As is typical of most European seaside resorts, there is a certain kitsch pleasure in the novelty of partying on a seafront. Neversea, a new three-night festival located on the Romanian shores of Constanta, sells itself to be just that. Acclaimed on its website as an ‘international celebration of music, lifestyle and seaside adventure’, the festival feels a bit like a Black Sea rendition of Butlins.
Upon entering, we are greeted by a mob of beautiful girls who are more than happy to tell us about the festival’s sponsors: a Faustian devil’s pact that constitutes exchanging your contact details for a pack of premium cigarettes. Feeling fairly uncomfortable, we head towards the Summerhouse stage. The stage’s line-up is everything a keen dance music aficionado can hope for, with sets from Dekmantel Soundsystem, Hunee, DJ Sprinkles and Far East Recordings’ Soichi Terada, but to name a few. But the crowd is strikingly sparse. I remember a line in the intro to Midtown 120 Blues, Thaemlitz’s 2008 classic, where she says, “House isn’t so much a sound as it is a situation”. In this context, the line seems particularly poignant. The majority of punters, it seems, are watching Tiesto, whose generic dance music feels trapped in 1998. Turn-of-the-century EDM blares violently against strobe of flashing lights. We walk back to Summerhouse, where Soichi Terada is playing a two-hour set. Much like Sprinkles’ set, the crowd is near empty, but those who are there are charmed by Terada’s warmth and gusto. He plays an assortment of melodic and soulful house, which is backed by string arrangements and Terada’s winning smile.
We return the following night to the main stage to witness big beat progenitor, Fat Boy Slim, who works the crowd like a bass-fuelled Moses. Norman Cook has built a career on sculpting radio-friendly trash, and this performance ties together the 101 of his generic oeuvre. Unlike Tiesto, however, Cook is a delight to watch and, to his credit, the visuals are impressive.
Neversea is only in its first year and, as such, is expected to have growing pains. And for a festival that sells itself on magical experiences and mystic hedonism, in its current state Neversea is comparatively disenchanting.