Let’s get the basics out of the way first: the INOTA Festival took place between 31 August and 3 September 2023 about an hour from Budapest and near the scenic Lake Balaton, featuring more than 100 contemporary musicians, DJs and visual artists. It was a joint venture between the Veszprém-Balaton 2023 European Capital of Culture (ECOC) programme and local advocates of the contemporary creative electronic music scene, NVC and Centrum Production, as part of the ongoing efforts to inject more cultural life into the region.
Onwards to the event site itself. As you can see from the pictures of the venue, a decent chunk of the overall atmosphere was conjured by the sprawling 225,000-square-metre premises of the now-defunct Inota power plant, dominated by the silhouettes of the three sixty-metre cooling towers. The plant was built in the 1950s as the largest industrial investment in Hungary and as such was impressive merely in its dimensions. The INOTA Festival planners did a swell job dividing it into several stages, exhibition and relaxation spaces, and a well-supplied food court. The main stage, Energy Field by Electronic Beats, was outside, inside stages were put up in the surrounding industrial buildings: Turbine Hall, Canteen and House of Music Concert Hall.
The expected estimate of the festival organisers was approx. 15,000 visitors, with about half of that from outside Hungary and it appears to have been a sober guess. One thing to note was that the festival area never felt quite crowded and every necessity seemed well placed and spaced to avoid queues. The festival also had a footwear policy of “no sandals”, due to the industrial nature of the site, which was not enforced but strongly recommended. This produced a memorable (and hilarious) interaction between a member of our party and the security guard who tried to make him change out of his Birkenstocks. With a grave, frowning expression, he exclaimed earnestly: “I have no other shoes, I’m an artist.” Which was nothing but plain truth but the situational comedy was impeccable.
Now for the programme and lineup-related stuff.
The artist booking dept. at INOTA Festival obviously did their homework and researched their potential audience well, offering a wide range of palatable gigs, both local and international, for anyone who wished to chill, contemplate, dance or even learn something about carefully restored Commodore CBM 8032 computers (we see you, Robert Henke).
Headliners included Nils Frahm, Max Cooper, Daniel Avery, Ellen Alien, Rival Consoles, the ever-intense Blackhaine, Space Africa, Lebanon Hanover and Overmono who infected the crowd with bouncy happiness, partly due to the wholesome background videos of two playful dogs on a walk.
Furthermore, utilising the theatre-like space of the well-preserved Concert Hall, which used to be a community centre to entertain the power plant workers, as a venue for more niche and ambient acts was a nice touch. What I consider to be a clever move was the Concert Hall’s accessibility via a different type of ticket, separated from the festival’s main day tickets, which prevented the space from being overcrowded (to a degree anyway).
The Concert Hall’s stage was graced by, e.g., Lucrecia Dalt, Max Cooper, Forest Swords, Caterina Barbieri – and also NIVVA. Naturally, I couldn’t miss the show of SWARM’s favourite performer and 3D artist/avatar with whom we did an interview some moons ago. A sight rarely seen on the Czech scene, with catchy hooks and meticulous, imaginative and oftentimes tongue-in-cheek 3D-animated videos, she launched the Thursday programme at the INOTA Festival Concert Hall. Her presence was also a result of the festival organisers’ effort to “present important cultural pioneers of the region” – in this particular case, the Czech Lunchmeat Festival, an annual singular audiovisual treat that recently took place in Prague. Other collabs included the Unsound Festival from Poland.
A standalone chapter was the visual aspect of the INOTA Festival – reportedly the country’s largest exhibition of light art in an industrial setting. At a festival of such proportions, so many spaces dedicated to audiovisual installations and art are quite unprecedented. This could put the INOTA Festival right next to the aforementioned Unsound or Lunchmeat. Called by the umbrella term “RADIATIONS”, artists from 6 countries, including Kari Kola, fuse*, and Onionlab, produced 14 light installations. The most impressive, without a doubt, was the Besnyő-Pfitzner-Czingáli: Vacuum II audiovisual installation in Cooling Tower No.1. Despite the queuing times due to limited access, its magnitude and the engulfing atmosphere were very much worth the wait. For those more introvertedly inclined, the festival venue also offered site-specific exhibitions and numerous rooms, nooks and exhibition spaces where one could spend a few quiet moments before “their” artist was on stage.
So, to wrap things up, I must simply say – if the INOTA Festival is on next year, I’m going again and taking the whole SWARM Mag editorial board with me. On top of an extraordinarily charming venue, it offered a satisfying and thought-out mix of genres, a no-small feast for the eyes, and it obviously attracted the perfect audience to create a relaxed and convivial atmosphere.
P.S. I still dream about that criminally delicious Napoli-style pizza made fresh from scratch and baked in front of you at the festival’s food court.