From Jitters to Joy: Embracing the Magic of Paradise City Festival

Paradise City Festival on Friday.
Paradise City Festival on Friday. Photo by Jaan Van Damme.

Festivals are ephemeral, like catching lightning in a bottle.

They offer a magical escape that your local club just can’t replicate (though I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a good club night). It’s the fleeting nature of a festival like Paradise City and the extra effort it takes to attend that pay off in the form of out-of-this-world stage productions, making these moments truly unforgettable.

Pre-rave jitters

Despite 13 years of raving, pre-rave jitters still plague me. You’d think I’d have mastered the art of pre-rave calm, yet the jitters persist. Queues, transportation, unfamiliar venues—they swirl in my mind, creating a cocktail of anxiety.

They say enthusiasm and anxiety are two sides of the same coin, and every time, I wonder which will win. But ultimately, when the beat drops, my worries evaporate, and I always find myself in paradise.

Paradise City calling

When I heard about Paradise City Festival, I knew I had to be there. I juggled all my other commitments and had to miss two birthday parties and one goodbye gathering (Sorry, friends <3).

This festival promised a blend of big names, fresh talent, and a strong focus on environmental consciousness. Green initiatives paired with such a sick lineup, surrounded by nature? Count me in!

The road to heaven

Entering paradise city
Entering Paradise. Photo courtesy of Wallis Annika.

The day begins with a spark of excitement as I sip my morning coffee. Paradise City’s Instagram post read, “Good morning citizens, today we celebrate. Expect 23 degrees and sunny weather: perfect dancefloor conditions.” Belgium is notoriously rainy, so for a Mediterranean like me, this is a promising start.

Fast forward to Vilvoorde station. The crowds in the queue are loud, happy, chatting with friends, pregaming, and dressed in colorful clothes. The guy in front of me is wearing a t-shirt that says, “It looks like the road to heaven, but it feels like the road to hell,” perfectly capturing my pre-rave anxiety. But I know that once I am in the zone, it’s going to be heavenly.

Arriving at the entrance, I walk through a spectacular tree-lined pathway leading to the festival grounds. After a quick tour of the bars and food stalls (shoutout to the vegan and veggie options), we head to the Contrast Stage.

Rubbing shoulders

Paradise City on Friday. Photo by Wallis Annika
Paradise City on Friday. Photo by Wallis Annika

Backstage, I meet Christophe, one of the festival’s production managers. He is beaming with pride about the festival’s growth and hints at exciting new plans (stay tuned). I manage to catch the last part of Roza Terenzi & THC’s set. They drop Skrillex’s “Push,” setting the perfect vibey and sexy tone. Next up are Brussels duo Sara Dziri (Fuse Resident and Chief of NotYourTechno) and Cheb Runner, delivering a killer set.

Love & passion with Marlon Hoffstadt & Daria Kolosova

Left to right: my rave buddy George, myself and Daria Kolosova

Speaking of killer sets, Marlon Hoffstadt’s ends up drawing such a massive crowd that parts of the Contrast stage have to be closed off for everyone’s safety.  

Marlon has been around since 2014, but saw a big rise in popularity after he released ‘It’s That Time,’ which has become an anthem of a whole generation. His mix of old-school tunes, his own takes on popular pop songs, acid, and trance vibes are flawless and live up to the vibe. I proceed to ask him about the crowd, he says with a smile of pure amazement, “I just looove Belgium”. And it’s true—Belgium has one of the most passionate crowds I’ve ever seen.

Then comes the Queen, Daria Kolosova. I first came across her through her viral HÖR set, a mix I always go back to. Her intro track is un-Shazammable. However, I can loosely describe it as a high-energy 90’s vibe, creating a mysterious tone and building up anticipation.

She keeps the energy high with her incredibly fast mixing skills and 10/10 track selection. Backstage, we manage to ask her for a photo (such groupies), and we ask her to share her expectations of her set. She tells us that she is very curious and excited to see how it is going to go, since that stage was still storming with people, while she snacked on fries—yes, DJs have hungry bellies too!

We close the night with Kiasmos. The visuals are stunning, the vibe is electric, and the crowd becomes one big mass, moving up and down like sea waves. But exhaustion leads us to leave early, dreaming of our own paradise: bed. Besides, we have Sunday to explore.

Saturday Intermission

Skin on Skin playing Paradise City Festival
Skin on Skin. Photo Courtesy of Wallis Annika

A girl who is approaching the tender age of 29 needs to rest, so with a heavy heart, I miss Saturday. However, as the queen of FOMO that I am, I ask around and everyone keeps saying it was nothing short of amazing. Skin on Skin, Badsista, and DJ Gigola played closing sets, and despite the rain, the energy was apparently through the roof.

We’re back in Paradise City, baby

Cat meme at festival
Undeniable excitement.

Partying on Sundays has a special charm—less pressure, an early finish, and you carry the afterglow into Monday. The shuttle welcomes us with a special set by Lefto Early Bird, a Brussels icon. Rain was forecasted, but our spirits remain undeterred.

The Forest Stage is our first stop. Paramida & Alex Kassian play B2B set that is the perfect Sunday warm-up—housey vibes, trees overhead, and a stage with a moving, square roof with trippy visuals.

On the way from the Forest Stage to the Castle stage, a photo exhibition catches my attention. It’s these small details that I love about festivals.

 We also pass by the Orbit Stage, a circular wooden haven with people dancing on two levels—100% energy, faster beats, pure bliss but it is short-lived as we rush for my favorite artist of all time.

Big emotions with Bonobo

Lights overlooking the lake.
Evening falls. Photo by Jaan Van Damme

Bonobo deserves two paragraphs of his own. He’s been my top Spotify artist since 2014. I first saw him in Madrid back in 2016 for a DJ set at Mondo Disko (a club you should definitely visit if you are in Madrid and you are into techno), where I cried like a baby, to my embarrassment. It was like looking at God.

After also seeing his breathtaking live performance where he juggled different instruments and had a full crew of musicians and a singer on stage at Forest Brussels in 2022, I thought I would be less emotional about it this time.  

His set at Paradise City ends up being nothing short of magical, and I feel tears again running down my face again, but I decide to embrace the emotional rollercoaster he is once again taking me on. Brazilian funk, jazz, dubstep, UK garage—seamlessly mixed with his own productions. One of the strongest basses I’ve ever felt pierces through us (glad I wore my earplugs), lifting us to cloud nine, taking no prisoners.

Saying goodbye to Paradise City

Bright festival lights.
A slice of heaven. Photo by Jaan Van Damme.

After Bonobo, reality hits—it’s late, it’s a Sunday. We bid goodbye to the picturesque castle by the lake, we dance briefly at Orbit, and end up at Forest – swarming with people still going strong with Job Jobse. The crowd is giving their unmatched energy, but we decide to accept defeat and stroll through the exit, leaving the magic behind.

Paradise City Festival was truly a slice of heaven. From the passionate crowd to the unforgettable sets, it was an experience that will linger in my memory, like the echo of the last beat.

Written by Alexandra Krstic

Alexandra, originally from Cyprus and now residing in Belgium, has a background in English Literature and Educational Sciences. She currently works as an online tutor and project coordinator. In 2021, Alexandra co-founded the literary blog "This Unreal Country" and previously interviewed artists for Jmart Space (UK) in 2018. Outside of work, she enjoys learning how to DJ, playing at house parties, and exploring her favorite music genres, including fast-beat techno and psytrance. Always chasing the next festival or party, she truly lives for the next gig.

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