If thinking about music festivals conjures up visions of rolling green fields, tents and flower crowns, then think again. Although there are still your classics to attend, Glastonbury, Bestival to name a couple, some of the best festivals today go beyond your average traditional countryside set-up. Welcome to the world of city festivals, where you are sure to find your spiritual music home, be it techno Time Warp in Mannheim, Germany, to the one-day chilled sets of Citadel held on home-turf in London.
With so many unmissable festivals to choose from, it is no wonder that music lovers are increasingly travelling further afield, turning this into as much an alternative way to get to know a city, as a chance to see some of the world’s best bands.
If you want to try something a little bit different to rolling fields and potentially mud, here’s our pick of the best city festivals in places that you’ll want to explore more.
Where and when: Amsterdam, August 2016
This four-day electronic music festival takes place each summer in its original setting of Amsterdamse Bos, Amsterdam’s largest park. Situated on the edge of the city, the lush forests and meadows that make up the festival’s venue, along with its cool staging sets epitomise the chilled but edgy Amsterdam vibe. It has recently added several additional venues across the city all linked by a free ferry ride. The 2016 line-up has been announced, including James Holden and DJ Harvey.
Where and when: Helsinki, August 2016
Those in the know refer to the festival simply as Flow. Based in an old power plant in Helsinki, a city which is not known for towing the mainstream line, you know you are in for the coolest three days ever. Flow is more on the urban music and arts spectrum as festivals go. Line-ups feature ‘the’ artists to see, from indie to soul, and from folk to contemporary club. This year doesn’t disappoint with Massive Attack, Sia and Jamie xx announced to play. If you need downtime between acts there’s also visual arts, film screenings, talks, and amazing design to soak in.
Where and when: Reykjavik, February 2017. Barcelona, June 2017
Sónar festival is an annual event held in the buzzing Mediterranean city of Barcelona. It is divided into two parts: Sónar by Day and Sónar by Night, where leading electronic music interacts with cutting edge digital technology. Bringing together established artists and emerging talent in all areas of musical and audiovisual production. Although your senses will be truly blown away by the end of the three days, tag on extra days to explore the city.
If June 2017 is too far away, Sónar takes it’s unique style to venues in different parts of the world. With a spotlight on hand-picked trailblazing homegrown talent in addition to International acts, the already well established Sónar Reykjavik won’t disappoint and neither will a trip to this quirky city in Iceland. Check out the line-up.
Where and when: Mannheim, April 2017
Time Warp connects strongly with its audience, this annual event sees people returning year-after-year from all over the world, with fans talking about it months in advance and for months after. So what makes this Germany based festival so special? Time Warp is one of the world's foremost techno parties, where the biggest names in the electronic music business are joined by new talent. Expect finely-tuned visuals and no-compromise sound quality. Few would argue with Germany being the ultimate pilgrimage for those all over the world seeking top techno. It truly is the United Nations of Electronic Music.
Love saves the day
Where and when: Bristol, May 2017
This festival originally started as a one day, all-out party, but has since grown into a two day event celebrating underground music. Head to the trendy city of Bristol for LSTD if you can’t get abroad, or if you are looking at getting some festival training before heading overseas. The organisers have successfully merged an in-the-sticks escapism festival feel with the urban-edge of a city event. The first day is usually more energetic, with a more chilled style dominating the second day. This year saw Dizzee Rascal and Hot Chip take to the main stage, and they’ve just announced that tickets for 2017 will go on sale soon.
Where and when: London, July 2017
Heralded as one of the best festivals in London, Lovebox packs a mean music punch into two days. This ‘one-NOT-to-miss’ event on the London summer calendar hosts a multi-genre line-up of DJs, electronic acts and live bands. And this is just the start to the night as the evening spills into an amazing range of afterparties. The huge news this year was James Murphy’s dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem, having only reunited this year, playing their only London set at Lovebox.
Where and when: London, July, 2017
If you can only manage one day festivals, then look no further than Citadel. A young one on the festival scene, but that doesn’t stop acts like Sigur Rós and Lianne La Havas from gracing the Citadel stage. It aims two be more arts-driven than most conventional festivals, with music acts being carefully selected to compliment to this. Step away from the music and you will find enough to keep you entertained, from performance art to a comedy tent to a roller-skate disco, plus you’ll find some of London’s finest street food vendors have set up shop to keep you going. We can’t wait to see the line-up for 2017.
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