The first edition of a festival can have a distinct feel of genesis, a kind of unassuming freshness. For Horizon, it's fair to say that the organisers, headed by one of the co-founders of Outlook and Dimensions, were pushing the envelope. There's quite a wide range of festivals in ski resorts, several of which cater for the underground dance crowd. But putting on this kind of event in a country like Bulgaria isn't tried-and-tested. Adding to this impression of humble beginnings was Horizon's small size—only 700 people—and an especially niched musical remit for a ski resort festival.
That musical focus was on current styles of house, with all its current crossovers, including branches into bass, garage and disco. Echer and Dolan Bergin from Electric Minds kicked things off on Saturday. Later in the week, there was chunky, bass-driven material from Loefah and the artists on his new house-leaning label, School Records. Jackmaster played twice and went all over the place, mixing up tracks you'd never heard with pop tunes and re-edits.
Photo credit: Khris Cowley
There was a lot of common ground among the DJs' styles and track selections, and many artists played more than once. I heard "Battle For Middle You" and "Big Room Tech House DJ Tool – TIP!!!" twice each—the latter clearly hasn't lost its club impact just yet. Still, most sets had their own character. One of the more individual performances came from Throwing Snow, who mixed Blawan's "Getting Me Down" over Four Tet's "Pinnacles" before rolling out Tom Demac's "Critical Distance Pt. 2." No Artificial Colours played on one of the mountain stages and then later on at The Club (the venue's actual name). Their hypnotic, '90s inflected sound was well-suited to both. On Monday night, the joint event by the Shapes and Trix crews, from Bristol and London respectively, started off a bit slower with Mark E, but by the end of the night had moved into something close to techno—the most full-throttle pace I heard all week.
Almost all of the performers were DJs, but one of the two live acts of the festival was also one of its highlights: KiNK. He began his set with a skeletal drum rhythm, then built it up into melodic, thumping tech house. As he played, he held up his MIDI controllers to show how he was using them to trigger kicks and so on. Intermittent showers of rain and hail hardly dampened the high spirits—it just seemed to make people more determined to keep on loving it, in spite of the weather (until it got really bad later on).
Photo credit: Khris Cowley
There were a few things that didn't go entirely to plan. One of the venues fell through one night, and the pole dancers at the strip club had to give up early on because they weren't getting enough money. But these things were minor shortcomings—in the end it came off as a series of cracking rave-ups. And, of course, there was that special something about being at the first edition of a small festival: everyone knows that the best times happen when you don't have any expectations, and there was a relaxed, friendly atmosphere the whole week. People were also generally quite clued-up about their music, as the artists, not the name of the festival, were the main draw. It also brought something out of the DJs, who seemed to thrive off the lack of pressure, delivering well-mixed, energetic sets. Coupled with a canny curative stance, this spirit gives Horizon a fine premise on which to grow.