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Melt! Festival: From Hamburg to Ferropolis

July 24, 2011

Originally posted on The 405

A statement of the obvious: Festivals are the ultimate subjective experience. Thousands of different people, thousands of different paths to be taken, the equivalent of the monkey on a typewriter paradigm (often ending the festival experience with a similar IQ to that of our simian cousins ironically).

With this disclaimer in mind, I am to take this to the nth degree to bring you the edited highlights of my own deeply personal take of my Melt! Festival experience, and the prelude to the actual event; the 14th Melt! held in the East of Germany featuring an eclectic line-up of all things electronic.

Hamburg is the starting point of the journey; the plan to cycle solo from the Northern port city to Berlin (roughly 320 km)- and possibly the festival itself in Ferropolis about 100 km outside of the city in a former mining site. So with just Alisa (my bike), a film camera, a trio of maps and a belly full of meat and brotchen off I set; though it nearly never really started to tell you.

15km outside of Hamburg I get a puncture; not too much of an issue normally, except that I had already got two punctures in Hamburg over the couple of days I was there, thus using up my two spare inner tubes. And my feeble puncture repair kit was failing me on the side of the deserted road in an oppressive sun.

Desperate, upset, hot, and annoyed it was a Sunday (<em>everything</em> is shut in Germany on Sontag), a German couple came to my rescue and took an hour out of their day to fix the tyre. Absolute. Heroes. I owe them so much.

‘Tell people home… that Hamburg people are very nice’. Thomas: you just have mein fruend.

Over the course of three days a great deal of sites were seen as I rode deeper and deeper into old East Germany, as the roads and infrastructure became increasingly jaded, and as villages tended to become owned by the humble and unflappable chickens roaming the streets. In Britain, we have chavs to do this. I definitely prefer the smell of chicken shit.

The highlights of the 11-hour-a-day journeys (Yeah it would have taken much shorter but too many distractions kept popping up – fascinating towns, stopping for camera and banana breaks, beer breaks etc) included accidently stopping off for lunch at the East/West Germany border in the middle of nowhere. I was only enlightened of this fact by a couple of chatty middle-aged ornithology enthusiasts, sporting binoculars, who approach me whilst I sit on my map in the middle of sandwich time. The big watch tower was a bit of a clue though I guess. The old border:

Another distraction was crossing the Elbe river to the small town of Wittenberg (having to lug my bike and belongings over active railway lines due to some bizarre GTA IV-esque half-built bridge. I WILL get to the next level dammit) and stop off at some abandoned buildings as seen below.

After three days of intensive cycling, mental endurance, energy drinks and hugely friendly German folk with their lovely broken English conversations with me that kept me going, I arrived at Berlin (with a very sore legs. AND arse). So I lock up my bike against a road sign in Mitte , check in at my hostel and cain Bowie on my ipod whilst walking round the city at night. However…

Come morning, my bike is not there. This is where it should have been:

But now it was not. Devastating, my Alisa taken away from me. Stolen. It did dampen my spirits for sure, but still determined to make to most of the short time in Berlin.

I had heard of rumours of an abandoned theme park behind a thick of trees hidden in Treptow Park that first came about under Communist rule in the 70’s, only to be discarded. In 1991 post-reunification there was another attempt to make it sustainable but again was abandoned in the late 90’s. To this day it remains, and fucking eerie it is to explore on ones lonesome.

A good distraction to the days events – and now at least I knew the decision of whether to cycle to the festival had been made for me. The DB Bahn it was to Melt! Festival the following day then.

One night

The Festival

Thursday

The Thursday night there was nothing to do seemingly; though we did not take into account the Germans appetite for a good party. With the arena out of bounds, large marquees with lights popped up at points throughout the campsite, generally pumping out incessant techno. But it worked. It’s the kind of thing that’d get clamped down on by over-zealous security immediately in Britain. A promising start…

Friday

With the first act not kicking off on the main stage until 5’o Clock time was there to be slaughtered (and techno still blaring out). We arrive around then in awe of the setting we found ourselves in (already impressed by the large lake by the campsite), a setting featuring many 50 metre brown coal cranes, beaches, general party atmosphere and more.

Everything Everything seem like a good way to start the experience and indeed are, their catchy acapella pop melodies befitting as a prelude to a heavy weekend of music. For those who just knew the hits (yeah ‘MY KZ, UR BF’ killed it) or for the ones in the know it was an enjoyable and well received set. Accomplished live already, ending on ‘Photoshop Handsome’ a treat.

Dragged over to When The Saints Go Marching by a ‘random’ but difficult to gauge over one and a half songs, then it’s over to Nicolas Jaar in scene so befitting I feel all overcome with the idea of pre-determination as a serious force. The Meltselektor Stage is directly adjacent to the lake, on a beach with packed audience in tow creeping up a hill as dusk starts to kick in over the lake. Ridiculous, perfect.

And the deep beautification of all things electronic Mr Jaar has it bang on, playing tracks from ‘Space is the Only Noise’ which you really should check out by-the-by. Maybe a tad too chilled at this time of evening; but lest us not forget, there are still another 7/8 hours to go potentially. It’s a marathon not a sprint people. It’s shocking (and deeply annoying) to say he was born in 1990. NINE-TEEN-NINETY. Such maturity for someone so young.

We don’t capture the entirety of the set to see some of Foster The People in the Intro Zent (Intro Tent to you and I) who provide one of those sets that have you jotting down their details on your phone to check-out when you return to the normality of the real-world. Very catchy, just the right side of cheese, hugely infectious with ‘Empire of the Sun’-esque vocals. Whistling the tunes on the way out (the anthemic ‘Pumped Put Kicks’ does contain a great deal of whistling to be fair). Oh so fine Indie-pop.

I’m sadly only able to sample 10 mins of Apparat (yeah festival clashes, we all know the drill) in order to behold the Aussie charm of Cut Copy on the Gemini Stage. The ultimate festival band. That’s harsh actually, they are capable of slaying an audience in any setting. An hour of pure, unadulterated euphoric electro-pop, playing mostly new stuff from ‘Zonoscope’ with also a smattering of hits from ‘In Ghost Colours’ (‘Hearts On Fire’, ‘So Haunted’ etc).

One of the highlights of the weekend for sure, they’re a band who know how to enjoy themselves on stage more than ever currently, guitarist Tim Hoey climbing the scenery and thrashing around his instrument while frontman Dan Whitford pops his boyband shapes ‘reaches out for you tonight’ with his spindly Jack Skeleton arms. 15 minute self-indulgent electronic pleasure ‘Sun God’ sounds behemothic in this setting.

So now out of the cover to head into the wild air of night-time, which sees the gargantuan cranes light up with a wondrous lightshow stemming from them to illuminate the night sky. A spectacular site forever burned into my retinas from then on

Then the short hop back to the ‘beach stage’ for Housemeister who provide quite the epicurean lightshow -alongside some electro bangers. Just what’s required. See also after: Fake Blood. Back to tent 4:30am (probably). Which thankfully didn’t look like this one opposite ours. Yes, it was very windy.

Saturday

Oh it’s a scorcher. Exit tent 7am. Sleep in sun. Bathe in lake. Starts again at 5pm…

Energy is limited, so we head straight to the beach stage (via an hour stay in a playground sandpit in the sun – complete with working toy diggers to build castles) where we experience a good portion of a double header featuring the dj-based delights of Sizarr Soundsystem and Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeta. Much remembered for dropping in a very timely and super mix of MIA’s ‘XR2’ (Where were you in ’92? the lyrics repeated. Nope not the Zomby track…).

A slice of Patrick Wolf is caught in between who impresses on the main stage (Bench Stage) to break up the electronic barrage. Woos the crowd, ‘Magic Position’, despite the snobbery towards that album, sounds sweet on this level.

After a flirtation with the Big Wheel Stage (so called due to the, err, big rotary digging wheel next to it) –  aka the minimal techno stage to witness Ame, The Streets on the main stage are the next port of call for apparently one of their last live shows. They play everything you’d expect and want – and the crowd despite not having English as their mother tongue lap up every lyric, colloquialism and note from Mike Skinner. Packed. ‘Fit But You Know It’ = a festival moment / Jo Wiley.

Back to the ‘beach stage’ for SBTRKT who unleashes material from his eponymous new album that boasts that old school garage sound with something a bit more of a mature edge and some soulful vocals. Very bassy, very smooth. We don’t have time to see the set expand into something more undoubtedly profound as it’s Metronomy time on the Gemini Stage.

And the question for Metronomy fans is? How does the new stuff sound/blend in from ‘Album of the year contender’ The English Riviera? Answer: excellently thanks! Every songs nails it. From the all-out favourites of ‘Heart Rate Rapid’ to the easy-going superbly executed subtle-gem that is ‘The Look’. And they’ve still got the pimping lights on show – with Joseph Mount being in informal chatty sarcastic mood as per “This song is definitely about… a girl… named Corrine… in Germany… in Melt Festival”. Ah you’d have to have been there, all about the delivery. But seriously, the South-West quartet really do posses an extra dimension about them now.

Digitalism live it is next at the Main Stage, and such is there connection with Melt! Festival (having a ‘seminal’ breakthrough set here a few years back) that a huge crowd flock to see. And the delivery is bang on; from the classic electro numbers of ‘Pogo’ and ‘Zdarlight’ to the more song-orientated tracks form the new album of ‘Hearts 2 Heart’. Probably in terms of setting, crowd numbers and response, grandiose nature is it the pinnacle of the weekend. Oh and ‘Forrest Gump’? Yes. Yes. YES. “and so you RUUUN!”

Following on directly is Crystal Castles. Now, the abiding memory of them is: a) strobes (as always) and b) being INCREDIBLY LOUD. A sensory overload and a typical energetic wild performance from Alice Glass.

Sunday

There’s a different mood in the air, as everyone starts to feel the lack of sleep and excess kicking in. Even the incessant campsite techno takes a little break. To add to it, it rains non-stop from the afternoon to the evening, so a trip to the covered Gemini Stage to see José González in in order. The gentle acoustic washes over the audience as he plays ‘songs that we know from popular culture’ (‘Far Away’ – Red Dead Redemption and ‘Heartbeats’ that Sony Bravia Advert).

A short expedition to the Big Wheel stage sees a mass of people in ponchos not giving a shit about the downpour and grooving away to the minimal tech of Marcel Fengler – and it seemed rude not to join in. One of those ‘fuck it’ moments to just get stuck in in the mud against the odds.

The effervescent Bag Raiders are next on the agenda (inside, thankfully) who are just a joy to experience – their sweetly sick electro-pop a massive mood lifter. Pop-tastic ‘Sunlight’ gets everyone moving and singing along, and the whole set by the Aussie duo is one of the highlights of the weekend; switching from instrumental heads-down-over-laptop pure electronic affairs such as ‘Castles in the Air’ to the shimmering melodies of ‘Shooting Stars’. FUN.

It seems sensible to stay in the cover of the Gemini Stage – even more so when we discover Carte Blanche are to follow; continuing the theme of good time music after Bag Raiders. Carte Blanche are the collaboration of DJ Medhi from Ed Banger and Riton of electroclash fame; so you know what you’re gonna get. All out electro rise/fall stonkers.

And look! They’re on stage actually smiling and laughing! And high-fiving/embracing each other! And chatting to the audience! It’s infectious and refreshing to see two musicians on stage actually overtly enjoying the experience, and as well they might. Certainly rubs off on the crowd. Is it raining outside still? Ah no-one cares anymore.

Following our sixth slice of Knobi Rot (garlic bread to you) it’s over to Architecture in Helsinki in the Intro Zelt. And jeez there seems to be a lot of them on stage, a kinetic collective of enjoyment, lust for life and quirky tunes. ‘Do the Whirlwind’ is all a barrage of funk tweeness milked in a bubble of optimism, and they close with old favourite ‘Heart She Races’ that the audience yell at alarmingly loud levels back. A classic ‘call and response’ tune.

And now… a special moment for me personally, and I’m sure many others. I grew up with Pulp, before I even ‘liked’ music. I fell in love with Pulp after they disbanded. I had never though I’d get to see Pulp. But here Jarvis Cocker was right before my eyes. They open appropriately with ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ and from here on in it’s clear that this isn’t something vanity project; all the hits are unleashed in a crowd-pleasing frenzy and played to perfection they are.

‘Disco 2000’ still sounds as anthemic as it ever did, and the combo of ‘Something Changed’ and ‘Pencil Skirt’ still sound as earnest, dirty and touching as in the 90’s. Cocker is naturally on marvelous witty form as always, indulging the crowd in chat at length between songs and giving most a meandering introduction related to the forthcoming track. He even told Chase and Status to “Shut it” when the sound bled through and climbed the speakers. Not bad for a 47 year old. AND he chucked out an apricot, a Milky Way, a Malteser (even the way he says Maltetser sounds poetic in his deep drole northern tones), and another apricot.

He even made the rain stop half-way through after 8 hours. What a man. It was a slight shame about the weather as it meant the crowd had not come out in full-festival-force, but it slowly filled up and those who were they got an unforgettable experience. ‘Babies’ is a powerhouse delight as is ‘Sorted Out For E’s and Wizz’ (though the crowd strangely subdued for that) ‘…somewhere… in a field in Germany, alright’.

And of course… the encore. We all knew it was coming, even the 50 metre inanimate cranes knew it was coming. Common. People. What more can be said of it? Still performed with the same verve and force of say, I don’t know, a Glastonbury ’95 set, the response is totemic and the ultimate sing-a-long of the weekend clocking in at about the 10 minute mark live. It’s always been about the lyrics with Pulp, striking a chord with people whilst being insightful, dry and poetic.

A stupendous end to a hectic, surreal and obscenely enjoyable weekend. Melt! Festival strikes the perfect balance between size (20,000), line-up, setting, ethos (the little things such as free programs, receiving 5 euros for filling up your litter bag, no over-zealous security etc), relaxed staff and super people. Atmosphere is incomparable to anything in Britain, and yet it is still on the ‘hidden gem’ side of things. Long may that continue frankly. Go next year, just don’t go telling everyone about it okay?

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