I’m still trying to wrap my head around why I went to Electric Castle. I don’t like big gatherings or electronic music. I don’t like to stay up late at night, and I always reject the “offers I cannot refuse.”
I’ve never been to a nightclub or festival. Never.
And even worse, in the last few years, I’ve returned to my love of old-school jazz and blues. All my heroes are pushing up daisies: Lightning Hopkins, Blind Willy Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters or Jack Champion Dupree.
In a word, I’m old. I declare it, and I own it. But at least I’m old and curious, a person who appreciates different things. I could not wait to see what this professional ignoramus could make of this festival.
I decided to attend just the first two nights of the festival. I’m going to be like a peasant who comes down the mountain once a year to go to the market.
The organizers were generous enough to oblige my interests. Like helping an old man cross the street, I received a free ticket and an invitation to a banquet reception for the photographers, journalists, radio broadcasters, etc. Of course, I accepted the ticket and declined the reception.
Bonțida, here I come!
Well-camouflaged with a hat on my head and sunglasses on my nose, betrayed only by the white hairs in my beard, I board the bus at 6pm. I snooze for the 50 minutes to Bonțida, among very cool and kind-spirited young people dressed in shorts, small tank tops, transparent black veils and well-placed tattoos. I start chatting with the boy from Baia Mare in front of me. He’s wearing a flag with hair extensions, and on his head is a unicorn mask made out of rubber so that his friends can find him more easily. Right.
Before Electric Castle, Bonțida was known for the foul smell emanating from a plethora of pig farms. Since Electric Castle, the small town has been transformed. In doorways and windowsills, locals are cheerfully rubbing their palms together as they hungrily stare at the thousands of people getting off the buses. They’ve been waiting for them for a year.
The locals have launched small business endeavors in the industries of rain gear, temporary tattoos, glittering eye paint, artisanal purses, and every kind of food, including placinte, meat, gulas, kurtos kolacs and, of course, fast-food.
Almost every home in Bonțida offers room and board, camping areas and parking. The locals lucky enough to own a few hectares, make a killing in parking fees. The price of local straw and sawdust (ground cover in the inevitable rain storms) skyrockets.
The aggressive Bonțidian capitalism shows itself at every corner while the locals easily mingle with the English, French, Dutch, Hungarian, Moldavian, and Bucharestian-speaking youth who are blinded by the sun as they exit the bus.
Immediately, well-orchestrated chaos sweeps you up and takes you for a dizzying ride. Meanwhile, the smoke coming off the food is swirling around, as if you were a succulent sausage on legs. The security check seems to be rigorous. I take out everything I have in the backpack and am searched around my ribs and hips before receiving a bracelet and a smile – both of them are pink. The tobacco bag of the guy beside me is being held suspect. Its greasy-haired owner looks like a run-away poet from University Square.
As soon as I enter through the sheep’s gate and have my wristband scanned I see a sign that speaks to me: “Welcome Back. We missed you!” I feel as if a young girl just gave me her seat on the streetcar. The next day’s message is even better: “You look fabulous! Let’s fkn party!” As a result, I make sure not to catch a glimpse of myself in any mirror. It doesn’t help that I have no idea how to dance.
Like a subdued lost child, I quietly make my way to the Info Point, the way I do at the theatre, and grab a program. Whoa, the font is really small! It’s obvious that I’m not in their target audience. I squint my eyes at the yellow map that looks like a giant stain with black dots all over. I unscramble only the things written in large front, which confuse me even more: Silent Dance, Booha Stage or Swedish Lodge.
Honestly speaking, I feel like heading for the hills. The advantage of being old is that you feel it in your bones when you don’t belong somewhere. Just like arthritis. But then I remind myself: “Yo, you’re a journalist, not a chicken! Hide behind your lens and at least get a few pictures!”
Everyone else is strolling around, laying down or discovering the festival on foot. I decide to walk around and take a better look at everything.
I walk around aimlessly for three hours, with my bell around my neck like a peasant with his eyes on the roller coaster. I investigate each little corner from the inside out. I can’t help being amazed by everything I see.
I ask myself whether I’m in Bonțida or Glastonbury. Everything is big, beautiful, airy and very well thought out. The accents are strategically placed and the details are fascinating.
These young people have transformed a marshland of willow bushes into small, magic places with windows into another world.
In order to overcome the buckets of rain that seem to find Electric Castle every year, all the walking paths are made from wood and PVC tiles. They used the same material for the ‘chill spaces’ near the lake or under the trees.
I stick my nose into everything. Most of these things are hidden in little forests and are adorned with tiny Christmas lights. You walk down an alley and bang! All of a sudden you find 40 or so youth sprawled over pillows or swinging in hammocks or dancing to DJ music.
Next to the castle is a kind of a labyrinth of alleyways leading to a tent city. The makeshift city even has a supermarket which sells almost everything except alcohol.
In the castle, you can put on Virtual Reality glasses and walk on a plank that gives you the impression that you are walking between two skyscrapers.
When I heard a blood-curdling scream, then yelling that they were about to fall off the skyscrapers, I decided that this kind of reality is not worth my time.
The thing that really startles me and eventually makes me flee the haunted castle is a screen that showcases hollow and asexual bodies that collide with each other depending on how you move around it: bending gently or gyrating brutally, like a dance. Even worse, the bodies emit strange moans, causing me to appreciate the good ol’ days when standing in line to see a bearded woman at the circus was radical.
As soon as dusk falls, the space truly becomes electric. The Ferris wheel in the middle of the festival bathes the pasture in neon colors, while the fading sunlight mixes and blends with the multitudes of light bulbs and garlands. I even watch a light show where they use electric springs that look like lightning bolts.
Beside the Booha Mansion, where young people are dancing a little bit too lasciviously for a sensible Christian soul, I meet my first robotic bartender. You give the robot a command and they execute, directly connecting to the upside down bottles that make up the roof of the bar. Then, they shake, mix and pour your cocktail beside the bar. There’s quite a line because people are bursting with curiosity.
Since I’m in new territory, I decide to try something that would otherwise be out of the question: an Electric Burger! It’s this small ember with meat thrown inside, alongside saucy goodies and some sweet potato fries. Even though it doesn’t look too appetizing, it has a versatile effect in the stomach.
Like Robinson Crusoe’s Friday who is brought from the island into the city, I can’t help but be amazed by the fact that I can buy everything with my bracelet. Like a fascinated little pigeon, this little instrument that provokes me to spend far more than I actually have. Because you don’t physically see the cash, it burns less.
Tens of thousands are enjoying the festival and the comradery it allows. It’s true that at first sight, when you see the kids walking down the street chugging directly from wine bottles, you’d think they come from the wrong side of the track. Especially when you see the mischievous faces, overdone hipsters, and goths with apocalyptic t-shirts and spike bracelets.
At a second glance, you realize that you’re looking at a strategically chosen crowd that is quite elevated. A crowd that is looking for a certain type of atmosphere and a unique kind of experience. The majority are dynamic youth, the “backpacker” type, who are comfortable with the idea of sleeping in a tent.
They come for the vibe, the atmosphere and the social dynamic and are willing to take part in a long term project to renovate an historic the castle by paying for a brick or a bucket of mortar using their bracelets. More than anything, they’re the intellectual hipster type, ready to march on the street against some questionable new law.
But I’m determined to find another type – the greasier type – and I feel it in the air that I will find them somewhere.
I look for two days and I finally find them: they’re waiting in line to get on the huge Ferris Wheel which provides a great view of the festival. Instantly, I maneuver to stand behind them in line. The three of them have cheap sunglasses, cough like crazy and have the classic thick neck that sports a haircut that look as if it’s been chopped by a cannon ball.
They buckle into their capsule and proceed to move around wildly to make the whole Ferris Wheel shake. They get kicked off the ride after the first circle. The trio is not happy and obviously begins using their fists to demonstrate this. But the Moldavian security guards are a larger group, their necks are even thicker and fists even bigger.
From the top of the Ferris Wheel, the people appear to be little ants, scurrying about their tents. It’s like a multicolored sea of activity that alongside the forest and castle, are bewitching in the evening light. Adjacent to the festival fence, the locals are gathering hay to feed the pigs and milking cows.
These two worlds neither intersect, communicate nor understand one another, but they work together, somehow, unknowingly. Two very opposing worlds, separated by a pink bracelet.
The main stage is stunning in it’s scale and beauty. It is 80 meters wide and had 600 square feet of high resolution LED screens. I descend from the Ferris Wheel and mingle in the crowd gathered around the main stage.
The majority of the spectators are well intentioned, open and respectful of those around them. They make room for you at the table and offer a friendly smile for my camera lens.
A small minority is made up of drunks, smokers and druggies who are present at any large festival.
A volunteer from Info Point tells me one of them asked her directly where they could buy some party drugs. That reminds me of the story I heard last year of the young man who woke up in an ambulance wearing only his sock, with absolutely no recollection of what had happened the preceding days.
My favorite is a bearded fat guy, dressed in a tiny apron, sleeping under a poplar like a catafalque. In the two hours that I visit with him, he remains unmoved, just like the mummy of Ho Sin Min in Hanoi. I feel like poking him with a stick to see if he’s alive, but I restrain myself.
That’s when the concert of Mirabele Dauer and Corina Chiriac begins, which reminds me of why we are here, namely …
I can’t tell how many people are here for the music or just the opportunity to escape to a pleasant atmosphere while wearing pink bracelets. On Sunday, July 16, 41,000 people listened to Franz Ferdinand and Deadmau5, bands which I had never previously heard of.
The mass of humanity moves peacefully from one stage to the next. Each one of the nine stages creates a unique, awe-inspiring atmosphere.
At the Booha Mansion a machine launches balloons that are perfect for popping while dancing. At the Roots Stage, a Rastafarian with long dreads is spinning reggae music from the bottom of his heart, dancing around joyfully.
I was surprised how many music genres are being featured: 80’s disco, electronic music that I do not understand, but which have unbelievable visual effects, classic punk like Sex Pistols, brought by the two honest boys from the band Slaves, Honest rock, a bunch of indie, and some ethno. I’m sure there’s more but I can’t tell you because I don’t really understand it.
So what did I see? Almost all of Beardyman’s performance on the main stage, followed by an appeal for peace and love, like a Protestant pastor. I also saw a disco performance since it was the opening act for the festival. It was very well received by a generous public.
The organizer’s idea of bringing together different generations of music was brilliant, especially the 80’s Romanian music. In fact, everyone was so pumped on the first day that I think they should have been given a blurry hologram of Gică Petrescu.
For me, to be honest, the music of Mirabela and Corina seemed otherworldly even when they were young. I never expected to see them enjoy swaying barefoot on stage. They were sweet and emotional, and in between songs they swooned about youth, energy and freedom.
The memory of the sixteen-year-old girls who started to hoorah with joy is engrained in my memory. They happily danced in their rubber boots to Romanian folk music while a police officer with a sensitive soul filmed continuously on his phone, with watery eyes like Bambi and trembling lips.
Goodbye, farewell, so long, electric castle!
Electric Castle 2017 behaved itself spectacularly to an elderly person without festival experience. I thank them for letting me play with the rake in their sandbox.
They gave me the opportunity to bump into all kinds of friends or former students who said, “You are the last man I expected to see here!”
How wonderful it is to be the last man!
HERE ARE SOME FINAL FIGURES TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA OF THE DIMENSIONS OF ELECTRIC CASTLE 2017:
60 buses made 300 round trips daily between Cluj and Bonțida.
220,000 square meter festival footprint.
500,000 watts of aggregate power for the sound equipment just for the main stage.
200 tons of gravy 20,000 plastic tarps
70 cubic meters of bark.
100 people have recycled 85% of the garbage, saving the planet from an ecological disaster.