Held each year on the brink of the ski season, Polaris is a festival for house music purists located in the impossibly picturesque Swiss ski town, Verbier.

Open for business for the best part of a decade, the event has established itself as one of Europe’s premiere music and ski festivals, consistently bringing a host of the world’s most cherished and in-demand names to play to a surprisingly intimate crowd in one of the most beautiful natural settings on the planet.

The main event for 2023 was undoubtedly the return of Laurent Garnier, who was booked to play his comeback show after a period of time off due to illness. It was quite literally the talk of the town: everywhere we went his name was mentioned, from the man who fitted our ski boots through to the waiters at the local restaurant. As a founding father of the French house music scene, Garnier possesses a titan-like status in this part of the world, and Polaris was set to be the scene of his second coming.


Before then, though, there was plenty to keep the crowds entertained. The Friday night billing was loosely centred around Dixon’s powerhouse imprint, Innervisions. Label regular Trikk was billed early on, taking advantage of the warm-up slot to run through a psychedelic stream of downtempo synthy rollers. His selections were melodic and trippy, with just the right amount of murky grit to keep things interesting. To follow, Paula Tape upped the energy with an upfront and classically indebted house set – all jawlocked piano riffs and rolling, sub-low basslines. Towards the end of her run the ’80s Ralphi Rosario classic You Used To Hold Me sent shocks across the dancefloor, standing as testament to the lasting power of these canonical house tracks. To close, Dixon delivered the big-room, strobe-filled payoff that the dancefloor had been feverishly building towards.

The next morning we woke up to a transformed Verbier: a foot of snow had fallen overnight, burying everything under a thick duvet of crisp white. Suddenly the real magic of the festival’s location was revealed – the pure stillness of this Alpine toytown providing a surreal and otherworldly offset to the clamour and chaos of the previous evening’s dancefloor. 

The dramatic shift in weather was particularly good news for the festival’s skiers: the slopes are opened up for a pre-season warm-up, and the heavy snow and icy temperatures (-15°C on the piste) made for perfect conditions. After a few hours spent hurtling down the slopes ourselves, we took an accidental wrong turn down an off-piste run and by happy accident end up at the foot of the domed main stage, where Bel-Air Ltd was playing a classy warm up set. It was a drastic improvement on the classic après-ski scene – one where the musical programming was worth tuning into.

The rest of the Saturday evening was given over to a series of house music originators. UK legend Mr G delivered the most energetic performance of the weekend – a raw, hypnotic live set that demonstrated the unending potential of a chunky beat, a good vocal sample and a righteous bassline. Chicago hero Ron Trent followed, gently moving on from Mr G’s stripped-back approach to a deeper, more organic sound, deftly showcasing the music’s links with soul, funk and jazz.

Finally, Laurent Garnier joined Trent on stage, and the paired share a long, warm embrace. It was moving to see two old friends reunited after Garnier’s time away – a feeling that was clearly felt throughout the crowd too. There was an emotional and spiritual intensity to the French maestro’s set – from the beatless vocal opener that sung of “angels watching down on me” through to the rollicking gospel house track with a repeated refrain: “calling out your name”. House music lifers will often speak of their cherished genre in terms of its transcendent, sacred and even healing power. Watching Garnier’s ecstatic return in this sublime natural setting, it was easy to see what they mean.