In the distance, amongst the whispering pine trees and lingering mountain mist, the sound of a thumping kick-drum can be heard filtering through the valley. Located on a large plateau clearing just north of Guardiola de Bergueda, 900 or so revellers congregate for the second edition of Parallel Festival.
Parallel is amongst a handful of new festivals cropping up that prize themselves on stunning locations and a more focused approach to curation. With an emphasis on family atmosphere, Parallel has already been likened to more established parties such as Freerotation and Labyrinth - lofty accolades indeed.
Parallel 2017 was a captivating weekend for a number of reasons. The bus ride into the mountains felt like some sort of pilgrimage, as urban landscapes dissolved into leafy green panoramas and quaint Spanish villages. Arriving to the festival site, the air was clear and the untouched nature a welcome paradise far from the hustle of metropolitan life. Opening up the tent in the morning to see such stunning views of the valley was something I’ll honestly miss.
While the festival’s music policy concentrates on the deeper, more meditative side of techno, there was still a variety to be heard over the weekend, with more ambient acts beginning in the afternoon and a nice mix of both live and DJ sets. The Saturday programme was perhaps the strongest – Natural/Electronic.System put out over four hours of quality music, warming up with grooving basslines and acid synth lines that kept me on the floor for the majority of the set. He ended with Tin Man’s ‘Viscosity Acid’, an uplifting closer to what really was a wonderful listening experience.
Russian artist Yuka stepped up next, where she crafted driving selections that took the party into almost hysterical peak-time hours. She set the tone opening with Edit Select’s ‘Breathe in Exhale’ and made a statement with many other killer selections (Acronym’s ‘Yggdrasil’ was particularly memorable, and sounded massive on the system). Yuka’s smooth transitions and ear for the crowd led her to deliver one of the most impressive and intuitive sets from the weekend.
Due to illness Function had to pull out, giving Yuka and Neel extra time to play with. The crowd was ecstatic after Yuka’s no-frills delivery, whereby Neel took over the decks to transition into the final part of the night. The core of his set featured the rolling type of Italian techno he’s become known for, and included his own material (the Spazio010 release and his collab project with Dozzy ‘Voices From The Lake’), as well as more pumping stuff from the likes of Emmanuel and other more Berlin-leaning sounds. Overall, Neel’s set was euphoric and forward-looking, with some frequently sentimental moments that had the crowd cheering. Come 5am, we were granted a surprise back-to-back between Antonio Vázquez, Natural/Electronic.System, and Neel. It took a few mixes to get into a collective rhythm, but once they’d adjusted, mind-expanding sounds rolled out onto the plateau as everybody danced into the morning twilight. Highlights from Sunday included Architectural, and a live set from Polar Inertia. Knowing the Frenchmen’s capabilities when placed in a club at 3am, it was interesting to see what they would do at 3pm. Beginning with experimental drone pieces (some can be found on their DM3D releases), they steadily notched up the energy; a quickening of pace and purpose that prepped everyone for the final (and perhaps the most anticipated) act of the festival: Steve Bicknell, co-founder of the now legendary LOST parties.
Bicknell opened with Delia Derbyshire’s intoxicating ‘Falling’, mixed in with swirling atmospherics that added to the bubbling tension. As focus from the crowd grew increasingly concentrated, Bicknell launched into sequences of spellbinding minimal techno. These smart, stripped-back grooves had an air of decisiveness to them, with Bicknell at the helm commanding an authority that few DJs can. The first hour or two were deep and meditative; it was mind music for the dance-floor. He later mixed things up with moving bass-lines and heads-down grooves, as things slowly descended into chaos. The middle was rather hectic and lacked a little direction, with glimpses of ravey acid house, bleep techno, and stomping kicks. He then settled into more rolling, Mote Evolver-type cuts, as the dance-floor turned into a desert, with dust dunes floating up from the shuffling feet below.
There were some dips in Bicknell’s set, but overall there were many moments of excellence; a well-placed appearance of Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’ went down a treat, as well as Random XS’ ‘Give Your Body’. The last thirty minutes were straight-up face-melters, before Bicknell ended with the track of the weekend: Ron Trent’s ‘Altered States’ – which everyone went wild to. There was a feeling of togetherness as I witnessed contented faces all around. Staff were handing out free fruit and at one point it was quite bizarre to see the whole dance-floor munching on green apples.
There was a feeling of inclusiveness throughout the weekend, but it was only until the final moments of Parallel festival that I really sensed the unity between everyone – organisers, staff, DJs, and the crowd. This was a true and sincere celebration of life, music, and nature.
There are some intriguing aspects to Parallel festival – from the way the programme is structured, to what kind of crowd they attract. The festival chooses to create clear cuts between the days, with no 24-hour music policy and early finishes on Friday (1am) and Sunday (20:30pm). This consideration for the music itself, and a consideration to the energy of the crowd, is perhaps something that’s missing from club culture generally. Where most festivals are typically exhausting, Parallel allows you to have your cake and eat it too.
There’s a certain charm to the festival’s ramshackle set-up – not much more than a couple of speaker stacks and subs (powered by the Austrian audio company Lambda) and a bar. It felt like an illegal rave were it not for the Redbull parasols and Estrella branded chairs and tables; but anything more would begin to detract from what’s most important – the music and the vibe.
As with any festival in its early stages, there were some things that could have been tweaked or improved. Music-wise it would have been nice to have more ambient/downtempo and specifically non-techno music to balance the programme, as well as a later finish on the Sunday. Additionally, the food and drink were slightly overpriced, and following the rather abrupt finish on Sunday, hundreds of people were left without food and drink as the vendors and bar had closed. At this time the water supply was also cut off. Site production was also severely lacking, with no more than one strip of fairy lights that illuminated just part of the path to the toilets; although a bit comical in hindsight, the journey back to the camp-site (not easy at the best of times) involved hiking up three dirt hills and clambering over rocks and thorn bushes in the dark.
In spite of the lack of organisation, Parallel demonstrated a possibility of what you can create with seemingly little. One can’t deny the love and energy that’s been put into the project and there’s no doubt that the festival will improve exponentially in the coming years. With an inspired team and an equally inspired audience, this became a collective exploration into sound and nature. With many of the same faces in the crowd and staff that had attended last year, there was a feeling that a close-knit family was forming. All in all, a great second edition for what is surely one of Spain’s most unique and intimate techno festivals.
All photographs credited to Agnieszka Kocinska...