Melt! Festival 2014 – Ferropolis, Germany
The organisers of Melt! must have a covert branding arrangement with the weather gods, because as soon as you step onto the Ferropolis grounds, you know you’re in for three days of nonstop sun and humidity that means you always feel like you’re…well. Thankfully, along with the surrounding lake, there was body-quenching music from all around the spectrum: from seminal Detroit techno practitioners to Cape-sourced afro-pop to manically sincere synth pop to groove-resistant dubstep to immense trip-hop legends to trap-tinged alternative hip-hop to post-punk electrofunk. Here are 14 of the best moments from Melt! ’14.
There’s a peculiar dissonance to seeing Actress play on a stage set up on a sandy lakeside beach, especially when he’s playing cuts from Ghettoville, January’s spiritual successor to 2008 debut Hazyville. Despairing, groove-resistant drone is hardly the sort of thing you’d expect on the opening night of an otherwise-upbeat festival, but it was great to see Cunningham refuse to punch up his source material to suit the setting, and the great expanse of water lying ominously to our left added a touch of menace to the melancholy of his dystopian soundtrack.
The NY duo of ‘blue-wave’ wunderkind Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington delivered their dubbed-out prog minimalism with great aplomb, garnering thorough approval from the Intro Tent’s packed-out crowd, who were clearly well-versed in their tunes from last year’s Psychic. On that record, Jaar’s characteristically-chilled beats and drawn-out yelps blended perfectly with Harrington’s bluesy guitar lines and roaring solos to create one of 2013’s most atmospheric headphone albums; live, they’re even better, intuitively feeding off each other while also tightly controlling the mood in a way that leaves you feeling both euphoric and on tenterhooks.
What else is there that can be said at this point? Three hours of bliss from the godfather of Detroit techno.
Berlin-based Bavarian Recondite has put out around a dozen releases in the last two years, a work rate that probably makes it a lot easier to operate on a strictly live basis, something basically unheard of among contemporary DJs. It also gives his sets a smooth consistency that befits their emotive intimacy, despite the wide range of ground covered, from icy techno to blissful deep house, with snippets of acid and field recordings in between. Next to the lake on the Melt!Selektor stage, the surroundings couldn’t have been more perfect for an early-morning recharge.
When I saw Metronomy in a Wellington bar five years ago, they wore push lights stuck to their chests and had synchronised dance moves. These days, their aesthetic eccentricity is transferred to cutesy cartoon clouds that hang on stage and match the neon trimming of their instruments, and they’ve evolved into a confident five-piece that proved easily up to the task of headlining Saturday night on the main stage. Thankfully, their irrepressible sense of fun and unabashed silliness remains, and for just over an hour we were treated to a mix of gleefully funky basslines, multi-part harmonies and upbeat rhythmns with the cute-but-cutting melancholy of Joseph Mount’s lyrics. An energising corrective to self-seriousness.
Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox is one of the more interesting experimental pop musicians going around, mixing woozy psychedelia with dub rhythms and Brian Wilson-esque vocals, all melted together and filtered through a dreamy haze. If his set at the Gemini stage is anything to go by (which was basically all new material), his forthcoming LP Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper will be another dose of vibrant euphoria, accentuated with heavier beats and choppier vocals. Live, Lennox played both musician and muse, twisting and warping himself to perfection, ably supported by creepy morphing visuals that reflected his chameleonic musical vibe.
How earnest can a frontman be? is the question that Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring seems to be trying to answer while on stage, and while it would be easy to poke fun, he seems so goddamn genuine about it you can’t help but admire his bravado and utter lack of giving a shit. After all, why is it that it nowadays seems so strange/notable when a singer seems so emotionally connected to his own lyrics that he puts his heart into his performances? The band’s electro pop stylings are pretty standard, but that means there’s more room for Herring’s crooning baritone and occasional guttural snarl, with the audience happily performing the role of backup chorus. Clearly feeding of their enthusiasm, Herring was sure to respond in kind, giving context to almost every song and explaining the lyrics’ relationship to his own experiences. It may be cheesy, it may be indulgent, it may be overly sentimental, but when it’s this much fun, who cares?
Syrian musician Omar Souleyman has reportedly released over 500 live and studio albums, but it’s last year’s Four Tet-produced Wenu Wenu that has arguably crystallised his steadily-building reputation in the West. Playing directly after Hebden, Souleyman’s dabke-inflected mix of techno beats with Casio-ed approximations of traditional Syrian instruments was both unlike anything else on the Melt!Selektor stage while simultaneously giving the crowd exactly what they wanted at 2 a.m. – compulsively danceable grooves.
NYC rapper Le1f is a deliciously fun presence onstage, twisting and writing along to his grime-coloured trap beats in a way that only someone with a degree in ballet and modern dance can. His performative persona is far from a smokescreen, though – his flow is as fluent and precise as his dance moves, his verses contorting with a swagger that is equal parts edgy and elegant. Easily one of the most enjoyable sets of the festival.
I’d never heard of John Grant before he appeared onstage early Saturday evening, casually clad in football shorts and flip-flops, but immediately recognised his voice from “I Try to Talk to You”, Hercules & Love Affair’s recent single, in which he sings about discovering he’s H.I.V. positive while backed by a thumping house beat. His own tunes tended to swing between the alt-folk of The Queen of Denmark, his 2010 debut collaboration with Midlake and the moodier electro of last year’s Pale Green Ghosts, but his voice was a mellifluous constant throughout, soaring out across the small band of devotees gathered in front of the Main Stage and lending emotional weight to his alternately wistful and sardonic lyrics about lovers lost and found. Also, serious bonus points for speaking to the crowd in fluent German throughout.
Plaintiveness seemed to be a common theme for many of the vocalists that took the stage in the Intro tent, and Son Lux was no exception. Luckily, this was balanced out by ebullient instrumentation and tirelessly propulsive drumming, and it’s arguably this tension that makes their best tracks so compelling, even though frontman Ryan Lott’s lyrics and delivery sometimes veer too sharply into self-sorrowful territory. Playing primarily from Lanterns, the trio did well to flesh out Lott’s jam-packed arrangements in a way that made them dance-friendly without sacrificing much in the way of textural complexity.
From 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to 12 p.m. on Monday, long after most people had already left the festival site, the Sleepless Floor ran nonstop for those not ready to stop after regular programming and, y’know, sleep. It also provided a more active alternative to kipping under the trees or cooling off in the lake during the day – if you’re going to be out in the sun in 30+ heat, you might as well be dancing, right? From Lake People to Alle Farben to nd_Baumecker to the traditional post-festival set from Ellen Allien, Sleepless Floor had you covered for when you just wanted to dance….more.
In 2014, if you wanted to give someone the perfect example of a track that exemplifies how the collision of IDM and pop music sensibilities actually can have fruitful results, you could do a lot worse than play them Moderat’s “Bad Kingdom”. Modeselektor and Apparat are rare examples of artists who have in recent years played a role in changing the landscape of both the techno scene and the ‘mainstream’, particularly in Europe, and so it was cool so see them draw such a huge Sunday crowd and get the kudos they deserve. Their show was perhaps the best example of how phenomenal the soundsystems at Melt! really were: you didn’t need to be anywhere near the stage to hear the thump of “A New Error” or Sascha Ring’s croon on “Rusty Nails”. For an hour or so, it felt like Moderat essentially were playing to the entirety of Ferropolis, which seemed completely appropriate for an act which, both as a whole and in its parts, has been an omnipresent force in the electronic music scene for quite some time.
One of the best things about big festivals is that you usually get to see one of your all-time favourite bands that you’d never had the chance to see before. The risk, of course, is that by the time you get around to seeing them headline the aforementioned big festival, they’re a shadow of their former selves. This is definitively not the case with Portishead. Over an hour and a half that was rich in cuts from all three of their records, the Bristol collective was in absolutely stellar form. Amazingly, Beth Gibbons’ voice sounds exactly as it did back in 1994, and the rest of the band is equally up to the task, with every ponderous bassline, every urgent tom pattern, every menacing tone ringing out clearly while also combining to form the inimitable menace that is forms the essence of a Portishead concert. You couldn’t ask for a better closing headliner, and as we streamed around the giant mining machines that framed the main stage, you got the feeling that everyone was aware they’d witnessed something special. The perfect end to a wonderful festival.
Words: Ryan Eyers
Photos: Stephan Flad