The sixth edition of SANDBOX Festival in El Gouna, Egypt is a place for everyone to play free from judgement and as free spirits. It is about community and respect and will feature a mix of local rising stars and headliners like Ame, The Mole and Mike Servito all play the picture perfect setting on the Red Sea Riviera, where kite surfers enjoy themselves and sunsets take your breath away. 

The people who go to SANDBOX aren’t looking to drink to forget, they are looking for mindful experiences with likeminded curatives and music lovers. As such, for the three day festival a truly open minded and international community comes together to celebrate life, music and the beauty of the natural world around them. Here we speak to the men behind it for a real insight into what makes it tick. 

We sat down with Tito El Kachab one of the people behind SANDBOX to get the low down…

Tell us about the party scene in Egypt – what sort of events and clubs do you have? How long have they been around?
The party scene in Egypt, if you were to boil it down in simplistic terms you would first divide it into Arabic and Western/World (mainly western influenced commercial/dance music/underground).

It’s important to remember that the western electronic music scene here in Egypt (especially House/Techno) is enjoyed by (or exposed to) a small percentage of the population. 

We have a few small clubs/bars in Cairo who are dedicated to presenting new music whether it’s a live band, live electronic, or DJ such as Cairo Jazz Club (CJC), Zig Zag, and The Tap. In general the House/Techno scene here is pushed forward mainly by promoters who move around and the some of the nights at the aforementioned clubs.  The events by promoters vary from intimate 100 person parties to large scale custom built venues of 1500+ people.  Mainly over the last five years the scene has been developing.

Our parties at Nacelle became a weekly fixture with our House Sessions series that began in 2011.  This is where Cairo began to see regular bookings from the deep house/tech house/techno side.  Other parties also began but they were monthly or sometimes less regular.  Some names that have graced the decks of our weekly parites are Francesca Lombardo, Damian Lazarus, Maxxi Soundsystem, Hot Since 82, MANDY, Tini & The Gang, Alex Niggeman, Genius of Time, Rampue, Jay Shepheard, Til Von Sein, Chopstick & Johnjon, Oxia, Agoria, Benoit & Sergio, Martin Buttrich, Noir, Dennis Ferrer, Monkey Safari, Superflu, Britta Arnold, Adriatique, Daniel Bortz, and many more.  We helped open up the scene again and show that many different things were possible, especially the ability to bring names that people don’t recognize!  Most of the people we’ve hosted were not really known at the time by most of our audience, just those that really love it.  Now many of these names, even the smaller ones, are Egypt favorites!

What are the most popular underground sounds right now? Is there an underground, or is it more commercial?
In general the majority of the party scene is still english commercial and arabic.  However for House/Techno there are plenty of great parties.  As Nacelle, now that we’ve grown we obviously present more of the popular underground artists, but we also take the time to present more specific bookings.  There is a growing movement of smaller promoters/producers pushing a variety of different sounds such as experimental and minimal.

We, as Nacelle, also have a night dedicated to Disco, Funk, Soul, Afro beat and other dance sounds called the B-Side, that’s been going on for 5 years.  A lot of House/Techno DJs here in Egypt have developed that side of their sound on the B-Side decks.  We’ll be presenting a bit of that side at Sandbox this year.

It is important to mention the Electro-Shabi (sung in Arabic) scene here in Egypt.  This is a massive scene with an appeal across all socio-economic backgrounds and has similarities to the rise of hip hop in the US.  People making sound with any gear, no matter how cheap, they can get their hands on and reaching millions of people. This is a completely different scene and sound but if one wants to talk about the largest electronic scene in Egypt, this is it.  Names  like Islam Chipsy already being exported internationally and making waves. Though there are many more notable artists here.  That’s a completely separate article and you’d need to speak to those that really know!  It’s very interesting.

Are there lots of kids and younger people getting into dance music? Are there places for them to buy records, make music, buy hardware and stuff?
Of course digital DJing and Production has made a big splash among up and coming kids here. Recently there are a handful of new DJs who are getting into playing vinyl.  Before that it was mainly the veterans that have collected dance music vinyl.  There are no places to buy new dance records so that lose yourself in a vinyl shop experience is really missing, but people order online.  There are of course shops that have old vinyl like disco gems and all kinds of 60s,70s,80s.

On the production front, lots of people are getting into making their own studios and outputting some really promising stuff.  That’s actually the most exciting thing going on here is younger kids who are getting into production.  We also have a very good distributor here who also has been making great efforts in bringing in all kinds of gear, from niche all the way to Native instruments which opens up access to gear here.  The future of electronic music coming out of Egypt is bright.

What impact have recent political changes had on all this – I understand the change has been good?
Well the political changes have shaken people up and I think opened them up to new experiences, so from that perspective it’s been great.  People are more socially aware & accepting of other people’s differences and that is very obvious on the dance floor. What is amazing for the party scene is that everyone comes together for the love of music regardless of their differences. 

Are the government and local councils happy to have events like this, do they now recognise their importance?
At the moment, the government is working at encouraging event organizers to make events that especially target international audiences.  However it’s not exactly formal support yet.  There is “talk”.  

Tell us about SANDBOX, where it started, and why. Who is behind it? What was the aim?
SANDBOX was created by Nacelle, our events brand in Cairo.  We have always preferred festival vibes over club vibes as they allow much more space to enjoy the music your way and allow everyone to be exposed to so many more styles.  In Egypt there wasn’t really any major festival like this in electronic music.  We wanted to bring festival culture to another level in Egypt.

The aim was to introduce a festival that year on year would grow and eventually become a fixture in the international festival circuit.  We wanted to create a festival that’s not all about headliners and that really focuses on the whole experience of enjoying your environment as well as the music.  We try and reach out to as many artists who would be willing to stay for the whole experience.  Naturally many DJs have busy schedules but we usually host about 30-40% or our guest artists for the whole festival.

What are the skills of the people involved, what are their backgrounds, why and how did they come together for Sandbox?
The direct Nacelle team is quite diverse from engineers, architects, hospitality management, marketing and of course a few of us are DJs which is how it all started in the first place.  I’d say there’s a strong passion from all of us to make events.  We all take it very personally and we do it with a very honest approach. For SANDBOX the Nacelle team works with VJs, DJs, lighting designers, graphic designers from different places around the world of course, and from within Egypt.  Over the past 7 years of making events we’ve met lots of crazy talents and we usually like to work with people who we vibe well with.

Many of our current team members were regulars on our dance floors!

How has it evolved and changed over the last five years What is new for 2017?
In the beginning it was just a 1 day Festival and was kind of testing the waters for us.  We had only one target which was gather everyone on the beach for the whole day and night and see how the Egyptian market responds.  And also see what we’re capable of as a team, we were quite new to this!

Starting with the second Edition we started to put together our concept.  Over the years I think we’ve just been pushing the boundaries of what’s economically feasible in Egypt for a festival that aims to grow organically.  Each year we push a little further.  Even our choice of dates is not a holiday in Egypt which was chosen intentionally in order to provide cheaper accommodation prices as well as not compete for mindshare in a busy holiday period.  We want our crowd to take a vacation for SANDBOX specifically!

In 2015 we made the festival 3 days and SANDBOX took off internationally.  We are still mostly an Egyptian audience, which really provides a very warm atmosphere.  However this year, 2017 we’ll hopefully reach 40% attendance from abroad.  We think it’s important that there is a balance between both in the audience and the lineup.  This year the lineup will also feature 40% local artists of which we have plenty of.  On the live front, we have some amazing Egyptian producers that will be featured at SANDBOX this year.

We really look forward to presenting 2017 to everyone, be prepared for a more diverse line up focused on more styles, a second stage, more installations, and more parties!

What are the key ingredients to get right at Sandbox, what is most important for you and for the clubbers? Light, sound, decoration, dancers, or just the music itself?
Well first, music and sound is a foundation.  These are a given I think for any serious music festival.  We focus very hard on providing high quality festival sound, and we have received great feedback from the crowd and all the international artists.  We also choose the lineup in such a way that allows for our artists to meet new talents that they might not have heard about and I think that provides a good atmosphere of music.  Last year for example we hosted Monolink, and many of the DJs who were visiting had not heard of him and were very impressed with his performance.

I think the key ingredient in SANDBOX is a healthy dose of play.  While music is the foundation, it’s also not so necessary to take everything so seriously.  It’s important for the crowd and the dj to relax and just have fun together.  We are mindful of this when selecting our lineup, designing our stage, and when targeting our audience.  And I think the Egyptian crowd which we have the pleasure of being with all year, really shines at Sandbox.  We are lovers of the beach, we’re spoiled with two beautiful coastlines and two very incredible seas and Egyptians definitely know how to enjoy their time on the beach. Most of the international artists who stay more than just for their sets, really vibe well off the whole thing.

Everything from the production to the operations is done to provide a very specific atmosphere that allows for the vibe of the people to really come through.  Everyone on our team takes their job very personally and their characters are what define the attitude of the festival.

And what does it offer apart from music – what can people expect to get involved in?
Well the most interesting thing about SANDBOX 2015, 2016, and now 2017 for visitors is that it’s held in the resort town of El Gouna.  The festival grounds are pretty much in the desert by the beach (at the edge of the developments), but the center of El Gouna is just 10 minutes away and bustling with restaurants, and bars, a couple of marinas.  It is a premiere Kitesurfing destination, there are boat trips, fishing, kite surfing and scuba diving. 

At the festival itself we have a park with swings, seesaws, and more. We have the beach area where you can just enjoy a lazy or crazy day at the beach.  Directly in front of the beach you’ll find Egypt’s most serious kite surfers doing their thing while the music is blasting.  Lots of fun for those who kite.   Of course we have a food court with very interesting brands that we invite even from Cairo. Then of course you meet all kinds of people and who knows where the party leads!

I think the best thing at SANDBOX is that Egyptians are very friendly people and it’s never uncommon to just meet a group of people and they welcome you as one of their own and you have an adventure with them, whether its going on another trip, an after party, a meal at their mom’s house for awesome cooking, anything.  We easily make friends with visitors and we’re great hosts!

Tell us about the location, what makes it special, how did you chose it?
Well as mentioned in the last question , the location El Gouna is one of the most interesting touristic projects in Egypt.  It’s a community with many year round residents, restaurants, marinas, schools. So you really feel the vibe of a small town on the beach, and then 5-10 minutes and you’re in SANDBOX.

Gouna is very far from the hustle and bustle of Cairo, which is always a welcome and needed break for most cairenes; the so generally the Gouna atmosphere is a very laid back and skews towards more personal freedom. 

Musically what should people be excited about at Sandbox 2017?
We have many first time heard sets/collaborations happening.  On the local front we have 4 artists preparing all new original sets for Sandbox.  These are Fulltone, The Meteors Project, Hassan Abou Alam, and Hatem El Chiati.  They are all very talented home grown producers that have been getting noticed by many international labels.  Truly world class sounds.

Internationally we have Satori debuting his new band formation and live set which is really exciting.  We’re all big Satori fans.  And we also have a b2b live set from Einmusik & Jonas Saalbach who always prepare something new when they play together. Ame (Live) is also joining us which is a real treat for us here.  Another couple of artists we’re excited for are Mike Servito and The Mole (Live).  We’ve reached out to a lot of great artists from all over.  It’s a very diverse lineup with about 20 coming from abroad, and we’ll leave most of it to the announcement ?