20 European music festivals to mark in your 2018 diary

No matter how many times we say it, talk of Irish festival fatigue is greatly exaggerated – at least where ticket sales are concerned. This week we woke up to the launch of a new Waterford August Bank Holiday weekender All Together Now, and Longitude is already sold out – despite the ‘real music’ head-melters complaining on Twitter about all the hip-hop.

We still haven’t been blitzed into submission with too many Irish line-ups yet, and we’re still waiting on the Electric Picnic line-up, but as usual there’s a list of literally hundreds of festivals overseas if you’re up for an extra bit of effort. Without falling into an obscure rabbit hole, here’s 20 European festivals that tick plenty of boxes – including a few choice Irish ones. In no particular order…

1) Primavera Sound (Catalonia)

Barcelona, May 30-June 2

If you’re not into the hippie vibes that come with an all-in feral weekender at a field, Primavera should tick all your chin-stroke boxes. Since 2001 Primavera Sound has been Europe’s most impeccably curated festival for those who want to stay on trend. Indie-rock is probably the default starting point, but over the vast striking urban park you’ll find everything from black metal to noise to techno and hip-hop, with the Lux Auditori an amazing time out to hear festival exclusive performances and modern composition.
Highlights: Bjork | Fever Ray | Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds | Sparks| Zeal & Ardor| Arctic Monkeys| A$AP Rocky| The National, Migos.

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2) Secret Solstice (Iceland)

Reykjavic, June 21-24 (€207)
Not sure what’s more surreal – the fact that Iceland’s biggest festival takes place amid 96 hours of straight sunlight, or that Bonnie Tyler is on the poster beside Slayer.
Now in its fifth edition, Secret Solstice combines regular main stage and tent action with extremely limited performances inside glaciers, underground lava caves and hot springs, with a line-up that takes in techno, hip-hop, grime, indie, R&B, metal and pop, and a massive input from underground Icelandic artists.
There’s also a tradition of taking time outs during the festival to explore the spectacular surrounding terrain through organised day trips.
Highlights: Stormzy, IAMDBB | Gucci Mane | J Hus | Egyptian Lover | Skream | Charlotte de Witte| SLAAAAAAAAAYERRRR!

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3) Open Ear (Cork)

Sherkin Island, May 31 – June 3 (€165, €30 for Opening Concert)
Now in its third year, Open Ear is a showcase of Irish independent electronic music, against the stunning backdrop of Sherkin Island off the coast of West Cork. As before, the line-up takes in techno, electro, avant-garde electronics, modern composition and anything else with an experimental edge that goes bleep.
For the first time, they’ve introduced an ‘opening concert’ on the Thursday night, featuring avant-garde composer and ‘Godfather of Irish Electronica’ Roger Doyle.
Expect one-off collaborations and exclusive Open Ear showcases and an added artistic development in collaboration with the islanders.
Highlights: Roger Doyle | Aine O’Dwyer | Dreamcycles | Whirling Hall of Knives | Tuun | The Cyclist

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4) EXIT (Serbia)

Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad
July 12-15, €111
Hands-down the grandest setting of the European weekend festivals — Exit is held at the 18th century fortress on the edge of a cliff overlooking the River Danube in Novi Sad, Serbia. With a roster that ranges from black metal to Balkan folk music to hip-hop and techno and loads more over 20-odd stages, if you can’t find anything you’re into, you’re being too fussy. Exit also won Best Major Festival at the European Festival Awards last month, so it’s on a roll.
The biggest draw is the Dance Arena in, a vast amphitheatre in the fortress moat area, that runs until 8am every day, with the sun rising to techno.
Highlights: Fever Ray | Richie Hawtin | Idles | Ziggy Marley

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5) Lowlands (Holland)

Biddinghuizen, August 17-19 (€185)
‘A Campingflight To Lowlands Paradise’, to give it its full name, is Holland’s biggest rite of passage festival that celebrated its 25th edition in 2017.
More than a music festival, Lowlands features theatre, comedy, debates, workshops, performance art and installations around every corner — and every stage is covered so there aren’t any washouts — the Dutch weather is as bad as ours.
Highlights: Kendrick Lamar | Gorillaz | The War on Drugs | Stormzy | Bicep

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6) OFF (Poland)

Katowice, August 3-5 (€70)
Set in a lush lakeside oasis in the middle of industrial Poland, OFF has since 2006 carved a niche as an underground alternative to the big blockbuster festivals.
There’s always a healthy mix of emerging Polish acts and international artists, with more of a nod to avant-rock, post-punk and noise acts, including Swans, Butthole Surfers and Sunn O))), but there’s always big tent-fillers like Run the Jewels, PJ Harvey or John Talabot.
Highlights: John Maus | Grizzly Bear| Egyptian Lover | Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

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7) Sonar Festival (Catalonia)

Barcelona, June 14-16
With a tagline, ‘music, creativity and technology’, Sonar is Barcelona’s most famous electronic music event, that’s been running since 1994.
Sonar is split into two halves – Sonar By Day and Sonar By Night, with the daytime activities at the pop-up village in Playa Espanya, and the night time buzz taking place at a huge aircraft hangar a bus ride away.
Sonar is all about compromise – you probably can’t do a three-day rollover so you need to watch out for all-nighters if you want to catch the daytime shows, where you’ll at least catch some sunshine.
Highlights: Gorillaz | Helena Hauff | John Talabot| Kode9 | Laurel Halo | Laurent Garnier | LCD Soundsystem | Modeselektor | Thom Yorke

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8) Mad Cool (Spain)

Madrid, July 12-14 (only €85 day tickets left)
Ignore the lamest name of any festival in Europe this year (or maybe ever), as Mad Cool lets you tick off some serious heavy-hitters – with Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Arctic Monkeys, Pearl Jam and Queens of the Stone Age immediately jumping out.
Mad Cool has only been running since 2016 but it must be on a megabucks budget – it had Neil Young headlining the first one. It starts at 7pm, so you can get cultured in the Spanish capital during the day – if you don’t stay up til sunrise at the dance tent.
Highlights: Apart from the above | The Black Madonna | At the Drive In | Dua Lipa | Franz Ferdinand | Maya Jane Coles | Massive Attack

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9) Caprices Festival (Switzerland)

Crans Montana, April 12-15 (€284)
Caprices is a bit of a fake news outlier in a summer festival guide, it being a festival in April, in the snow. But it’s a spectacular way to kickstart festival season early – raving on a mountainside in the Swiss Alps. Caprices has two separate programmes – by day you can dance surrounded by Alpine vistas, while by night it gets a bit more like a warehouse techno party at the bottom of the mountain. It’s apres-ski on a whole new level.
Add skiing, snowboarding and hanging out in a mountain village in the spring, and it’ll be like an automatic hangover cure downloaded directly to your brain every morning.
Highlights: Ricardo Villalobos | Sven Vath | Matador| Ben Klock | Monika Kruse | Ida Engbergs

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10) Sziget (Hungary)

Budapest, August 8-15 (€299 for 7-day pass)

‘Sziget’ is the Hungarian word for Island, and for 25 years the festival has taken over a 300-acre island in the middle of the River Danube, for one of Europe’s biggest music events. Sziget won Best Line-up at the recent European Festival Awards, and with over 1,000 acts playing over a full week, it probably just feels like showing off.
Like its neighbour Exit in Serbia, Sziget caters for underground metal and techno, but you’ll find a big world music Stage, a reggae village, opera, jazz, a museum, street theatre, a sports zone, boat trips and a chess tent. There’s even an Aldi ffs.
Highlights: Kendrick Lamar | Arctic Monkeys| Liam Gallagher | Little Dragon | Lykke Li

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11) Body & Soul (Westmeath)

Ballinlough Castle, June 22-24 (€169)
If you’re an Irish festival veteran you’ve been to Body & Soul – the extended remix version of the Body & Soul area of Electric Picnic. There’s a big wtf moment at B&S this year, though, as Fever Ray has just been announced as a headliner, and Fever Ray mastermind Karin Dreijer is also curating the whole of the Friday on the main stage.
The self-proclaimed “magical summer solstice celebration” has outgrown its ‘boutique’ tag, but it’s still an artistically-presented weekender at the more chilled end of the spectrum. You can party in regular tents, in walled gardens, among installations and various forest hideouts.
Highlights: Only Fever Ray so far, but that’s really all you need to know

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12) Kappa Futur (Italy)

Parco Dora, Turin, July 7-8 (€60) 
Turin’s Kappa FuturFestival is an Italian techno institution – set in a vast reclaimed Fiat plant that’s been reclaimed by the council and turned into the futuristic Parco Dora with trees and greenery among the rusting girders.
Set up in 2009 to mark the centenary of the birth of the Italian futurism art movement (any excuse), it’s been artistically banging out techno and house every summer since then. For years it was a one-day event but they started double-dropping in 2016.
Highlights: Derrick May | Solomun | Adam Beyer | Luciano | Marco Carola

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13) Melt! Festival (Germany)

Ferropolis, July 13-15 (€129)
You can get a bit jaded with the twee hippie festival buzz – there’s only so much woodland installations and twinkly lights you can stomach before you want a bit of grit under your fingernails.
Step in Melt! Festival in Germany – set in an open air museum full of hulking mining machines that have been repurposed into stages and backdrops, for an apocalyptic Mad Max setting.
Melt! Has been running since 1997, with stages dotted around the iron beast machines and a lake, and spectacular light shows. There’s always been a strong electronic element, and the bleeps have been edging guitars out over the last few years.
Highlights: Fever Ray | Princess Nokia | Fischerspooner | Tyler, the Creator| The Hacker 

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14) Positivus (Latvia)

Salacgriva, June 20-22 (€79.60)
Positivus in Latvia is the biggest summer festival in the Balkan region, and at 87 for a three-day ticket with camping, it should certainly prick up a few ears. There’s only one headliner been announced so far but it’s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, so consider the bang/buck ratio already swinging wildly in your favour.
The festival takes part in Fisherman’s Park in the coastal town of Salacgriva, and there’s plenty of opportunity to cool off in the Baltic Sea between bands.
Previous performers include Kraftwerk, Pixies, Austra, Iggy Pop, Grimes, Warpaint and St Vincent and Robert Plant, so expect plenty of blockbuster artists along with the local underground heroes.
Highlights: Nick Cave, seriously

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15) Bluedot (England)

Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire, July 19-22
With the famous 250ft Lovell Radio Telescope towering above performers, Bluedot has a classic British retrofuturist air compared with its neighbouring mucky sessions through the summer. Bluedot is a slightly more highbrow affair, with pop science and astronomy workshops and lectures among the music, arts, cinema and comedy performers. And it’s surely the only festival showing the Blue Planet scored by a live orchestra.
Music-wise it’s far from stuffy, with a mix of electronica, dub, techno, post-punk, indie and loads more.
Highlights: Chemical Brothers| Future Islands | Gary Numan| Public Service Broadcasting| The Orb | Lamb| Booka Shade

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16) Graspop Metal Meeting (Belgium)

Dessel, June 21-24 (€245)
There’s a big ‘XL’ on the Graspop poster this year, as Belgium’s annual metal pilgrimage has just been bumped up to a four-day event rather than the sensible three-day option.
It’s hard to believe Graspop started as a family rock festival in 1986, and in 1995 it was headlined by Joe Cocker. You won’t find this info on the official site, though, as their poster collection only starts in 1996 when they drastically took a u-turn with Iron Maiden, Slayer, Type O Negative and Fear Factory.
As always, Graspop caters for all shades of headbanger, from classic metal and rock to hardcore, black metal, thrash and this year even some dark synthwave from Perturbator. The line-up is a ridiculous cash grab of the biggest acts in the world.
Highlights: Guns N Roses | Judas Priest | Megadeth | Iron Maiden | Dead Cross | Zeal & Ardor | Marilyn Manson | Ghost

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17) Paradise City (Belgium)

Ribaucourt Castle, June 29-July 1 (€109)
Belgium can go toe-to-toe with the Dutch — or even ourselves — with the huge number of summer music festivals in a relatively small area.
Dour, Rock Werchter, Tomorrowland, Graspop and Pukkelpop may be the world famous weekenders hoovering up the huge names, but you can find plenty more if you dig slightly deeper.
Now in its fourth year, electronic music fest Paradise City is set in the grounds of the Flemish Castle of Ribaucourt, only 15 minutes from Brussels. It’s one of the most eco-minded weekenders, with a few awards to show for its green initiatives.
Highlights: Omar Souleyman | Jayda G | Call Super & Objekt | Or:La| Laurent Garnier

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18) All Together Now (Waterford)

Curraghmore Estate, August 3-5 (€149.50)
It takes some nerve to launch another summer weekend festival in an already jammed market, and we woke up this week to the launch of All Together Now in Waterford.
Going head-to-head with Beatyard, there’s probably a crossover of potential punters – over-30s indie and dance fans who haven’t lapsed so much that they’re ready for the train home from Dun Laoghaire at 11pm. It’s also up against Castlepalooza and Indiependence, but it’s strictly over 21s, so there won’t be much crossover with the Migos crowd at Longitude.
It’s set in Curraghmore Estate in Co Waterford, between the River Suir and the Comeragh Mountains, a picturesque setting that remains unspoiled – for now.
Highlights: Nils Frahm | The Black Madonna| Roisin Murphy | Underworld| The New Power Generation | Jimmy Cliff

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19) Ostend Beach (Belgium)

Ostend, July 7-8 (€79)
Belgium doesn’t exactly boast a predictably sunny Mediterranean climate, but it hasn’t stopped a techno-fest taking over Klein Strand in Belgium’s biggest coastal city Ostend.
Over its eight years it’s been big on EDM, but more recently they’ve been pulling in a tougher techno sound – let’s leave the EDM for Tomorrowland.
Highlights: Rodhad | Green Velvet | Fjaak| The Advent.

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20) MDRNTY Cruise (Italy/Spain)

Genova/Mallorca/Ibiza/Barcelona, June 10-13 (€689-1,999)
Think of cruise ship entertainment and it’s probably along the lines of Gareth Gates doing Rat Pack songs, but MDRNTY shakes this up with a four-day Mediterranean voyage soundtracked by some of electronic music’s biggest names.
In fairness, a four-day cruise on a luxury liner that stops in Genova, Mallorca, Ibiza and Barcelona is as dear as you’d feared, but maybe you’ve got a nice cash pile waiting to blow.
With five dancefloors, three swimming pools, a cinema and sports centres, you could have a fine few days even without the music.
Highlights: Ricardo Villalobos | Black Coffee | Apollonia| Audiofly

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