Electro, dubstep, nu disco, footwork, hip-hop, UK funky, deep house ... napcore … Just a handful of the dance music genres that rocked my snowboard boots last March at DJ Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide festival at Leysin in the Swiss Alps.
Apart from that last one, that is. Napcore was the pre-dinner snooze strategy my ski buddy and I adopted to make sure we experienced Leysin’s pistes to the max, as well as the event’s sonic riches.
“Hands up,” Peterson told me at the event. “At the first edition, in 2013, we made some schoolboy errors. We underestimated how much people would want to ski and board, and how tired that makes you. So, with our parties starting at midnight and running till 4am or later, we had some zombies on our hands. This time we’ve put more focus on the outdoor, afternoon après-ski sets, plus earlier smaller-scale club nights, so the sporty ones can get up in the morning.”
This relaxed programming approach drew around 600 attendees to Leysin last year, including 200 locals, forming a laid-back and like-minded music-loving community.
“Everyone’s here because they actively seek out this kind of music,” Adam, a fresh-faced marketer from London told me, “so they already have a passion in common.”
“And the small scale makes it really friendly,” added Nina, a GP and Adam’s new BFF since they met at one of the parties. “You don’t even need to swap numbers. We just say ‘See you later’, and somewhere around town, or on the terrace of the Les Fers restaurant [on the slopes where Parisian DJs are putting on soul, funk and disco daytime sets], it just happens.”
Built on the steep, south-facing slopes of the Tour d’Aï, high above the Rhône valley, Leysin’s distinctive architecture speaks of its history. The higher reaches, many switchbacks above the traditional wooden chalets at its base, are studded with palatial belle époque sanatoriums, and it is bisected by an imposing stone viaduct that hauls cog trains up from the valley floor. Its look is part Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, part Lowry townscape.
As a ski resort, it’s no Zermatt, although the large freestyle park that most years hosts the Champs, Europe’s oldest snowboarding competition, is world-class. But its modest 60km of predominantly red and blue pistes cover a compact basin beneath the sheer cliffs at the Tour d’Aï’s summit – offering glimpses of Lake Geneva, Mont Blanc and the Eiger – then roll down wooded lower slopes facing the Dents du Midi.
There’s another 40km in the next-door village of Les Mosses when conditions are good enough for the shuttle bus to run, and the 3,000m glacier area of Les Diablerets is 30km away – a feasible day out.
Late-season lift tickets are negotiated to sweeten prices for Worldwide guests – a four-day lift and party pass cost €80, or €120 for the week. The deal is a steal for beginners and intermediates though no contender for “season’s main ski trip” for the more experienced.
The 2015 festival, from 26-29 March, is expecting to double the number of guests and has already confirmed some key acts, such as Washington DC’s emerging soul-jazz master Diggs Duke, French guitar-laced house duo Kuage, house and garage star Julio Bashmore, jazzy grime trickster Swindle and dub-reggae don David Rodigan.
The free après-ski sets, which were highlights last year, will be repeated. “The après sessions are the magic for me,” says Peterson. “There’s nothing like a cold beer at the end of a day’s skiing when you’ve got great energy from the slopes, and if you can combine that with brilliant music and fun people … it doesn’t get much better.” Winding up the 2014 festival’s final day, his own set on the terrace of the Bel Air Hotel was a joyous avalanche of fat beats tumbling from one of Worldwide’s signature precision sound systems that sent the crowd – three crowd-surfing giant penguins, a Chewbacca and a slightly weird number of Camilla Parker-Bowles masks among them – into raptures.“Effortless, eclectic, uplifting genius,” said Rui, a Portuguese sound designer and part-time DJ visiting for his second year, “Gilles Peterson should rule the world.”
• More details at worldwidefestival.com and leysin.ch. Flights from London City to Geneva provided by Swiss (swiss.com), returns from £99. Train travel from Geneva airport to Leysin costs £34.70 return (sbb.ch). Accommodation provided by Mercure Classic Hotel (classic-hotel.ch, doubles from £77 B&B)