“At Sunwaves the days melt into each other, you know.” A friend told me before I embarked on my trip to Mamaia. “Even with day and night helping you out, you’ll have to stop and think for a second which day it actually is.”
To an obsessive festival planner such as myself, this seemed ridiculous. Once the schedule was out I’d meticulously plan where I’d be and when. “We’ll go back to sleep for three hours, come back for whoever, then go get food for an hour.” It’d be just like any other festival.
Except Sunwaves isn’t just any other festival.
The festival based on the sunny strip of Mamaia, Romania is hardly an unknown quantity at this point. It attracts thousands of people from across the globe, yet still maintains that unique vibe that only little-known festivals ever seem to possess.
My experience began late on Friday as I tried to prepare myself for the mammoth task ahead so I headed down to catch Margaret Dygas’ sunset set on Friday afternoon. Tent four, ‘wooden tent’ or ‘Romanian tent’ has become almost folklore amongst fans of minimal music. Staring up at the wooden structure, beautifully put together along with some beige covered cloth almost seems surreal after seeing it on so many videos.
The Panorama Bar resident seemed to be the first to really kick the festival up a gear. A perfect blend of minimal grooves as the sun set behind her, not to mention the odd jackin’ house track such as The Underground Solution – Luv Dancin’.
As day became night, the energy levels across the festival were rising. Adam Shelton b2b Subb-an delivered a set worthy of the massive area that is Tent one with some big drop house. Seth Troxler b2b Craig Richards took over in the same tent 6 hours later, chopping and changing styles and genres from booming techno, to acid house, to idyllic vocal house music.
However, tent three was arguably where the festival action was at. It’s 6am, the sun has fully risen and the Romanian super trio of [a:rpia:r] are only an hour into their set but you feel as though they haven’t really gotten started yet as there’s murmurs they’ll for sure play for 12 hours. What makes this trio so unlike any other duo or trio in dance music is that they all have their distinct styles, but when they play together, they bring out the best in each other.
Each has their own distinct style and brings a different vibe to their sets, but it’s safe to say Raresh stole the show during this set. Predictably Pedro opted for lighter tracks that focused on groove, Rhadoo’s were drawn out and he occupied the decks for longer periods but Raresh played straight up bombs. Unknown Artist – Hopeful Nostalgia and 02 Samrai – Khadi (JTC Remix) were tracks that left a grin on your face from ear-to-ear.
On Saturday afternoon, with the blazing sun hovering above the Black Sea, Sonja Moonear delivered what can surely be considered a ‘Sunwaves set’. Tracks such as V.I.C.A.R.I’s ‘Moy lally in D’ and Lateral Line – Redgreen I (Seuil mix) wobbled through the Funktion One speakers and shook the wooden tent to it’s core. As day morphed into night, Charlie, not one to shy away from music that differs from his compatriots, played ‘Todd Terry – On A Mission’ which received one of the best receptions of the entire festival.
Cally followed straight after for what can only be described as a phenomenal set. We featured him as our first ‘Rising Star’ but it’s becoming debatable at this point whether the Romanian has outgrown that label. Saturday night is arguably the biggest night of the festival and most festival-goers were debating whether to get some rest ahead of the night, myself included. However, I just couldn’t pull away from Cally, hailing more what I’d described as ‘The School of Rhadoo’ albeit with a housier vibe, he was amazing.
In tent two, SIT were given the duty of A) being before Ricardo and B) playing in a bigger tent than they’re used to. However the pair of Cristi Cons and Vlad Caia adapted perfectly. A big factor may very well have been the fact that the soundsystems at Sunwaves are tuned to perfection. Even minimal in a big tent sounds booming when you hear it on that beach
It’s impossible to hide from the fact the sun has risen in Mamaia, not just because a horde of people leave every tent at 4am to go sit on the beach, but also the tents begin to change and shift shades of their colour in the most appealing way. Up glides Ricardo in a loose blue t-shirt that’s already drenched in sweat. It’s party time.
In the build up to Sunwaves I had people telling me that Ricardo bought his A-game and I always nodded along in a sort of dismissive yet curious way. But my word, did he bring his A game. The crowd in tent two were in a frenzy by the time he laid his hand on the mixer. The set started off with a bang, a swinging bassline swarmed by Latin vocals that set the tone for the next three hours. Ricardo did what he does, a good number of oddball tracks, relatively obscure tracks, such as ‘A Homeboy A Hippy & A Funky Dredd – Total Confusion (Electric Rescue Remix)‘, well known tracks, like Jonny Rock’s edit of Depeche Mode – Strangelove which provided one of my favourite festival moments of all-time.
The Chilean stopped earlier than expected, but DeWalta in tent four closed off the morning session nicely and Mihigh followed suit with what can only be described as his weird and wonderful take on minimal music.
Before I have time to think it’s Sunday afternoon and the ‘official’ end of the festival is only 36 hours away. I do have a sudden realisation, though. I have never been to a festival quite like Sunwaves. The combination of disconnection and blissful music is unlike any other festival or event I’ve been to. With no set times and just a faint structure to it, time on Crazy Beach doesn’t really exist. Before you know it it’s the end and you haven’t thought about your worries or real life in five days.
Then comes Sunday night and there’s one name on everyone’s lips throughout the festival. ‘Rhadoo’. His sound has changed over the past couple years and it feels as though it’s reaching its pinnacle. The darker third of [a:rpia:r] told a musical story that will be replayed inside my brain for years and years to come.
A selection of unreleased cuts that had a dark vibe matched well with the blacked out tent on the beach. At the end of his set he even went back-to-back with his old friend Demos. Ricardo Villalobos’ ‘Mormax’ was just as weird as it was wonderful and Swinging Buddy’s Logic Box was simply delightful.
On Monday came the day that I had been waiting for, Romanian DJs in tent four until the end of the festival. The tempo and energy on the beach seemed to be breaking through to fever pitch levels as Cap took over for sunrise. Amorf’s Interpretation of ‘The Mole – Set You Free’ produced a moment where everyone in that tent felt connected and it was beyond magnificent.
The schedule had become quite disorganised by this point as you’d imagine from a festival with zero set times. Atipic label boss Priku delivered a looping and snappy set but the set of the day went to Barac. One quote in particular that sticks in my mind from Barac is ‘The music when played in a certain way can be said to have healing powers.’ And it’s true. His set was truly beautiful, a mixture of intricate and light minimal that transpired into something a little bit darker as night solidified itself within the tent, such as BRYZ – Morning Light.
Due to some poor planning, my coach transfer to Bucharest airport was set to depart at 8am, which left me just enough time to catch what I expected might just be the highlight of the festival – a back-to-back from Cezar and Praslea.
I try not to have much in the way of expectations when it comes to seeing DJs, the anticipation can build up too much and leave you disappointed, not in this case. As previously mentioned in my review of Raresh b2b Cezar at Stump, the energy that can be produced when two Romanian DJs go back-to-back is unparalleled, mainly because the majority of them are close friends. When the DJs in front of you are having a great time and feeding off each other’s energy, it feeds back to you.
Cezar seemed to be one the leading with the charge in this back-to-back, with the snappy drums of Fake Eyes Productions – Takeitall vibrating through the tent and his own newly released’ Wedmar was great to hear in the flesh.
As I checked my watch and it was now 7:45am, I could no longer put off missing my coach as much as I would have loved to. The music was spellbinding but it was time to say goodbye to my first ever Sunwaves, but definitely not my last.
Photo credit: Cristina Niculae, Ogarev, George Coșbuc