Tucked away near a narrow piece of coastline on the Albania Riviera sits the idyllic, dreamy village of Dhërmi. Within the embrace of the Ceraunian Mountains on the edge of the Ionian Sea, this small slice of Albanian paradise (population: 1,800) will soon be the site of the inaugural ION Festival, hosting more than 60 DJs and artists and 3,000 attendees for a weeklong immersive music experience.
For festival founders Paul Jack and Will Harold, one element was fundamental in the conception of ION: location, location, location. Jack and Harold, also founders of one of the UK’s premier techno festivals, Junction 2, aim to create an enclosed, communal experience—all enhanced by the natural topography and beauty of the Ionian Sea Coast.
“Our shows are very much based on the aesthetic of the location,” says Harold. “ION was really borne from [Junction 2]. Both follow a similar journey in that we had plans to do a techno festival, but they were only going to come to fruition when we found the right locations.”
Dhërmi was that precious hidden gem. A premier, yet still up-and-coming, vacation destination for European tourists, the picturesque village lies 42 kilometers south of the city of Vlorë. Like many small towns in coastal Albania, Dhërmi is distinctly marked by a mountainous landscape supplied with high cliffs, rocky and sandy coasts, deep bays, and crystal-clear waters home to an array of biodiverse marine life—including multiple species of whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.
What sets ION apart from other festivals is not only its unique symbiosis with the natural terrain. It’s also the partnership ION organizers have fostered with the local community. Working in collaboration with Dhërmi’s major, ION has commissioned wrist-banded access at the village’s entrance for the week. Attending festivalgoers from abroad must purchase accommodations with their tickets, which helps foster a more sustainable, intimate experience.
“One of the key points was to create a festival that was enclosed,” says Jack. “For a lot of events abroad, they generally share a town or location with other partygoers or vacationers. So, it can have a certain disconnected feel.”
“Yeah, it dilutes it,” chimes Harold. “Especially when you’re around a bunch of other people who aren’t on the same journey or in the same headspace. Like-minded people sharing a love for music in beautiful surroundings is at the heart of what we do.”
“Exactly,” agrees Jack. “The same people you were dancing with on the beach at 4am—getting ready for the sunrise—are going to be the same people you’re later sitting in a café or having dinner with. We expect people will be bonding across the full week. Faces should be very familiar by the end of it.”
ION will curate six stages integrated with the natural aesthetics of the town and coastline, each with a distinct vibe and music program to match.
The Main Stage will host a wealth of headlining techno artists throughout the week. As one of the largest of ION’s stages, this open-air haven will have a mini-amphitheater set into a private cove. It’s where festivalgoers can dance until the sunrise peaks up over the blue waters.
The Deck is the spot for “lazy days and balmy nights.” A beachside stage built atop a rocky outcrop, this location near the Main Stage will have a more club-like atmosphere, says Jack and Harold.
The Cove is an intimate, sandy paradise on the water’s edge. Described as having an “Ibiza-like vibe,” this smaller stage is where you might be happy dancing with a few dozen others. “In my mind, if you’ve had a late night the night before, you might grab some breakfast and have a little dip in the sea [at the Cove] the next morning,” says Harold.
The Yacht Club is in the name. Built into the hull of a boat jutting out of a rocky outcropping, festivalgoers can enjoy a panoramic view of the sea while capturing spectacular sunrise and sunset moments while sipping a cocktail.
The Canyon is a hidden beach enclosed by an imposing rock face. Offset from the rest of the festival, it’s accessible only by an hourlong boat ride. A deep gorge with crystalline waters, this iconic venue will be the site of select parties throughout the week.
Finally, ION’s pièce de résistance?
The Bunker is where it all comes together. Used for one night only, this massive indoor venue (capacity: approximately 1,500) is the largest of the festival. A dark, industrial space comprised of concrete pillars and labyrinthine passageways, this raw location is dug directly into the rock face beneath Dhërmi’s main hotel.
“[The party] at the bunker will be the big ‘coming together’ of ION,” says Jack. “Who wouldn’t want to hear nosebleed techno in a submarine base? It’s a guaranteed show. It’s going to be mind-blowing.”
All six locations, mostly walkable from one another, will play a prominent role in the intentional intimacy of the festival, offering a feeling of escapism unlike anything else.
“A lot of times, festivals spend a lot of money creating an ‘underground’ seeming space,” says Harold.
“Whereas what we’re doing with ION is taking naturally beautiful spaces—a beach, a submarine base—and programming it with music that suits that environment. That marriage is important to us.”
Exploration has always been a core component of rave culture. And that sense of wanderlust and slowly building a personal, one-of-kind journey throughout the week is something Jack and Harold hope the festival’s structure helps facilitate. To that end, ION has partnered with several vendors to offer various excursions, including kayaking, swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, and mountain biking.
What’s more, they’ve asked many of the artists to stay the week and interact with the crowd.
“For many people there’s a long journey to get there,” says Harold. “We’ve asked that artists to stay, rather than having them zooming in, playing for a few hours, then zooming off again. A lot of them are staying for multiple days and playing multiple sets. We want more time and space for these things to unfold.”
ION, seemingly, has taken eons. Delayed two consecutive years, the dance music community is eager to reunite for this extraordinary festival experience based on a three-word mantra: Dance. Explore. Connect.
“It’s simple,” says Harold. “Dance and enjoy yourself. Explore the incredible surroundings. Connect with music and other human beings. If you do those three things, you’ll have a great time.”
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