Bansko, Bulgaria

Walking through the streets of Bansko – a mountainous resort in the heart of Bulgaria – it’s hard to believe that it is home to one of Europe’s greatest ski parties.

In between Stalinist buildings and Orthodox churches, there’s an array of local art galleries scattered among the sex shops, strip clubs and ‘erotica shows’ that Bansko has to offer. Bars and clubs are plastered with neon signs that highlight the town’s ‘hottest’ hangouts – Euphoria, Oxygen, The Club – while Eurotrance blares out of kebab shops. But as a festival launched by a co-founder and director of Croatia’s Outlook and Dimensions, Horizon’s goal is clear; to host a credible selection of DJs and live acts over its seven days and six nights, while offering 75km of ski pistes and snow-based revelry.

While Bansko may not be as large as resorts in France or Switzerland, Horizon gives festivalgoers a chance to experience world-class skiing for a fraction of the price. The festival itself is scattered across a large variety of venues, ranging from snowy mountain stages and abandoned hotels to compact basements and local bars. 

Sunday night began with a calm but enjoyable set from Moxie, who played to an attentive, if not slightly jetlagged crowd; while John Talabot’s slow burning deep house provided a starting point to ease people into the week’s partying schedule. 

In between Ghostchant’s richly textured soundscapes at the Secret Hotel and Medlar’s disco-infused anthems at the Mountain Creek, Monday daytime consisted mostly of enjoying Bansko’s powdery pistes. The evening took a strange turn when we were invited to Pigalle – a local strip club, to see none other than DnB legend Goldie play b2b with KiNK. Stunned by the absurdity of the offer, we duly accepted, and we were then taken down a long flight of stairs to a basement where stony-faced bouncers made terse warnings that we were not to take any photos or videos. The layout centred around three poles, where strippers took turns performing while Goldie played a set of throwback bangers to a sea of dumb-struck youths. It’s safe to say the effect of the Metalheadz material was somewhat lost in the venue’s seedily-lit interior.  

Elsewhere, at Flash bar, one of Bansko’s resident clubs, Gerd Janson played a remarkable set showcasing a wide range of disco, funk and hip-swinging house that was enhanced by surreal visuals and fun lighting. Bristol duo Kahn and Neek played next at Euphoria bar, with a grime-heavy, rewind-laden set that – despite its energy –seemed to lack a little bass weight. 

The highlight of the week was the Secret Hotel house party that took place on the penultimate night in the heart of the Pirin Mountains. Once inside, the now abandoned mansion felt like infinity – a graffitied labyrinth of rooms crammed with mattresses, laser machines and faux fireplaces. Rooms rolled into other rooms that revealed secret passageways into balconies and hidden dancefloors, where DJs casually took turns to play to a small but committed crowd. The main dancefloor, which was on the bottom floor, hosted DJs like Hodgson – who played a crowd-pleasing house set – to Kutmah, whose phenomenal selecting seemed to add to the overall vibe of wide-eyed debauchery. 

In the hours that followed, attendees submerged themselves in this paradise of smoke machines, light shows and art installations, giddily exploring all the various nooks and crannies the grounds had to offer. It was a celebratory finale to Horizon: only in its fifth year, the festival demonstrated – with a bit of careful tweaking – potential for even more success.