Horizon Festival 2017 review: Chilled out event livens up at night

Kashmira Gander

Villages don't come much sleepier than Arinsal, the ski resort which unfurls over one stubby main road and a few cobbled lanes 1550m high up in the snowy mountains of Andorra.

This is a town not quite comfortable with being host to a grimy underground dance music festival and its world-weary revellers. Yet, it’s a strangely fitting match.

Arinsal doesn't want to be Gstaad: the sweet old couple in the local cafe who panic when 16 hungover people enter their dining area at once on Sunday morning prove that.

And Horizon doesn't want to be the behemoth that is Snowbombing.

Floating Points and his eclectic, genre-spanning sets of electronic music is this festival’s headliner, as opposed to the latter’s fast-paced drum and bass of Chase and Status and Andy C.

Together, Arinsal and Horizon happily offer a quieter alternative.

So, Horizon doesn't quite feel like an invasion in Arinsal. The festival goers - a handful of fresh-faced teens but mainly people in their mid twenties and early thirties - are decidedly chilled out. You can find them schlepping around the resort’s small ski slope in the day.

A few young faces are smattered with multi-coloured glitter but there are no basic flower crowns or laddish slogan-baring tank tops that you find at more mainstream summer festivals. (Partly due to the weather).

Sure, there are plenty of wasted-looking people wandering about, but they’re not really in the way of the locals who continue to walk their dogs and do their grocery shopping around them. There’s never even a queue in the resort’s only supermarket.

As Tom, my patient ski instructor tells me, the people are “here for the music. And the ones who know say it's good”.

The ominous-sounding 'the ones' aren't wrong: the varied line-up includes the sought-after jazz duo Yussef Kamaal - recently signed to Gilles Peterson’s label - funk DJ Craig Charles, and grime artist AJ Tracey (who has to cancel his set due to illness). In fact, you can barely tell there's a festival here at all until around 1am.

On Saturday evening, for instance, Midland performs his comparatively poppier-dance to a small but merry crowd in the resort’s carpark stage called the Factory.

Acts like Nanci Correia, with her bouncy set of jungle tracks and blips of dancehall and RnB, on Friday afternoon brings a chilled island vibe to the mountain main stage perched on the side of the ski slope, which is drenched in sun.

A few people bob to the music, but most laze on the wooden deck, saving themselves for the night.

And by night we mean the early morning. By 2am on Saturday, as if it of nowhere, an excited crowd has materialised at the cavernous Warehouse stage, situated in a tired-looking community centre.

Just two hours before, the room was deserted. The audience are here for Horizon Festival veteran KiNK, who brings out the best in the crowd and is an excellent ambassador for underground music.

Unlike other DJs, the house and techno master shuns the stage and sets up his equipment on the dancefloor. His face is drowned in blue light but it's easy to make out his elation as he performs. His smart set is thoughtful yet fast-paced.

One minute he's improvising around jazz chords on a small keyboard over ethereal electronica, before hitting the crowd with throbbing techno, then bassy house, and drum and bass.

The next he’s teasing them with old school house piano chords and Amen breaks. And when he waves his motion-sensored synthesiser from side-to-side, making the treble undulate, the crowd gathered around his decks can barely contain themselves. At times, he has the enthusiasm of a child with the best toybox in school, showing off what each shiny gadget can do. By 5am, a sparse but dedicated crowd are sad to see him leave the stage.

DJs Jungle Jungle fill a small bar underneath a hotel with with bassy, classic and new school beats to a crowd with an impressive amount of energy. Meanwhile, Motor City Drum Ensemble fails to draw more than a few dozen people to his set. Which is a shame. His collection of obscure soul, jazz and techno records is vast and he is skilled at weaving them together.

But perhaps it’s not entirely his fault. After making itself at home and out-growing the Bankso Ski Resort in Bulgaria and moving to Arinsal, Horizon Festival hasn’t quite settled completely.

The festival isn’t sold-out and could do with a few more punters to fill the venues. And the low-key local venues are yet to catch up with the deluge of festival-goers.

But the ones that are here seem happy enough with the odd-couple that is Arinsal and Horizon Festival - as Tom says, they’re here for the music.