Review: Paradise City 2019

Located in the grounds of a small-ish castle just north of Brussels, the Paradise focuses on delivering good, clean, unapologetic fun in a manner as pristine as the festival’s setting. This year’s line-up was chock full of big names, with an almost exclusive focus on disco/soul and melodic house acts, and a smattering few certified for success up-and-coming artists opening up each day. 

Due to a lack of navigational skills (read- common sense) from certain members of the Bizarre Culture crew, we arrived a tad late at the festival site, so only caught the faintest traces of rising star Eris Dew’s squelchy acid-infused rave set wafting across the castle’s moat as we set up our tents. Much of the Friday evening felt like the festival was waking up from a year’s rest and settling into a faster pace of life. John Talabot banged out a perfectly nice John Talabot set. Mind Against floated us through some decent melodic tech-house. The one exception to the feeling that Friday was very much building up to the rest of the festival was the ever jovial Skatebård, who proved that Norwegian space disco, all these years after Inspector Norse, is still always a good idea. 

By the Saturday, the whole festival felt more settled, with an extended, early-afternoon Motor City Drum Ensemble set picking up where Skatebård left off. From the late-afternoon though, the Saturday was mainly devoted to deep and melodic house. During Adriatique’s time on the main stage, Studies in Dance Theory, their rolling slice of progressive house could be heard across the festival grounds. Giegling, the German record label, ran a stage floating atop the castle’s moat, with the line-up perfectly representing the emotionally driven, eclectic music of the label, which largely sits at a sweet spot between dubby techno, house and electronica. Jan Blomqvist live set on the main stage was the best performance of the whole weekend. Blomqvist specialises in pop-tinged end of melodic house, which when performed with his tightly run live band avoided the faux-deep pitfall which much melodic house falls into. Instead, Blomqvist put together a show that felt truly euphoric. Up next was Ghent-based DJ Timmerman playing a straight-up tech-house set, while Konstantin Sibold closed out the main stage, showing equal commitment to getting the crowd dancing with their hands in the air. 

The final day kicked off with a rare moment of spontaneity when Dutch drummer and synth duo Beraadgeslagen point-blank refused to end their excellent jazz-fusion set, leading security guards to threaten to pull the plug on their set. This fuss was ultimately for nothing as the band finish with just enough time to let the unobjectionable 2MANYDJS start on time. Across the rest of the Sunday, uplifting funk and soul sets were standard fare. Todd Terje and DJ Koze’s slots were orientated around disco, building up the carefree energy started on the Friday with Skatebård. Daphni continued what Terje and Koze had started, reaching a peak around his new single Sizzling, an unabashed, disco tool- apologies, there was a lot of disco going on- sending out Paradise City on a raucous high-note.

As is increasingly common across mainstream music festivals in Europe, there was a notable presence of corporate sponsorship across Paradise City. The first stage encountered upon entering the festival site bore the branding of a major drinks company, with the all the unnecessary AstroTurf, garish signs and sub-middle-of-the-road cheeky progressive-tech-house bangers that this entails. On the Friday night, Auntie Flo closed out their live set with a deeply political track chronicling the experience of one of the band-members experiences with the UK’s racists border regime. While it’s excellent to see artists make the most of their platform, Auntie Flo were playing right by a large wooden seating area sponsored by a Belgian airport. Nevertheless, squaring this message with the presence of a company which profits for our Europe’s present border regime didn’t appear to be high on the agenda of Paradise City’s punters,who were more concerned with dancing. 

Hoisting some political commentary into this review, though important, misses the point of Paradise City. On top of the joyous music, little touches like pleasant campsite showers and a diversity of good-quality food outlets all point show that the festival organisers are genuinely committed to all of their punters having a lovely time. There are plenty of festivals which allow for serious music and serious politics. Paradise City is a rave by a castleit was never intended to be anything other than an invitation to enter a fairyland and leave your troubles by the door. Long may it stay that way.

Words by Matthew Gibson

Cover Photo by Leyla Hensa