A chat with Felix Beltran (Paral·lel Festival)
This weekend sees a thousand festival-goers assemble in the mountains outside of Barcelona for Paral·lel, an annual gathering for like-minded electronic music followers. Now in its third iteration, the event is focused on delivering an intimate musical experience immersed in nature, earning it a dedicated following of repeat visitors and comparisons with festival fixtures like the Labyrinth in Japan.
Ahead of the 2018 edition, we spoke to organiser and co-founder Felix Beltran about how Paral·lel has developed into the community-minded gathering it is today.
Congrats on making it to year three of Paral·lel! How are things coming along this year?
Thank you. Everything is going pretty much smoothly. Even though we have been really busy over the last weeks as you can imagine, it is a fact we have gained quite a lot of experience year after year. We could say things become easier somehow when you know the outcomes from previous editions.
Take us back to how the festival came about. How did it all start?
My colleague Jordi came to me with the idea of organising a small festival in the Catalan mountains back in 2013. We used to talk about this from time to time back then. In 2014 I went with some friends from Berlin to Artmospheric, which is quite a similar gathering to Paral·lel that used to be held in the Bulgarian mountains. Alex (Refracted) had been visiting the festival the year before and he was playing at the festival the year after. Artmospheric was without a doubt a big inspiration for us. Same as Labyrinth Festival, even though we’ve never been there yet.
After the festival in Bulgaria I spent some weeks in Spain. I then met Jordi and he was totally determined to make Paral·lel a reality. There was nothing similar in Spain and we felt there was a gap to be filled. We wanted to create the festival we had always wanted to go to. After having been in many festivals and parties we just thought it was the right moment to do something special in our country. Our very close friends Alex (Refracted) and Will (Guillam) had always influenced us based on their music taste, so we knew from the very beginning we were going to have the best curators we could have for our dream festival.
Who makes up the team behind Parallel? Had you worked together before?
Right after these conversations with Jordi I just mentioned, our friend Patri joined us, so we basically became the three Paral·lel founders. Esther and Amat, who started helping us some months before the first edition took place, are now officially part of the Paral·lel crew. Esther for example just wrote us an email in the very beginning and she has proved to be one of the biggest assets we could have for production. We are always keen on opening the doors to people who can share their knowledge and expertise with us. And finally we also have Jacopo as a designer. Even though he is freelancing for us, he gave us this fresh and original image we needed after the first year to carry on growing. We are also grateful to have one of the greatest designers within the scene worldwide.
To sum up, we are basically a bunch of five friends and passionate people for what we do.
It’s easy to make a comparison between Paral·lel and events like Labyrinth in Japan. What do you guys, as organisers, think sets you apart?
For us, it was quite impressive that many people started comparing the two festivals right after our first edition. Enrique (Svreca) came to play at Paral·lel in 2016 and he was then also playing at Labyrinth some weeks after. I still remember having a conversation with him after he was back from Japan saying that many people had asked him about Paral·lel. We were about to book our flight tickets to Japan some years ago with Jordi, Alex and Will but in the end it did not work out, so I guess we have always kind of idealised Labyrinth in our minds. This year I will finally be able to make it with Alex and some other friends. I am very much looking forward to it.
Labyrinth has always been a reference for us, no doubt about it, but apart from us going to the mountains to celebrate a gathering and curating a similar artistic line-up, the differences are quite big I reckon. A festival in Japan, Portugal or France can’t be the same even though many similarities may arise. Every festival is different at its core and we chose to do Paral·lel. Having said this, I find quite interesting that some Japanese people come to Paral·lel every year, and this actually proves why we have been referred to as the European Labyrinth.
You often describe the festival as a ‘gathering’ for your community with limited capacity of 1000 people. How important is the spirit of community for an event like Parallel?
When we talk about Paral·lel we normally associate it with three words: nature, music and intimacy. Intimacy in the sense of offering a distinctive experience focused on the festival-goer. Paral·lel is unique because of the people that come to Paral·lel. We have always stood up for the motto ‘less is more’. And yes there may be the chance we get bigger in the next years but we will always keep this small format so that the vibe stays as it is now. It is amazing to see so many people from all over the world coming back one year to another, and this is why we talk about the Paral·lel family and the importance of the community feeling. In the end it is like if you were going camping with your best friends to listen to the music you love for a whole weekend. For me it sounds like the perfect plan.
We’d love to know a bit more about the programming. What’s your starting point when building the line up? How do you decide which artists to book each year?
Our curators in charge at Paral·lel are two close friends of the organisation crew: Alex and Will. We have been friends for many years so there is very good communication between us. They normally work with quite a close list of artists (even though not small at all) that differ from one year to another. However, there have been artists in that list that are still in there since the very first moment. I reckon it is only a matter of time that these artists will be playing at Paral·lel sooner or later.
On the other hand, we have a well-balanced programming between day and night hours, so we always try to reflect that in the artists we bring to Paral·lel. The decision is mostly done by the sound we want to fit in the different slots: music that fits outdoors and represents the kind of sound we consider appealing and interesting. Then we also have a good balance between more well-known and not so well-known names. I would say many people coming to Paral·lel are happy to discover new sounds and new artists on top.
The line up is divided into prologue, story and epilogue, with each performance occurring on one stage and designed to link one into the other. How do you ensure that there is an overarching narrative across the three days?
This is part of the line-up curation process indeed and it connects to the previous idea. Different artist profiles are being considered in order to bench all these three blocks. Everything is studied in detail to see this narrative developing organically all through the weekend and not to miss any of the performances, thus the idea of ‘one stage, one story’. I love for example when some of the artists get interested to know who is playing right before or after them. I think we have managed to transmit the whole concept not just to the audience but to the artists themselves.
Anything you would particularly like to highlight from this year’s line up?
I personally like the fact we have managed to book one more female artist this year. We just had Cio D’Or in 2016, Yuka and Jana Sleep in 2017, and Dasha Rush, Grand River and Izabel this year. I think there is still a long way to go on the scene in this regard but I am particularly happy about this happening at Paral·lel.
I always say I enjoy listening to every single artist coming to Paral·lel. And it is true, believe me. Apart from that, I would just say I am very much looking forward to Sunday with three live sets. I reckon it can be quite special. When was a closing set not special at Paral·lel?
What do you hope your audience takes away from three days at Parallel?
A unique experience. I would love everyone to leave Paral·lel with a similar feeling I get every year but it is hard to explain in words. I think everyone coming to the mountains takes away his or her own personal emotions and moments. You will have to experience it by yourselves.
Paral·lel Festival begins Friday, August 31. For tickets and more info, visit www.parallelfestival.com