Live Report: Kala Festival 2019
Idyllic landscapes, unique musical experience and a true sense of community. Kala has set the new standard for beachside festivals.
The Kala experience begins with a 15-hour voyage across Europe (you must earn your place in paradise). The journey included a plane to Corfu, taxi to port, boat across the Ionian Sea and a coach transfer to site, all running on what quickly became known as Albanian time i.e. in no particular rush.
Although tedious at points, the trip allows you to witness some of the most breath-taking landscapes Southern Europe has to offer. Clear blue sea meets lush rolling hills that tower over unspoilt beaches as you wind your way up before descending into the coastal festival site.
Upon arrival, all stress quickly melts away. Amidst the stunning surroundings, the 15 hours of travel immediately felt like a breeze. Set amongst the quaint town of Dhermi, the festival is backed onto immense hills that stretch the length of the various beaches dotted along the site.
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Within a short time, the charm of the paradisal seaside town takes hold and your clock is set firmly to Albanian time. Kala blends seamlessly into the local community, built around several restaurants and bars run by welcoming locals. Building developments are visible at every corner, displaying the tourist boards readiness to encourage tourism into the area.
Before the dancing begins, punters and musicians alike mingle in the restaurants, which serve up an array of delicious seafood and pasta dishes at very reasonable rates. In such an intimate festival space and with only 3000 attendees, you can expect to bump into the guy you had a dance with the night before or the girl you went for a swim with when the sun rose. This quickly creates a feeling of unity and general sense of friendliness amongst the crowd.
The programming during the week was made up of a careful balance of new talent and legends of the electronic music scene, collectively unified by their digger’s mentality. Thursday evening’s highlight was most definitely Young Marco’s surprise set. The Dutch selector delivered a masterful display of Balearic house cuts, many from his Welcome to Paradise compilations, most significantly Agua Re’s 'Holy Dance (Large Sound Mix)'.
Set across three waterfront stages, the consistency of the music remained at a high throughout the week. Techno royalty Derrick May blessed us with five hours of relentless tracks until sunrise on Friday. Other highlights included Phonica Records, who exhibited their extensive catalogue of groovy house and disco on Saturday night. Debbie Jacobs – 'Don’t You Want My Love' was the perfect early evening soundtrack to get the party going at the Splendor stage.
Headliners Inner City were by far the most visually entertaining performance of the week. Lead singer Steffanie Christi’an evoked the late great Keith Flint in her demonic head throws and hypnotic control of the crowd. The mood at the beach stages was perfectly summed up at the end of Bradley Zero’s set on Tuesday morning. As the sun rose behind the hill, Bill Wither’s 'Lovely Day' poured over the euphoric crowd. In the distance, a group of dolphins leapt in the waves…not a bad start to a Tuesday.
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The crown jewel of the festival was Gjipe, an untouched beach around the cove. A stunning boat trip around the turquoise bay takes you to shore, a chalky white stretch of beach flanked by impressive red cliffs. Beyond the beach, a bespoke sound system was set in front of one of the imposing cliffs. Kala residents, including John Gomez, Nick The Record, Hunee, and Jayda G played out tribal rhythms that reverberated of the canyon behind.
Dancing in this setting was truly surreal and felt like a moment of party paradise. A stroll through the canyon at the back of the beach led us to the site of an old waterfall. The beauty of the landscape offered a moment of complete tranquillity that will stick long in the memory.
The afternoon was finished with a fresh plate of grilled fish served straight from the source. Gjipe takes an already incredible festival to a new level. This attention to detail in the experience was reflected throughout the week. Be it the bookshelf stationed above the Cove stage or the free yoga sessions at sunset, the Kala team have a clear focus on creating an immersive festival experience in an incredibly unique location.
There were a couple of minor teething issues, namely the ATM’s being out of action and the Secret Beach parties being cancelled due to issues with boats. Yet in a setting such as Dhermi, there felt little need to get hung up on minor issues such as these. After all, Kala is still very much in its infancy and such problems are to be expected.
The beauty of Kala is that you can make what you want of it. A beachside holiday with a festival attached, or vice versa. A freedom to dip in and out while enjoying 30+ degree heat in what feels like an untouched destination. The Kala experience has a new edge on its competitors that will ensure partygoers will keep coming back for more.
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Words: Angus McKeon
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