Championing a "diverse and broad" spectrum of both art and music, Horst, now in it’s second year, is one of the final festivals of the summer and occupies a gratifying and ambitious space. While Horst is far from the only festival to supplement a selection of DJs with visual accompaniment, a night or two at the grounds of a 15th-century castle, deep within the rolling Belgian countryside, proved to be a relatively involving experience far different from the Instagram-friendly sculptures and brash installations found at larger events.
With just two stages on offer, the festival excels in quality, not quantity. This year’s Red Bull Music Academy stage was specially designed for its lakeside location by pioneering architectural duo Robbrecht and Daem, and its contemporary design acutely complemented both the understated rural setting and the drinks brand’s typical slickness. If you’re more used to partying in a rented circus big top, and the idea of hiring an architecture firm to contribute to a rave seems somewhat indulgent, consider that the main-stage program takes place in the heritage-protected courtyard of the castle itself. Larger festivals might operate a one-in-one out system at their most popular stages. At Horst, you only need to cross a moat.
The Castle stage played host to the festival’s largely house-oriented contingent of DJs, and while the programming might not have been the most daring on the circuit, it was certainly satisfying to hear a series of Panorama Bar-friendly sets beneath the starry sky. And while Innershades' acid-flecked, Belgian rave sound has its place, it was Palms Trax who truly got things moving on a lighter note, despite foregoing his live set owing to unfortunate technical difficulties. Running Back founder Gerd Janson rolled out a typically pumping performance for Friday’s headline slot, flirting seamlessly between infectious, tracky house and more obscure disco, leaving Job Jobse to conclude the party, further making his case as a truly gifted and inviting selector. Although never less than friendly, Horst’s overall crowd was arguably more reserved than you might expect for a rural rave-up. Yet Jobse managed to leave the involved crew in front of the decks literally screaming for more, with a particularly enthusiastic girl so desperate for the Belgian equivalent of one more tune, she attempted to make her own final selection on the CDJs.
The RBMA stage dealt with the more bass-heavy fare—and it proved just as popular, if not more, than it’s more 4/4–oriented neighbor just a few hundred feet away. It must be said that despite the convenience of passing between two distinct genres within a minute on foot, there was no irritating sound bleed, no sudden death of atmosphere, and no chronic volume reductions. The headline DJ acts here—Benji B, DJ EZ—got the crowd bouncing with ease, but took few risks despite their crate-digging reputations. Oneman, perhaps inspired by the strength of the U.K. grime and bass scene, was much more versatile on the Saturday, even getting away with a prime slice of Jamiroquai once he had the crowd perfectly on side. Throwing Snow and Romare played contrasting, but equally excellent, live sets on each night, with the latter’s powerful and infectious sample work proving just as addictive on the spot as on record.
While Friday was solely an evening affair, Saturday offeringsbegan mid-afternoon, and felt busier in spite of a persistent drizzle. Classy and inviting in his choices, Midland slowly but surely coaxed the hungover campers and the weekend warriors into the action, and was joined in the courtyard by sets from Hashman Deejay, San Soda, Jeremy Underground, and a seemingly telekinetic set from Tama Sumo, along with her wife and frequent DJ sparring partner, Lakuti.
By this time, the crowd had started to explore the site and its installations, and by night, each had its own remarkable character, with light seemingly a unifying theme. Many had understandably taken advantage of the site’s unique waterside location. Particularly impressive was Karel Burssens’ and Jereon Verrecht’s 88888, a incision deep in the lake that, in the dark, was filled with blinding light to create effect of a watery grave. Just as eye opening but more playful was Lux@580nM, essentially a street lamp suddenly transplanted into the water.
But within the castle itself, it was Christopher Gabriel and Arnoult Huskamp’s Children Of The Light that understandably received the most attention. The work of the pair will be familiar to anyone who saw Darkside’s recent tour (they designed its huge mirror feature), and their Horst installation shared a similar aesthetic but offered a different purpose. In a room filled with smoke, super-bright LED lights were hung from a huge circular frame, rotating slowly in the haze, and as the house and techno soundtrack drifts in from outside, dozens of ravers stood transfixed, occasionally running their arm through the middle as if it were some science-fiction portal.
“I think we live in a very interesting time in the way that, now, I think you can live far way away from where things happen, as everything travels so easily; images, music, fragments”, explains Arnout Van Vaerenbergh, one half of Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, the artistic duo who curated this year’s lineup of installations and will continue to do so for the next three years. “It travels so fast, and you can reach so far. And you can also travel yourself quite easily. And Horst is so far from the city center that when you do something here, it's important. And you won’t believe it when you’re here next week, or the week before, nobody would expect this to happen.”
Van Vaerenbergh is not joking when he says that Horst is “far from the city center”. More accurately, it’s a 30-minute bus ride from Leuven (best known for Stella Artois), itself the same distance by train from Brussels. Both of these trips, however, can be made easily, with Horst running a regular shuttle service to Leuven and back again throughout the event. Horst’s largely local audience are also incredibly polite, with the event as a whole largely grooving, rather than utterly popping off as it might at more established and less specialist Belgian events such as Pukkelpop.
With only Red Bull showcasing commercial sponsorship, and being so deep within Belgium’s rural landscape, Horst feels like genuine escapism, especially for the several hundred who choose to camp on site. Nothing at Horst was under thought, and those tired of larger festivals will appreciate the level of detail, and an overall remit that’s more creative than commercial. The contemporary festival is perhaps one of the few modern examples of regular youth collectivism, and if the irresistible kick of the sound system is the initial draw, and without losing a sense of fun, Horst instead engages it’s audience without a bindi, a head dress or a morphsuit in sight.
“For us, we’re very clear,” Gijs further elaborates. “Our work is art, but it can stand on itself. And when it’s in the form of a stage, for example, it’s supporting something else and it can be very good but it’s not art. And we want to have this artistic part, to have it autonomous. And if you have a few chemical elements, they can work together, and you can soften them and blend them and they can co-exist as two entities. We have a lot of people who might not see the art, but we have a lot of young people who are so interested, because Horst is different from all the other festivals.”
Heard at Horst:
Paul Woolford "MDMA"
Gerd Janson wheeled out the massive kick on this tune, unbeknownst to Job Jobse, who reached for it again an hour later. The crowd went mad on both occasions.
No Smoke "International Smoke Signal"
Obscure, new groove classic played by San Soda (of course) on Saturday evening, had every DJ in the vicinity scrambling for their Discogs app.
Romare "Love Song"
Had even the more reserved portions of the crowd at the RMBA stage unashamedly bouncing during his live set.