Since 1998, Distortion has been pushing the limits of Copenhagen’s street life and party culture, attracting DJs from across the globe and seeing the city centre teeming with thousands of revellers for five days. More than twenty years on, Distortion is now a mammoth over-the-top party extravaganza that offers massive street parties during the day (think impromptu crowd surfing and street food aplenty), an intimate club festival exploring new music at night (Distortion Club) and, to round off the whole thing in spectacular fashion, a two-day weekend rave held at Copenhagen’s harbour (Distortion Ø). Being such an eco-friendly city, the street festivities are financed by partygoers purchasing a Gadearmbåndet street bracelet, so that the Distortion crew can properly clean up Copenhagen once the musical mayhem has ended. This year’s line-up includes talented London rapper, Nadia Rose and British DJ and music producer Mark Knight, who has played a pivotal role on the English house scene.
Taking place in the large fertile Wahgi Valley in the Western Highlands Province of central mainland Papua New Guinea, and named after an old eroded volcano, every year since 1964 during the third weekend of August, the city of Mount Hagen has hosted one of the largest gatherings (known locally as “sing-sings”) in the country. Staged at Kagamuga Show Ground – conveniently located adjacent to the airport in Mount Hagen – and with more than one hundred tribes in attendance, the concept of this peaceful event is pretty simple: each tribe – clad in elaborate body paint, extravagant colourful headdresses, and jewellery fashioned from bones, tusks and shells – shares their cultural traditions through costume, dancing and music, and performs a primal dance based on its own unique legend. Quite simply, the winning performance is the one which receives the most applause and biggest reaction from the crowd.
This standout classical music festival is hosted inside the Basilica Saint-Denis, a masterpiece of Gothic art, and is a good excuse to cross the périphérique and discover a delightful northern Parisian suburb. A main event annually in the French cultural calendar since 1968, the festival is organised by the city of Saint-Denis under the auspices of the Île-de-France region, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Le Centre des Monuments Nationaux and Radio France, and has been established for more than fifty years. International conductors and soloists perform side-by-side with prestigious Parisian orchestral acts plus some of the greatest artists on the international classical circuit. A highlight of the 2019 festival will undoubtedly be celebrated Montréal-born singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright (pictured) performing his “Mother” programme, alongside his sister Martha. Specially designed for the Basilica and comprising pieces from Wainwright’s personal and family repertoire, this promises to be one of the most moving concerts of the festival.
Two-hours’ drive from Portland and four from Boston, this annual non-profit celebration of all-things lobster is held in the classic American working harbour town of Rockland, in the nation’s easternmost state of New England. What began more than seventy years ago as an initiative to revive local Midcoast Maine marine communities, is today an internationally recognised celebration of local seafood. This family-orientated gathering comprises a parade; live music; a 10km road race; arts and crafts; entertainers; cooking contests; fairground rides and local Maine craftsmen, not to mention the consumption of more than 20,000lbs of cooked lobster. Add in clams, calamari, scallops and haddock – all freshly sourced from the Atlantic Ocean – and Maine Lobster Festival is without doubt a marine crustacean-lovers dream! This year’s activities even include a race across a makeshift bridge of lobster crates, and is open to anyone brave enough to risk falling into the ocean with thousands of people watching!
Few places on the planet offer such an offbeat slice of unconventional community-based collaborative action as Meadows in the Mountains festival, which takes place in an eerily beautiful space in the Rhodope mountains, which straddle the border between Bulgaria and Greece and provide the perfect setting and stunning vistas to tune out of everyday life and plug into some good, old-fashioned free-spirited debauchery. Meadows in the Mountains prides itself on its respect for and integration with the native community. Local inhabitants house attendees and the environmental policies are stricter than almost every other global gathering. This is not a festival about global music superstars, but rather the wild and romantic atmosphere and an overall sense of escapism that comes as much from revellers as from the diverse range of musicians and artists performing across four stages, each of which has its own, distinct feel.
The sight of China’s rivers filling with colourful crafts decked out to look like dragons – from their fearsome snouts to their scaly tails – can only mean one thing: the annual dragon boat festival. This colourful yearly event may be a lot of fun, but the festival’s roots lie in tragedy, since it commemorates Qu Yuan, a revered humanitarian politician, who drowned himself in the Miluo River in 278BC to protest against the Qin state’s invasion of his patch, Chu. The dismayed common people took to their boats and tried to keep the fish and evil spirits from Qu by splashing their oars and beating drums. Qin eventually conquered all its rival states and created China, but the patriotic poet is nonetheless honoured. If you happen to be in Beijing on 7 June, Xiadu Park hosts the city’s biggest celebration, with Beijing university’s students going head-to-head in an annual inter-university race.
For one week every year, Nevada’s unforgiving Black Rock Desert of Gerlach springs to life when 65,000+ revellers come together for Burning Man, the largest outdoor arts festival in North America and one of one of the most iconic festivals on the planet. Described as the ultimate culmination of community, art, self-expression and self-reliance, participants join in the effort to co-create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to art and togetherness. The festival celebrates alternative lifestyles through music, art and the unique comradery that develops during the gathering. The vision is to “bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems and inspire a sense of culture, community and personal engagement.” The event’s name comes from the ritual burning of a wooden effigy, which occurs on the last Saturday night of the festival, which this year will be 1st September 2019.
One of the rainbow nation’s most popular annual lifestyle and sporting gatherings, the Knysna Oyster Festival is a 10-day family-orientated event aimed at foodies and sports lovers, held in the heart of the Garden Route. Oyster eating, oyster shucking, oyster farm tours, oyster recipe challenges and gourmet oyster-themed dinners happen throughout the festival, alongside wine and champagne tastings aplenty. Attracting more than 70,000 visitors annually, oyster lovers slurp and swallow their way through more than 200,000 oysters at a few dozen dedicated venues which serve the delectable molluscs au naturel or cooked in a variety of creative ways. Meanwhile, the festival hosts two top-notch competitive sporting events: the two-day family Knysna Cycle Tour on 22 & 23 June (http://knysnacycle.co.za) and the Knysna Forest Marathon (www.knysnamarathonclub.com), both of which are booked-up months in advance due to their immense popularity. For aspiring marathon runners, there’s also a 5 km fun run on 29 June!
The grandfather of modern-day festival gatherings, Glastonbury launched in 1970 and is now more of a settlement than a music fest. Twice the size of Bath and more akin to five or six festivals rolled into one, Glastonbury’s more like a refugee camp for society’s arty and most liberal than anything you’ll see elsewhere during Blighty’s packed summer season. Such breadth offers something for pretty much everyone, attracting a vast and diverse selection of people of around 150,000, ranging from middle-aged backpackers with portable deckchairs, boozy jocks stripping-off at the first sight of sunshine, spiritualists and yoga teachers, dedicated hippies, yuppies, hipsters and fashionistas. Since Glastonbury is essentially a music festival above all else, unsurprisingly there’s an awful lot of musical talent to check out. This year’s line-up is headlined by none other than Janet Jackson, Kylie, Stormzy and The Cure, plus many more acts to be announced across the festival’s one hundred stages.
Rath Yatra is one of India’s largest and most important Hindu festivals, drawing more than a million pilgrims and devotees to the streets of Puri. Over the years, poets, saints and scriptures have consistently praised the good fortune associated with attending this “festival of the chariots”, since it is one of the only times annually that the deities leave the temple of Jagannath and allow non-Hindus and visitors to see them. The three figurines that make the trip are Jagannath (considered to be the lord of the universe and an incarnation of Vishnu – the god of preservation); his older brother Balabhadra, and their sister Subhadra. They travel more than a mile in elaborate wooden chariots from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple where they remain for nine days. During the loud procession, pilgrims vie for even a glimpse of the gods since they’re associated with extreme good fortune and the righting of wrongs.
This bizarre annual competition, which has been running for more than twenty-five years, has its roots in the tribal practice of pillaging neighbouring villages for womenfolk. Apparently, a robber by the name of Rosvo-Ronkainen was particularly keen on the practice of thieving other people’s wives in the late 1800’s. What started as a light-hearted attraction in the small Finnish town of Sonkajärvi has become a world-recognised event, which sees forty pairs from seven countries fight to complete a 253.5 metre-course in the fastest time. The track is made up of sand, grass and various obstacles, including two log hurdles plus a one-metre deep-water obstacle. If the wife weighs less than 49 kilos, she must wear a rucksack to reach this minimum weight. Various techniques are employed to carry the wife, the most popular being the “Estonian” style, where the crash helmet-wearing wife is dangling upside down on the man’s back!
A unique no-holds-barred downhill race spectacle, in which drivers use only gravity and courage as fuel (plus perhaps a certain energy drink), Red Bull has held more than 100 soapbox races around the world since the first took place in Brussels in 2000. Now an international event staged everywhere from Australia to Italy, amateur drivers race homemade engine-less vehicles in a colourful downhill battle in front of thousands of enthused fans. This unique, non-motorised racing event challenges both experienced racers and amateurs alike to design and build outrageous dream machines and compete against the clock. Over the years previous entries have included a piano, a giant baby carriage, a rodeo clown, a massive corn on the cob, a jail cell and even the Golden Gate Bridge. At this summer’s Red Bull Soapbox Race at London’s Alexandra Palace, teams will be judged on speed, creativity and showmanship. This assumes, of course, that they make it to the finish line!
One of the most colourful and unusual festivals you are ever likely to see, the World Bodypainting Festival has been celebrating visual culture and music and wowing audiences for more than twenty years. From make-up to tattoos, the human body has been used as a canvas by people all over the world for thousands of years, with almost every culture in history painting or adorning themselves in some form of celebration or ritual. Although the name divulges basically what goes on, there is far more to this visual treasure trove than you might think, with artists and models from over 40 different countries doing their best to shock and entertain visitors. Happening over the course of a week in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt, on the eastern shore of Lake Wörthersee, the World Bodypainting Festival has grown into the foremost and most well-known event of its type on the planet.
Officially billed as a festival of progressive music and multimedia art, music is by far the main focus of this annual, award-winning music extravaganza held in Barcelona, which began in 1994 as a networking opportunity for the music industry. Sónar now attracts 80,000 lovers of electronica every year, who visit the Catalan capital to worship cutting-edge artists and DJs hailing from all corners of the globe and gather in the sunny Spain for three days and nights of avant-garde music and spectacular multimedia art exhibitions. Sónar features an eclectic mix of music, technology and art, divided into two parts: Sónar by Day, complete with concerts, workshops and exhibitions; and the main event – Sónar by Night – which consists of a series of extraordinary spectacles held in various locations throughout Barcelona. Headlining the Saturday night are François Kervorkian, Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell – collectively known as legendary New York clubbing brand Body & Soul – playing a 6-hour set.
Sprawling and diverse with a hefty dose of crazy, “The Fringe” (as it’s affectionately called) began in 1947 when eight alternative theatre companies arrived uninvited and proceeded to perform on the edges of the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival, which was effectively the main event. The following year, more groups arrived to perform (again uninvited) and were documented by playwright Robert Kemp, as performing “round the fringe of the official festival” which is how the Fringe got its name. More than seven decades later, the world’s largest arts festival is still true to its founding spirit and is basically open to anyone and everyone who can afford to get themselves to the diverse Scottish capital in August. The Fringe really is a bit of literally everything, so expect to see student theatre companies next to TV celebrities, comedians standing up alongside jazz musicians, and complete novices vying for the crowds’ affections slap bang next to seasoned pros.
Born in 1981, Boardmasters is a five-day grassroots outdoor summertime surfing and music fest, that takes place along the Cornish coastline in the UK’s premiere surfing mecca of Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay. Offering music-led parties that continue until late night plus beautiful beaches upon which to relax and recover during the day in preparation for the next evening’s festivities, as well as all the partying, Boardmasters celebrates the region’s beloved watersport with numerous professional surfing competitions. Meanwhile, amateurs and even non-surfers come out to enjoy the diverse beachside fun. Since this year’s Boardmasters will be headlined by English indie rock band Florence + The Machine, plus grime music pioneer, celebrated rapper, recording artist and record producer Dizzee Rascal, expect the festival to be a complete sell out and the parties more raucous than ever. This is a part of the British Isles that plays hard and parties even harder!
Billed as “Four Days of Free Family Fun”, Bristol’s annual hot air balloon extravaganza takes place in the delightful surroundings of Ashton Court Estate, which was once the gracious home of the Smyth family and is now a historic 850-acre park, just 10 minutes from the city centre in beautiful South West England. North Somerset’s annual hot air balloon extravaganza is Europe’s largest yearly meet for ballooning enthusiasts, attracting more than 150 hot air balloons from across the globe. Witnessing a mass ascent of balloons in all shapes and sizes, lifting into the sky at once and instantly filling it with glorious colours, is truly a spectacular sight to behold. Not to be missed is the festival’s famous “Night Glow” on Saturday evening 10th August, which sees the balloons glowing to music after the sun has set, followed by a dazzling fireworks display. A variety of entertainment, arena events and a giant fairground complete the weekend’s carnival-like feel.
South Korea’s most popular annual festival attracts tens of thousands to pools, slides and wrestling arenas filled with mud! Originally conceived as a marketing tool for Boryeong mud cosmetics in 1998, over time the festival has become a vastly popular attraction for visitors and locals alike. Mud rich in minerals, especially germanium and bentonite, which is particularly beneficial to the skin, is taken from the Boryeong mud flats (200 kilometres south of Seoul) and driven to the Daecheon beach area. Here it is essentially turned into a giant mud wonderland so visitors can enjoy mud wrestling, mud sliding and even swim in a mammoth mud bath. This incredibly popular festival is, for many South Koreans, their ultimate summer fun destination. Particularly energetic visitors can try the marine mud-training course, whilst those looking for something more relaxing can chill in the mud massage zone. In the evening, music and fireworks keep the party going.