From partying in a 5,000-year-old lava tunnel or a 17th century Balkan fortress, to lakeside gigs, beach raves or an urban dance marathon, here’s a selection of festivals run by teams with years of experience and excellence in the field. You know you won’t be signing up to an empty promise.
No matter if you were watching the Fyre documentaries through your fingers in empathy, or enjoying a mainline hit of schadenfreude, it highlighted the colossal task of running any music weekender properly, in the age of insta-FOMO and rising standards.
Beyond the basics of good line-ups, quality food and a water supply that doesn’t rely on someone ‘taking one for the team’, music fans have become more savvy and discerning. We may laugh at viral pics of cheese sandwiches and disaster emergency tents at Fyre, but it’s not so many years since UK festivals evolved from grim weekenders in a field with a few burger vans and a comedy tent as the alternative entertainment.
But even as UK festivals have upped their game, an overseas weekender is still a rite of passage for the festival newbie, or a chance for a veteran to prove they haven’t seen it all.
We choose festivals these days the way we choose our holidays – as a more sophisticated quest for new cultural and social experiences. Music tourism is hardly a new craze, but festivals are increasingly becoming a gateway to an extended break in a different country, blurring the lines between music, local history and culture, nightlife, sightseeing and gastronomic delights. Whether you’re down with a city break bustle, a beach time-out, an immersive music exploration or unique bucket list experiences, there’s a festival to suit.
SECRET SOLSTICE – GLACIER RAVES AND SURREAL MIDNIGHT SUNSHINE IN ICELAND
June 21-24 | secretsolstice.is
Acts announced: Black Eyed Peas, Robert Plant and the Sensational Spaceshifters, Martin Garrix, Rita Ora, Patti Smith, Morcheeba, The Sugarhill Gang with Grandmaster Melle Mel & Scorpio, Foreign Beggars, Pussy Riot, Kerri, Chandler, MK, Mr.G, Jeremy Underground, Boy Pablo, SMASH TV and many more.
Secret Solstice is all about unique experiences – the most obvious being the fact that the sun doesn’t set for the whole 96 hours, so get used to midnight pool parties in bright sunshine. As well as an eclectic line-up of US, European and local acts, Iceland’s premiere music festival is a bucket list party in the capital Reykjavik during the magical summer solstice. The carbon-neutral festival prides itself on using Iceland’s stunning natural spaces and rugged landscape as a backdrop – while the main stage hosts many of the blockbuster acts, you can literally have an underground vibe, at exclusive raves in a glacier and a 5,000-year-old lava tunnel. Back above ground, catch DJ sets in naturally heated lagoons or at boat parties in the midnight sunshine – and marvel at glistening waterfalls, black sand beaches, caves and vast volcanic fields on special day trips. Secret Solstice is celebrating its fifth anniversary, and 2019 is set to be its biggest edition yet.
EXIT FESTIVAL – PARTY IN A 17th CENTURY FORTRESS OVERLOOKING THE DANUBE IN SERBIA
July 4-7 | exitfest.org
Acts announced: The Cure, Skepta, Amelie Lens, Boris Brejcha, Carl Cox, Charlotte De Witte, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Desiigner, Dj Snake, Greta Van Fleet, IAMDDB, Jeff Mills, Lost Frequencies, Maceo Plex, Paul Kalkbrenner, Peggy Gou, Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, Tom Walker, 65daysofstatic, Adriatique, Atheist Rap (30 Years), Bad Copy, Boston 168 Live, Dax J, Hazze, HIgh5, I Hate Models, Johannes Brecht Live, Krankšvester, Krešo Bengalka, Monika Kruse, Peter And The Test Tube Babies, Sajsi MC, Satori Live, Shdw & Obscure Shape, Sofi Tukker and many more.
For four days every summer, the 17th century Petrovaradin Fortress opens its gates for EXIT – the award-winning music festival in Serbia’s second city, Novi Sad. EXIT began in 2000 as a student protest fighting for political change, and over the years it’s grown into one of Europe’s biggest festivals, with thousands partying in the stunning citadel perched high on a cliff overlooking the River Danube. The positive activism remains in the air, and each year has a specific theme (it was ‘Freedom’ in 2018). EXIT has possibly the most diverse line-up of any European festival, with 20 outdoor stages that feature everything from death metal to pop, indie, reggae and techno – among cobbled paths, courtyards, grass verges, ramparts and underground tunnels. The Dance Arena is the festival’s energetic hub, with 20,000 raving in the fortress moat waiting for the awe-inspiring moment when the sun rises above the ancient walls. Many DJs say the Dance Arena is the greatest place in the world to play, and after Nina Kraviz closed EXIT 2018 with an extended set until 9am, she called it “one of the most special places on Earth”.
DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE – WHERE YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE WHEN NO ONE CAN SEE YOU
July 5 – 7 July | rabbitresort.nl
Acts Announced: Editors, Janelle Monáe, Underworld, Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Foals, Vampire Weekend, De Staat, Balthazar, dEUS plays The Ideal Crash, Grace Jones, Robyn, The Roots, Ronnie Flex & Deuxperience, Rosalía, Skepta, AURORA, Beirut, Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles, David August, Kamasi Washington, Khruangbin, Lewis Capaldi, LP, Mahalia, Maribou State, Matt Corby, Ólafur Arnalds, Parquet Courts, RY X, Sofi Tukker, Agar Agar, Amber Arcades and many more
Down The Rabbit Hole says adventure, confusion, surrealism and psychedelics, which has been an inspiration for (psycho) rockers, DJs, artists, designers and filmmakers ever since the rise of the pop culture in the uncurbed 1960s… Good company, so get ready to tumble! We have all the time in the world, there’s no rush. Take your time to dine in dozens of restaurants from all corners of the earth, go meditate in the forest, lie down in the green pasture, swim for a bit, strum by the campfire, discover hidden discos… Have a ball with brand-new bands or finally see that classic artist in full swing. We’re out and we’re loose! Build your own party and celebrate, enjoy what you do, all with an open mind and in a sustainable way: we’ll keep it green & clean. A trip to Down The Rabbit Hole is a perfect summer getaway! Bring your own camping gear or rent luxurious accommodations at our Rabbit Resort at Groene Heuvels – Beuningen (near Nijmegen).
OFF FESTIVAL – A VOYAGE OF UNDERGROUND DISCOVERY IN POLAND
August 2-4 | off-festival.pl
Acts Announced: Foals, Suede, Stereo Lab, Aldous Harding, The Comet Is Coming, Superorganism, Electric Wizard, The Gaslamp Killer, Loyle Carner, OM, Zespół Pieśni i Tańca „Śląsk”, Octavian, Tirzah, Lebanon Hanover, Ammar 808, Boogarins, Wczasy, Entropia, Daughters, Durand Jones & The Indications, Dezerter gra „Underground out of Poland”, Perfect Son, Lotic: Endless Power, The Body, IC3PEAK, slowthai, Black Midi, SAMA’, Jakuzi, Phum Viphurit, Emerald, Trio Jazzowe Marcina Maseckiego, Bamba Pana & Makaveli, Neneh Cherry and many more.
OFF is a unique boutique festival that values experimentation and diversity above everything else – with founder and organiser Artur Rojek’s hands-on vision an inspiration to ambitious promoters and dreamers worldwide. OFF takes place in ‘Valley of Three Ponds’, Katowice – a beautiful green hideaway in the industrial Silesia region, with a huge choice of bars, restaurants and cultural centres to explore in the city close by. OFF ignores popular trends in favour of an expertly curated programme of esteemed artists – with the festival bringing many acts to Poland for the first time. It was created in 2006 as a way for Rojek to indulge his “dreams and passion for sharing music”, even if that means a black metal band can play next to a techno DJ, a post-punk act, avant-garde noise-rock, hip-hop, jazz, post-rock and beyond. From the greatest international underground heroes to essential forward-thinking Polish artists, OFF is an inspirational meeting of minds.
LOWLANDS – MUSIC, ART AND CULTURE CLASH AT THE DUTCH CAMPING PARADISE
August 16-18 | lowlands.nl
Acts Announced: Tame Impala, Twenty One Pilots, A$AP Rocky, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, The National, New Order, Royal Blood, Anne-Marie, Billie Eilish, Franz Ferdinand, Giorgio Moroder, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, James Blake, Jon Hopkins, Jorja Smith, Jungle, Lil Uzi Vert, Paul Kalkbrenner, Ronnie Flex & Deuxperience, Agoria (live), Antal, Colin Benders, Denis Sulta, Denzel Curry, FKJ, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Helena Hauff, Honey Dijon, Hunee, JOJI, Jungle by Night, Lowlands Science, Mall Grab, Marcel Dettmann, My Baby, Parcels, The Streets, Thomas Azier, The Vaccines, Weval, Willem, Ziggy Marley, Bodega, Boy Pablo, The Chats, Clairo, Code Orange, Courtesy, Dimension, Dub Inc., Eskorzo, Idles, Marc Rebillet, Moonlight Benjamin, Pond, Slaves and many more.
A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise is the Netherlands’ most prestigious music festival that’s been a rite of passage for the Dutch since 1993. It takes place in rural Biddinghuizen – only an hour away from Amsterdam, so there’s even a chance to add in a city break either side. It’s a true music, arts and culture weekender, featuring the world’s biggest headliners on the circuit, as well as installations, theatre, comedy, film, debates and even science workshops. Each of the uniquely designed stages are covered so you can party rain or shine, and the iconic ‘Armadillo’ area is the festival’s power station, quirky bars, DJ booths and artisan restaurant areas that surpass regular festival food stalls. The Dutch are world-renowned as expert festival organisers, and Lowlands is a perfect smooth operator, from the intuitive layout to the lack of queues for bars, food and bathrooms – with the best campsite facilities of all the big European festivals. It’s a proper lost weekend too – Lowlands doesn’t do day tickets, so once you arrive on the Thursday you’re on a journey with your fellow happy campers until Sunday. This vibe was picked up by 2018 headliner Nile Rodgers, who posted: “Lowlands was fire! This was an amazing f-ing crowd! Truly insane, and that’s how we like it!”
SEA DANCE FESTIVAL – PARTY ON THE STUNNING ADRIATIC COAST IN MONTENEGRO
August 30 – September 1 | seadancefestival.me
Acts Announced: David Guetta, Robin Schulz, Ofenbach, + many more coming soon
Sea Dance in Montenegro is an extension of the EXIT family – a gold standard guarantee in the festival world. Like EXIT, Sea Dance is also an award-winner, and was voted Best Medium Sized Festival at the European Festival Awards after its first edition in 2014. The festival bottles some of the magic of EXIT’s dance stages and transports it to the alluring golden sand beach of Budva on the Adriatic coast, with narrow medieval streets just a short walk away. EXIT’s famous No Sleep Novi Sad stage is repackaged for Sea Dance, with over 100 performers shared around numerous other stages. Evan as a relatively new addition to the festival scene, Sea Dance already has reputation for securing the biggest names in electronic music. Montenegro was recently listed by Skyscanner as the number one cheap holiday destination, with mountain biking, hiking and watersports available for those with energy left after dancing all night to the world’s biggest DJs.
AMSTERDAM DANCE EVENT – IMMERSE YOURSELF IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC CULTURE
October 16 – 20 | amsterdam-dance-event.nl
Acts to be announced soon
Amsterdam is world famous as a hub for nightlife and electronic music, and every October it becomes the centre of the electronic music universe for five days during the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE). Some 400,000 people hit the Dutch capital every year for ADE, which features more than 2,500 international artists performing in over 100 of Amsterdam’s most iconic venues including Melkweg, Gashouder, Claire, Shelter, Paradiso, the NDSM Docklands and De School. But it’s not simply a five-day rave – ADE offers an inspirational conference programme that covers all aspects of dance music culture and the industry. By day, across Amsterdam’s five main districts, there are dozens of seminars, workshops, exhibitions, artist interviews, feature and documentary screenings, DJ showcases and tech classes. Amsterdam Dance Event takes place over five days every October and is the ultimate festival for electronic music fans, who can even learn more about the culture between the parties.