11 Festivals That Changed the Game In 2015

From the West Coast's transformationals to the UK's darling garden parties, boutique experimental gatherings and underground ragers in South America, these were the festivals that did something different.

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Dec 16 2015, 10:00am

Centuries from now, when our alien overlords pore through the history books to get a sense of what humanity was like just after the turn of the millennium, they'll skip past the global warming bit, over the international threat of terrorism, and the rigged financial systems for fear of getting depressed. What they'll then find is one of the few good things the humans of Earth currently occupy our time with: music festivals.

We go to a lot of festivals. We might even consider ourselves experts on standing in a field getting our faces blasted with dance music. From the West Coast's transformationals to the UK's darling garden parties, boutique experimental gatherings and underground ragers in South America, here, in no particular order, are the eleven festivals that changed the game in 2015, according to our international contributors from around the pale blue dot.

1. Decibel Festival, Seattle, Washington


Seattle's defiantly independent Decibel Festival has been quietly leading the boutique movement since before there even was a boutique movement. Over the past decade, the week-long, circuit-style event has left an indelible mark on both the Pacific Northwest and stateside techno in general, carving out an identity that champions a community ethos as much as it does progressive, experimental electronic music.

Lead by founder Sean Horton's army of volunteers, Decibel bucks trends by understanding that bigger is not always better, and intimate performances by the likes of Nicolas Jaar, Daniel Avery, Marcel Dettman and live A/V performances from the likes of ESKMO and Decibel OG Tim Hecker were standouts during the busiest festival season ever. Amidst rumors that Decibel may be heading southward to Los Angeles, it is an appropriate moment to canonize Decibel as a festival that changed the game, not just this year, but forever. —Jemayel Khawaja, Editor-at-Large, THUMP

Decibel Proves (Again) That DIY Festivals Are Better Than Corporate Mega-Raves


2. Desert Hearts, Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, California

Photo by Jamie Rosenberg

Set against the crowded market of Californian "transformational festivals"—I.E Post-Burner campouts fueled by intimate stages, cosmic thrift-store garb, radical self-reliance, and dusty sunrise dance sessions—the San Diego crew's November weekender didn't miss a single beat, or hypnotic bassline either. The colder, more rugged, autumnal edition of their bi-annual 100-hour house and techno marathon, the weekend once again featured one stage, one (acoustically excellent) dance floor, and atleast a million moments of heartwarmingly good vibes.

Even with expert sets deployed from behind a heart-shaped disco ball by headliners Claude VonStroke, Marc Houle, and Doc Martin, the fest's focus was really more about the effortless expression and giddy wackiness brought forth by the beautiful hippies that made up the party, making the music at times more of a welcomed enhancer. Trip out to the Playa bit too daunting? Head to out to Los Coyotes this year and you'll forget what a Black Rock City even is. —David Garber, Homepage Editor, THUMP

We Asked The Beautiful Hippies At Desert Hearts To Describe Their In One Sentence

3. Symbiosis Gathering, Woodward Reservoir, California

Photo by Juliana Bernstein

It's a stretch to call Northern California's longstanding Symbiosis Gathering a "music festival" at all. Like its behemothic blueprint Burning Man, which has been shaping the alt-festival culture on the west coast for decades, Symbiosis is a social-art project with outstanding bookings. Nicolas Jaar, Four Tet, Justin Martin, Damian Lazarus, the homie GRiZ, Tipper and a big, fuck-off psytrance stage that ran all night nodded to the past and future of a scene evolving quickly out of its shroomy Humboldt-bass roots and into the belly of California's vibrant underground house and techno scene.

There also was a "dank-ass" lake (which was peppered with art boats!?!) surrounding the peninsula that formed the festival grounds, transformed over the duration of the festival into a massive family-friendly nude bath. The vibes were both languid and abundant, the production folksy and weird, and the result was the most delightful festival experience of the year. —Ross Gardiner, Dance Music Journalist/Aspiring Hippie

Symbiosis Gathering Is Like Burning Man On Spring Break


4. Unsound Festival, Toronto, Canada

Photo courtesy of Luminato Festival

Shortly following the inaugural North American edition of English DJ Rob da Bank's beloved Bestival in Toronto, citizens of The 6 got a chance to experience the forward-thinking, expert curation of Poland's Unsound—yet another act in the growing trend of European festival-imports that's been hitting both the Canada and USA as of late.

Unsound, which dates back to 2003 in Poland, is known for using out-of-the-box spaces as venues, like a communist-era hotel or even a salt mine, as they did in their recent 2015 edition in Krakow. For their debut year in the Great White North, they predictably locked down the perfect location for their-two day event—a sprawling abandoned power plant. What better place to see a stacked lineup of experimental noise-making pioneers and up-and-coming artists like Stars of the Lid, Ben Frost, Tim Hecker (who debuted his Ephemera project, featuring perfume created by conceptual perfumer Geza Schoen), and Helena Hauff? Despite the city's reputation for making obtaining liquor licenses and permits an organizer's worst nightmare, the weekend went off without a hitch, and proved there's an audience for festivals willing to take chances.—Max Mertens, Editor, THUMP Canada

5. Gottwood, Anglesey, Wales, UK

Photo courtesy of Gottwood.

Gottwood, is Anglesey, Wales' ode to unadulterated debauchery, and it's difficult to imagine many festivals in the world occupying such a beautiful position and site: overlooking a secluded Welsh cove, with stages nestled amid a plot of intimate woods, padded by a central lake that made navigation throughout the grounds effortless. Of course, scenery and laid-back staff only count for so much. You also need spirit, and then there's the small matter of music to consider—in this case a slew of expert party starters and acclaimed record diggers like like Move D, Hunee, Marcellus Pittman, and a seven-hour b2b session from Ben UFO and Craig Richards. Heads only. —Martin Gutteridge-Hewitt, Contributor, THUMP

Is Gottwood The Most Beautiful Party In Britain?

6. Born In Mexico, Various Locations, Mexico

Photo courtesy of Hector

Born In Mexico is made by Mexicans, for Mexicans, and this year saw the endeavor at its brightest. Showcasing up to 12 events per year around the country consisting exclusively of native artists, the organization treated locals and travelers alike to a unique spread of tech-house leaning parties in 2015 that included big names like Hector, Rebolledo, Balcazar & Sordo, Andre VII, and Betoko—all of whom have helped to shape the DNA of underground dance music around clubbing hotbeds like Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Playa del Carmen. —Trino Trevino, Editor, THUMP Mexico

7. Paradise, Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, Victoria, Australia

Photo courtesy of Paradise Music Festival

With its third annual edition in 2015, Paradise Music Festival, held in Victoria's Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, continued its streak of showcasing ahead-of-the-curve Australian producers alongside established underground luminaries. The festival's charm comes not only in its strong artist billing, but also its setting and timing––nestled in the alpine region at the crest of summer, the haunting landscape of skeletal trees left bare by the devastation of 2009's bushfires.

Paradise runs between two stages: the outdoor main stage for bands, this year including standout performances from Jaala, Black Vanilla, Black Cab, and My Disco; plus the indoor Club Land, a high-altitude playroom for the likes of Amateur Dance, Null, and Friendships. The festival nails the fundamentals, providing BYO options, decent amenities, and a welcoming, respectful, and decidedly chill atmosphere for all. —Lachlan Kanoniuk, Editor, THUMP Australia

8. Monticule Festival, Domaine de Gayfié, France

Photo courtesy of Monticule Festival

The first time we heard about Monticule Festival, the whole thing seemed like an even more ridiculous party idea than the idea those kids had in that Project X movie. Seven Germans from Munich staging a festival in some French wasteland and booking underground DJs like Gerd Janson and Ame, as well as offering yoga lessons and tennis? Really? Tennis?

To make that dream come true, the Bavarian crew declined sponsorship and focused on selecting the perfect environment: a solitary glade near Domaine de Gayfié in the Pyrenean foothills. There's even a 250-foot-deep spring called "Le Gouffre de Lantouy" that, because of low light pollution, offers the best stargazing in all of central Europe. Monticule is like paradise, but with better music. —Andreas Meixensperger, Editor, THUMP Germany

9. Freedom Festival, Medellín, Colombia


Medellin's Freedom Festival has become a beacon of light in its home country of Colombia after starting as a free party back in 2008 to restore peace and culture to a city played by rampant violence. Its first editions were held in oddball locations—like public malls and airport hangars—but now, with a little bit of a price tag added on, Medellin has been flourishing with bigger and better stages, and a growing attendance that brought in over 5000 locals and foreigners.

The festival's lineup, presented by local promotions group MedellinStyle, the brains behind the festival, has also been taking off, inviting the likes of Mr. G, Derrick May, Todd Terry, and Matthew Dear to grace the decks just north of the Equator. With 2016's March edition already on the cards with Zenker Brothers and Eddie 'Flashin' Fowlkes as confirmed guests, as well as added stages and days, the festival's light should only continue to burn bright. —Juan Pablo Lopez, Editor, THUMP Colombia

10. SP na Rua, São Paulo, Brasil


Over the last few years, São Paulo's clubbing scene took to the streets. With the public space reappropriation movement as a spiritual guide, a lot of collectives that used to organize parties in alternative, derelict and dangerous spaces in the city's downtown area, started organizing parties in broad daylight throughout parks, closed viaducts and any space with electricity and wide enough for you to shake that ass. In 2014, the city hall put together the SP na Rua festival, which featured 20 of those renegade collectives spread out throughout the city streets till the wee hours. This included a compact version of the famous street festival Virada Cultural which this year happened just once in September, nevertheless it's significance grew larger set against troubles brought upon by a by lack of funds. The SP na Rua is a great way of maintaining the civic fire lit in the most important city in Brazil, in which the clubbing scene is going through a serious identity, political, and financial, crisis. —Eduardo Roberto, Editor, THUMP Brasil

11. FORM: Acrosanti, Arizona

This year, I spent three days sleeping in a tent in the Arizona desert. The site was an in-progress utopian urban planning experiment started by 70s architect (and Frank Lloyd Wright protégée) Palo Soleri, and the event was the second annual edition of FORM, a weekend-long electronic music festival curated by Florida psych rock band Hundred Waters. The days were long and hot and framed in by the nature-inspired, labyrinthine architecture of the Soleri's dream town, intended as a blueprint for a more eco-friendly, less socially fragmented alternative to Los Angeles-style urban sprawl. Nights were cool and breezy and spent huddling with your friends around the city's roman-style amphitheater, gazing out at a sky full of stars and soaking in dreamy sounds from peeps like Holly Herndon, Jacques Greene, Pharmakon, and How to Dress Well.

The vibe was so gentle and chill that people didn't really even bother standing up to dance—except when they flooded the stage for predictably turnt, surprise performance from Skrillex, which, in a crowd of only 1000, kind of drove home what made the festival so unique. If Arcosanti succeeded in convincing many of those present that cities would be whole lot more livable if they designed on a smaller, more human scale, FORM made pretty much the same case about festivals. —Emilie Friedlander, Editor-In-Chief, THUMP