If you like to travel a bit back in time and you like quality raving but you don't want to spend a fortune Romania awaits you in the South-East corner of Europe
I used to say that Romania is always somewhat five years behind the western world of which it wants to make part of so badly. Also I had to admit, that this lag isn't about technology or way of life. We have superfast internet, smartphones with countless cores, many ridiculously overpowered expensive sport cars and a bunch of shopping malls so you won't miss out on Zara's latest collection. The point where Romania falls behind is adopting trends and styles at large. The whole point of throwing this piece of mind at you is because I might think that the Romanian festival scene had proved me right.
Somewhere around 2010 Big Room House made its foothold in the music world, its simple but highly energetic sound catapulted by events like Tomorrowland into the minds of the masses. This was also the very point when "electronic music" definitely took over the world of music festivals. Some four years later, namely in 2014 people in Romania really got into making festivals and the number of these newly made events grew to a level where we were able to talk about the establishment of the Romanian scene. The bomb started ticking and went off almost immediately. By 2015 the festival scene blew up with such energy that it almost crippled under its own weight. This huge increase also meant that after half a decade the first "EDM" festival had made its foothold on the rapidly expanding scene. As a result there is huge variety of festivals for many tastes, not to mention the price. Things in the Eastern tip of Europe are dirt cheap for the average North American or Western European dance junkie and it could be also a hell of a trip, to visit a place which is the embodyment of post-communist cyberpunk. So dear foreigner, if you want to be entertained by world-class DJs and live acts for cheap while there's also security and some sort of infrastructure don't hesitate to come. We got Funktion One, nice girls, hot guys and hard to find, low quality stuff. Anyway the EU borders are... khmm... never mind :D
With that said, it's time to look into what we have, and which is the best one.
1. Electric Castle Festival
Electric Castle Festival is the best music festival in Romania, period. There's absolutely no doubt about it. There might be festivals with more people, with a friendlier atmosphere or with a better sound system, but none of them could strike such a balance as Electric Castle. The people are super friendly, the lineup is tasty offering cherries such as Synkro and Flight Facilities. In terms of location a medieval castle is hard to match even if it's pouring rain and The Prodigy is doing a weak-mediocre show.
The real beauty of Electric Castle is the fact that it's a safe haven for music junkies. You bump into producers, DJs and music heads on every square inch. Whenever and wherever you go, there are great discussions to be had and even if there's a disagreement about who likes what, everyone accepts you for what you like and why you like it. It is a great sight to see DJs jumping off the stage as their gig ends, rushing towards the other end of the festival to catch someone they adore. Even if I was alone since everyone wanted to hear something else, I felt like I always was surrounded by people fueled by the same admiration for that particular sound. As a result of this setup, the most hardcore violence you see is fist-bumps. The security is also tight, and the event in overall is very well organized. This year the festival grew a lot in size and there were some annoying errors like a single entrance to the camping, delays with the opening and such, but all of them were solved within a day. On the first two days for example the rain was a stubborn mule and just refused to stop. As a result everything was covered in inches of mud. Was that a problem? Not at all! The locals made a fortune by selling rubber boots and we had really good fun turning the whole thing around and making one big joke out of it. Also there's a lot more to be told about Electric Castle but that's why I've wrote a separate article about it. For a more detailed look into what's it like to be a peasant in the Electric Castle dig in.
2. Airfield Festival
Airfield Festival is the second best place when looking for festivals. This year it had a lovely line-up composed of Berghain trained techno demi-gods, rap idols, not to mention performances like Gus Gus. The atmosphere could have been just like at Electric Castle, minus the castle but there was a major hiccup. The festival at least in the first two days was mostly empty. The up side was that when you actually ran into people they proved to be some very nice chaps. Maybe that's the reason why the lack of security never led to more trouble than dozens of people dancing behind the DJ on the stage, which we all know is a receipt for the "cuba libre goes into the mixer kind of tragedy". Also the food court was a "bit" short on choice. You either had grilled cheese with chips or you had a burger and that kind of was it, but once you went raving or sat down with a couple of random people the whole thing felt like wonder. I seriously hope that it will survive the losses caused by the lack of people and it will come back next year refined, to live up to the expectations. If you can't go to Electric Castle, or your taste in music is better served by Airfield, I can't do anything else but to recommend it.
3. Untold Festival
If I wasn't such a music nazi Untold Festival would win here, but I 'am so it won't. Untold at first seemed to be a mess, with ridiculous design, painfully bad and wannabe showy promo videos and a chaotic and barely functional website, which became ok and totally functional in the very last minute. That image was also reconfirmed when I walked in one day before zero hour. Everything was utterly chaotic. When I got there on the third day and saw the whole thing functioning at full throttle I was pleasantly disappointed. I would even go as far and say that the logistic side was somewhat superior to Electric Castle, let alone Ultra Europe and Airfield Festival. The reason why Untold Festival is third is because it's barely about music. There's a big show, lasers, lights, fireworks and hyped clichés. It just happens so that someone presses the cue and play button from time to time. Of course, there were some nice places like the "Riverside Stage" where Nightmares on Wax and Crazy P were spinning records or the house stage featuring legends like Lee Burridge.
Anyhow these performances provided so little contrast put next to the event's main attraction, that they were hard to notice. With headliners like Avicii, Guetta and Dimiti Vegas & Like Mike every joke that is known to people familiar with online music culture came alive. It was a perfect showcase of muscles, glowing iPhone6 screens and tons of beautiful girls who googled "Who is Campton?" after looking accidentally at the trailer. Don't get me wrong, Untold Festival is a good festival and it's the perfect place to non-music people to see the most "stars of dance industry" for their money. So if you just want to go to a festival and you want to experience what's it like to hear Hardwell or Tiesto delivering their marketing speech while drinking a beer, Untold Festival is your number one.
I also have to add that this was the only place this summer where I saw vandalism and people with smashed faces. I might have overused Deadmau5's epic quote but it fits here perfectly. "Big things have a gravitational pull, sucks in all sorts of shit." To be honest, there wasn't too much shit, but there it was and you couldn't interact with people the same way as at the festivals ranked higher since you had no idea who the person next to you is, if you know what I mean. Untold Festival is the place to be for entry level dance music fans. If I'd be my former self from 2010, I'd totally adore it.
4. Summer Well Festival
Summer Well Festival wanted to be different and they succeeded, but not only in a good way. It felt really-really great to listen to live acts and more precisely rock and synthpop. Sadly I was only able to stay for a single day there so my image might be incomplete but here is what I saw. The first noticeable thig was the price. It seemed a bit off, as it lasted two days and basically there was a single scene and it costed almost as much as Electric Castle or Untold Festival. The second pricing related issue was that there weren't daily tickets at all. Seriously? So if someone wanted to go there for a single day, the price/content ratio was horrible. But let's say anything inside and near the capital is more expensive than anywhere else in the country and a semi-broke wannabe journalist is not the right person to judge based on prices.
Upon arrival it was clear that the infrastructure of the festival was well made. Sadly this smoothly working system wasn't created in a way to provide a pleasant experience. There wasn't anything in there that would have indicated the huge distances and the lack of displayed information within the festival's grounds. There were lounges, activity hubs and a large number of bars scattered around the place which is good but as always there was a big rock stuck between the gears. Brands went a bit too far to push their products and pursue their marketing goals, so for instance if you felt like low on battery and wanted an energy drink there was nothing for you at the bar located at the main stage. You had to take a long walk to the other end of the festival in order to find a Burn stand selling juice somewhere in the bushes. Other than that La Roux and the Foals did some really cool gigs and I'd really loved to stay more regardless the fact that Summer Well has lost its identity somewhere between a corporate rip-off and a musical experience.
There were also other annoying bits about it, but I'm way too far into TL;DR territory so I will put it this way. If you want to hear your bellowed band playing go over there, grab a drink or two and as soon as the last gig ends on the main stage get the hell out of there before your ears get violated by Jägermeister's annoying promo band and you end up paying zillions to, or arguing with a corrupt taxi driver as a result of not catching the last bus. Believe me, you don't want to walk back to the city from there.
5. MOX Outdoor Experience
MOX is kind of a castaway. For some reason it is good to be there but I can't really tell why. Maybe all of my friends are there and I'm being subjective or all the negativities add up to an invisible positivity. Hard to tell. While Electric Castle is located some 30kms away from Romania's second biggest city Cluj, in a small village and there's transport provided at any hour, and Untold Festival is located in downtown Cluj, MOX Festival is in a remote ski resort where the only reason to keep your phone with you is to use it as a flashlight. As the night falls you can't see shit. Your only chance to find someone is to turn your back towards the stage using the lights that otherwise will make you go blind and hope that the one you're looking for is facing towards the stage. The food court is simple, you take what they have or you starve to death, or you ask a bear to bring you some raspberries for you. If I'm looking at it from an objective perspective it is a horrible place where finding a place to piss is an off-road challenge, but that was the only place where I found myself lying in the grass giggling considering the fact that MOX was the place where I had the least amount of booze and no other stimulants whatsoever. It's bonkers.
The music is good but nothing exceptional. The lineup consists of talented local DJ's but that's it. You won't go there to idolize anyone, but it's dirt cheap compared to anything else what we have on this list. Just be sure to stack up on TP before going there.