we went to an EDM fest in Transylvania (UNTOLD 2018 in pics & review)
“There’s never been a more magical land in the history of mankind, such as Transylvania. Secluded for centuries, wrapped in myths and legends, but never fully disclosing itself, cocooning fantastic beings that only the moon might know the name of,” the UNTOLD official Facebook page boasts to its over 370,000 fans.
Am I the only person who didn’t realize Transylvania, in 2018, was still a thing? Could you find it on a map? Doubtful. It’s fine if you won this geography lesson, I’m a lot better at raves and festivals than I am at identifying infamous Vampire infested regions of Romania. Whatever.
UNTOLD, a four day, never stopping EDM-centric music festival in Cluj-Napoca, Romania (aka Transylvania) was as off my radar as the location itself, but for Romanians, it’s practically Tomorrowland. Except twenty-four-hours, a lot cheaper, and aimed at a slightly less blatantly EDM audience. Tickets for the four day fest were priced at around 150 euro, undercutting its competition by a landslide for its over 330,000 attendees.
Branded as the “world capital of night and music,” UNTOLD maintained its fantasy inspired aesthetic and super high production value throughout its nine nonstop stages. Two giant wolves nestled over the mega mainstage where pop and mainstream dance acts like The Chainsmokers, The Black Eyed Peas, Steve Aoki, and Diplo, surprisingly joined OG electronic rock band The Prodigy playing to crowds of up to seventy thousand. Just steps away, the design award winning Brutalist modern Galaxy stage or “techno egg” as I referred to it in my often not going through group chat messages, captured a sticky floored Berghain with its DJs and producers. Sunglasses inside wearing fans danced to American mainstay Seth Troxler, Romanian locals Livio & Roby, and recent character addition to the Grand Theft Auto: After Hours expansion pack, Solomun, who managed to shut down entry as his 1:30 AM set reached capacity.
Among the other smaller outdoor stages were smaller trance acts, dubstep and bass music playing the occasional EDM crossover hit, and a swath of beautiful disco and house fans dancing to Hodor of Game of Thrones aka Kristian Nairn looking happy as a clam mouthing along to every female vocal sample he had in his arsenal. Whether you meticulously planned your days on the festival’s app (that sent the silliest push notifications like “Take a shower and rest!” and “Are you looking for love?”) or just wandered until you found something you liked, there was nearly 100 hours of music. Whether you want to sing along to radio hits or spend twelve hours before hearing even a smidge of a vocal sample, it was easy to mix and match, or just get lost looking for a kabob and end up watching a dub reggae band. Why not?
The grounds, the Cluj area and nearby park in the city seemed neverending, with food trucks, branded activations from the likes of any (and everyone) from Head & Shoulders (wtf) to Converse, beautiful mixology bars with bartenders taking at least three minutes crafting each muddled fruit drink to patient lines of extremely normally dressed, non-kandi-raver looking partiers. The daytime crowd had a shocking amount of elementary school aged children casually hanging out while only a small percentage of festie parents braved the inconvenience of toting their toddler into the real-rave-hours. Europeans, man.
Someone at UNTOLD must have let Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas in on their desire for European festival circuit dominance. The most-famous-by-a-landslide member of the pop/rap group (Fergie has since been replaced by new vocalist Jessica Reynoso) lead the crowd in a call and response of “Romania! Romania!” as he was draped in the Romanian flag. In-between a medley of their dozen plus hits, Will.i.am promised the crowd he’d return to the US and tell everyone about the “UNTOLD secret” and noted that the festival would not be kept secret for much longer because “Romania is rockin’”. He’s always been a bit of a PR genius. Obviously, the approximately 90% Romanian crowd ate it up, The Black Eyed Peas are pros at making you happy in a less cool, different way than whichever tropical house or disco song could be heard in the distance.
I couldn’t help but wonder what the Venn Diagram of attendees watching The Black Eyed Peas Sunday night vs. watching The Prodigy Saturday night was. But that was the thing about UNTOLD, it was unclear if the majority of people were just there to have a great time no matter what or came for specific artists. But in 2018, that’s just about any festival, and makes sense especially in Romania where plenty of artists including The Chainsmokers were playing for the first time.
Trying to solidify their place in the competitive summertime festival market with their low price, never stopping performances, and a unique location, if Euro festival brats can ditch their legacy festival plans and UNTOLD can decide to either lean into full dance or experiment with a more diverse multi-genre lineup, everyone you see on Instagram may be having a great time in Cluj next summer and you’ll be left with FOMO wondering where on earth Transylvania is.
words by Lina Abascal, photos by Nate "Igor" Smith