UPDATE 2017: The line up for Sacred Ground Festival 2017 has been published and I’m excited to be part of it yet another year. Buy your tickets on the official website to see Fort Romeau, ROCKETNUMBERNINE, Tender Central, Âme, Howling, Robag Wruhme, Ry X & Thomas Fehlman among many others.

The first thing I noticed were the lack of teenagers. I guess the average visitor must have been older than 25, which is fine by me. It makes for a more relaxed, less itchy atmosphere. But youth provides energy, which is probably why it took all day for the Sacred Ground Festival to get into movement. But when it finally did, it did with so much grace.

The sun had to go down. And Ry X, the patron of the festival, had to begin his set. That’s when everybody stormed to the stage, and by everyone, I mean roundabout 500 people. That was it for the first day (although that’s just my personal estimate). It was indeed intimate – just as the promoters had promised.

Sacred Ground Festival Berlin 2016 Brandenburg -3930

Sacred Ground: Community in Music

To me, the Sacred Ground Festival was ultimately the ideal vision of a festival. It’s the general attitude of the event that makes it so special, and I’m glad that it wasn’t just theory.

Sacred Ground was born of a desire to create an intimate space outside of city streets, where art and music are the focus alongside an environment supporting closeness with one another.

Together with our friends, we share music, coming and going from stages and crowds, where audience and performers are one.

The festival is built on the premise of intimacy, friendship and a focused musical approach, and I think it checked all the points efficiently and beautifully. It does leave a sad aftertaste, because we all know that there’s no way in hell those naturally co-existing rave culture principles of Berlin can be constructed on a large scale anymore, even when it’s small enough to be sustainable.

It was the space that we had which allowed us to freely create movements of music and community in the city; there was no entrance fee and no cap on who could go. A festival institutionalizes these criteria and makes money off it. This is not supposed to be criticism: after all, the artists involved have obviously put their heart and soul into it. I like the effort, I appreciate the idea, but I also want to acknowledge that we’re getting old and we’re holding on to our old standards of community and party. I assume (and I really HOPE) that the generations of kids to come, those who were absent from Sacred Ground, are creating their own ideals, and fighting for their own intimate spaces in the city. Without the idea of profit, sustainability, business or exclusivity.

Sacred Ground managed to channel all the beautiful things of a rave by emulating urban space, but moved further into the outskirts of Berlin. The Uckermark, a region of Brandenburg known for its lakes and wild summers, is the perfect scenery for an “open air” in it’s classical sense. It was refreshing and inspiring, although as always, the art installations were wasted on me.

Highlights: Josin, RØDHÅD, Matthew Johnson

The line-up was appropriate for the weather and the crowd, with a dramatic spike into a techno-heavy night in a party-tent (which was way better than dancing in front of a big stage, not only for auditive reasons, but also to create the club atmosphere and the tight space that you need to feel close to the music and to the other dancers). When we arrived, the mood was chill, the vibe was very, very low-key. We ate high quality street food (shout out to the Spinatknödel), we enjoyed a few drinks, and we listened to the soft, mellow music on stage throughout the afternoon. One of my highlights was definitely Josin, who manages to combine Thom Yorke and James Blake with a female take. It was perfect for the daytime, while people were still arriving to the festival.

Rødhåd, of course, was magnetic to our group of friends; but that’s the good thing about only having one stage at a time: you get to be open and curious about the rest of the music, too. Unlike at bigger festivals, where you’re always racing from one gig to the next, you can just sit in your spot and enjoy whatever’s happening.

Having one stage also means you have to trust the curators, sacrificing your choices. This is exactly how Sacred Ground excelled: the music was on point. The sound was mostly perfect. There was nothing that I didn’t like, and because it’s a festival and you can’t go home, you just get drawn into dancing. I can say, without a doubt, that Matthew Johnson blew me away. On Saturday morning, someone was playing a low-key DJ set with songs from the 70s and 80s, not on the main stage, just somewhere out there; I almost cried into my porridge.

Unfortunately, having such high standards for the music – and only a few people to carry-over a party atmosphere – means that there were long breaks between the sets. These breaks couldn’t be filled with another, smaller floor, at least not to me. So there were times at night where we’d just wait. Drink, wait. Half an hour, one hour, until the next set. We’re old, people! It got tiring.

Of course, and finally, RØDHÅD. It was special, almost a privilege, to see and hear him play outside of Berghain. Suddenly, his music was transformed into a much more loving, spiritual sound. It proves again how contextual DJ sets can be, and how comfort and setting can play a big role when you’re losing yourself in sound. I didn’t make it to the end, but that was okay too.

We watched the sun rise and strolled back to our tents (the camping site was a bit far-off and only had two toilets and no washing possibilities, which was the reason we left after the first of two days; if you’re catering to a more grown-up crowd, you might as well want to provide the necessary comfort. This is my only real criticism), we got some sleep, we got some sun the next day. There was a lot of regret (“I am too old for this shit”), but only towards our drinking habits, whereas the festival itself managed to keep all promises. I’m really, really thankful for the experience. and I’m pretty sure I’m returning next year if they can keep it this small and cozy.