Cards on the table – I revel in the palpable envy of the many, many people I tell ‘I’m off to a festival in a 15th century Transylvanian castle this summer.’
Try saying it out loud. Feels great. But beyond the vampire vibes, was Electric Castle actually any good?
In spite of its ravishingly ripe-for-bragging setting, the line up wasn’t especially promising. I happen to love alt-J, recall Franz Ferdinand fondly, and decide I may as well see House Of Pain live because fuck it. Electro jollies courtesy of Moderat, Nero and Paul van Dyk are all well and good, but only when in the right frame of mind (ahem).
Anyway, by all accounts this young festival – now in only its fifth edition – consistently endures weather conditions lifted straight from the gothic fiction which made Transylvania famous. Dark, stormy and always bloody pissing it down.
But rejoice! This year solid sunshine kept such niggles at bay, and treated thousands of revellers to unexpected sunburn and the perfect excuse for another Aperol Spritz. Banffy Castle itself – an arresting rustic hulk which survived both Nazis and communists during Romania’s turbulent recent history – is achingly photogenic, bathed in swirling projections and echoing with beats around the clock. There’s a leaning tower and everything. If you like a bit of a nose among the stones you can dick about with your mates in its atmospheric sensory zone or meddle with gadgets for gratis.
The best of the action is dotted about the grounds. Follow bosky wooded trails to hush-hush chill out zones, a lively silent disco, odd stages and (yep) a pop-up branch of Lidl complete with free-to-access barbecues. Beach volleyball, buzzing circus bits and bobs and budget beer. Champion.
So to the music. Slaves kicked off proceedings with trademark incendiary aplomb – you might not believe me if I told you their crowd had the Jeremy Corbyn chant ringing around the site. But they did. Everyone was at House of Pain for one reason and one reason alone, obvs, but they seemed cool with that, delivering a feisty, tongue-in-cheek set including a most respectable cover of Johnny Cash’s 'Folsom Prison Blues'. Fair play, lads.
alt-J, persistently derided by douchebags as a lacklustre live act, were stately and composed, abundantly comfy in their new status as mid-table festival headline kings. Former beatbox wunderkind Beardyman’s madcap new project Masters of Distraction – a four-piece which improvises every note of every performance, night after night – grabbed the crowd by the scruff and never let go. Barry Ashworth of Dub Pistols, looking for all the world like Del Boy Trotter as he mingled with the merry main-stage mandem in flat cap and white kicks, showed the largely local crowd (with a smattering of German, some Brits, Italian et al chucked in) how to make a party London-style.
As for home-grown turns, Fanfare Ciocârlia delivered a barnstorming balkan brass masterclass. Full of lager (like the food, it really is dirt cheap) I pogo’d around like a right mug. Luna Amară from just up the road in Cluj-Napoca (where you’ll fly into, a beautiful medieval town and well worth a day trip) are a class act, if a bit over-eclectic, oscillating between Elbow-sweet melody and Guns N’ Roses-gutsy bombast.
My main take-home though is Tommy Cash. The Estonian rap delinquent packed out the undercover Hangar Stage, with East Europeans of all stripes eager to show the bamboozled Englishman in their midst this snaggletoothed MC is a bona fide local hero. Cash stormed offstage early doors cursing a ropey monitor mix (or something) but returned to finish everyone off with practiced tracksuit sleaze.
He may have been a Sacha Baron Cohen character, I reflected at the time, but also thought that’s probably racist so kept my trap shut. In sum? Electric Castle is cheap, cheerful, with a setting to die for and a line up that – while hardly earth-shattering – has all stylistic bases covered. Not to mention just enough household names for you and your mates to get your teeth into.
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Words: Andy Hill
Photography: Ethan Weatherby