As the festival scene continually grows in popularity, exploring beyond the beaten path can feel more like a necessity than a luxury—which is why the explosion of boutique festivals has been so exciting. But more choice always means more headache, so we’ve narrowed down some of the year’s best for you.
All these festivals are under 5,000 capacity, meaning they’re plenty intimate. Likewise, they each have something truly unique going for them: be it the location, the programming, that hard-to-define thing called "spirit," or all of the above.
Whatever it is, they’ll be sure to excite anyone who’s ready for something a little different this summer.
Tisno, Croatia || August 23-27, 2018
Now in its third year, the boutique version of Amsterdam's Dekmantel Festival returns as one of the year’s best festivals, hands down. Capped at just 1,500 people and featuring some of today’s best diggers—Antal, Call Super, DJ Harvey, Young Marco, Palms Trax and Vladimir Ivkovic to name a few—this Croatian seaside bash is a weeklong trip through some of the most adventurous dance music on Earth.
Wandlitz, Germany || August 17th-19th, 2018
New for 2018, this German festival is happening on the site of an abandoned war bunker about an hour north of Berlin. Amazing industrial venue aside, 5000-1 is keeping it intimate, and once the promoters have decided the maximum number of guests is reached, ticket sales are over. The lineup is primarily techno and atmospheric techno, with François X, Antigone, Freddy K, Goner, Jasmine Azarian, Jenus, Rachel Lyn, Stephanie Sykes, Tham and Tom Talenberg so far announced. But from the sounds of things, ambient acts will soon follow.
Ras al Khaimah, UAE || March 27th-31st, 2018
This community-driven festival is basically an intimate Burning Man held in the dunes of the Ras al Khaimah desert. Operating by the Nevada event’s famous 10 principles—which include “radical inclusion,” “radical self-expression” and “leave-no-trace,”—the five-day arts and music festival is a commerce free event, running on a gifting and volunteer culture with “no spectators and no consumers,” meaning everyone gets involved. And by the end of the week, Bedouin Tech all but promises you and the 500 others you arrived with will leave as a tight-knit family.
Koh Mak || March 22nd – 26th, 2018
Capped at just 500 people, Thaibreak Festival is one of the year’s coziest events. Plus it takes place on Koh Mak—a tiny, idyllic island only accessible by boat—with headliners Sonja Moonear, André Galluzzi, Mathias Kaden, Tobi Neumann, Dana Ruh, Dorian Paic, Markus Fix and Half Baked star Julietta playing on beaches, boats and open-air bars and clubs in town. But the best part? The Thaibreak founders have long-established ties to the island, putting a laissez-faire spin on celebrations.
Kala, Albania || June 20th - 27th, 2018
Brand new for 2018, Kala brings names like Moodymann, Underground Resistance, Peggy Gou, Secretsundaze, Nick The Record and Jayda G to the picturesque Albanian coastline for the first festival of its kind there. More than just heady music, Kala is aiming to create an immersive experience, with heavy emphasis on the local nature, cuisine, and culture. But with round-the-clock parties and promises of secluded liberation, Kala won’t hold back on the vibes.
LISBOA ELECTRONICA MUSICULTURE
Lisbon, Portugal || April 4th-7th, 2018
Portugal is fast becoming one of electronic music’s best destinations, and Lisboa Electronica Musiculture is firmly a part of that rapid change. With educational and industry-focused events, Lisboa offers outsiders the chance to connect with local artists, promoters and fans away from the party. Inside the party, you’ll find serious selectors like Nina Kraviz, Helena Hauff, Actress, Raresh, Sonja Moonear, Baby Ford, Alexandra, Vera, Legowelt, Oscar Mulero, Fumiya Tanaka and tINI, with plenty of local talent to boot.
Crato, Portugal || August 15th-19th, 2018
Waking Life is another Portugal gem. Though far from Lisbon or Porto, the camp-only event takes place on a lake near the remote village of Crato, far, far away from the trappings of everyday life. The bill is far-flung too, with a sweeping array of live acts and DJs, ranging from DJ Dustin, Maayan Nidam, Leafar Legov and Thomas Melchior, to Abdulla Rashim, Willow, Eriksson and Vlada. Though you don’t just dance at Waking Life; you get deeply involved, with intricately crafted art installations and performers creating a world all to its own.
Herefordshire, UK || July 6th-9th, 2018
Capping off at just 650 lucky people, Freerotation is probably the most difficult festival to hit on our list. That’s because tickets are sold only to members, and to become a member, you need to be invited by one. But there’s a reason it’s so tough to access: Freero—as it’s lovingly called—has reached cult status as one of the best festivals around. The music is second to none (search Freerotation on SoundCloud and lose yourself for a day), and the vibe is said to be extraordinary. It's even a sponsorship free, not-for-profit event, and has partnered with rainforest protection charity Size of Wales. This year acts include Move D, Jane Fitz, Ben UFO, Surgeon, Peverelist, XDB, Pearson Sound, Juju & Jordash, Leif, Burnt Friedman, Pangaea, Midland and many more. So if you know a member, best to get on their good side before April when tickets go on sale, or you’ll be missing out.
TBA, UK || August 31st - September 3rd, 2018
700 people, 3 nights, 1 field. It’s a solid tagline, and sums up this intimate UK festival pretty well. Though there’s plenty more to it than that: it’s restricted to 21-year-olds and over for one thing, and keeps its location a secret till the last minute every year. Previous editions have featured world-class artists like Midland, DJ Bone, Jane Fitz, Octo Octa, Soichi Terada, and Kornél Kovács; and this year Powder, rRoxymore, K-Hand, Eris Drew and Dr. Rubinstein will make their debuts at the UK event. They join festival regulars like Ryan Elliott, Ben Sims, Nick Höppner, and Shanti Celeste.