Niche subculture and underground music have long been intrinsically linked with free thought and creative expression, culminating in a lifestyle that has typically adopted a left wing bias. The years since the not for profit Free Party movement and the subsequent Criminal Justice Act in 1994 have, however, seen elements of this alternative lifestyle commodified through edgy advertising campaigns, and appropriated through middle class hipster fashion. Of course all this is much to the frustrations of those who fought for anarchy and freedom, those now witnessing the recent boom in music festivals driven by corporate sponsorship cashing in on what was once outlawed when it belonged to a scruffier underclass. Is nothing sacred? Not really, but there are some hidden gems maintaining real festival vibes so read on for your top ten chances to truly escape reality this year…
1: Freerotation, Wales: 10th-13th July.
Members only festival Freerotation dedicates itself to uncompromising programming with all-star residents such as: Move D, Jane Fitz, Tama Sumo, Surgeon, Ben UFO and Juju & Jordash. Since its inception, Freerotation has remained small in size while growing hugely revered in world of electronic music by shunning advertising and financial growth. It also maintains a 50/50 gender split in ticket sales so here you’ll find techno AND women…bliss!
2. Fusion Festival, Germany: 25th-28th June.
Based on a former Russian military airfield in some remote fields in northern Germany, Fusion’s motto is “Four days of holiday communism.” With its strong reputation and anarchic principles, Fusion releases no advance line up and so has little reliance on big name headliners. Instead it features loads of acts from the local party scene, and a schedule of varied underground dance music. A lottery based ticketing system ensures everyone has an equal chance to attend. It could be you!
3. Field Maneuvers, UK: 4th-6th September.
This underground micro festival is sticking with its grassroots agenda in 2015 to showcase the best in the international underground dance scene. With regulars such as: Ryan Elliott, Ben Sims, Elgato, Auntie Flo and Mark Archer, and headliners including Marcellus Pittman and The Black Madonna, Field Maneuvers promises musical variation that will allow you to find the perfect party tent for you no matter your mood. Wander through tents lit up by visual artists such as Joëlle and Oliver Jennings and into magical chill out zones with giant hammocks, making new friends as you go. The capacity is strictly limited to a lucky 500, so buy a ticket ASAP.
Photo. Johnny Underhill
4. Dekmantel Festival, Netherlands: 30th July-2nd August.
Now in its third year, Dekmantel has kept its capacity intimate and remains in its woodland setting for the festival daytimes – but has added a live opening show in a riverside concert hall and an after party venue “The Melkweg,” an old milking factory in the city centre. Dekmantel know how to create a party – between the flawless, filler-less lineup and beautiful surroundings, to the little stand with free deodorant and the clean toilets, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time.
5. Block 9/Shangri-La (Glastonbury Festival), UK: 24th-28th June.
While not technically festivals in themselves, or even an individual entity, these Glastonbury areas deserve a mention. Consistently providing some of the most adventurous programming and stunning set design in the UK festival scene – if not the world – Block 9 and Shangri-La play a big part in maintaining the anarchic ethos that has always pervaded Glastonbury.
6. Gottwood Festival, Wales: 11th-14th June.
Set in a proudly proclaimed “middle of nowhere” North Wales location, Gottwood certainly takes you far from any cityscape you might want to escape. With a variety of classic and cutting edge performers, this year’s highlights include DJ Zip, and Fabric resident/all-round legend Craig Richards going b2b with Ben UFO.
7. Off Sonar, Spain: 17th-21st June.
While Sonar has become more commercial over the years, the Off-Sonar scene has flourished into a varied city-wide musical takeover. The crème-de-la-crème of dance music, including Andy Stott, Ricardo Villalobos, Axel Boman, DJ Harvey, Motor City Drum Ensemble and many more will play this year in Barcelona’s clubs and in the historic El Poble Espanyol – a town built in the heart of the city in 1929 replicating 117 buildings, streets and squares from all around Spain. Culture lit up with lasers, perfect.
8. Secret Island Nation Festival, Sweden: 30th July-2nd August.
“Expect the unexpected and be prepared.” Situated on a beautiful deserted island West of Sweden, Secret Island Nation experiments with alternative ways of expression and co-existence. As one of just 450 attendees, you can camp wherever you want as long as you respect your surroundings and disappear without a trace when you leave. The 2015 lineup comprises international bookings and a Berlin focus, as well as SIN regulars. Grab your passport for authentic techno hippy island vibes.
9. Wilde Möhre Festival, Germany: 7th-9th August.
100km South of Berlin Wilde Möhre, or Wild Carrot Festival, aims to move away from conventional club culture and immerse its guests in art, workshops and nature alongside the musical program. Henna, hypnosis, vinyasa yoga, fermentation and upcycling workshops await you in the village, catering for every new age whim. Take a stroll through the surrounding forests and 2km in the right direction will lead you to a lake you can swim in.
10. Audio Farm Festival, Wales: 11th-14th September.
Daylight hours at Audio Farm bring an eclectic schedule of acoustic, funk, folk, soul, reggae and psychedelic sounds, along with an open-air house and disco party hosted by some of the best from the underground. Night takes a more electronic focus with house, techno and bass orientated beats playing over three rooms. Holistic treatments, yoga and talks and discussions are also at your disposal here in the Welsh countryside.
Words by Iona Thomas.