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Loftas Festival 2016 Review

Marko Kutlesa found himself in Vilnius for this year's edition of music and arts festival Loftas. Read his review here.

Mike Warburton

Date published: 7th Sep 2016

Photo: Lola Marsh at Loftas Festival

It's the end of summer and therefore also the end of the summer festival season and after attending a full calendar of events in 2016, Skiddle is at this stage slightly wary of traipsing round sometimes waterlogged festival sites, miles from any escape to normal civilisation, being pummelled by soundsystems on which DJs we've enjoyed many times before can be heard.

Attending Loftas Fest 2016 in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, at the beginning of September is therefore a bit of a trek, but one we're very pleased to have made.

Occurring on the same weekend as the City Days, in which several high profile acts play for free in the city centre (including this year Digitalism), this would seem to be the perfect time to visit the city to sample its culture.

Photo: Loftas Fest

Being placed at the end of the summer also benefits Loftas Fest as the city's young people and students have returned from summer holidays, and indeed next year's university students have started to arrive, ensuring a packed audience at all events at Loftas and in the city. 

The atmosphere at Loftas Fest is fantastic, with newcomers making friends, mates catching up after a summer apart, their conversations frequently interrupted by the attention grabbing music, audio and visual art spectacles on offer.

The festival site itself is a former industrial complex, located 15 minutes walk from the city centre, so perfectly placed for any visitors also wishing to explore Vilnius while they attend. The complex is nowadays used to house an all year round performance space, on which some of the most internationally recognised DJs and musicians visiting Vilnius perform, plus accommodation in converted warehouses and some industry remains.

It is a huge complex, rectangular in shape but with many lanes of buildings snaking through its centre. It is within these lanes, its central running buildings and their basements, plus the permanent performance space that the festival takes place. 

Photo: Loftas Fest

Celebrating its fifth year in 2016, Loftas Fest is not just a music festival. There are art installations, both audio and visual, fashion exhibitions, gaming areas and a wide range of food available. With all these elements combined, the festival manages to draw an incredibly wide demographic, from young families (especially in the early evening) to students of all ages and young working people. And hipsters too. 

Having not visited Lithuania before, Skiddle was incredibly surprised by the youth based in this capital city. They are incredibly hip, sporting fashions that you might see at any Parisian university or on the streets of east London. Beards are aplenty, tight black trousers, tattoos and piercings are everywhere you look. The fashion offerings of some local creators are also on display as you walk around, one next to a station where make up and hair cuts are on offer, and are of a seriously impressive standard.

Walking around the site perhaps the most visually impressive element to the festival is their attempt to utilise as much of the space as possible. Although stalls, tents and buildings house much of the things to do, hear and see, some of the walls of buildings have huge art projections running along them.

Long, light filled wind chimes hang between buildings and hundreds of metres of tape that become alive in the breeze are similarly draped between opposing walls. Lit rooms act as backdrops to art pieces placed in silhouette in the windows and at one point on Saturday night, African drummers appear on one of the rooftops creating a trance like experience for viewers below, their appearance just as impressive from the side as directly below as their moving figures cast vast shadows on a neighbouring building.

In one basement, an eerily lit art installation (soundtracked by the artist himself as a live DJ) invites the audience to become part of the work and draw on electronic light pads affixed to the walls. Elsewhere there is a cinema tent showing extremely well chosen shorts culled from the city's large film festival, including an excellent piece on inconvenience. A circus tent stands across from it and holds several showcases throughout both evenings, pleasing those of all ages but in particular the young members of families in attendance.

Food stalls range from hotdogs and really great gourmet burgers to Vietnamese food, one offering bread and foods from Baltic regions even further east than here, BBQ grills and some stuff that looks enticing, but is completely alien to the eye and when trying to discern what it is from the indecipherable Lithuanian language menus.

Of course we asked a local, but after two minutes of umming and arring, they gave up and said they couldn't explain it in English, which was almost identical to the response Skiddle gave every time we were asked here about the UK's decision to leave the EU.

One of the best aspects of Loftas Fest, and one that is debuting in 2016, is the decision to make most of the festival free to the local population. This ensures attendance is not restricted by ability to pay and the festival atmosphere benefits greatly by the extremely large audience who visit on both Friday and Saturday night. There's so much to do and see, so many unique performances, that many people taking advantage of free entry visit on both night.

One of the highlights of the free area is an impromptu performance at an installation created by students from a Dutch university, who have cut a VW camper van in half and fitted it with electronic music making equipment. They are joined at one point on Friday night by a drummer and a trombonist from unconnected groups of the many visiting musicians, producing just one of the magical, spontaneous moments of the weekend.

Photo: Loftas Fest

The rest of the music programme is huge, much of it taken by Lithuanian artists, but bands, DJs and musicians from Israel, the UK, France, Belarus, Poland, Japan, Ireland, Sweden, Latvia, Serbia, Spain and Ukraine are in attendance. Skiddle particularly enjoys Belgrade based rock trio Repetitor, who put in a spirited performance on one of the free stages.

Within the permanent performance area, which is for paying attendees only, Saturday night's Israeli bands, Tatran, who showcase progressive rock with a heavy synthesizer element, and returning visitor Lola Marsh (listen to 'You're Mine' below) are particularly impressive. Marsh's voice is so perfect and unique, her performance so involved and enthusiastic, it's difficult to actually believe she's singing live, but she is. She sounds a little like Neko Case (that's a good thing) and her microphone is extravagantly dressed in flowers.

London based electronic pop duoFormation, previous tour support toFoals, put in a great performance on Friday night, as do slightly shoegazey, sombre and smooth British trio Daughter. The only musical let down comes in the form of headlining French DJ Gesaffelstein, who storms off stage after less than three minutes because his tech spec hasn't been properly met and his monitor is at the front of the stage, rather than being next to him.

The festival admit responsibility and apologise, and this DJ obviously did need a much closer monitor, but you can't help but feel for the disappointed punters that this could have been better solved with a bit of foresight and less tantrums.

One guy in the audience that Skiddle meets has travelled all the way from Minsk in Belarus to specifically see this DJ, although his disappointment fades when he is kidnapped by the friendly Dutch students from the VW camper van installation and housed at their Air B+B that night, missing his bus home in the morning. He is seen still at the festival with his new Dutch friends on the early hours of Sunday morning having a great time raving to drum n' bass in a basement.

For all of the headline bands playing pop, rock, reggae, hip hop and other recognisable ensemble musics, some of the best music Skiddle hears at Loftas Fest comes from the avant garde, experimental and ambient performers, many of them solo acts, appearing in the free parts of the festival in the evening's early hours.

As dusk settles on the site, to view the many artworks and installations, soundtracked by some outdoor performance of droning keyboard, solo guitar experimentations, Krautrock rhythms, guitar synthesizer or ambient musicians in long, slow, full flight is a truly astounding experience. The sounds carry up the walls and across much of the site creating an otherworldly audio backdrop to one of the most creative and visually impressive festivals Skiddle has had the pleasure of visiting.

More like this? Read Festival Number 6 Review: Six Things We Fell In Love With in Portmeirion