Brand new Festival Kala made its debut in Albania last month and, as far as debut’s go, it was a resounding success.
Marking Albania’s first ever music festival, Kala offered a tightly curated and inventive lineup, sparingly spread across a secluded setting during a week-long programme. While Albania doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a holiday destination, Kala offered an exciting new alternative to Europe’s festival circuit, and we were intrigued by the chance to experience an unexplored summer destination, something which is somewhat rare these days.
The location chosen for the festival was Dhermi, a small coastal village on the Albanian Riviera located between the cities of Sarandë and Vlorë. We arrived in Dhermi by boat from Corfu, followed by a scenic bus ride over the mountains from Himare. On arrival to Dhermi, what was immediately visible was how unspoiled it was – a naturally stunning setting with clear blue waters and pebble beaches.
The festival itself took place across 5 stages over the course of the week, our favourite being Gjipe – a secluded beach forest which was a 10 minute boat ride from Dhermi. Besides the music, Kala also offered a roster of fun-filled activities and wellbeing content, from yoga and beach massages to kayaking, snorkelling, paragliding and day excursions to explore the natural wonders of the Albanian Riviera. It was possible to take the week as easy or as hard as you liked, which was something that made Kala unique to other European music festivals.
It’s hard to really sum up what the best moments were as, to be honest, there were just too many! However, below are a selection of just some of the highlights from the week.
The Black Madonna
I don’t think there is any other DJ on the scene who instigates as many raucous, feel-good moments as The Black Madonna, making her perfect for Kala’s debut festival. Her set, as always, was underpinned by unashamedly big disco and Chicago house cuts. From start to finish, the Empire Stage dancefloor was completely packed.
Hot Chip Megamix
A new production concept and a format unlike any other, Hot Chip’s Megamix was a step further towards their hallmark versatility in the booth. The concept allowed them to improvise over the 5-hour set, leaving us feeling a sense of “expect the unexpected.” They took us on a musical journey, playing everything from techno and disco to hip-hop and drum & bass. We didn’t stop dancing for the full 5 hours – what else is there to say!
Ross From Friends
Now, Ross From Friends was billed to play a live set on the final night of the festival. However, on the penultimate day it was announced he was also going to play a 4 hour “Ross From Friends and Friends” DJ set at the Yacht Club, a yacht-like terrace which nested above the water edge, flanked by two small private beaches. One word – AMAZING. For the full four hours they played hit after hit, throwing in some classic 90s house tunes to take us back to our youth. The live set on the final night at the Beach Cove was equally as good. From the moment they came on stage they had completely captivated and conquered the crowd. Watching them play together is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It’s like watching three best mates have the time of their lives as they share their joy for music with whoever cares to join.
A flawless set was delivered from quirky Scando-DJ Todd Terje. The Norwegian pioneered a wave of euphoric disco that crashed onto the beaches of Europe in the summer of 2012, thanks to his unmistakably cool and catchy hit Inspector Norse, so it’s no wonder organisers felt he needed to be at the first ever Kala festival. Slipping between nostalgic 1970s grooves and twinkly riffs, we couldn’t get enough of his trademark brand of lounge music-meets-nu-disco.
With his quest for ambiguity, Moodymann had his face covered beneath a black hockey mask while he veiled his appearance under a ‘Detroit-style’ baseball cap. Bobbing behind the raised decks, he kicked off his set with some high-energy house cuts before very quickly settling into a groove — throwing the odd curveball in too. His style throughout really worked with the setting of the Empire Stage, which was reminiscent of vintage open air clubbing.
It would be really hard to find fault in Kala, and the organisers should be really proud of the festival’s debut success. Albania is a spectacular place – the scenery, the food and the people are simply AMAZING. I mean, the Prime Minister even gave us FREE beer on the last day for Pete’s sake!
I really feel with Kala that we have witnessed the start of something special. Our time was spent making friends, diverting from real life and losing ourselves in a pretty unique and special environment, alongside what can only be described as a genius musical undercurrent.
Kala, we can’t wait to make more memories with you again next year.