Set in the coastal Black Sea resort town of Mamaia Nord, Romania’s Sunwaves Festival is one of the country’s oldest and most respected electronic dance events. Its 19th edition from April 28 to May 2 offered multiple venues with a diverse roster that covered nearly everything from talents in Romania’s increasingly hyped minimal scene to major headliners like Ricardo Villalobos and Marco Carola. Sonically and atmospherically speaking, it was a success—but the weekend did have a few minor issues.
As problems came up—and they inevitably did—we’d shrug them off by cheekily saying, “Romania!” It became a running joke within my group of friends because we said it a lot: when the power went out in the hotel for the fourth time; when all the bars ran out of beer; when we couldn’t find a single trash bin at the hotel or festival. Expressing these inconveniences now paints a somewhat bleak picture of the festival, but it shouldn’t. It’s a credit to the promoters and community that Sunwaves was so well executed.
After a turbulent journey to Constanta, the celebratory environment of Mamaia’s beaches was a welcome sight. Dots of colorful tents stood by the seaside fluttering in the wind and thousands of dancers swayed in time as waves from the Black Sea lapped peacefully along the beach. Even though we arrived after dark, it was easy to see that this was something special. We immediately headed towards the yellow Stage D tent.
There’s something infinite about Romanian minimal house. It builds in slow motion. Its subtly morphing deep grooves seem to suspend time in such a way that five hours can feel like five minutes. And by the end of the weekend, strong solo performances from Romania’s most famous DJs eclipsed our critiques of the infrastructure. Petre Inspirescu and Raresh‘s Sunday afterparty sets melted into Monday morning, Rhadoo‘s sunrise set induced goosebumps and Dubtil provided the perfect afternoon heater.
The festival’s magic was (unsurprisingly) upheld by an epic Saturday night back-to-back-to-back set from [a:rpia:r] honchos Inspirescu, Rhadoo and Raresh. Their superior chemistry expressed itself in effortless mixing and absolutely perfect track selection. Romanians’ ostensibly preternatural ability to pull off moments of beautifully sentimental melodic electronic music with spell-binding gusto became evident when Raresh laid down a particularly harmonic closing tune. Rhadoo’s solo set also featured some equally magnetic and poignant moments. I couldn’t identify a single artist, track name or label from any of their sets—and, for once, I didn’t want to know. When it comes to [a:rpia:r], it’s better to relish the mystery. The only effective response to the music seemed to be the ear-to-ear grins on the faces of every single person on the dance floor.
The festival’s crowd seemed to be divided into two camps: those who were there to see Marco Carola, a DJ known for a style of tech house associated with bigger rooms than smaller clubs, and those who weren’t. Luckily for those of us in the latter camp, Carola was tucked away in his own tent for a 20-plus hour set that came off to us as more egotistical than impressive. That said, Carola kept his dance floor packed from start to finish. Whether you like him or not, it was obvious that he gave his crowd exactly what they came for—and managed to set off some car alarms in the nearby parking lot in the process.
As the festival drew to a close, I came to understand that being delightfully surprised by the unexpected is what Sunwaves is about. Barac’s closing set held true to form with a driving current of minimal techno that warmed the dance floor and helped us forget the cold winds blowing outside the tent. It was hardly the perfect weather, but if Sunwaves taught me anything, it’s that the organizers work hard to make the music matter more.
Cover photo via Sunwaves’ Facebook.