Bansko is a peculiar place at the best of times. Not least at the end of the season, when it becomes overrun by mobs of UK partygoers for six days of electronic music. The small ski town in Bulgaria’s south-west corner is the setting for Horizon Festival, an event from the same crew behind Dimensions and Outlook.
Much like its Croatian cousins, Horizon offers an awful lot of bang for your obscure eurozone currency. We find two litres of beer for less than a quid and miscellaneous kebab meat for not much more. The main issue is stamina; managing to fit in a full day on the slopes and a full night’s partying, six days on the trot requires superhuman levels of energy. The locals will tell you that a diet of barbecued meat and offal soup will help with this - we’re not so sure. This year we were greeted with a load of fresh snow lining the mountain tops, which helped entice us out of bed but - with music running until 6am and kicking off again in the afternoon - power naps become a necessary means of survival.
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Horizon’s bookings are far more forward-thinking than the larger snow festivals, with a focus on fresh underground talent alongside a sprinkling of old favourites. The festival takes over all the major venues in the town (a perplexing amount of which seem to be strip clubs) and transforms them into legitimate club environments with weighty soundsystems and a slew of international DJs and label showcases. Further up the mountain, the open air Mountain Creek stage is the perfect place to finish up after a day’s snowsports. We find Craig Charles sporting a V for Vendetta ski-mask up there, performing his high energy Funk and Soul show which pulls one of biggest crowds of the weekend, as it did last year.
Hidden further into the woods is the Secret Hotel; a house party style venue with a tight network of themed rooms, each one more confounding than the last. In one room we’re invited to eat cupcakes off a naked woman on a bed while waiting for Kutmah to play downstairs. With eight different rooms to explore, many with dancefloors, it isn't hard to get lost in the hotel for hours on end.
The seemingly normal Hotel Gardenia hosts a cavernous two-floor club in its basement where we catch Moxie and John Talabot on the Sunday. Talabot’s heady, slow burning set is an enriching end to the first two days. Levon Vincent unfortunately canceled due to injury on the Monday, but that meant extended sets for Zenker Brothers and John Rust at Jack’s House, so we didn’t feel too short-changed. MJ Cole’s set at the same venue is also a highlight, despite being obscured by some superfluous exotic dancers.
Monday night also sees local hero KiNK and drum 'n' bass don Goldie going b2b in a tiny pole dancing bar - a contender for one of the strangest things we’ve ever witnessed. We’re not sure we’d go back, that is, until we realise Dan Shake is there the next night. His mix of pumping house and percussive disco samples proves a big hit, ending with some ridiculously groovy afrobeat records. Later that night Gerd Janson’s set at Flash Club is also disco heavy while also being smooth and polished, which seems apt in the mirror-clad venue.
If you’re in the market for a ski holiday-cum-dance festival, then there really is no better option and, unlike its alpine alternatives, Bulgaria’s unique character makes for tons of one-off experiences to tell the folks back home. We manage to tick a bunch of boxes we didn’t even know existed and best of all, came home with change in our pockets; a rarity for any ski holiday or festival. It’s no surprise that Horizon’s popularity continues to grow year on year.
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2017 early-bird tickets are now on sale at http://horizonfestival.net
Words: Jack Dolan