if you haven’t been, i suggest you do, because as i hope to have conveyed in this djmag review, it’s a great way to spend a few days…
electronic music and all its associated rave pursuits are, at a base level, about escapism. partying in a well appointed city centre club is all well and good, but it’s the abandoned warehouses, underground car parks and sea faring boat venues that get us most excited year in, year out. over the course of the past eleven years, though, snowbombing has taken outside-the-box concept clubbing to a whole new level. having evolved from a cute après-ski party in france, their chosen rave paradise is as far removed from the dullness of daily life as you can imagine, namely mayrhofen, an achingly picturesque alpine village nestled in the lush green flatlands of austria’s ziller valley. so successful has snowbombing been in its mission to break from convention that it now attracts 5, 000 clubbers from across europe, as well as a major sponsor in the form of volvo. ‘why a swedish car manufacturer?’ you may ask. well, it is with the vehicular aid of said sponsor that 2011’s festival officially kicks off….
a few days before dj mag arrives, a road trip rabble of five hundred or so ‘bombers, djs, live acts and revived tv celebs arrive in a large procession on mayrhofen’s man high street having weaved their way across europe in the preceding days. bathed in the 25° heat of a spring sun, their arrival marks the start of a number of pre-parties across the town which is, ostensibly, one quaint, 300 yard road with bars, shops, hotels, spas and pavement cafes lining each side. for this week in april, though, the normally sedate street becomes a surreal catwalk alive with activity, day and night. bunting runs the length of the village, music bleeds out from various ad hoc dj stations and people mull about in shorts, fancy dress and all manner of non-olympic standard ski and snowboard wear.
the first event to which we head on wednesday afternoon (having dumped our kit in one of the many clean, well appointed and well located wooden chalets) is the royal wedding themed street party, where we find a huge bandstand has been transformed with some of the tons of extra production that’s been shipped out especially: stacks of funktion ones, racks of lasers and tables laden with cdjs, decks and all the rest of it form the focal point at which a couple of thousand swat team members, firemen, smurfs, gimps, penises, kings and queens all stare. mr motivator is up on stage, punching the air, doing squats and enthusing a crowd which grows ever larger as the sun disappears behind the mountains to each side of us. after raucous, party-starting and atmosphere stoking sets from plump djs and a-skills (who adds a breakbeat to every song ever, then plays it for 90 seconds) the crowd disperses around town to one of the six or seven clubs which operate each evening during the course the festival.
the candidly named raquet club is where dj mag heads: it’s an amazingly well converted set of subterranean squash courts that have a temporary, draped cloth roof and now dazzle with icicles, huge snowballs, led screens and yet more huge stacks of funktion one speakers. once indie specialists sunshine underground take to the stage, the place heaves with surreal costumes that dance about without a care throughout the leeds band’s angular, 45 minute set. the rest of the week here sees sets from fatboy slim, d&b crossover stars chase & status and magnetic man, with each drawing ever larger crowds, but it’s the draw of raving in a wooden hut that has us heading out into the crisp alpine air once again…
just 150 yards up the street is the schlussel, a cosy space that each year plays host to a set from fully subscribed snowbomber james zabiela. a quick flash of the all inclusive wrist band (one advantage to the festival’s increased size this year, dj mag notes, is that there are more venues, more acts, and so less queues and less crushing dancefloors as a result) and you’re in, immediately immersed in one of the warmest soundsystems… anywhere. as jz works it, he weaves techno into d&b, house into after-dubstep whatever and does so with logic-defying displays on his ipad, kaos pad, midi controller and efx unit. “i love this festival, but it can be hard work with all the late raving and early snowboarding!” he tells us at the airport on the way home, like many, concealing his excesses with a pair of shades. “the schlussel gig was amazing as ever. it got so hot and sweaty in there my midi controller was getting a bit upset… i had to keep towelling it off!” he adds. for those that stay for the jazzed up, piano led house of henrick swartz (which goes on until past 5am) the thought of snowboarding tomorrow is surely but an optimistic one….
nevertheless, a few hours later and the sun has returned, boarders and skiers are everywhere and head variously for the cable car that lifts you right from the centre of town up the penken; or to a bus which shuttles the keener types 20 minutes away to the base of the much snowier , 10, 000 foot tux glacier. opting for the former, dj mag spends the day doing some skiing, but also partaking in all sorts of extracurricular on-piste activities from boarding on water competitions, to get-fit with mr motivator and ski-lessons with eddie ‘the eagle’ edwards. the whole mountain is turned into an adult’s playground where booze and beats are on tap, all day long, and where the regenerative mountain air surreptitiously revives us all for the evening ahead.
that said, there are raves to be had in the afternoons, too, and in particular ones that play out in an igloo village 2000 meters up another mountain (the endlessly amusingly entitled a-horn), known as the arctic disco. the funky, soulful sounds spun up here by the likes of sasse, dixon and aeroplane are so warm they surely melt the snow all around us, whilst body temperatures also rise as the dancing goes on. and on, and on, now down in the village once more at the newest venue, bruch & stradl (in which, as everywhere, you are allowed to smoke). it’s a larger space than the schlussel but with just as punchy a sonic imprint thanks to more beefy f1 systems and the absorbing wooden beams, struts and bars which construct this den.
in control is ewan pearson, his slo-mo house sound drawing out aching punters as they shake off any injuries or inebriations and convene on the dancefloor once again. by the time space dimension controller begins to drop classic acid, modern house and his own brand of detailed disco, the ‘floor is heaving and stays that way as jamie jones goes deep, 80s and sexy; zabiela injects some steel for an hour and ramadanman pummels our every last sense with an impressively tight selection of house flecked dubstep, techno, funky and garage.
and so to the final day, though one it would be hard to call a highlight given the proliferation of acts doing their thing over the course of the whole week. it starts late for us (most?) with a hearty meal in the sun at one of the many meat-heavy restaurants in the village. hovering way above are paragliders; all around are endless streams of absurd and – frankly at this stage – trippy fancy dress costumes and up the street forms a gaggle of people waiting for this evening’s comedic entertainment courtesy of the 2011 installed altitude comedy festival arena featuring jokes-a-plenty from stars like rufus hound and andrew maxwell.
there’s only really one place to be, though, and that’s the eristoff (think smirnoff) forest, where, in the fading sun, circled by pine trees and on a bed of chipped bark, a log stage protrudes from the foot of a mountain. it’s a gorgeously bespoke and natural setting for the wholly un-natural sounds of beatboxer beardyman and rave antiques the prodigy who send punchy sonic waves through the whole rolling valley for the next couple of hours. glasto- quality lights, sounds and screens make the respective sets audio-visual delights, and the intense, electrified antics of prodigy mad-men keith and liam only add fuel to the fire as an inescapable pool of moshers swirls round and round at their feet. it’s lung crushing, insanely anarchic stuff that makes for plenty of collective ‘fuck-me’ moments, as does the week overall. but this is not just any festival; this is schnitzel, snow, sonics and superlatives over the course of a weeklong party in your very own paradise: this is snowbombing.
what we learned…
- everyone’s favourite christmas carol, silent night, was first heard in the ziller valley where snowbombing is held
- in the 80s, rick astely was a regular visitor to mayrhofen for his annual ski jolly
- the arena club (one of the ‘bombing venues) originally opened in 1982 and played host to the likes of boy george, the four tops and human league
- eddie ‘the eagle’ edwards – when not giving out ski instruction at snowbombing – is now a humble plasterer
- book early – the sooner you book, the more centrally located will be your hotel room
- go for the full week – get some decent skiing done in the first few days before the late nights of partying being to take their toll
- withdraw your funds each morning – by evening most of the town’s cash machines have been bled dry