Increasingly, people are investing more and more time and money in experiences, as opposed to material things. Enjoying life, discovering new places, travelling, going to live concerts and listening to music are top of the list of preferences. And Romania has a whole lot to offer when it comes to fun experiences.
By Romanita Oprea
Steadily, Cluj-Napoca has built herself into the international music and festival scene. With world-class events like Electric Castle, UNTOLD and Jazz in the Park, the city is finding a new vibe and now possesses the power to surprise and entertain ever-growing crowds. This summer the city is the perfect destination for culture, sports, music events, for history, fun and chill, gourmet and traditional cuisine.
All That Jazz
The Cluj summer kicks off with Jazz in the Park, taking place in between June 26th – July 2nd. The organizers are billing this event as “the biggest jazz festival with soul in Romania”. So how did it get started? The organizers had the idea of bringing good music to the city’s Central Park, thus making it accessible to everybody. “We noticed that classical and jazz music are out of most people’s reach. They inhibit the general public because not everyone understands these types music. We wanted to change all that: to make jazz and classical music more accessible for everyone. In 2013, when we started the festival, it was forbidden to sit on the grass and people didn’t really enjoy the city’s Central Park as they could. That’s why we decided to develop a jazz festival in public places with free admission for everyone who wants to discover and experience jazz,” said Corina Brandusan, PR Manager of Jazz in the Park.
Stages are being constructed on which jazz, blues, folk and classical music will be played, all live, whether just for those taking a walk in the park or coming especially for the event. There will be music from morning till evening, with Romanian and foreign artists.
“Our goal was – and still is – to give new meaning to forgotten or less used public spaces, using music in order to attract the public. Every year the festival grows and develops in terms of artists, stages, experiences and public audience. In 2013 we had 20,000 people but last year 61,000 people attended the festival, we’ve grown a lot. We now have six stages, we’ve developed a ticket based section and we bring more and more award-winning artists, from abroad and from Romania,” explained Brandusan.
This year the line-up includes big names such as Vintage Trouble, Dhafer Youssef, Susana Baca, Barcelona Gipsy Balkan Orchestra, Jojo Mayer & Nerve, Skalpel and Mammal Hands.
Ultimately, Jazz in the Park tries to maintain a balance between promoting Romanian jazz artists and having big international names. There’s a 50-50 percentage in the festival. “For young Romanian musicians we want to create a place where they can grow and develop and we invite famous international jazz players from all continents as we want to offer great experiences, to have diversity and a lot of jazz influences,” concluded Brandusan.
Cluj will, Cluj will … Rock You
The summer music fiesta continues in Cluj-Napoca with the established and renowned Electric Castle, which offers a broad variety of musical genres, from alternative and indie rock to techno, experimental, hip-hop and electronic music. The Electric Castle story begins in 2013 with a group of music loving friends frustrated by what was on offer on Romanian radio. “Some were into dubstep, others loved rock, reggae or hip-hop, but we wanted to create that special place where people with different affinities could come together to celebrate good music, meet their favourite artists and enjoy a few days of magic. We started with smaller parties at Booha, a club we owned in Cluj, and we realised that people wanted to hear different kinds of artists, not mainstream, not famous, but brimming with talent,” said Andi Vanca, PR Manager for Electric Castle. The concerts sold out, and this success gave them the hunger to create something way bigger!
It quickly became apparent that Banffy Castle was their only option as venue. “We all loved it and we realised that it was a hidden treasure as the castle wasn’t really known,” added Vanca. A long time ago it was considered as Transylvania’s Versailles.
And so was born the “Electric Castle” in 2013, Electric standing for the atmosphere, the vibe that the festival wanted to create for its guests. Over 32,000 people attended exceeding expectations two fold. The first festival featured over 90 artists including Morcheeba, Pendulum DJ Set, Feed Me, James Zabiela, Fritz Kalkbrenner, Dope DOD, Dub Pistols, Stanton Warriors, A.Skillz, Krafty Kuts, Wankelmut and Telepopmusik. Even the organisers were surprised by the number of people that showed up. “We expected to have around 4-5000 people every day, but there were double that. Since the festival takes place in a village, we had to build the infrastructure from the ground up, investing in water networks, electric works and other essential amenities. We had to convince people in Bontida that we were not crazy and that we could actually do it, and since then we’ve become good friends; and we had to convince people from all over that Electric Castle is a place to discover new music, new people and new trends.”
The second edition took place under the motto “Bigger, Stronger, Better” – the festival was extended to four days and Electric Castle became the biggest festival in Romania’s history. In 2014 performers included Die Antwoord, Thievery Corporation, Bonobo, Dub FX, DJ Fresh, Gramatik, Chris Liebing, Kraak and Smaak, Wilkinson, Foreign Beggars, Delta Heavy, Oliver Koletzki, Dub Pistols, Akua Naru, DJ EZ, Suie Paparude, Notes and Ties Orchestra, The Correspondents, Adam Freeland, Fred V & Grafix, Gramophonedzie, etc.
The festival is growing year on year but the organizers aren’t aiming for numbers. The question, according to Vanca, is never “how many people can fit in here”, but “for how many people can we offer the best festival experience too?” Electric Castle grew from 80 artists in the line up in the first festival to over 200 artists this year. Last year the festival was five days long and welcomed over 130,000 attendees.
The Electric Castle festival attracts an eclectic crowd from a wide demographic and from all over the world in keeping with the acts that appear.
This year the festival will take place over July 12-16th. The tickets are almost sold out. Headliners include Franz Ferdinand, Paul Van Dyke, Unkle, Architects, House of Pain, Dub Pistols, but also famed Romanian acts such as Subcarpati, Suie Paparude, Coma, Golan, Diamonds Are Forever, Robin and the Backstabbers, etc.
This year the organizers are employing the best sound system out there, one of the largest LED screens in Europe providing 8K resolution, an 80m main stage, two stages with covered audience areas, and the overall festival surface area has expanded to more than 220,000 square meters, in order to have room for the wide range of sets, day-time activities, the myriad food and beverage vendors, etc.
How hard was at the beginning? “It’s hard to imagine how different things were even just six years ago,” says Vanca. “Nowadays, people in Cluj are used to seeing big names here. Not so long ago we didn’t dare dream that acts like Skrillex would perform here, that we’d see Sigur Ros live or dance and shout along to the Prodigy. So it took a lot of convincing locals that yes, we can do this, and also a lot of convincing people from other countries that Transylvania is, well… real! And well worth a visit!
Awarded “Best Major Festival in Europe” at 2015’s European Festival Awards, UNTOLD received another nomination at the same awards event last year. As the largest electronic music festival in Romania, the first version of the festival took place in 2015, when Cluj-Napoca was anointed European Youth Capital. Key artists included Tom Odell, ATB, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Avicii, Armin van Buuren and David Guetta. During the first UNTOLD more than 240,000 people attended gigs at various venues across Cluj-Napoca’s centre. Confirmed this year are Hardwell, Martin Garrix, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Afrojack and Armin van Buuren.
Last year’s UNTOLD brought more than 300,000 people to Cluj with 10 percent of those being foreigners. The largest number of spectators was recorded on the third day of the event when famed Dutchman DJ Armin Van Buuren took the stage stage. Former Prime Minister and current Cluj mayor Emil Boc was also present. The music fans spent EUR 23 million during last year’s festival. Moreover, all available 12,900 accommodation places in Cluj were booked during the festival, no matter if they were luxury hotels or guesthouses. The festival’s organizers have also found a cunning way of making tourists spend more time in Transylvania, visiting the most famous tourist attractions in the area: all those who attend the music festival are able to use the access bracelets as entry tickets to the main tourist attractions of the city and the area.
This year’s festival takes place over 3rd-6th of August with seven DJ headliners: Afrojack, Armin Van Buuren, Axwell /\ Ingrosso, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell, Martin Garrix and Steve Aoki. This year’s festival features a special guest, Marshmello, who is playing for the first time ever in Romania. Live acts include Ellie Goulding, Example, Hurts, Jasmine Thompson, MØ, R. City and Tinie Tempah. The festival will take place across the city involving eight stages. Other artists performing are Alan Walker, Don Diablo, Dillon Francis, Sander van Doorn, Dubfire, Jamie Jones, Loco Dice, Solomun, Sven Väth, Andy C, Borgore, Pendulum and Chase & Status.
The festival will once again transform again this beautiful city, bringing visitors from all over Romania and the world and thus consolidating Cluj-Napoca’s reputation as a major music and festival city.