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On 1 January 2015 as I sat down to write my New Year’s resolutions, I eschewed false promises of gym memberships, saving money and not  talking so much for this declaration of intent: 2015 is the year I will go forth and enjoy the shit out of Sunwaves! I’ve been so jealous, every May, for as long as I can remember; the jubilant  Facebook posts, the clips of musical might on YouTube and the glazed, joyful faces of all of my friends when they came back to London all told me that this was a festival that I had to be a part of. 

Fast forward five months and myself and my partner in crime were excitedly getting on a plane at Luton when we bumped into a good friend and London based promoter who was up for sharing a taxi with us from Bucharest to the festival as we didn’t arrive in Romania until  2.30 am. We grabbed a couple of beers and fell asleep to the sounds of our driver ranting on about how English girls were fat drunks. I don’t see anything wrong with that myself, but you know ….

We arrived in Mamaia a mere three hours later to an obscenely red and beautiful sunrise and were dropped off down a dusty track, watched over by packs of feral dogs. We were hit by the sudden realisation  that our accommodation was actually several miles away from the festival. Due to work commitments we had missed the Thursday night of Sunwaves, which I was more than a little bit sad about as Craig Richards is surely one of the world’s finest DJs and I’d wanted to see Alexandra play for ages. We didn’t want to miss anything else,so after a quick disco nap, we walked a few kilometres into town along potholed pavements, the only pedestrians in sight, narrowly avoiding being run down by bemused Romanians. We weren’t actually sure where we were going, and I’m ashamed to say we tried to walk into a teenagers’ holiday complex, mistaking it for Sunwaves. It was only when they started playing Grease that we realised we were in the wrong place. Whoops.

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Picture by Valeriu Catalineanu

After one more wrong turn into a completely random bar, we finally managed to locate the festival and the head of security refused to give us wristbands as the daytime session was nearly finished, although he assured us he would help us to get in and to ask for Casanova if we had any problems. Hmmmm. We spent the first half hour exploring the beautiful outside stage on the beach, before  catching the end of Piticu’s set. I love the so-called Romanian sound and one of the things I’d been most excited about was listening to homegrown DJs that we don’t hear so much of in London. Piticu didn’t disappoint – what we heard got us dancing our socks off and managed to be uplifting and down and dirty all at the same time. This is how  tech-house should be, unpredictable, melodic and adventurous. But just as we were really getting into it they closed the tents down so they could clean up for the evening. Frustrated and wanting more lovely, sexy techno, we decamped to a bar next door. After several wines, we came up with the bright idea of trying to learn a Romanian sentence to impress the locals with. We found a bilingual barman and asked him to translate the following “Hello, will you marry me? I want to have a Romanian passport too”. His pithy response “Sorry no, with girlfriend”. Dreams crushed, we drowned our sorrows in beautiful Romanian wine until we realised that as we were EU citizens we could come and live in Sunwaves any time we liked, with or without local husbands. I also stole a pen as well, to make notes on all the glorious DJs we were about to enjoy. Sorry, lovely barman who didn’t  want to marry me, I’ll replace it next year.

We wanted to refresh ourselves before enjoying the delights of our first evening at the festival, but our house was so far, we decided to regroup and work out our next move in a Wendy House we found on the beach. For one whole hour. I don’t know what we were doing in there for that long, but it was really fun. Realising our phone batteries were about to die (along with our tickets), we abandoned plans to try and break into Sunwaves, via scuttling along, hidden under a Wendy House, as too tiring and went down the conventional route of queuing up with everyone else. Unfortunately, my phone gave up the ghost when we reached the entrance. Luckily, a small bespectacled Romanian man came to the rescue and sweet-talked the door girl into giving me a bracelet. Such a hero.

As soon as we got inside, we headed straight for Carl Cox. I’ve only ever seen him play at Space in Ibiza and was interested to see how that Balearic sound would translate to a techno heavy Romanian festival. The answer? Very well indeed. His set was just the right side of banging but beautiful, and his energy behind the decks was so infectious that within a matter of minutes the whole crowd was behind him and going really crazy. I had forgotten what a great DJ he is and it was a real privilege to see him play here. Consulting my notes that I made on the back of a receipt with my stolen pen, I was obviously on a massive music high at the end of his set as I’d written down “I want to kiss Carl Cox’s lovely, beaming, shouty face”.

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Picture by Valeriu Catalineanu

We then bumped into some friends who broke the exciting news to us  that there was a whole other stage that we didn’t know about! And the mighty Petre Inspirescu was manning the decks in there! This unassuming Romanian has always been one of my favourites since I heard him lay down one of the best sets I’ve ever experienced at fabric a few years back. As always, he was on fine form, and playing back to back with Raresh and Rhadoo, flying the flag for RPR. For me, this was one of the musical highlights of Sunwaves. Do these guys ever play a bad set? Always innovative and surprising, they took us all on an exciting musical journey and their pleasure at playing to a home crowd was there for all to see.

Lee Burridge was up next, another DJ I’m immensely fond of. He’s transported me to other galaxies with his Tyrant sets and some of my fondest musical memories have been dancing at his All Day I Dream parties on random rooftops in Brooklyn However, his session at Sunwaves didn’t really do anything for me. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t as good as I have come to expect from him. I just thought it was a bit generic, kind of tech-house by numbers. Everyone else seemed to love it though, so maybe too much tequila had clouded my judgement by this point.

I’m ashamed to say that I then morphed into one of those annoying people at festivals that everyone hates. Yes, I sat under the decks and called loads of my friends who were working and being rained on in London, telling them what an amazing time I was having. Luckily, I ran out of credit, so I was forced to stop being a dick. Unfortunately, by this time, the music had degenerated into the only bum note of Sunwaves. Looking at my notes, I’d written down “NO. Swirly-whirly ketamine music. Run!” This boring crap music was everywhere about a year ago in London and I just can’t stand it. Self-indulgent K-head DJs put it on at 4 am, just as everyone wants something a bit more high octane; it’s slow, it’s discordant, it’s the musical equivalent of a headache, it’s impossible to dance to and has no place on a sound system unless it’s in a bedroom where no one else has to listen to it.

So we ran and bumped straight into our tiny bespectacled Romanian friend who escorted us straight to VIP and bought us a tequila as he clearly saw that we needed re-fuelling. It turns out he was the architect of the structures they erected for Sunwaves. He told us it took months to design, to ensure the acoustics were just right, and he was here to make sure that no one damaged anything. Lovely guy and a nice reminder that there are many unsung heroes of the electronic music scene who do so much to make sure that we have the best time ever. Mr Architect, we salute you!

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Picture by Valeriu Catalineanu

A little interlude from music here – a word on the crowd. I really didn’t know what to expect when I came out to Sunwaves. Despite the racist bullshit the Daily Mail et al pumps out about the UK being flooded with Romanians, I only have one friend from this lovely country in London. He is great at whooping, wears fantastic cardigans and is very funny, so I was expecting good things. I kind of thought everyone would be like him and generally I’d say they are, except there is a definite trend for men to wear black Jedi style cloaks. The crowd at Sunwaves is around 80 % Romanian, which made for a refreshing change – I totally fell in love with the black as pitch, deadpan,Romanian humour – and most people, whatever their nationality, were friendly and fantastic. I lost my wallet and my iPhone and both were returned to me, intact. We were given throat spray by Casanova.  Some boys kidnapped me to their car and fed me whiskey. People tried to help us our every time we needed anything and seemed to want to make sure that we were safe and having fun. There was a tiny exception though. I call them the duckface girls; all pouts and no smiles, high heels and bad manners. One of them told us not to dance near to her, presumably we were ruining her coolness with our happy faces and joyful attitudes.

But even the horrible people helped us, inadvertently. Myself and my partner in crime were dancing around in a corner, pretending to be duckface girls, like the mature young women that we are, when we got chatting to two hilarious guys, leaning on some scaffolding. It took us about an hour to notice the massive sound desk behind them and figure out that these two jokers supplied the lovely Funktion-One sound system for Sunwaves and were in charge of the auditory loveliness we had been experiencing for the last day.  Their chat was so funny, if a little hoarse and/or mumbly at times, that we basically stayed there for the next 24 hours, and at one point we were left unattended and I was allowed to push a button, so I think I can say that I was partially responsible for the amazing sound at Sunwaves.

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Picture by Valeriu Catalineanu

I also think we were probably the only punters at the festival who, accidentally, listened to most of Marco Carola’s now infamous 24 hour set.  I can’t even begin to describe a set that lasted a day, especially as I’m not a huge Carola fan, but my notes say “M-A-R-C-O, YES!!!!”, so presumably I must have enjoyed it at some point. I was just having too much fun with our new best friends, bopping around in the sound tent. It’s kind of a weird feeling to know that you were present in the room (but not really paying attention) during a session that will go down in electronic music history, for good and bad reasons. Marco, I know you’re from Naples, but it’s not really necessary to eat pizza off the mixer, as you reportedly were. Also the word on the underground street is that as there were technical problems with the outside stage from Saturday, so artists had to be moved inside. The rescheduled Saturday with Lee Burridge and Nastia inside went to plan, but on Sunday Tini, Livio and Roby were moved to the stage Carola was on and then apparently couldn’t play as he insisted on continuing. But a little footnote here for all you Carola fans – you would kind of expect a DJ who had just pulled such a long set to stagger out from behind the decks and have shots with sexy people, or at least run to the loo. Not our boy Marco, he came straight to the sound guys and gave them a massive hug for giving him the sound that 24 hours of solid playing deserved.

I know at one point I listened to a few hours of Ricardo Villalobos‘ set, but I’m just not sure exactly when. It was bloody good though. In my opinion, Ricardo, when he is on form, is one of the best DJs in the world. He was on top of his game at Sunwaves and the atmosphere was electric. I could have listened to him forever, but he also plays in London quite a bit, so I wanted to check out other DJs who aren’t in our neck of the woods so much. I probably made the wrong decision, but that’s one of the issues with festivals with as strong a line up as Sunwaves; you always risk missing out on great music as there are so many great artists booked. I also missed out on Vera and Priku, who I had planned to let fill my ears with amazing sounds. I heard mixed reports on Vera, a few people said it was a bit blandly minimal, others were much more enthusiastic. Like most things, it’s probably a question of taste. Everyone was raving about Priku though – it seems like the Romanian sound totally owned the festival. He’s top of my hitlist for next year, as long as I don’t get welded to the floor of the sound booth again.

So where was I? My ears were really enjoying the set from Tale of Us, but my body was beginning to shut down, so we reluctantly left our sound boys to get some more money out, have some wine and maybe think about going home at some point. Of course, then we discovered that all three of the ATMs in Mamaia were empty of money. This made us very unhappy. We ended up on paying for an extortionate taxi ride all the way to Constanta to get cash, with a cabbie who insisted on taking us to McDonalds. I still don’t know why.  So remember kids, when at Sunwaves, get lots of money out while the banks still have it as you really don’t want to end up in a fast food restaurant in another town instead of on the dancefloor. We fully intended to go back to the festival for one last dance (we had just discovered it was Sunday evening and were full of sadness that soon our adventures would be over), but red wine after a meal was fatal and as my partner in crime was trailing off mid-sentence, we decided to hit the hay.

Surprisingly, we woke on Monday feeling quite fresh. As we lived in  the middle of nowhere, we got a cab into Mamaia to find food. Can you imagine our joy when we arrived and realised the festival was still going at the stage on the beach?! Instantly abandoning our plans to go to Bucharest that day, we ran to join the party, hairy legged, make up free and in hoodies, like the glamorous girls that we were.  We also had no voices and were worried that people would mistake us for Baba Cloanta, the mythical, forest dwelling, ugly Romanian witch who scares travellers and eats children, with our creepy whispers and disheveled appearances.  Luckily, the mainly Romanian crowd were very accepting of our somewhat alarming ways, and the ambience was amazing. Everyone was friendly and super loose, it
eminded me of partying at DC10 back when it was really good, or Bar 25 when it still existed.
span class=”yellow”>Rhadoo was on the decks, absolutely smashing it (definitely another highlight) and I was happy to get another chance to see what he could do. This unexpected extra day was probably my favourite – the music was so good and so messy and really kept you going, even when your body was saying no.  There were no bitchy girls stomping on your feet at this point. They had all gone home because their faces hurt from frowning too much. It was just us, the messy dregs of Sunwaves, smiling and laughing and making new friends.

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Picture by Valeriu Catalineanu

Finally, Herodot closed the festival. I’d heard so much buzz around him at Sunwaves and it was great to finally hear him play. His music  was so passionate and incredible, I fell to my knees in awe several times. Well, okay, 50 % of the cause was tequila, if I’m honest, but he was still epic. Luckily for me, I’d managed to make a whole new bunch of friends who had laughed enough at my rubbish jokes and meandering stories to not mind picking me up again to continue dancing. With apologies to Jane Austen (although who knows, maybe she would have liked techno), it’s a truth universally acknowledged that you always meet the best people at the afterparty. Even though there were only about 20 of us left at the end, Herodot still wanted to carry on, but the mean security literally pulled the plug out of the wall mid-set. The festival remnants were throwing lei at him to keep on playing, but the bouncers remain unmoved. Sunwaves was finally over on Tuesday morning.  But Herodot, such an ending!

So what more can I say? Go to Sunwaves. It’s the best festival I’ve ever been to. The music was incredible and the quality of the sound (thanks again, guys) was just out of this world and puts most London parties to shame, so much so that me and my partner in crime re-christened the festival Soundwaves. Even though it’s getting more popular and Sunwaves is interested in big names like Craig Richards and Carl Cox, the emphasis is still strongly on local talent. Whilst the rest of Europe were busy aping Richie Hawtin style minimal, Romanian DJS were occupied in carving out something fresh and developing their own unique sound, which is why the music here is so unlike anywhere else. The lack of petty licensing restrictions and rules that plague the London scene also mean that sets like Marco Carola’s marathon can occur. Hopefully it will happen with a more polite DJ next year. But when all is said and done, it was one of the best weekends of my life. So I’ll see you on the dancefloor in Mamaia next year then?

By Peggy Whitfield

 

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