There’s only so many times a year you can wake-up to someone squatting outside your twenty quid Argos tent before you call it a day on the muddy festival experience. Sure, dry-shampooing your hair for five consecutive days and waking up in a sun-baked coffin every morning may seem novel at first, but the campsite experience isn’t for everyone. That’s where Snowboxx comes in, a festival with no regard for the convention or format of the over-saturated UK festival scene.
The five-day event takes place in the pedestrianised winter wonderland of Avoriaz, an otherworldly resort that straddles the border of France and Switzerland. Having shuffled around the former country for a couple of years, the festival has finally found it’s rightful home in the form of French ski champion Jean Vuarnet’s fantasy resort.
It’s easy to see why the Snowboxx founders have decided to stay here for a second year. The striking 1960s architecture wedged into the mountainside makes for some surreal views from the five star apartments of Pierre & Vacances, and is a far cry from the windswept hillsides of the West Country. The horse-drawn sleighs and traditional French cuisine restaurants even add a surprising element of romance to the experience, but of course it’s the addition of winter sports that truly sets this festival apart.
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By day the slopes are crawling with skiers and snowboarders slicing through the morning’s powder. By night, the mountains assume the role of arena walls for the open air Festival Village stage, where Basement Jaxx kick off Sunday night’s world class bill. There’s a discernable excitement for the stalwarts of electronic music, but the mood is suddenly deflated when punters realise they’ve been caught out on a technicality. The Brixton-based duo didn’t come to deliver their usual bonkers show - it’s a DJ set. Their heady concoction of world-flavoured dance mixes goes a fair way to make up for it, but it’s not until their old hits permeate the mix that all is forgiven.
British DJ, Lincoln Barrett aka High Contrast follows the duo, pushing the energy to impossible heights with his eclectic mix of sample-heavy smashes and hyperactive drum and bass moments. Though he may not have a single-studded career like his predecessors tonight, he certainly proves his worth behind the decks and concludes the first night of music on a stratospheric high.
Come rain, shine, or knee-trembling hangover, the attendees here are religious about hitting the slopes. Thankfully, Monday brings spectacular blue skies and sweltering sunshine, meaning it’s only the wobbly legs Clash has to worry about during our first ever ski session. After three gruelling hours of doing our best Bambi-on-ice impression and living by the lyrics of Chumbawamba’s ‘Tubthumping’, we trek up to Chatel with our limbs surprisingly in tact and our pride seriously harmed.
Chinese Man open the day’s musical festivities with a set on the slopes of the Swiss-bound area of the resort. The native trio deliver their melting pot of obscure tip-hop, all the while parading a Rolodex worth of MCs and beat makers onstage. It’s an eclectic and entertaining set until proceedings grind to a halt when the breakouts of a snowball fight edges threateningly close to the decks. The set re-commences with a polite warning from the trio, but soon after the atmosphere turns sour when a final snowball is lobbed at the equipment. The entourage storm off stage, leaving the sheepish audience with a string of expletives and an extra half an hour to fill.
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A long, trudging walk back to the Après arena is compensated by the arrival of Carnival Magnifico, a touring event that brings the vibes of a Rio street carnival to Avoriaz’s snow-blanketed setting. The strange juxtaposition shouldn’t work, but with the fire-breathing dancers and Radio 1’s star boy Danny Howard spinning old school tunes in place of Jax Jones, it’s an irresistibly fun combination.
Then it’s a quick shuffle down the hill to the cosy confines of the XX club, where we catch UK garage legends DJ Luck and MC Neat. The tourist office-come-nightclub is a welcome haven away from the hardening elements outside, and perfect for the rave-inducing house served up by the duo.
Tuesday sees another shift in the line-up with the absence of headliner Hannah Wants. Though once again, punters get more than their money’s worth in the form of replacements Gorgon City, who deploy a lethal mix of their chart-topping smashes and off-catalogue bangers. Sweet Female Attitude continue the night in a similar fashion, delivering a short and sweet set intertwined with UK garage classics to satiate the masses.
Headliners t q d prove to be every inch the troublemakers after setting off a frenzy of mosh-pits with their dynamic blend of grime, UK garage and house. But DJ Q’s cheeky stage talk works against the trio when he winds up provoking the punters to throw snowballs, instead of ceasing fire. The set continues intermittently, but the nasty back-and-forth antics with the crowd causes them to mess up an exclusive dub plate, which subsequently brings the turbulent set to a premature end.
All walk-offs and snowball fights considered, Snowboxx’s victories vastly outweigh any failures. With the smorgasbord of activities available during the day, the smoking-hot curation occupying the night, and the luxurious living conditions, it’s essentially a holiday and a festival rolled into one ridiculously cheap package. So, ditch your wellies and grab your skis, we’ve found the coolest festival going.
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Words: Lisa Henderson