These are trying times in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. In the wake of the horrific fire at the city's Colectiv Club at the end of October that killed 60 and eventually led to the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his government, that much would have been obvious to anyone who'd been paying attention to the news. What further brought it home for me, however, was a text message from a colleague as I landed in Bucharest a few hours before the start of Interval 100, a new, much-heralded event that was to take place across two of the city's best-known clubs over an unbroken 100 hours.
“Have you seen the announcement?? Guesthouse down!”
One of Interval's two venues had been shut down just hours before Interval was due to start, a situation that would be close to unimaginable in a city running on a normal footing. The Emergency Situations Institute (ISU), a state body that has been in existence for some time, decided to lay down some down new fire-safety requirements for clubs and other venues in the city that seem as draconian as they are chaotically enforced. Its officials had conducted a random inspection on Club Guesthouse and decreed that it be shut despite (we were told) a raft of measures having been taken by its owners to ensure that it remained open. This was by no means the first trouble Interval had run into in the four weeks since the fire at Colectiv: The festival was originally to take place at the clubs Guesthouse and FORM, but FORM was closed down almost immediately after the Colectiv fire. Two other clubs–Control and Eden–then stepped in, taking the venues to three, but Eden had also to drop out a couple of weeks later, leaving just Control and Guesthouse.
The ensuing hours brought a frantic, and ultimately fruitless, search for a replacement venue for Guesthouse, followed by an equally frantic restructuring of a schedule that was now to unfold in just one venue. It was clear that some big hitters were going to have to drop out to avert a financial catastrophe, and Nina Kraviz, Jackmaster, Ben UFO, Tessela, Mano Le Tough, and Levon Vincent were among those gone as the full bill was slashed from 100 artists to 65. A revised schedule was posted with impressive speed on the festival's Facebook page, along with a statement, a full reading of which vividly communicates the hopelessness of the situation Interval found itself in.
“When this happened on Friday, we decided to head to our favorite falafel place to talk it over,” one of the main organizers told me a couple of days later, her shock still palpable. “But when we got there we found that the ISU had just shut it down too. So we went to our second-choice falafel place across the street, and it had been closed down as well.” While I can't comment on fire-safety provision at Interval's favorite falafel places, the shattered resignation with which this was delivered spoke volumes about what the organizers had been grappling with in the past days and weeks.
It was clear that Interval had been extraordinarily unlucky with the timing of an event that had clearly been in the planning for years. The big question, as we headed into the club for the first time on Friday night, was what could be salvaged.
A first note of reassurance came on discovering that Club Control, Interval's one remaining venue, was an excellent space for clubbing. Its 500-capacity main room (Control) has a large, open dancefloor; a cool, corridor-like mezzanine running around two of its four walls, and consistently great sound. Its second room (Front Control) is split up the middle, with a small but not insignificant dancing area on one side and an area of seating on the other. The mood was somber and shell-shocked when I first arrived, but things soon began to hot up as midnight ticked by. Dipping into Steve Rachmad's melodic techno in the main room proved periodically rewarding, but it was a pounding, euphoric set from Kowton in Front Control that really blew away the cobwebs, signposting two things: Interval was actually going ahead; and that it might be pretty great after all.
Supreme sets from Cabanne and Margaret Dygas got the party going on Saturday evening. A healthy smattering of local artists gave Interval a solid Romanian base throughout, but Raresh, Petre Inspirescu, and Rhadoo, the three DJ-producers who comprise RPR Soundsystem, unquestionably provided the local scene's most triumphant moments. These guys are royalty in Bucharest, and they all played to packed crowds in Control. My pick was Raresh on Sunday evening, but Inspirescu, his excellent new LP all ready to drop, also impressed over five languorous hours on Monday evening.
As the weekend wore on, I increasingly fell back on Front Control's intimacy and less-fervent focus on 4/4 beats. Standouts there were legion, but Studio Barnhus co-founder Kornél Kovacs' set early on Monday morning particularly sticks in the mind. His mix of big rave synths and equally big house pianos with recent Studio Barnhus cuts (Matt Karmil's Fleetwood Mac-sampling “Moment” among them) acted as a perfect pressure valve for the dark delights of Francois X's techno and DVS1's superb set next door. Baba Stiltz and Mr Tophat & Art Alfie followed with one of the weekend's many impromptu back-to-back sets (or back-to-back-to-back in this case), while Hunee worked similarly joyous magic in the same room 24 hours later up against a rather bored-looking Recondite in Control. Hunee's glorious taste in disco elicited some of the most frenzied dancing I saw all weekend, and his late airing of Laurent Garnier's “The Man With The Red Face” improbably managed to elevate the mood even further.
With most well-programmed electronic music festivals, clashing set times are what makes you miss some banner acts. With Interval and its unbroken 100-hour schedule, it was the human requirement for sleep that did it. The event stretched over five full nights, with smaller acts generally scheduled from mid-morning into mid-afternoon to allow people to rest. Even given that, however, everyone I was with at Interval had at least one night on which they had to admit defeat and turn in early, no matter who was playing. I lasted until after Hunee's set in the early hours of Tuesday morning before indulging in a relatively early bedtime, missing Âme and Marcel Dettmann but waking up ten hours later with a smile on my face. It was frequently remarked upon during Interval that despite the overwhelmingly happy atmosphere in Control, hardly anyone was obviously high. Interval's running time had the potential to be taken as an ill-advised challenge, but nobody I saw treated it that way, and the event was all the better for it.
The final night of Interval passed in a demob-happy haze. I don't think I was alone in feeling like I had undergone some kind of techno aversion therapy after nearly 100 hours of 4/4 thump, so I largely body-swerved Rhadoo's closing set in favour of Captain Midnight in Front Control. Captain Midnight are also known as Blisi and Herne, the duo behind Interval. If the extraordinary strain of the previous few days had got to them, they didn't show it, with DJ Deeon's "Freak Like Me" and Aphex Twin's "Heliosphan" standouts in an unremittingly fun set that also saw them indulge in the weekend's final unscheduled back-to-back-to-back action with recent Dekmantel signing Central. As proceedings edged towards 4am on Wednesday and hour 101 (the next morning I learned that Interval's final note sounded at 7am, 104 hours in), I headed for bed. What the future holds for Interval after this troubled beginning remains to be seen. Its organizers can take great pride, however, in the fact that they managed to hold it together and pull off an excellent event in the most trying circumstances imaginable.