Electric Mode was on the scene from 11-12 August in Barcelona, when the city hosted DGTL Festival.
The sister edition of the Dutch techno festival, DGTL Barcelona celebrated its 3rd birthday in 2017- where a host of the world’s finest techno and house artists met under the scorching Spanish sun.
Welcome to the time of your life – Your future summer plans.
Read on and find out more- you’ll have an eye cast to the year of 2018.
The afternoon sun rose proudly, dissolving the last of the morning’s cumulus. Around me, there were a number of winding Moorish streets boasting everything from delicacies, magic, to grand cathedrals of the wackiest Gaudian design. A large leg of Jamon hung in the window to my right, glimpsed quickly as the spokes of my bike spun, reflecting the now unadulterated Iberian sun. The past hour was spent loading up on tapas and the ambience of some nondescript Spanish enclave.
It was 1pm as my friend and I hurtled Northward, away from these streets and toward the coast. The heat made the air shake as I eyed up the signs for the Parc del Fòrum. One can recount Barcelona in as much or as little detail and you would still understand its beauty only from seeing it yourself. We moved fast, weaving through traffic like floss through teeth, as the sea salt smacked the nostrils and the buildings became somewhat sparser. There we were. Checking into the hotel ‘Diagonal Zero’, there were but two facts at hand. Those being; the sun would continue to shine and I was 400ft from a full-on techno festival in the capital of Catalonia.
The aesthetic of DGTL is modelled on that of its Amsterdam counterpart. At once industrial and Blade Runner-esque, it is known as the ideal surroundings for techno music. The brief walk over to the Parc del Fòrum revealed a truly unique venue however. Great open blue skies, bare concrete and white angular machinery all ensconced within a wall of mountains.
We descended the steps into the Forum, where you could collect the wristbands from the box office. As I turned around, I was immediately caught by the almost surreal landscape. It was like a painting from de Chirico. We dealt with the next queue swiftly and after a non-invasive search, we were in. With the venue now in full view, there were four stages, each of varying degrees of industrial aesthetic. Each stage would do battle over the next 48 hours. Clearly, this was something that DGTL took pride in, launching questionnaires on their Twitter asking which stage was the fans favourite concept, alongside varying ‘after-movies’.
Note this– the 11-12 August is the time when the worlds best techno comes to Barcelona. This was all I had at this point, experiencing DGTL Amsterdam back in April was one thing (I remember being spat on by the Dutch rain, shivering my way in between warehouses), this was another game altogether. Across the wall, the sea glimmered, and we were pulled in four directions by the most seductive of industrial, raw drum patterns. With a sudden image that reminded me of some sick medieval horse torture method, we opted for the Frequency stage. On top of an elevated point, one large concrete ramp, was ‘Frequency’. The sound was clear now, displaying warm, rolling, minimal house and tech. The sun-tinged samples included filtered saxophone and slow keyboard samples. Each track flowed like good wine, with a fuzzy, crackling ambience set about the structure of the beats.
This was the soundscape of the New Zealand duo Chaos in CBD. The DJs were set up inside a bunker on the ramp’s tip, with a palm tree on each side. I could see the Helliker-Hales brothers in full flow- beaming. This featured Ben, who looked up from his mixer across the dramatic landscape, whilst brother Louis inspected a prospective record in its sleeve. The music flowed down the ramp, coupling with the seaside breeze, anchored by the emerging crunching drums.
I was alone now. Lured by the sounds of the summer, I sauntered over to the Modular Stage. This was a warehouse with the sides missing. The inside looked the skeleton of some forgotten monster. It was more like a monolith – a testament to the sounds of the underground. Here, I caught Jennifer Cardini, who made two hundred faces melt with the sound of jaded guitars placed over tech kicks. Cardini got the perfect mixture between funk and drive, ensuring that her set covered a range of genre sampling- from disco to new wave notes. Cardini’s set was forever driven forward by a techno sound. This showed a shrewd awareness of the context, and the sheer amount of breadth of sound, coupled with a proper dose of cowbells, made Cardini’s set one of the most creative of the festival.
Next was Adriatique. It was 7pm now and the sun had dipped slightly. The sounds however, increased in intensity. Holding down the standout set from the weekend, Adriatique launched into a heavy techno onslaught that began with the likes of Parice Bäumel’s ‘Engage’ and proceeded to launch some of the most dramatic drops of the festival. One such example, included a fierce false drop, in which one track was thrown in after a tense build up, left for a matter of seconds, then switched with a third mixer to reveal an even darker techno number at a higher volume. The result was an electrified crowd- which Adriatique read like a book.
Then, Ireland’s Mano Le Tough stepped up to the decks. The eager crowd was a mixture of late twenty-somethings and 30-40 year old Dutch, British, Italian and Spanish. Everybody in attendance raved hard throughout the Irishman’s set, where blissful faces and energised bodies undulated in the very last of the days sunlight. Adorned in shorts and low cut tops, there was a real sense of freedom amongst those in attendance. With this easy going vibe, the music served as an accompaniment and not just the sole purpose of those in attendance. Groups intermingled openly, hugs were exchanged and there was seemingly no edge to the frivolities at hand. I spoke to many people from around the world at this point, who repeatedly told me the whole thing was ‘the best’.
“Techno for me was once just Berlin, with cold nights queuing outside of Tresor.” -Franz Thole, 26, from Berlin
And, on the note of freedom, there was a security presence, yet not as invasive as the parties in London. Moreover, there was not one fight to be seen the entire time. With an atmosphere this welcoming, be it chemically induced or not, there is something special about DGTL Barcelona. Oftentimes an aggressive security presence can invoke primal reactions and hive-mind tendencies to lash out. Here, all felt as loose as the sea and the vibrations matched it. What a pleasure it must have been, to play to a crowd such as this, a beautiful communion of music fans, all in the same boat, here on the Mediterranean Coast.
The final hours of the night were a whirlwind, stretching from the acidic techno of Matrixxman, to the flavoursome sounds of Âme. The Innerversions label founders played a set that showcased the finest melodic techno of 2017. It has been a phenomenal year for the genre. With tracks such as ‘Mood Organs‘ (as shown below, artist- Lehar) spun by Âme, their set was like a looking glass of the future releases of the year. A rambunctious applause and vocal feedback on further tracks such as Bäumel’s latest track ‘Sorcery‘.
The big thing about this kind of music, is that discussing it, and hearing it live, are two different beasts entirely. Getting straight to the point- techno boats a supreme power that must be felt in the flesh. When you couple this with the surrounding experience of winding moorish streets of Barcelona, crystalline blue sea, the faint aroma of tapas and salt and a thousand beautiful faces, the impact of such music is intensified triple-fold.
Solomun closed day one with a set that underwhelmed. When an artist plays across the world, it is part and parcel of the road that they deliver an occasional lacklustre set. Lack of sleep, partying or a lack of connection can be fatal to a DJ set. Seeing the Diynamic head honcho in this form left many festival goers disappointed- but not all, for it was to be expected that the arty, softer tech-house sound of Solomun was to find it difficult to come after the techno laden Friday that was DGTL day one.
The following day saw up and coming techno queen Amelie Lens build a firm foundation for the enigmatic flow of Daniel Avery through a wealth of techno weapons- including much of her own strong content. A warmed up crowd were receptive to Avery’s darkly trance laden, bouncing weapons that reached full dramatic effect. This took place on the ‘Generator’ Stage- a fantastic phalanx of shipping containers, draped in revolving lights and packed with the most suspiciously bouncy members of the party. There were more sun burns and a greater number of sunglasses- these were necessary to cover the faces of many who took the afterparty to its highest possible level.
Taking a break from the abundance of techno on offer at the festival, I observed the Frequency stage at sunset. Here, I witnessed Mall Grab, who played a rolling house set. The tunes here were played with a recurring filtered bass that gave a sensation of warmth to the sounds. This feeling was certainly in the air, as the most joyous of the partygoers danced alongside one another, the sun setting over the mountains in the background. Ethereal green lights, like that of a UFO emitted from the top of the ramp, intensifying the surreal feel of this particular venue. A much needed breath of fresh air in the form of the house and tech-house here, one that demarcated Frequency from all other stages at DGTL.
I was uncovering more and more sounds- darker, murkier, challenging, forever enticing. So many in fact, that my natural stance at this point was fluid, as I swayed without realising. The feeling was infectious, and everybody in attendance was moving. Red Axes then demonstrated true musical talent, performing a tight live set that blew many a mixer out of the water. Hailing from Israel, Rex Axes are certainly an act to look out for in a live setting. Speaking of Israel- the next DGTL Festival is due to take place in Tel Aviv this October – a most intriguing prospect that gives further credence to the idea that Israel is becoming a firm destination for the international raver.
It was nearing the end now, my feet were blistered but I grinned from ear to ear- This was therapy for those in attendance. Music fans ran amok to the machinelike sounds of the maestro that is Jeff Mills. All with the firm knowledge that what happened here was more than exploratory, it was meant for stamping out the meaning of the day, burning more than just calories, but just as the sun burnt away the cumulus, together we felt a cathartic release- as the many issues that everybody must face in this world today, for two days dissipated and were gone, to the soundtrack of tectonic bass and hissing high hats.
Overall Feel– Authentic, rustic, raw.
Music– 4pm- 3am- Heavier than DGTL Amsterdam, if techno is not your jam, then avoid. 100% full throttle the whole time. Some fantastic LIVE sets- true talent on show here.
Drinks– €5+ for beers, €8+ for mixers, expect to pay €1 for every cup – ‘ecological,‘ but in reality a rip-off.
Food– Vegetarian, a cornucopia of exotic wraps, ‘self titled ‘food porn’ consisting of fresh juices, pizzas.
(According a DGTL study, the meat free festival resulted in saving 14 million litres of water. That’s equal to ‘almost 350 return flights from Amsterdam-Paris.’)
People– International crowd, devout music fans, very approachable, security understanding and understated, fashion conscious.
Surroundings– Beautiful sunsets, mediterranean Sea, surreal landmarks – matching the sound.
Toilets– Abundant, clean enough, water drinkable but runs out after 11pm.
Verdict – 8/10