My eyes open, momentarily blinded by lighting canons projecting themselves into every nook and cranny of the medieval-style banquet hall. I don’t know how long they’ve been closed, something attributable to inebriation and the timeless sounds of Reagenz ‘The Labyrinth’ in equal measure. Its wobbly synth lines bellow from the stacks, threatening to swallow me up whole. Sipping on my Kamenitza, which is a dietary staple in Bansko, I watch in awe as Ben UFO makes his next selection with characteristic consideration. Thomson is patient, just like Move D who played excellently before him, but since the swap, there’s been a noticeable emptying of the room. There aren’t even a hundred people on this heavily male and sedated dancefloor. It’s precisely this setting and music that drove me up the Pirin Mountains. So… where the fuck is everyone?
It’s not that I’ve got much time for overcrowded and sweaty raves, it’s usually best to actively avoid them; but there’s certainly something to be said for this environment in a festival scenario, where energy is exchanged back and forth between punters and performer, providing a compellingly frenzied circularity. KiNK’s live performance the night before, also in the Gardenia, is the perfect example. Hardware wizardry and showmanship set Horizon alight, and you could see elation spread wide across his face as the crowd reacted to every rise and fall, the latter taking on a literal meaning when, during one of the more protracted break downs, festival–goers decided to sit down in unison.
The Bulgarian native stole the show, though there were several highlights spread across the week’s revelry. Craig Charles – approaching his set with similar energy – was priceless, selecting funk and soul alongside tasteful edits. The snow bucketed down, though you’d have hardly noticed had Charles not slipped onto his arse whilst doing the monkey dance to rapturous applause. Fatima, who also performed on the Mountain Creek stage, has been atop my to–see list since Yellow Memories dropped last year. She was terrific, as were the Eglo Live Band, supporting her powerful vocals with tight rhythm and jazzy harmonies. DJ EZ had the Queen’s Pub crowd eating from the palm of his hand as he raced through garage classics as only he knows how. Moodymann was his enigmatic self, grinning maniacally as he warmed into proceedings by switching between Biggie’s ‘Warning’ and a frightening Marilyn Manson song. Though he seemed to run into technical difficulties initially, once he got into the groove, Horizon was hooked. And with the aid of a captivating warm up from Dan Shake, the Mahogani flag was firmly planted, and saluted, with an equally memorable closing set from the criminally underrated Detroiter, Rick Wilhite.
All this illustrates the scope and diversity of Horizon, but it does come at a cost. When you avoid defining yourself, musically, the crowd generated can be at odds with each other, and the energy can drop. Ruby Wood of Submotion Orchestra alluded to this during her set, teasing the crowd that no-one was dancing. Although a day’s skiing certainly plays a part, it was hard to deny the disappointing engagement level throughout their performance; and this problem cropped up several times. As mentioned, the Electric Minds showcase never got the numbers it deserved, and during Pearson Sound punters were more interested in taking photos and hitting on the few women there, than listening to the selections and dancing.
Crowd criticism aside, these gripes were forgotten whilst carving through fresh powder in beautiful and inexpensive Bansko. If you want good skiing and great partying, day and night, Horizon emphatically ticks all boxes. Now I can just hope for clearer musical definition going forward, to draw a more concentrated and engaged audience and really allow Horizon to fulfill its obvious potential.