Review: Terraforma Festival @ Villa Arconati (Milan, Italy; Friday 29th June to Sunday 1st July 2018)

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Going to a music festival is, in a way, a sort of pilgrimage. It is, for many, an act of love towards music and the cathartic energy of being together and sharing a place, a space, an experience. Just like a real pilgrimage, it requires a decent amount of effort – sore feet, lack of sleep, sunburns and mosquito bites – but you know that it will all be worth it. And so it was for Terraforma.

Hosted in the gardens of the wonderful 17th century Villa Arconati, 10 kilometres away from Milan, Terraforma is an experimental festival, not only music-wise but foremost for its idea of what a festival could and should be. Terraforma is, in fact, the result of the intersection between music, architecture and sustainability, aiming to create a new dimension where people can experience music in new, different ways, and through that process, give new life to the once-abandoned historical site. In other words: no massive stages, no massive crowds and less possible impact on the environment.

From a musical stand-point, Terraforma is nothing short of great. With an evident focus on experimental electronic music, the organisers put up a remarkable line-up that attracted a mostly international crowd. Divided between three stages, the performances were never simultaneous, encouraging the visitors to follow the sound of music, to explore the area and freeing them from the annoying burden of choosing one gig over another.

Right past the imposing entrance gate to the festival, there was the Tropic Sound System stage – a small wooden cabin with two sound walls on the sides – facing an enclosed area shaded by trees, that would quickly become a favourite chill-out spot for the festival revellers. The stage hosted many of the festival’s highlights, starting with a powerful slow-paced afternoon set by Terraforma long-time friend Donato Dozzy.

The main stage, with its iconic triangle-shaped design, was a temple at the heart of the woods – equally mesmerising by day and night. Launched on Friday evening with a dreamlike set by Imaginary Softwoods, it hosted some of the most impactful acts of the festival. On Friday night, British rising talent Nkisi played an eclectic set that fired up the crowd, before Jeff Mills took over for a three-hour shamanic set under a full moon. 24 hours later, Japanese DJ/producer Powder delivered a feathery yet powerful set in a truly entrancing, ancestral experience that perfectly suited the natural environment of Terraforma.

Nevertheless, one of the highlights of the main stage was not a DJ set; Iranian percussionist Mohammad Reza Mortazavi performed highly intricate hypnotic rhythms with his tombak in an hour-long non-stop session, during which his rich, layered and relentless music felt like a coherent part of the stage’s dance-focused line-up. The music often continued just a few metres away from the main stage, where the true marvel of Terraforma hid – a small labyrinth made of concentric circles of hedges where the performances of Plaid and Felix’s machines, Gábor Lázár and Vipra took place.

Of the three days, the last turned out to be my favourite. Daniele De Santis followed by Lebanese producer Rabih Beaini accompanied a soft, smooth awakening for the crowd, exhausted from the fatigue of the previous days. Nonchalant to the experimental mood set before him, the Milanese tattooist and record collector Mino Luchena went upstream with a 90-minute set of strictly 50s-60s easy listening Italian music that excited the Italians and intrigued the foreigners into dancing with a smile. With new-found energy, the crowd warmly welcomed another Milanese, Paquita Gordon, whose warm, dubbed-out selection was undoubtedly a peak moment of the festival, alongside Vladimir Ivkovic’s blasting acid set – the last on the main stage – surrounded by beams of light coming through the pine trees as the sun was setting.

After the last performance in the labyrinth, the whole crowd gathered in front of the Tropic Sound System for one last dance together, unchained, over PLO Man’s overwhelming closing set that was just the perfect conclusion to three days of pure joy. As the last track was over, the crowd cheered in gratitude and exhaustion to then fade away into the woods, slowly walking to the campsite in religious silence surrounded by the soft rustle of waving trees and the timid lights of the fireflies.

Photo ©: Stefania Vulpi

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