Australians love festivals. And the prospect to communally experience stylish film premieres or great live music in exotic (or better still, quixotic) international locales is as appealing as it is accessible.
In the past decade, our willingness to fly long distances to attend the world’s best festivals has begun to attract the notice of the festival organisers themselves who are increasingly marketing their events to Aussies online.
But it’s not just us. The best festivals bring together music and film fans from around the world and can foster a veritable international community with a heightened sense of adventure and a single shared passion, be it music, beer or film. Making the trip to one of these illustrious overseas festivals is more than merely striking another item from your bucket list. It’s a pilgrimage, a rite of passage.
And for those events programmed in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, it’s also another brilliant pretext around which to devise an escape to a warmer clime.
So here are ten worthy of your attention (and annual leave time) in 2015.
#1 Electric Daisy Carnival
When and where: February 21 – 22 (Puerto Rico); February 28 – March 1 (Mexico); May 23 – 24 (New York); June 19 – 21 (Las Vegas) July 11 – 12 (London)
Like most of the big festival brands, Electric Daisy began life as a modest one-day event. That notion seems almost quaint now for this massive EDM franchise. Serving as a virtual year-round party in multiple time zones and continents, as its name suggests, the Electric Daisy Carnival is no place for subtlety or nuance. It is instead a place to enjoy hundreds of salubrious EDM acts and many after-hours parties. The festival’s pinnacle is its Vegas event in June, a monster party that attracts more than 130,000 people per day. Put simply, it’s the biggest EDM party in North America. The biggest names always play; a 2015 lineup announcement is imminent here soon.
When: March 7 – 13
Where: Bansko, Bulgaria
Festivals, of course, are not only about the sun. Some, like this remarkable event in the snow-laden Bulgarian mountains, actually exploit the cold. As the European winter comes to its frosty climax, Horizon, an extravagant EDM festival takes over Bansko for seven hedonistic days in March. By day, Horizon’s organisers host a wide range of adventurous mountain based events outdoors. After hours, all bets are off as more than 80 DJs and producers play 30 divergent venues across Bansko’s Ski Centre. Combining two pleasure-seeking activities – skiing and electronic dance parties – seems particularly ingenious to us.
#3 South by Southwest (SXSW)
When: March 13 – 22
Where: Austin, Texas
Now a veritable embodiment of the phrase “taste making,” SXSW was once simply known as the place to sample the best new bands in the world. While it still holds that mantle, it is now also a preeminent multi-media showcase for punters like us to experience new films, television series and Silicon Valley start-ups. During SXSW, this incredible American city is a hotbed of free booze, great music, excellent barbecue and good times. As for the music itself, expect to see some of the world’s biggest acts in shockingly intimate venues and a cluster of great bands you’ve never heard of before. Indeed, for a few days in March, Austin is Ground Zero for Hipsterdom.
When and where: March 14 – 15, (Chile); March 21 – 22 (Argentina); March 28 – 29 (Brazil); July 31 -August 2 (Chicago); September 12 – 13 (Berlin).
Speaking of brands, Lollapalooza continues to expand its rock-based footprint through much of the Western hemisphere. Once known (like the former Big Day Out in Australia) as the go-to event for alt-rock music fans that spent summers travelling across the US, Lolla is now home to a colossal three-day summer event attended by more than 300,000 each August in Chicago. Its South American offshoots however provide an exotic, exciting music-based excursion. In Chile, Lolla’s stunning site in Santiago delivers a relaxing and rewarding time for visitors. This year, an intriguing mix of acts such as Calvin Harris, Kings of Leon, Robert Plant, Jack White and Skrillex will play.
#5 Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival
When: March 24 – 28 (WMC), March 27 – 29 (Ultra)
If SXSW is Ground Zero for hipsters, for the electronic music fan, a trip to Miami in the last weekend of March is an equally essential expedition. The WMC and Ultra are two very different events, focusing on the same category of music. WMC is an after-hours operator’s delight – a week of more than 400 electronic music related events, workshops and parties. Lots of parties. Many are held in the ostentatious pool areas of the multitude of five-star hotels that flank South Beach. In contrast, Ultra is an enormous three-day outdoor festival that hosts sets from the biggest acts in the world at Downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park. Although huge in scale, it remains a prestigious event at which many of the biggest names have enjoyed career-making star turns. This year, Skrillex, David Guetta, Avicii, Tiesto, Afrojack and Steve Aoki all return as well as a cluster of cutting edge, up and coming acts ready to breakthrough.
#6 Rock in Rio
When: May 8 – 16
Where: Las Vegas
Rock In Rio began as a gargantuan rock music festival event, held in that city in 1985. In six more incarnations (the latest taking place in 2013) more than a million(!) rock fans showed up each day to see rock music’s biggest acts in their prime. It is only fitting that this feast of excess would find its American home in Las Vegas. The first American franchise will be split over two weekends in May and divided between “rock” and “pop”. Announced so far: Metallica, No Doubt, Linkin Park (rock) and Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran (pop). 120 acts in all will play in a 33-acre recreation of the Rio site purpose built on the Vegas strip. Ridiculous.
#7 Cannes Film Festival
When: May 13 – 24
Where: Cannes, France
As bucket list items go, Cannes in the glistening, late-spring Mediterranean sun in mid-May is nigh on sacrosanct for Francophiles and film buffs alike. Firstly, there is the stunning geography of this town, which is worth the trip alone. Then there is the constant stream of film premieres and screenings where you can see films up to a year before their general releases and watch on as a judicious panel grade some of the most challenging films of the year. It goes without saying though that Cannes is just as celebrated for its decedent, champagne-soaked, celebrity-filled parties. Who knows, you may end up on a yacht indulging with Leo.
#8 Governor’s Ball/ Electric Zoo Festivals
When: June 5 – 7 (Gov Ball) September 4 – 6 (Electric)
Where: Randall’s Island, New York City
A strong addition to the American summer festival schedule, the Governor’s Ball had something of a coming out party last June. Hosted on Randall’s Island, which is accessible by foot from Harlem and offers brilliant views of Manhattan, this is an incredibly appealing destination for indie music enthusiasts. Essentially you get as good a lineup as any other three-day camping event (this year there’s Drake, Florence and the Machine, Bjork, Lana Del Ray and My Morning Jacket) except instead of lining up at the portaloo each morning, you wake up each day in New York City! Meanwhile, also on the same site over the last weekend of the American summer in September, the biggest EDM festival of the year in the New York area takes place. Although no acts for been announced for Electric Zoo as of yet, expect massive names to show up. Visit here for more.
#9 Fuji Rock
When: July 24 – 26
Where: Naeba Ski Resort, Japan
They do things differently in Japan – especially festivals. Fuji Rock earns it place on this list for its ability to attract a stellar lineup (last year: Arcade Fire, the Flaming Lips, Damon Albarn) the civility of the punters who come and the wonderful geography of it. Located a couple of hours outside of Tokyo via fast train, Fuji was the first-ever Japanese rock music festival, and sits as the pinnacle of music expeditions within the Asian region. This is a place in which the festival hosts a stage that is translated in English as “field of heaven.” How can you not want to go there?
When: September 19 – October 4
Where: Munich, Germany
You call yourself a beer drinker? You’re nothing of the sort until you’ve endured this amber-coloured carnival. Although seemingly every city and town around the world has their own rendering of Oktoberfest, you have not done Oktoberfest until you have visited Munich in autumn. In fact Munich’s Oktoberfest, which last year attracted more than six million visitors (yes, six million), is much more than a bunch of drunk British blokes on a stag weekend standing around drinking beers. Whether it’s the one litre beer glasses, the extraordinary German cuisine, the ludicrous outfits, the carnival rides or the late night raves, get the right group together and this is debauchery done right.
(Lead image: Forest Woodward/The Governor’s Ball)
Andrew Murfett is a Melbourne-born writer and editor currently based in the US. He has written for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The West Australian, FasterLouder, Crikey, Junkee and The Australian. Most days he can be found at @amurfett.