Villa Arconati, Milan
1 - 3 July

Terraforma Festival is a force of nature. Set in the lush forest of the Villa Arconati outside of Milan, the festival champions experimental music and eco-mindfulness, bringing together a crowd that made for an unforgettable atmosphere.

We arrived late on Friday evening, but the festival was running on Italian time. Everything was half an hour late, yet no one, us included, seemed to mind. This set the stage for the weekend: sit back, relax, and enjoy. And there’s something to be said about the more chilled out vibe. The daytime schedule ranged from ambient to classical to dub and reggae, and only the later program encouraged much dancing. There was only one music area with one-off performances taking place during the main stage’s down time, meaning that there was little necessity to run around. When a torrential downpour tore through Milan on Saturday evening, the promoters were unfazed as the site was stripped and then set back up in remarkable time. The heat — 30 degree scorchers on all three days — was waved at lazily.

Friday’s program began with Charlemagne Palestine, a silver-haired performance artist from New York who played a striking piano set in the middle of a field outside the Villa’s main building. We got eaten alive by mosquitoes but again, no one seemed to mind, with the sunset and minimalist, jazz-influenced charm of Palestine’s performance offering a magnetic distraction. Meanwhile, in a soundstage tucked away in the trees nearby, Rabih Beaini, better known as Morphosis, and video artist Vincent Moon collaborated on an audio-visual production that married Beaini’s interest in world music with Moon’s compelling visuals. The result was almost trance-inducing, as the mostly vocal-based soundtrack chanted in time with images of people in prayer and ritual.

As the sun went down, sets from Helena Hauff and homegrown hero Donato Dozzy brought the energy back up. Hauff’s set bounced and buzzed between acid, techno and electro, while Dozzy allowed himself to get weird, delving into spaced-out techno, alien soundscapes and moments of strange ambience.

The crowd was out in full effect the next morning, re-fueling with a small food court area that served up not only popsicles and coffee, but handmade ravioli, chicken skewers, and sushi. There’s a sustainability ethos that Terraforma prides itself on. Everything down to the garbage bins was constructed with the environment in mind; the festival offered a free beer to anyone who collected 15 empty cups, and sold portable ashtrays to conserve the green space. And it worked: this was the first time myself and others I spoke to had seen so little rubbish at a music festival.

The afternoon began with a strange yet intriguing spoken word performance from Francesco Cavaliere, who apparently told tales of all-seeing reptiles and the cosmos in his native Italian. Later, a talk from Claudio Fabrianesi, Donato Dozzy, and Soundwall journalist Damir Ivic offered respite from the typical festival track. Although the discussion lacked a strong direction or focus, Dozzy and Fabrianesi spoke passionately about club culture and music in their hometowns.

After Saturday evening’s storm, the festival was back up and running with a set from Flanger, the collaborative effort of Germans Atom™ and Burnt Friedman. Their set was, thanks in large part to Friedman’s polyrhythmic sound, nearly impossible to dance to, but overall a weekend highlight — something so different and impeccably performed that it had no choice but to stand out. Follow up sets from Lee Gamble, Mark Fell, and Atom™ & Tobias passed in playful succession: easy, danceable, and fun.

The first two days had brought incomparable energy and a unique range of performances, and now in its final day, Terraforma had the bar set pretty high. Beatrice Dillon’s early afternoon set at the smaller soundstage in the woods was an anomaly: a handful of complete bangers interspersed with a couple less interesting or ill-fitting numbers, but with the volume turned up so high that it drowned out the other stage and nearby lecture. British dub producer Adrian Sherwood played to his strengths, keeping a relaxed afternoon vibe with dub and reggae cuts that grew harder as the afternoon wore into the early evening. This set the stage for local hero Paquita Gordon, a Terraforma resident whom it quickly became clear the crowd was waiting for. Her set started off with trippy, eerie field recordings before building into deep and tech house, and ending in throwbacks to 60s classics. Was that The Beatles we heard?

The weekend’s magic culminated in perhaps the most special set, however, when Italian producer and DJ Marco Shuttle, who played a surprise after party in the festival’s campgrounds by the lake. Among candlelight and fireflies, Shuttle allowed himself a few moments of slower cosmic weirdness — right at home in the lakeside breeze — but kept his path mostly to techno and tribal-esque rhythms, winding down with a syrupy, almost sentimental number that was greeted with minutes-long applause. While security guards tried to contain the crowd’s pleas for more; it seemed inevitable that Shuttle would pick it back up for one last tune, and so he did. A force of nature, indeed.