If you share an appreciation for minimal house and techno, then it’s highly likely that Sunwaves Festival will have been on your radar for some time. The event takes place twice per year—in May and August—on Romania’s East coast, a two-hour train ride from Bucharest. Considerably smaller than its August counterpart, the May edition champions the electronic music with which the nation has become so strongly associated, providing each artist with the perfect platform on which to perform—including stacks of Funktion One speakers perfectly tuned to their particular style of output.
Having skipped most of the opening night to prepare for the long weekend that lay ahead, the festival really kickstarted on the Friday evening on Stage B. Up first was Cristi Cons, one of the latest members of the Romanian scene to really make an impression outside of it—the reasons for which became increasingly apparent during his stint inside the booth. He was followed by Zip who then subsequently made way for Ricardo Villalobos as the sun rose. Seeing these two Perlon stalwarts play is likely to be something of a highlight for any event—but there is a certain aura surrounding Sunwaves that encourages artists to push beyond their normal boundaries, and the duo’s back-to-back through Friday mid-morning was perfect evidence of this. Despite a few minor technical glitches, and Ricardo only really being fully focused for the first half of his set, the atmosphere of the room encapsulated everything that makes this event so special.
Friday melted into Saturday, and then came the turn of Ar:pi:ar—namely Raresh, Rhadoo and Petre Inspirescu (affectionately known as Pedro)—to take the headline evening slot after a steady opener from local favorite Dan Andrei. It’s not so often that the trio are given such an extended period of time to delve through their record bags—and their set grooved through several genres of electronic music, well beyond the "loopy" sound for which they have become some famed. Although they never really matched the moments of euphoria of the previous evening, they were far more consistent in their delivery than the celebrated Chilean. Meanwhile, in the other main room, was Marco Carola, winding up for another session with his posse having already overrun the backstage area.
With Ar:pi:ar finishing up and the sun having now fully risen, it was time to head outside to stage C, the red and yellow handmade wooden tent that offers the DJ a tunnel view of the sea. Always bursting at the seams, the stage is in definite need for an extension—or the simple addition of some outside speakers to allow revellers to enjoy the music without having to cram in. That being said, this space has become such an integral and iconic part of the festival that it’s difficult to imagine anything different. Spending the afternoon there made me wonder why I’d spent the majority of my time frequenting the night events; the mood down by the sea is much more relaxed, made all the more enjoyable with the likes of Topper and Alexandra behind the decks. Dewalta and SIT (Cristi Cons and Vlad Caia) had apparently also been brilliant, but such is the nature and consistency of the festival that it is impossible to see every performance. It was around this time that Tini and Bill Patrick were starting, more on which is to come later.
Sunday evening was graced with a live set from minimal pioneer Ion Ludwig—a performance that sits comfortably within the catalog of highlights from the weekend. Ludwig was the last international artist to play the stage, before making way for the local heroes to close out the party. Following on from Cezar, Rhadoo initiated perhaps the most enchanting period of the whole festival. The Romanian’s softer selections provided the perfect soundtrack to the sunrise, a spell that was broken by the heavier kick drums of Mihai Popescu’s “Inder Random,” giving the party the little boost needed to get it pumping once again.
Stage D’s warm reds and yellows now glowing under the midday sun, Rhadoo gave way to the lesser known but similarly revered (at least locally) Romanian in the form of Dubtil. The elusive producer, who has no Resident Advisor page, delivered a blissful set of rolling house and techno, a soundscape so beautifully textured that it had something of a healing effect on weary minds and bodies, preparing those present for the final stretch of the event. Praslesh, Pedro, Priku, Barac et al carried on the party, seamlessly bringing in track after track of old, new, and unreleased electronic music of an extraordinarily high quality. Credit, here, must go once again to Pedro, who delivered another wonderfully melodic set as the sun went down for the final time.
Special mentions must also go to Marco Carola and the back-to-back of Bill Patrick and Tini, whose respective set lengths extended well beyond the 24-hour mark. Although a remarkable achievement of sorts, you have to question the musical value in such extended sets: it exposed a lack of metronomic precision and musical quality that was on show elsewhere during the festival. It’s hard to find an artist on the Sunwaves lineup who is not capable of playing for pronged periods, but something must be said for stopping well before your ability to mix in and out has coherently disintegrated.
Not everything about Sunwaves is perfect. We haven’t even touched on Mamaia, a strange seaside resort similar to those which line the Costa del Sol’s sea front. Neither have I mentioned the degree of bar hopping needed to acquire beer towards the latter stages of the party. Additionally, the over presence of brands—including a giant Kent cigarette area at the main entrance—gave the festival an unexpected corporate feel more in line with larger commercial festivals. Food was also at a premium, with one (albeit extraordinarily slow) bar serving delicious smoothies and soups.
All that being said, these moments of frustration add to the all round experience. Sunwaves perfectly embodies the spirit of what festivals should be about: a fun-loving and open minded crowd gathering to celebrate the music that they love in an environment specifically tailored towards it. For some, seeing Romania’s top DJs hour after hour may sound dull—but the lineup, atmosphere, and pristine sound quality make Sunwaves an unmissable event for those enchanted by the offerings of this unique scene. This was my first Sunwaves, and like most of the people I met there, I have no intention of making it my last.
All photos: Ogarev