Driving up a narrow slithering road, you start to feel the butterflies tingling inside of you. Mountains surround every side of the car and unveil their lush green landscapes filled with rich nature. The sky is blue and the hot sun is beaming down on the valleys. Suddenly, you come to a stop. Stepping outside of the car, you properly feel the fresh air of the mountains for the first time. There’s nothing in the world to compare it to, just pure. Slowly you begin your descent from the top down into the valley. Walking on a slender path through a thick deciduous forest, the sound of thousands of cicadas singing from the trees fully envelope you in the surrounding nature. There is a lot to look at and explore in this forest but for now you stick to your mission, continuing your descent. After a short trek, you have finally arrived at the bottom of the valley. Welcome to La Vallée Électrique.
In July 2016, the activist association System11 launches its first experimental festival. The crew brings together 150 friends in an idyllic clearing in the french countryside, all gathering around a homemade stage and bar. In October of the same year, they collaborate with Vibrance collective for a mystical second edition. This time gathering 200 people around two stages. These two secrets parties are a success, so the collab pursues and the first public edition of a new alternative festival sees the daylight in July 2017: La Vallée Électrique.
The festival takes place in the Provence region located in Southeastern France, this also is where the core crew of organizers grew up. In just a couple of years they have built a solid foundation and following that brings 500 curious individuals to the valley each year, which is the full capacity of the festival. With the whole setup (including sound system, stages, bar etc.) being hand built by volunteers, the crew has been able to achieve their goals for the party: to gather anyone that has a positive, open minded attitude, no matter their origin or situation. And also to fully inject their vision into the party, to be in nature, with quality music and quality homemade food and drinks (with wine being made almost on site and beers made just 25km away).
In 2019, there are two stages to experience at La Vallée Électrique: la Prairie (techno, house) and la Forêt (deep, dub techno, electro, ambient). The bigger of the two being la Prairie, offering a huge dome with visual projections where the dj booth is situated and an open dancefloor under the sun. While la Forêt on the other side of the area offers a more intimate vibe, with the dancefloor being surrounded by trees, providing shade and a proper forest feeling. In between the stages is a bar and food area and also a place where different kinds of music workshops were held. I will be focusing on the Forêt stage in this review as this is the stage that I was there to experience and also where I spent most of the festival.
Opening the Forêt stage was ambient artist Arddhu all the way from Tasmania, Australia. With a compact live setup consisting of some analog equipment and tapes, he brilliantly set the mood for the rest of the festival. From start to finish, his sounds were gently blending in with the buzz of the cicadas and surrounding nature. It felt so natural that it was almost like there was no music being played at all, which believe me, in this case is the highest of compliments. As he was an artist that I had never heard before (which will be a common theme throughout this review) I was very impressed and happy with this discovery.
Next up was Zhe Pechorin, a Serbian artist well loved within deeper ambient and broken techno circles. She delivered a moody live set, starting fully ambient but transforming into some slow broken beat territory throughout the set. Really engaging and surprisingly groovy. My first dance moves of the festival had presented themselves and it was a great way of slowly warming up the limbs after all the wine and cheese that had been consumed on the night before.
At around 8 pm, it was time for Dash from Czech Republic to take the reigns for the next three hours with her groovy deep techno vinyl selection. Carefully building the set, she got the forest up and dancing properly for the first time during the festival. Colorful, deep and at times trippy selection, but not at any points too much. Just the right amount of drive and properly groovy all the way to the end. A really fun way to get the crowd engaged and the party started for the night. This was another artist that I hadn’t heard before and was very happy to discover.
When the darkness had laid itself over the valley and the first stars began revealing themselves in the night sky, it was time for a back to back dj set between 9beats & Axymt, two local deep techno artists. As a huge fan of 9beats productions and live sets I was looking forward immensely to this set, especially after having listened countless times to his uploaded set from last years edition of the festival. Sadly this set fell a little flat for me, maybe because my expectations were too high from the beginning. 3 hours of trippy, spacy deep techno. Something that I usually enjoy but there was not much excitement in the set for me, most of the tracks being ones I’ve listened to way too much.
Bringing energy back to me in the middle of the night was Harmony Rec. resident Alfred Czital with his driving, tribal live set. Harmony Rec. is an excellent collective and record label from Prague, Czech Republic and I highly recommend you to check them out if you haven’t had the chance yet. High octane from the first second of his set, Alfred didn’t let up one bit and created this kind of heady vibe in the forest which allowed the crowd to let loose of their inhibitions. If you had planned to get some sleep this night, he made sure to put other plans inside of your head and get you ready for many more hours of dancing.
At 3 am, it was time for deep techno favorite Hydrangea to take the stage and the anticipation was high in the crowd. Having listened to her podcasts many times and also having caught her earlier this year for a daytime set at Monument festival, I was not sure of what to expect from a night time set like this, as a lot of what she does is very sensitive and nature inspired. All I knew was that I was excited for whatever was to come. And oh man, what a delicious trip it was! Unrelentless, very heady and driving deep techno to get totally lost in and dance your heart out. Reminiscent of a vibe artists like Donato Dozzy can create, but still totally in her own way. The vibe in the crowd was magical and I finally started to understand what makes La Vallée so special. When you look around in the middle of the night, surrounded by gorgeous nature deep inside a valley, far disconnected from the conformities of modern society, with millions of stars shining in the night sky and a couple hundred kind-hearted spirits losing themselves to the highest quality of deep techno, there is not much else you can do but feel this amazing warmth inside and smile. But just for a second of course as the music starts controlling your body again and you keep on dancing for many more hours to come.
I had planned to get some well needed sleep at this point to prepare myself for the incoming barrage of brilliant artists the coming day and my energy levels were also becoming very low from all the dancing and beer. Usually, I try to not drink so much during festivals to not get these energy crashes, but all the local beers they had to offer were so delicious and for a fair price (2-3€) so I couldn’t help myself. Unfortunately for my aching body and tired mind, but fortunately for my pleasure, Yan from Harmony Rec. started his morning set. Instantly it was like being in an aerobics class and he was the instructor. Pushing us on into the next day with his selections of uplifting progressive house and bouncy techno. Absolutely impossible to stand still, which was perfect as any moment of stillness probably would have resulted in me falling asleep on the spot. I couldn’t manage to keep myself on the dance floor for the entirety of his set but even the 2 hours that he managed to keep me there were more than impressive. Another artist that I heard for the first time at the festival and I loved the energy and vibes that he brought.
I trekked the path up out of the valley (as my sleeping spot was at the top) while the blazing morning sun was making its presence well known. The night had provided a well needed coolness and protection from the sun but now it was back for round two and stronger than ever. I was delighted to finally get some sleep.
Getting some sleep was pretty much impossible because of the immense heat and I was awake again within three hours of closing my eyes. Feeling properly exhausted, I decided to stay at the top of the valley for the first couple of sets of the day to recoup some energy. Drinking the La Vallée edition white wine (which was absolutely delicious) with new friends, chatting and hiding from the sun was a great way to get my spirits back up. Also spent a considerable amount of time walking around a patch of grass filled to the rim with cicadas that would jump every step I took, very entertaining for my tired brain.
When I got back down into the valley it was around 4:30 pm and Pool, a Bulgarian artist, had just started her set. Delivering soft, deep and dubby grooves that blended perfectly with the setting, she slowly got the forest into the mood again and ready for day 2. For the last part of the set she invited organizer and curator VBC for an impromptu b2b, something that was very appreciated by the crowd. Once again this was an artist that I hadn’t heard before La Vallée and now she is one of my favorites. Highly recommend her Monument podcast for anyone that hasn’t yet heard her magic.
At 7 pm, spanish deep techno giant Refracted started to plat. Having heard him last year at Parallel festival (a set I didn’t particularly enjoy) my expectations were not especially high. But instead of his usual very tripped out “wormhole” techno, he treated the forest to a more tribal approach. Something similar to his early releases on the label Silent Season. This did fit the setting quite well, but still somewhat tired and in the mood for softer stuff I went for a little walk to a tiny lake nearby. With the sun still melting us with its intense heat I couldn’t resist going for a dip, the bottom was some kind of mushy mud and seaweed situation but it didn’t matter, as the water was incredibly refreshing (read super cold) and energizing.
Getting back from my swim, I went to stand in line to get some food to fuel me for the night. The food they served there was fresh, healthy and cooked everyday by this lovely team of locals. From what I remember it was some kind of meat (like sausage), veggies and noodles/rice. And a vegetarian option with beans instead, which is what I went for. One critique I have about this is that, although it was very good, the food was served at two specific times during the day and the team was not big enough to serve everyone efficiently. This caused some long waits in line which brought down the energy, but at least good drinks and company did make the situation bearable. With that said, I hope more festivals start serving this kind of food as it feels way better to party on than a greasy plate of burgers and fries.
Now it was time for the deep techno collective Acquario from Milan, Italy to take the stage. As they are one of my favorites, having visited their parties in Milan a couple of times, I was particularly excited that they were going to take us on a trip for the coming 5 hours. This excitement was something that I had communicated to everyone around me during the day probably way too much, but I couldn’t contain myself. Starting off, the first 2 hours of the set Outburst Knobs and Gabriel LMRN played together. Carefully creating this oh so special vibe that only Acquario are capable of. Deep techno magic full of emotion and heady moods. Drawing you into the groove to the point of being fully locked in, while never rushing and with every mix being on point, you can truly lose yourself in the music. Skilled djs and mood setters to the max. The Forêt dance floor was really filling up during this set, easily the busiest it was during the whole festival. I think curious dancers coming from the other stage to take a look simply couldn’t leave after hearing the music. Like being put under a spell. This created a great, boiling party atmosphere.
When the pair were done with their set, they had set the stage perfectly for the others in the collective to take over. With the crowd now being in an easily suggestible state, waiting patiently for what was to come, the music went silent for about a minute as Dixie, Münch and Podbielski got ready on the decks. I was waiting for a slow build up once again but they clearly had other plans for us, throwing on a really menacing track with thunderous kick drums and scattered hi- hats with a female vocal monologue. Going straight into hyperspace they continued with some classic Peter Van Hoesen and what for me was pure deep techno perfection. The 3 hours went by way too quickly and all I can remember is all the moments of pure dance euphoria. Grinning ear to ear or closing my eyes and being transported to somewhere distant. The set peaked in a moment where they played a track which was nothing but a kick drum groove and a really twisted vocal, spouting what I can only imagine is absolute bullshit in some (to me) foreign language. It was that kind of moment where you just put your hands on top of your head and the whole dancefloor is looking at each other thinking “What the fuck are they doing to us?”. If I have to summarize the set, it would be what I describe as total mind control. They were in control of the spaceship and there was not much you could do but strap in and take the ride. Enjoyable to the max.
After a set like this I always feel a slight worry for the coming artist as it can be really difficult to follow up. Luckily this one was way more than up for the challenge. At 3 am, Eyvind Blix, from my home country of Sweden, gets up on the stage with his live setup. Starting with this pulsating, ever evolving drone that went on for several minutes he sets the mood instantly. Then comes the kick drums and they are not in a 4×4 pattern but in some kind of galloping rhythm. Shaking the whole forest with their power and spreading dust all over the place from the force of the subwoofers. Then ever so teasingly, a hi-hat appears in the mix and the groove is now fully locked in. If nothing more happened for the rest of the hour long live set I would have no complaints at all but the initial drone kept morphing and evolving. High pitched whale sounds joined the mix as well every now and again which was really memorable. It was the most powerful groove I have ever experienced and dancing like a mad man even though my whole body was aching was the only option at the time. It was my first time hearing Eyvind play live and while it is by far the hardest techno I would ever willingly listen to, it was perfect for the moment and now I enjoy his music a lot.
Looking at the time I concluded that there was now at least 8 hours of dancing left. Something that seemed like a monumental task in that moment, but the curation and scheduling of artists was top notch and made sure there was something refreshing about every new set. Which made it possible to keep going. Local electro selectah DiiGiiO brought us into the morning with his acid filled vinyl set. Super groovy and fun, to take us out from the seriousness of the night. A lot of dance moves were shared with a lot of different people during that set.
It was now 6 am and time for the closing set of the Forêt stage by head honcho VBC playing b2b with local dub techno selectah Raken. For 6 hours, they played endlessly driving and floating dub techno, while drinking and sharing red wine of course. Fueled by all the good vibes, way too much wine and continuous splashes of cold water in my face from the small creek by the dancefloor, I somehow managed to keep going. For me personally it was the perfect closing to one of the best weekends of my life. Seeing all new and old friends on the dancefloor in the morning sun, sharing dance moves, chatting, laughing, reminiscing of the weekend. And all of it to this smooth dub techno soundtrack into infinity. Pure perfection.
Summary and thoughts
As a first time visitor of the festival, the emphasis on quality and affordability for the people attending is something that made the whole experience feel special. The sound system was very clear and strong for its size, which is crucial as nothing ruins a party faster than bad sound. Food and drinks were high quality, making for a good living in the middle of nature with no supermarkets nearby (and no need for them either). Minimal but essential decorations like tasteful lighting hanging from the trees, cushions and sofas to sit on, a small artificial sand beach by the little creek.. And not to forget the impeccable music curation, which made me discover several artists that I’d never heard before and kept me glued to the dancefloor way longer than what should be possible. All of these elements coming together in harmony to create a fully immersive experience, where you and 499 other music lovers are enveloped in what I can only describe as some kind of romantic fairy tale, in a gorgeous natural setting, far away from any kind of civilization (both physically and mentally). The inclusiveness of the festival is felt throughout and makes for such a diverse, fun and friendly crowd.
La Vallée Électrique was an excellent way to spend a summer weekend but also eye opening to see what you can create with a strong vision and high quality control, without relying on a big budget or big name artists. The ethos of the organizers has attracted like-minded people to visit the festival and I will for sure be back many years to come.
Cover picture by the talented Dimitri Allonneau.