Quality over quantity for Horst Festival, a synthesis of music & art set in a Belgian castle


Art and music are two creative forms often lumbered together on a festival description. But does it always work?

Without making a sweeping assertion, the answer is generally no. In some instances the art element feels like it’s there just to add another dimension to the festival, in others it is simply overshadowed by the music. It’s all about striking the right balance and HORST have done just that. A celebration of art and music, HORST festival’s audio and visual offerings complement one another; enhancing not overshadowing. This year marked the third edition of the two-day event just outside the city of Leuven, in the Hageland hills of Belgium.

Castle Horst, the setting for the weekend’s festivities, dates back to the 15th Century. Its stone keep stands amongst water and woodland and is a huge part of the inspiration for the event. Tasked with drawing their own revelations from the surroundings, well respected architects Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenberg, invited several of Belgium’s best artists to build site-specific installations around the festival, which then continues as a month long exhibition in the grounds of the castle.

From the external spectacles to those within the castle walls, the music lineup evidenced Horst’s mantra: quality over quantity. There may have only been two stages and a handful of artists on each, but that was all the more refreshing. Think, a tastefully curated bill with barely any clashes, zero trekking from one stage to another and enough time to soak up the wonderful surroundings.


The Courtyard stage hosted the more house-leaning names. Friday saw a soulful masterclass from New York’s Mister Saturday Night whose skilful selecting steadily grew the crowd before night took hold and Leon Vynehall stepped up to the plate. With incredible focus, the Brighton native ushered the crowd into housier territories, which engendered a feeling of intimacy making the evening feel more like a party than a festival.

That atmosphere continued over at the Dumb Drone stage. Designed by Pieterjan Ginckels, the scaffold project complete with a military drone suspended in the rafters, defied the sense of an attractive structure, instead raising questions of whether a stage is just a stage. Belgian darling Lefto took over the stage’s compering duties on Friday – hosting sets from Up High Collective, Onra and dubstep maestro Mala – but Saturday saw him on closing duties and prove exactly why he is one of the country’s finest selectors. Jumping from trap to Brazilian cuts, and Middle Eastern delicacies to Haitus Kaiyote, his knowledge remains as sweeping as his enthusiasm.

Another expert in his field, cassette aficionado Awesome Tapes From Africa provided one of the most gratifying sets of the weekend. The sun beamed through the Dumb Drone’s frame and billows of smoke drifted overhead as the sounds of Ata Kak and Hailu Mergia banished any lingering hangovers.


Stooped in the sun’s rays, you could truly appreciate the castle and its surroundings. Groups dangled their feet over the water, sitting upon a circular wooden structure half protruding from the lake. Further down the bank ‘Endless Column’, a sloping concrete sculpture imagined by Adrien Tirtiaus, rose and collapsed while groups meandered curiously through Anne Dessing’s series of thin castle blueprint walls. Without sounding too mawkish, it was pretty idyllic.

Embodying just as much enthusiasm and flair, The Black Madonna tore up the Courtyard on Friday. The lively Chicago house cuts that have become staple in Marea Stamper’s sets raised everyone’s spirits, and although the crowd picked up the pace by the end of her high octane set, the energy levels were much higher the following day. From Soundstream flaunting an unwavering smile and a bag full of funked up disco edits, to Antal firing up the crowd with crazy carnival drums and signature Brazilian cuts, Saturday’s audience truly embraced the dance. Early foot tappin’ came during Honey Soundsystem’s set as the sprightly San Francisco collective worked through Italo grooves like Plustwo’s ‘Stop Fantasy’ before bringing things down a notch with deep house classic ‘Deep Burnt’.

And then came the man we were looking forward to most on the lineup, Soichi Terada (below) took to the stage on Saturday night exemplifying happiness. Loud shirt, check. Steadfast smile, check. Air guitaring, check. The audience united with him in his joy as he danced to his own cuts, ‘Saturday Love Sunday’ and ‘Low Tension’ before wrapping up with the sassy sounds of ‘Got To Be Real’. Dancing spirits carried all the way through to the end as Julio Bashmore closed out the Courtyard. On first glance, a strange booking amongst the other names but Bashmore left us pleasantly surprised, revving up the audience with MMT’s Turkish groove ‘Sevmek Istiyorum’ and providing more punchy moments with Terrence Parker’s huge house cut ‘Somethin’ Here’.


One other spot provided a space for the most energetic dancers. It’s not often you’ll find people lingering around the portaloos but the DJs in the centre, with disco balls over head, tempted people to stick around with grooves like ‘EditChannel XXX’ and Ajukaja’s ‘Benga Benga’, adding another small, but considered addition to HORST’s vision.

All in all this humble soirée couldn’t have come at a better time. It felt like the ultimate wind down after what has been a stamina-testing festival season. Be it grooving on the castle’s cobbled courtyard, scrambling over a tower of books or simply sitting and appreciating the location, HORST have created an organic composite experience that deserves to be noticed.

Photo credit:  Jeroen Verrecht & Willem Govaerts

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