Villa Arconati, Milan

If there’s anything we learned from Terraforma, it’s to expect the unexpected. The festival takes place at the Villa Arconati, a picturesque Baroque estate built in the 17th and 18th centuries, tucked away in the forests of Bollate just outside of Milan. Billed as an experimental music festival, Terraforma was full of surprises at every turn, both musically and otherwise.

I arrived to the festival at 1.00am — just in time to catch Aurora Halal, whose selections proved gritty and driving enough to make me totally spellbound from my first step on the dancefloor. Objekt followed up with a set that started off equally captivating, but ended in a heated intensity.

The next morning, we were up early to catch Terraforma veteran Donato Dozzy playing a three-hour ambient set at the main stage. The turn out was impressive considering Dozzy’s 10.00am slot. Ambient sets are somehow more challenging to pull off than techno bangers, and it’s a strange feeling to be among a large crowd listening to ambient music at a festival, but the vibe is very much at home at Terraforma. Almost everyone was sitting, hiding in the shade, or else lying down on blankets. Few people spoke. You could hear the birds chirping, a gentle breeze swept through occasionally — a welcome relief from the 37 degree heat.

Rashad Becker’s gear got lost during his flight over, so Italian artist Rawmance filled his daytime slot, and his downtempo sound carried on from Dozzy’s ethereal atmosphere nicely. Laraaji, an American multi-instrumentalist, brought similarly meditative music courtesy of a string instrument called the zither. His set was a remarkable take on ambient and new age, using sounds that were both familiar and new to me. Once the sun went down, we gathered at the Labyrinth stage to watch a true pioneer at work: Suzanne Ciani, an American synth master playing her Buchla 200e. The sound enveloped us as we sat in a kind of semicircle, her quadrophonic set up working wonders against the surrounding forest. Although Ciani was cut off unceremoniously when her set blew the power at the entire festival, she was still the highlight of the weekend.

The last day of the festival met some unplanned hiccups so the programming ran late by an hour or so. Ece Duzgit and Terraforma regular Paquita Gordon played at the Soundsystem stage, a raucous, lively set that paired some surprising cuts: what sounded like Suzanne Ciani’s Fish Music layered with dynamic beats, for example, or a tribal vocal atop a hurried, almost frenzied bassline. The evening ended with a performance by Kiki Hitomi, a vocalist known for her work with groups like King Midas Sound and Waq Waq Kingdom. Her menacing vocals worked at perfect odds with her look (think glitter and a huge bow on her head), her sound similar to a rough and tumble version of The Knife: strange, fierce, and powerful.

The last surprise of the weekend was Donato Dozzy’s return at the end of the Sunday, when he played an “after party” set at the Soundsystem stage for a smaller crowd. Many of us had hoped for a classic Dozzy closer, but were met with a set that travelled from dubstep to dark, druggy techno, to gabber, and anywhere in between. It was a shock to the system, and the crowd was in an absolute uproar, giving him a minute-long standing ovation. After the festival, Terraforma noted on Facebook that Dozzy was happy with his set, his only remark, “Rifarei tutto daccapo,” which translates as: “I would do everything again.”