No more than an hour outside of central Milan sits the weekend adventure of Terraforma. An experiment in sustainability and culturral landscaping, with a delicately balanced attention to programming and sound, set in the 17th century palatial gardens of Villa Arconati.
The festival is a stunning visual treat, and a blessing for the ears, mind, and soul. Now in its third year, this year’s edition featured a wide variety of styles, from the rolling of bass of Mala to the experimental Suzanne Ciani to the leftfield beats of Aurora Halal. In comparison to previous years, this year’s iteration was less techno-orientated, with more leanings to the avant-garde, and softer pallets. It was a space that encouraged you to think while maintaining a steady pace of eclecticism, energy, and love.
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Set in the village of Bollate, 10 kilometers outside of Milan, amid sprawling fields and Tuscan-like countryside, Terraforma is not your traditional festival. It plays on the magnificent settings, building the musical architecture into the physical, allowing the music and culture to precipitate through its surroundings. With three stages, each custom built to match the immediate environment (more on that below), and acts programmed to respect and propagate the different setup, Terraforma tailors to its surroundings and customizes each experience. It’s all part of the greater plan. Not only is the whole event sustainable, but the team worked to leave the premises in a better state than when they found it, leaving something behind to improve the Villa for all those who visit after.
With only three stages, no one act plays at the same time as the other, allowing you the opportunity to witness everything, having to make no compromises. Between each set is a small pause, providing ample time to grab food, or mingle with the small capacity crowd of around 3,000, who more-or-less become family after one day. Everything that has been built can be disassembled and re-used, as part of the sustainable focus. Acts are encouraged to play outside their normal field range; while there are daily workshops, meditation sessions, and yoga classes, of which included an outdoor laughter session with Laraaji, whose warm intimacy brought those who attended closer together.
Spread out in the serene, pristine landscapes, the festival’s three stages are all within walking distance of each other. The main stage—a small, wooden erected dome amongst the trees—hosted the pivotal acts of the weekend, and acted as the vessel for each night’s closing DJ extravaganzas. Aurora Halal and Objekt each respectively played angular, high-energy techno on the Friday; while on Saturday night, Ron Morelli bypassed any obscure tendencies he might have had, with a noisy cacophony, of straight-up, warm-techno.
The sound system, a home-made, self-built array of cabs and woofers had a unique and more rounded sonic aesthetic, perfect for the likes of Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS performance, whose attuned sonics merged with the surrounding foliage. Mala’s music was perfectly designed for the stage also, with a set that included a more off-kilter and broader selection before finishing off with thirty minutes of classics (see "Skeng" and the inevitable "Topper Top"). Next to these, tucked further away into gardens, was the Labyrinth, a performance area set in the middle of a garden, within an omnidirectional sound system, providing a different experience and viewpoint from wherever you were set. The enigmatic Berlin-based performance duo N.M.O. made ample use of the space given, with theatrics and flares, alongside a dynamic live set of electro-space-music. It was synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani who stole the weekend with an evening performance on the Buchla. With an array of microphones littered around the Labyrinth’s many bushes, Ciani plugged the atmosphere in through her set of pulses and rhythms with an added distortion, throwing back the surrounding noise, with added reverb, into the crowd. The feedback then whistled sporadically around the stage like a gust of wind. The overall setting was magical, and when the fuse went 45 minutes into the set, cutting off all the power and ultimately shortening her set, it was as if the moment was one of intention, adding to the dramatic hubris.
The sign of a really great festival is when you discover new talented acts that you want to look up on Soundcloud upon your return home. And Terraforma had its fair share of these. Proceeding Donato Dozzy’s soothing three-hour Saturday morning ambient DJ set was Rome’s finely-styled Rawmance, who provided an extensive selection that journeyed from ambient through to Japanese wave and proto-jungle. The protagonist behind La Beauté Du Négatif—a label the plays home to obscurely selected techno and esoteric sounds—had an adventurous style of mixing, throwing in distortion, and organic background noises, while brazenly playing with the pitch to alter the ambience and style at will. The Saturday afternoon set provided was one psychedelic experience, as the mood shifted between styles, while being tightly held together through its cacophony of noise.
Sunday early afternoon saw Milan’s perpetually traveling artist Paquita Gordon go back-to-back with Turkish DJ, and Love Vinyl operative Ece Duzgit. Together, the two women played an expressively broad and distinctive set of Turkish disco, dub and ballroom swing.
On Saturday afternoon, the temperature peaked at 38 degrees (100 Fahrenheit). As some cooled off in the nearby stream, those inside the palatial grounds drenched themselves in sweat. Luckily the ambient music set the mood, exuberating chillness and still energy. On the mainstage, Italian DJ L.U.C.A. (a.k.a. Francesco de Bellis of Edizioni Mondo) played a set of slow, Italo, and soul. Following this, Laraaji delivered one of the highlights of the weekend. Playing beneath the cover of the Sound System stage, the spiritual pioneer toyed with ambient textures, reverb, and percussion. He soothed the crowd with gentle singing and prayers, and in the beat of the sun, the harmonics appeared to melt the surrounding fabrics, blending together colors and textures in a seemingly natural way. Finishing off with ‘This little light of mine’, the crowd showered the guru with due praise. Rashad Becker, who followed, offered a less gentle performance of abstract electronics, that seemed to unintentionally mimic the sound of the surrounding insects, as the electronics fizzled and chirped, much like the litany of bugs who lay among the grass.
Festival experiences are not meant to be this good, and such moments are a rarity and should be treasured. The festival’s aim was to open the potential to creating life through "the creation of an atmosphere"—which is exactly what happened. Life happened through the set ambience. Here’s to another year of terraforming.