It was the unplanned moments that cemented the memories of Kala Festival’s second edition on an Albanian stretch of the Adriatic, as much as the deliberate musical high points. A local folk band greeting sun-weary dancers off the boat from Gjipe, igniting them into a frenzied, spontaneous rollick. Festival directors handing out water as the sun rose over Jan Schulte and Brian Not Brian‘s set, to prevent the stamina crew succumbing to dehydration. A group clear-up at a remote stage borrowed from a self-sufficient commune. CC:DISCO! stopping her set to shame a group at the front giving her the finger and telling her to play more techno; Jamie Tiller’s partner beaming with pride in the crowd as he ended his Gjipe finisher with one of the tracks of the weekend; dolphins emerging near the shore to appreciate Bradley Zero’s sunrise set. Some were pure luck, but most were the result of Kala creating an environment where artists felt as much at ease as the dancers, motivating each to feed off the other to elevate the festival above others on the summer circuit.
Kala’s success also owes a lot to the scope of its vision, which far supersedes its modest size and age. It’s one thing to find a stretch of untapped coastline, but a whole other proposition to integrate a festival into it that’s able to offer immersive sound, intimate dance floors despite doubling in capacity, varied environments and a 360 customer service through multiple borders, modes of transport and accommodation types. Kala is making all the right moves to be a dominant and permanent fixture in a crowded and increasingly demanding European market.
Here’s six standout sets and 100 track IDs from the week.
Jan Schulte & Brian Not Brian
The improved Splendor stage presented one of the best spaces for dancing across the weekend. Newly decked out, dancers could party there until 8am, nestled between the sea and the mountainous backdrop on each side. In the early hours of Saturday morning Jan Schulte and Brian Not Brian stepped up to take us through the final two hours of the night. Jan, who played one of our favourite sets the previous year on the Empire stage, was in good company; the Going Good boss proved a perfect match for the Salon des Amateurs resident. Together they rolled through chugging rhythms, not reaching heights far above 100BPM throughout; a musical highlight came in the form of Beesmunt Soundsystem’s remix of General P.D.C while another not-so-musical highlight saw Jan jump on the mic for a quick public safety announcement when dancers decided to wade into the sea. All in all the duo provided a perfect sunrise set to see tired bodies through to the finish line; hopefully we’ll see more of them head to head again in future.[Picked by Rosie Cain]
Splendor’s newly constructed decking and in-built sound system had long since justified the stage’s second year upgrade to one of the festival’s main dance floors. Yet as Berlin-based Jenifa, settled into her groove on the Monday night, there was an inescapable feeling of new life, which seemed to inject into to everything that approached the dance floor. Sounds of Detroit met South Africa as deep percussive threads attached themselves to limbs and temporal melodies yoked spirits into a collective energy, keeping us moving from start to finish.[Picked by Andrew Mensah]
Josey Rebelle. Literally what can I say. The woman is a genius. Her track selections, navigations and transitions left me speechless on more than one occasion. Her humble and yet utterly focused smile. An ease behind the decks that you know has come from years of hard work. A fierce journey of standing your ground and a total, pure love for music. She bought a darker, dubbier sound to Kala on Saturday at The Yacht Club, smoothly leading on from Danielle with a blend of garage and 2-step, dub techno and breaks. Her sound was also a welcome switch-up from the dominant 4 by 4 sound of most Kala sets. Hearing Josey play was more like a masterclass; not only did she shake up souls and bodies in that way that leaves you radiating with joy, but she showed us new ways of delivering and mixing music. Her set was more than just fun, it was expanding.[Picked by Mia Zur-Szpiro]
With its towering canyon walls on one side and golden beach through the trees on the other, Gjipe has fast developed into Kala’s takeaway Instagram moment with the peak time DJ in full swing and dancers furiously kicking up dust in appreciation. Absent from the lineup in 2018, Lauren Hansom could only appreciate this from afar last year but was inducted into the elite group of Gjipe residents in 2019. Having watched Tangent padres John Gómez and Nick The Record curate a jubilant end to the first day, the pressure to create more social media friendly moments must’ve been tempting, even pressurising for a first time finisher. With the dance floor limbered up after a Brian b2b, Lauren steadied herself and created her own version for what a canyon-backed peak time set should sound like. One with more spacious, trippier and driving moments than the previous day that created new perspectives on the surroundings – like Dazion’s ‘Be A Man’ – interspersed with sensual roll plays, panpipe fanfares, Indian disco and 80s Brazilian synth-pop. A new Kala recruit who, on this evidence, is set to return many times over.[Picked by Aaron Levitt]
Not all of Kala’s best moments came at peak time. As the sun set on Thursday, Lyon trio The Pilotwings stepped up for a live set of slightly proggy, slightly krauty Balearic at the new and improved Cove. Out on the water it was a STW b2b Heels and Soul swim to an anchored swan pedalo, where we settled down for the entirety, at the optimum right angle between the setting sun and stage. When a guitar riff from trance classic ‘Better Off Alone’ filtered over across the water, the infatuation was complete. Balearic shouldn’t be allowed if there isn’t a sunset, tranquil cove and swan pedalo in reach. It just won’t sound as good.[Picked by Aaron Levitt]
The appeal of one of Detroit’s greatest is as much in his elusiveness and unpredictability as his raw talent, but the former can mean if the mood doesn’t catch him, he doesn’t always live up to peoples’ lofty exceptions. This six hours with Theo, however, was one for the history books. Those in the crowd old enough to have experienced him through the ages – but perhaps too old to be willingly identified – confirmed as much. The full moon that appeared above the water as John Gómez reset and warmed up the floor following an Inner City live set provided the first good omen. As expected with one of Theo’s all-night sessions, it oscillated between light and dark, euphoric and deep with a baffling adroitness. In a set riddled with flooring moments, perhaps the most powerful was a preview of Sound Signature 078, so powerful that Kashebe was caught with his hands aloft at the back just sobbing. Brian Not Brian, meanwhile, was unmoved. Physically not emotionally though, having set up for a reclined listening session on the grass back for the entirety. For an evening with Theo, it’s okay to just sit and take in every small detail.
In the final half hour he brought the funk with James Brown, Family Tree and The J.B.’s to lift the energy for the final stretch. Jayda G’s reaction was vindication enough, who was brought out of a slumber with an exuberance to match her dancing for the preceding five hours. Not one to normally hang around for any longer than he needs to, Theo followed the 06.30 ovation with an extended monologue of inspirational words then sat back in the booth chatting, joking and inviting fans back for a hug. This was Theo at his most imperious, and everyone present felt privileged – even rejuvenated – to have witnessed it.[Picked by Aaron Levitt]