UNUM Festival 2019

  • The Albanian event debuts with killer sets by Raresh, Digby and Dasha Redkina.
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  • On the final night of UNUM Festival, which ran for three days in the small Albanian town of Shëngjin, the dark clouds that had been threatening to break all evening finally unleashed a terrific downpour. At Into The Pines, the smallest of the festival's three stages, rain cascaded through the canopy of tree branches, soaking the enormous crowd who had gathered for a back-to-back from Franco Cinelli and Ricardo Villalobos. A few hours earlier, Cinelli had made an intoxicating start. Alone behind the decks for the first hour or so, he calmly laid the foundations of a seven-hour set with a selection of brooding minimal house. The rain had intensified by the time Villalobos emerged and the performance took on a more irreverent edge. Most of the crowd clung to the music despite the deluge, but by 5 AM it was a wash out. Though Zip and Craig Richards were still due to play, the organizers brought the performance—and the festival—to an abrupt close. This was the first edition of UNUM, a festival that claimed zen inspiration from "five simple elements of life: music, sand, pines, the sea and the mountains." Big-name bookings such as Joseph Capriati, Butch and Adriatique were evidence of UNUM's lofty ambitions, as was the main stage, which was built to resemble a giant ship. Freshly planted palm trees, wooden cabanas and cocktail bars dotted the beach site. Even so, there was an oddly rough, thrown-together feel to the setup. I spent much of Friday night dodging promo teams aggressively selling everything from cigarettes and vapes to international SIM cards. After Margaret Dygas's set early on Saturday morning, the view of the calm Adriatic Sea was interrupted by crumpled plastic cups scattered across the sand.
    Less than 30 years ago, Albania overthrew its long-running communist dictatorship. Now on the verge of joining the EU, it's a country of contrasts. On the hour-long drive from the airport to Shëngjin, I passed swathes of vacant land and extravagant new builds in states of semi-completion. Huge hotel complexes towered over ramshackle roadside stalls, where shopkeepers sat looking bored as chickens roamed and pecked at the dusty earth. UNUM also had its contrasts. The 24-hour cycle of minimal house and techno across the Main and Beach stages grew repetitive over the course of three days. But at In The Pines, the diversity of the programming was a highlight. On Friday evening, I caught the last hour of Dasha Redkina. With the sun still blazing, the sandy hollow of the dance floor was dotted with people smiling and enjoying the Berlin-based DJ's selection of breaks and upbeat electro, including Textasy's "Breakbeat Lizard" and "Nibiru" by Alex Danilov. The following night, the sun set during Digby's two-hour performance—a track by Desert Sound Colony was a clear winner with the crowd—and rose to Raresh's mellow deep house, which perfectly matched the mood of a dance floor collectively easing into a new day.
    With the likes of Kala and Anjunadeep also establishing dance music festivals in Albania, the team behind UNUM seem eager to carve out a presence as the country breaks onto the international scene. This might account for the festival's hastily-put-together vibe. But UNUM also catered to a regional audience—ticket prices were lower for locals—who are keen to see the Balkans develop their own electronic music communities. On Saturday, I met two young guys who had driven three hours from neighbouring Kosovo to attend the festival for the day. The scene in Kosovo, they said, "is how you'd expect. There is nothing there for us." The first edition of UNUM might have had its share of hiccups, but its presence is feeding a growing appetite for dance music in the region. Photo credits / Into Albania - Lead Oli Riley Photography - Beach Valeriu Catalineanu - All others