Founder Ruggero Pietromarchi reflects on how the festival has maintained its essence while growing through the years. After two years of pandemic, the motto is ‘For once, we just dance’
In science fiction ‘to terraform’ means to transform a space or planet that is not suit for human life into something that can sustain a complete ecosystem, humans included, by creating an atmosphere. In the northern outskirts of Milan, Villa Arconati – a long abandoned baroque complex built in the 18th century, located in the little town of Bollate – started its own process of ‘terraformation’ in 2014. Through culture.
The occasion was the first edition of Terraforma Festival, musically focusing on avant-garde electronic music. The organizers had one project: the restoration of the spaces surrounding Villa Arconati, mostly its gardens. «Our goal was to terraform new contexts through cultural contents. If music is our language, sustainability wants to be our modus operandi. This is what ‘terraforming’ means to us. Arts turning into habitable something that it wasn’t», says Ruggero Pietromarchi, founder, curator and project manager of Terraforma. The festival grew each year while trying to keep his community-like atmosphere and is now approaching its seventh edition. After two years of absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, Villa Arconati’s park – restored gardens and all – is reopening its gates to the festival public, from the 1st to the 3rd of July.
A short circuit induced by music
From day one, Terraforma has always been different from other electronic music festivals. «We had the idea to create something that was an experience rather than a traditional festival. It’s a 3-days camping journey where people sweat if the weather’s hot and get wet if it rains. The necessity to develop this temporary community brings complexities to the table. Such as providing services where usually there are none», explains Pietromarchi. But the founder wants to remark that Terraforma was born from a «need». The urgency was to erase the schizophrenic dimension of everyday life while entering «a new space-time dimension where there’s room for a short circuit induced by music».
Pietromarchi has stated many times in the past that – oddly enough – Terraforma Festival isn’t really a festival. Or better: it’s not if your idea of festival resembles Coachella and similar events. He explains: «I’m not a fan of traditional festivals. I’m not into their fair dimension. Not into new trends. Not into the need to chase anything that comes up as ‘new’. None of that». This vision morphed Terraforma.
The event, seven editions into its life, is still mostly a place «that is defined each time by the people who are attending and by the contents that are presented and given a platform». A space thought for «the birth of a new form of spontaneity». Even after Covid-19 changed «everything». «During these two years of pandemic the world has changed and so did I», says Pietromarchi – the premise of the project remains the same: to come together and enter this «short circuit» that allows to escape reality.
Terraforma 2022. For once, We just dance
Coronavirus, in fact, has pushed Terraforma’s creators to put together an even more ancestral kind of festival. «When Christmas was approaching, we realized that there were solid chances to organize the festival again. We asked ourselves: ‘Where are we now? What do we want to do?’», recalls Pietromarchi. The answer self-revealed. «The only thing we really wanted to do was to reclaim what has been canceled by the virus. Dancing and gathering». And they wanted to be very clear about it: Terraforma’s motto for 2022 is ‘For once, We just dance’. Which means: no talks, no workshops, no panels, no screenings, no lectures, no meetings.
In its imposed two-years break, Terraforma as a brand explored and worked on aspects «that covered the intellectual and speculative part of the project». There’s Terraforma Simposio, a day of workshops and meetings dedicated to cultural and creative ideas aiming at sustainability, and there’s Terraforma Journal, a publication analyzing the intersection of sound, art, culture and ecology. ‘Il Pianeta come Festival’ – borrowing its name from Ettore Sottsass’ 1972 series – left Villa Arconati and dived into different locations in Rome and Milan to bring attention to the acoustic dimension in urban landscapes through visual, performative and installative interventions. «These are the satellite planets to our sun», says Pietromarchi. A sun that in 2022 wants to do nothing but dancing.
The lineup and Terraforma’s ‘no headliner’ philosophy
The lineup for this edition of the Festival welcomes back long-time aficionados of Terraforma, starting from residents artists Donato Dozzy and Paquita Gordon. Contributing to build this year’s experimental musical architecture will be Autechre, Dj Marcelle, Dj Nigga Fox, Lorenzo Senni’s project Common People, Crystal Mess, Aaron Dunkies, Amnesia Scanner, DJ Fati, Dj Red, Lafawndah, Expat, Voices From The Lake, Higher Intelligence Agency, Mark Ernestus’ Ndagga Rhythm Force, Mc Yallah & DEBMASTER, Plezo, Sophie Birch, Teto Preto, MOIN, NR/MA, PLO MAN and Valentina Magaletti.
Another aspect that qualifies Terraforma as ‘a festival but not a festival’ is the absence of headliners. «It’s a value that stuck with us since day one: we’re anti-headliners. Once again, it’s about the short-circuit we want people to be in, exposing contents that usually belong to a certain niche and present them to a crowd that isn’t used to them». The idea is to «abandon the sacrality of performers seen as some sort of Messiahs».
This interpretation of what a festival act is translates into how stages are built. «Infrastructures are going to be set up in a position where you won’t need barriers between the public and the artist. We don’t want anybody to be on a pedestal, we’re just one entity», says Pietromarchi. This philosophy is very well interpreted by English duo Autechre, known for their gigs played in total darkness, canceling any reference to the visual part of performances.
Building the festival’s musical lineup isn’t an easy task. «Terraforma wants to develop a narrative, it wants to tell a story. One of the things that make the festival a sort of an anti-fair is that the acts follow each other without ever overlapping. People won’t have to choose between two artists because they’re performing at the same time. Each act follows the previous one, even if there are four different locations spread throughout Villa Arconati’s area. Festival goers will move from place to place during this musical journey. It’s not easy to come up with a programme like this. Music has to follow the different moods that define daytime and nighttime. It has to bound with nature’s frequencies».
Attendees will go through a journey that’s also going to be delineated by lightning choices. «We study very specific colors with the light designers to match every moment of the festival. Opening night, for example, would be something like an indigo blue, a cyan or a magenta», says Mr. Pietromarchi.
Terraforma and sustainability
From 2014, Terraforma has always been clear on one thing. It has to go down as the most sustainable version of itself. Especially, but not exclusively, to protect and promote its location: Villa Arconati, its park and its wooden area. Pietromarchi, who is also co-founder and artistic director of Threes Productions – the agency that produces, amongst other events, Terraforma and Nextones – explains that «it’s not just about telling people to sort their trashes properly». It’s more of a «cultural thing».
During the past seven years, after managing to clean and requalify Villa Arconati’s historical garden and Labyrinth alongside Fondazione Augusto Rancilio and Borotalco, Terraforma and Threes Production analyzed the impact of the festival in different ecological fields: water supply, wastes and so on. In 2022 a new partnership was launched with Legambiente, in order to certify Terraforma as one of the association’s promoted Eco Events. To obtain the certification, an event must prove to respect a long list of good practices, including sustainable waste management.
The Planting Project
A big part in Terraforma’s adventure through Villa Arconati’s surroundings is the Planting Project, a reforestation project of the festival’s camping area, situated within the moorland area of Parco delle Groane. The project, designed by Terraforma’s partner Space Caviar (Joseph Grima’s studio), has two main cultural references. The general inspiration comes from Joseph Beuys’ 1982 performance at Documenta Kassel, when the artist planted 7000 oaks. The design aspect of the reforestation is inspired by architect Cesare Leonardi, author of ‘The Architecture of Trees’, in which he examined trees’ anatomy and configuration in relation to their shade. Oak trees, ash trees, linden trees and lime trees will contribute to neutralize Terraforma’s emissions in the future. And campers «will finally catch a break from the heat».
The interview took place three weeks before the festival. Reflecting on the frenzy surrounding an event like Terraforma – rather small but constantly growing – during its organization, Pietromarchi stated that the best part of the job, for him, would be the final one: «The tent and the festival itself. I sleep in the camping site. When the dawn comes after the first night and I go back to my tent, I see three thousand people and it feels just magic, it feels worthy».
Terraforma is a festival that embraces psychedelic music and culture in many forms, and its location has been picked and primed to accent that.