sells itself.
Hideout happens at the Zrce beach on the island of Pag, however one of its most talked-about attractions are the boat parties that leave the shore of local town Novalja and set out across the glittering Adriatic. In 2013, those boat parties are captained by labels and legends like 20:20 Vision, Skream & Benga (expect disco), Numbers, Desolat and Hessle Audio. On dry land, it’s a who’s who of house, techno and bass music. But really, it’s that azure water we can’t stop admiring.
WHEN: July 3-5 2013
WHERE: Zrce Beach, Island of Pag
#2 Sasquatch! Festival, USA
America’s not short on jaw-dropping scenery, and the home of Sasquatch! Festival could make a very pretty postcard. Set on the Columbia River in George, Washington, The Gorge Amphitheatre is – as you can see in this photo – an incredible place to watch music. The Gorge has hosted a glittering cast of music’s biggest drawcards over its life, and for four days in May, Sasquatch! pulls in campers from Seattle and beyond. It’s a remote spot, too, so you arrive and commit to the experience.
The line-up tends to skew towards big-name indie names, but in 2013 the dance contingent at the El Chupacabra stage includes Steve Aoki, Disclosure, Laidback Luke, The Presets, Matthew Dear and John Talabot. Then there’s the tantalising prospect of seeing atmospheric acts like Sigur Ros and the xx on such a spectacular mainstage. 2014 roadtrip?
WHEN: May 24- 27 2013
WHERE: The scenic gorge in Central Washington
#1 Burning Man, USA
A clichéd, obvious #1? Perhaps. An entirely accurate #1? Definitely. Burning Man is unlike any other event in the world. On bikes, art cars and foot, 50,000 people from all over the world roam around the Nevada desert dressed like Mad Max extras, camping in harsh conditions to create a temporary city.
As we wrote in our report from 2011, when you first arrive at Burning Man – after hours of queuing down a single-lane highway – you get out of your car and a complete stranger approaches, wraps their arms around you and says “Welcome home”. Over the next week, and in the strangest possible way, Black Rock City does become a second home. There are swirling dust storms and scorching days, but you’ll stagger out at the other end thoroughly awed.
WHEN: August 26 – September 2 2013
WHERE: Black Rock Desert, Nevada