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Now in its 16th year, 2013 proved to be anything but unlucky for the sold-out Melt! Festival, with the clear blue skies that greeted visitors on Friday destined to remain unchanged for the entirety of the three-day event. Taking place at the incomparable Ferropolis (‘City of Iron’), a former coal mine turned open-air museum/lake located roughly two hours south of Berlin, this year’s incarnation of Melt! wass easily the most well-organised music festival I’ve ever been to. Extra-musically, it was a breeze: camping was straightforward, amenities were plentiful and well-spaced, it was easy to get around, and the food options were as diverse as they were delicious – Japanese grills, vegan Döners, Chinese stir-frys and gourmet sandwiches were available alongside standard fried fare. The festival was also filled with lots of nice little touches: each drinks stall was subtitled in a different language (e.g. Getränke, Bebidas, Nápoje, Drycker, Bevande), perhaps to reflect the fact that 1/3 of visitors came from outside of Germany, while spots between the stages were filled with distractions like mini ping-pong tables, a giant trampoline, a chill-out station with a view of the beach, and a tiny, banger-dropping wood cabin that seemed to be having as much fun as the rest of the festival put together. Add in three days’ worth of eclectically-programmed but well-balanced music, and you’ve got a recipe for a killer festival. Here’s how it went down. 

Friday

After setting up camp and catching the short shuttle bus to the main space, visible from miles away thanks to the collection of gargantuan mining machines that keep watch over the festival, I wandered over to the Big Wheel stage to catch a few Joy Orbison tunes. Playing a stripped-down version of his dense, forward-thinking recorded material, his set deployed a dark, bass-heavy vibe that felt totally at odds with the idyllic setting, but was met with roaring approval by the already-messy crowd. Just around the corner, at the beachside Melt!Selektor stage, the audience were equally enthused by the tsunami-inducing trap of Sick Girls. Clearly enjoying their time on stage, they seemed to spend as much time dancing around the stage as they did using their equipment, inspiring all manner of bodily convulsions and hilarious attempts at homage (including ones exhibited by yours truly).

As fun as they are, I couldn’t help but be drawn away by the siren call of Austra, playing over on the Mainstage. In general, there is very little cross-stage interference throughout the three days, but when dealing with a sonic quantity as piercing as the voice of Katie Stelmanis, there’s little you can do. It seems harsh to the other three band members, all of whom delivered their throbbing synthpop with well-controlled vigour (including a deliciously camp keyboardist who looked as if he’d borrowed Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat and re-purposed it as a cutoff vest for summer), but for me it was all about the vocals, which had a stunning resonance and emotional depth that allowed the set to transcend its festival setting and still feel intimate and personal. Her outfit, consisting of a glittering gold jacket, artfully ripped stockings, and absurdly ineffectual sunglasses, only added to the otherwordliness with which she graced the stage, and the crowd ate it all up, along with the seamless mix of old and new material. Truly compelling.

Racing over to the nearby Gemini stage, I arrived to witness the end of Blue Hawaii, who had moulded their ethereal brand of ambient pop into a collection of dance-ready bangers designed to move bodies, perhaps influenced by keyboardist Alex Cowan’s stint living in Berlin. While the added physicality gave the songs a muscular edge, it was a little disappointing if, like me, you were hoping for the more subtle textures of their recorded work, like that of their beautifully understated sophomore album Untogether, but was understandable given the setting.

Next up on the Mainstage was James Blake, who drew one of the largest and most adoring crowds of the entire festival. As someone who didn’t warm to recent effort Overgrown, particularly in relation to his excellent early E.Ps, I was pleasantly surprised to find the new songs felt transformed onstage, with tracks like “Life Round Here”, “Retrograde” and “Digital Lion” propelled by a newfound emotional urgency, justifying their presence amongst classic tracks like “CMYK”, “The Bell’s Sketch” and “Limit To Your Love”, the opening bar of which must contain the most highly-applauded two piano chords in recent memory.

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Grahame Farmer

Grahame Farmer’s love affair with electronic music goes back to the mid-90s when he first began to venture into the UK’s beloved rave culture, finding himself interlaced with some of the country’s most seminal club spaces. A trip to dance music’s anointed holy ground of Ibiza in 1997 then cemented his sense of purpose and laid the foundations for what was to come over the next few decades of his marriage to the music industry.

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