Awake Festival Review: an enchanting Transylvanian escape

The innagural edition of Awake Festival in Transylvania was flawed - but not in atmosphere

Megan Townsend@mmtowns
Thursday 23 November 2017 03:33
The ambitious stages - two larger stages and a handful of smaller platforms - constantly played over each other
The ambitious stages - two larger stages and a handful of smaller platforms - constantly played over each other

For the people of Tirgu Mures, Awake Festival was everything they have been waiting for.

Major music festivals don’t stop by these parts – that’s something reserved for Cluj-Napoca (Untold and Electric Castle have repeatedly listed among the best festivals in Europe) or Bucharest. The excitement and pride in Awake, from not just the organisers, not just the sponsors, not just the local volunteers – but the crowd, was palpable. It radiated from every surface, it was present in every sound, every movement.

The festival was flawed of course, but not in atmosphere. Things went wrong, of course they did. Upon arrival (which was very late on the opening night of the festival), I was informed that headliner – Rag and Bone man, the main attraction of the line-up, had pulled out, and would be replaced by dubstep-Aussies Knife Party.

I expected dejection at the main stage, and instead was met with the biggest and most animated selection of people I encountered. The locals jumped and shouted in awe as smoke canons released during Bonfire, there was skanking and, even more surprisingly, singing-along to the ex-pendulum duo’s Tom Morello collaboration Battle Sirens.

The morning after I got a real taste of what Awake was all about. Set in a forest in Telekei Estate – a central Transylvanian castle (complete with a Count), the festival appears to have been based loosely on Boutique gatherings like Kendall Calling or Wilderness. It’s much smaller of course, which caused problems in itself.

The ambitious stages - two larger stages and a handful of smaller platforms - constantly played over each other. For those wanting to catch a DJ at the Tree House in the early evening need not have bothered. The sound-tests coming from the main stage eliminated all other sound in the area. By the time all stages began playing music the mixture of different genre’s playing from multiple speakers became somewhat jarring. The only place you could properly hear just one track was very close to the larger stages, with their over-the-top sound systems.

The crowd didn't seem to mind though. During the day, many lounged around the picturesque estate, taking advantage of the food trucks and drinking coffee in the Forest Library – the smaller stages hosting DJ’s and local acts remained relatively empty In the day time. In fact, the atmosphere only really changed around 10-11pm, when crowds began piling into the festival.

Though it was fair to address the fact that this was Awake’s first go of it. The organisers had a ‘feed your mind’ platform, which they invited the audience to give them feedback on a number of issues. This was the entire organisational team too… not just a site-management assistant or a PR, but the entire production team would take an hour away and sit one-on-one with guests. For every complaint, notes were taken.

It’s easy to understand why the team behind the festival are so passionate about ensuring its success. For such a small festival, with a small amount of space to boot, Awake was well put together… scheduling was on point. Romanian folk/hip-hop collective Subcarpati produced a flawless, mesmerising set - with visuals of local folk legends on screens that seemed to hang from the forest surrounding the crowd. At 1am on the first night, almost to-the-minute, London rockers Modestep began an electrifying dub-heavy offering.

The same canopies that created the magical setting of the festival though, proved to be one of its vulnerabilities as the weekend progressed. Storms, lighting and heavy winds started almost immediately on the second day of the festival... uprooting trees, and leaving organisers in a predicament.

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Without the sophisticated equipment needed to keep a show running in adverse weather conditions, they had to cancel a number of day-time performances. Worries for not just the safety of the festival-goers, but also the estate itself - a number of stages and facilities had to be closed - this included the very popular Cinema Under the Bridge, that was showing films from the Transylvanian Film Festival.

But what can be commended was the utilisation of space from the crowd themselves, who seemed to abscond onto every field, every tree - hammocks were drawn between every structure that could support them. The locals were making themselves at home, that much was clear.

The final night included a performance from British crooner Tom Odell, the crowd a little wet and a little muddy, wailed back in response to Another Love and Grow Old with Me. During this I realised a final musing.

At Awake it seemed they had hit gold with the setting, the enchanting forest, the facilities - the interactive experiences - everything fit together. However with dubby, electronic offerings taking up the first and second night... an artist like Tom Odell, and the more acoustic/folky Romanian performers didn't really seem to fit the same vibe.

Tickets for Awake 2018 (August 17th-19th) are already on pre-sale, you can find more information here

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