Into the Valley 2017 : ITV
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Photo Gallery and Review: Into The Valley 2017

XLR8R travels to Rummu for the festival's Estonia debut.

It's a well-known fact that when the Swedish do music festivals, it's go big or go home. Perhaps the country's most eagerly anticipated event—within house and techno circles, at least—for the past couple of years, Into The Valley has formed a fierce reputation as one of the world’s most interestingly located parties, annually transforming a former lime quarry in Rättvik into a three-day celebration of electronic music. Hope were high on arrival that this year's move to Estonia from Sweden would not dampen spirits or affect the soul of the event, but rather elevate it further on its quest to become Europe’s premier summer electronic gathering.

These lofty aspirations were exemplified by the assembly of one of the strongest electronic lineups found anywhere in the world this year—seriously, go check out the list of talent on display—and a promotional video highlighting the stunning contrast between the natural beauty of Rummu’s limestone quarry where it was held. Surely, nothing could go wrong, right? Wrong. The festival, while boasting great potential, represented the organizers' first misstep in what had previously been an uninterrupted upward trajectory towards the techno stratosphere.

Arriving in Tallinn on a warm and sunny Thursday, I was admittedly blown away by Into The Valley’s setting. Upon entering the venue—a former prison—the inverse nature of the uncultivated backdrop was both striking and mightily impressive. A local DJ tells me of the prison’s dark history and how he hopes the festival can recreate the spirit and kinship his father told him of at the many impromptu open air parties that sprang up after the fall of communism as Estonian’s made the most of their new-found freedom. The crowd—largely Swedish and German in origin—seemed determined to soak up the atmosphere, excited at what was to come: Cassy, Hunee, and The Black Madonna were all set to play, and the latter’s genre-hopping set worthy of particular praise as the former Smart Bar selector seamlessly transitioned from retrofitted disco numbers to acid-flecked house cuts and forward facing techno to keep an expectant crowd moving on the beach.

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Unbeknownst to us all, however, trouble was brewing. Several days before the start of the festival the company tasked with providing security pulled out citing "lack of payment." This left the festival relying on volunteers to secure the festival and it was this lack of professional security which we’d imagine led to police shutting the opening night’s festivities earlier than scheduled, at around 3 am. Complaints about the shuttle bus service—which, in fairness to ITV, seems a common issue at most festivals—then began to mount on social media as disgruntled revelers attempted to make the hour-long trip back to Tallinn city center. It was poor organization nonetheless.

The next day, however, was when the real trouble began as the heavens opened and it became very apparent that the team behind Into The Valley simply hadn’t prepared for rain. This seems a particularly strange oversight when the smallest amount of research would have told them that it quite often rains heavily in Estonia at that time of year—yet there were few covered areas or such things.

And then it got worse: with three of the festival’s four stages being outdoors, attendees were then dismayed to learn that Into The Valley’s only indoor space—the heavily hyped Warehouse stage—was out of service due to safety concerns. Loose bricks, we were told, were falling from the ceiling so it seems that the festival made the right decision to close the stage but one would hope that such architectural issues would be made apparent to the promoters a long time before the event. It was, in hindsight, a huge mistake on their behalf and one that we hope the organizers do learn from. Safety is always paramount but these issues should certainly not be rearing their heads on the day of an event.

The closure of the Warehouse naturally had an effect on the timetabling with a number of the hard-hitting techno selectors —Answer Code Request, Bjarki, and Function—then shunted around the schedule. Many of these names were moved over to the nearby Yard stage under heavy rainfall. Hiding from the elements over at the Beach stage, the mood was brightened by the eclectic selections of Kim Ann Foxman who brought some much-needed energy to proceedings. Followed by the sounds of London techno aficionado Midland, those determined souls who braved the rain—or followed the live stream of his set online—were treated to an exercise in versatility. His well thought out picks managed to stimulate even the weariest of dancers in what really was the most unpleasant of weather.

Further attempts to lift the drenched crowd were made by KiNK who demonstrated just why he’s been topping so many lists on the live show front these past few years. Rattling the sense with a smorgasbord of acid enthused sounds, his wet set will be one that lives long in the memory of anyone determined enough to brave the weather and catch it all. Dixon then brought our sodden night on the beach to a close with his unique strand of trance-laced techno, sliding in a number of surprisingly ethereal choices that kept the baying throng of devotees dancing through the rain continually guessing as to which way the vaunted German DJ would venture next.

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Saturday saw the festival make a recovery of sorts with both the weather improving and the opening of the Dome, an impressively quickly assembled tent stage that would house the artists previously scheduled to play in the doomed Warehouse. Beginning with an all too rare b2b set from Stockholm/Berlin-based duo Johanna Schneider and Philippa Pacho as Sthlm Murder Girls. Their set served as just the pick-me-up that attendees needed after a challenging couple of days.

New York-based DJ Honey Dijon then got the party started over at the now considerably dryer Beach stage, her blend of camp skittering vocals and classic club kid synth lines both providing an irresistible groove such to warm even the coldest (or wettest) of hearts. Her delivery of Mr. G and Gary Beck’s "All My People " was a particularly special moment where one first felt the community spirit that showed so much promise at the start of the festival. Honey then closes her set with an extended edit of Digitaline’s sun drenched "Africa" to bring her time on stage to an end with style.

Having sadly missed out on Scuba’s b2b session with fellow Brit George Fitzgerald—such was the quality of the programming—we then made away over the reinvigorated Mountain stage where Hessle Audio’s mighty techno triumvirate—Ben UFO, Pearson Sound, and Pangea—were bringing a dub fuelled ruckus to the quarry.  Helena Hauff then further bolstered her reputation as one of the Europe’s most cutting edge DJs, her avant-garde approach to contemporary techno singling her out as one of the most interesting musical curators operating in the scene right now. We then closed the festival with the thoughts and feelings of the inimitable Nina Kraviz. Fusing the sounds and influences of classic trance—a trend the techno glitterati seem more and more intent on pushing as the year goes on—with her own experimental brand of electronica, the Russian selector took us on an adrenaline inducing trip that both challenged orthodoxies and inspired bodily movements.

Promising an experience like no other, Into The Valley very nearly pulled it off. The sound was great, the programming exceptional and the setting, at points, breathtaking. Unfortunately, however, grave organizational disarray and lack of preparation for adverse weather really let the festival down, leaving attendees with mixed emotions as to where the series goes from here, and with many feeling short-changed by the organizers' naive lack of foresight in a number of key areas.

That said, the changes required to make this festival one of the world’s best shouldn’t be that difficult to implement and one would hope that these problems can be ironed out before the next edition.

Photos by Nicole and Troy for Studio XXIX

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