Night breaks over the metal lake disk, virgin speakers plow out electric syllables, and people start to tumble. Melt!, a festival of 20,000 with 120 acts over three days, is a diamond on the electronic calendar.
Its six stages hunker in the shadow of massive machines. Ferropolis, with the gloriously cartoonish nickname ‘The City of Iron’, is an open-air museum that commemorates Germany’s industrial heritage. The excavators squat on the shores of the Gremminer See lake. There is a parallel here between environment and music of mechanized magic – just as electronic composition crafts beauty from beeps, the lake fills a disused coal mine.
On Friday evening, as the fat sun egg dipped below the lake, Jamie XX split opinion on the beach stage. He jumped from minimal to pop to garage, a disappointingly discordant whole. One memorable funk jam, however, was Stretch’s mix of 1984 tune ‘Don’t Go Lose it Baby’ by Hugh Masekela.
After opening at walking pace with ‘Ezra Was Right’ by Grandbrothers, Bonobo played a curious but compelling set that tinkered with African percussion and layered synth, punctuating his spacious sound with spine-tingling scratches. Highlights included ‘Time’ by DrumTalk; ’93’ by Youandewan; and ‘Mimoun Marhaba’ by Maalem Mahmoud Guinia & Floating Points.
Nils Frahm on the main stage was one of the bolder artist selections. The German composer live-mixed his ethereal piano electronica, darting between instruments, bathed in purple spotlight like a Twin Peaks apparition.
Flume, also on the main stage, was a mess of super bass. From 3–5am techno heavyweight Chris Liebing thundered out a high-tempo performance on the peninsula-backed Big Wheel Stage, a welcome respite from the over-egged screeches of Hudson Mohawke, who played in the tent of the Gemini Stage.
Modeselektor played their characteristic sunrise slot. Their pile-driver ‘Bad Kingdom‘ (produced as Moderat), an anthem played repeatedly by different artists at Melt! 2014, was a highlight, teasing by twirling the introductory riff for over 10 minutes, before letting the meaty sub chug with near-painful satisfaction. The Berlin duo weren’t taking any risks, with such classics as Mount Kimbie’s ‘Made to Stray’, but it was nevertheless an uplifting show.
There was a distinctively different crowd at Melt! on the opening night. It was younger than previous years, perhaps indicating a different marketing direction. For the first time in my four years of attendance security roped off the beach because it was too busy.
Such popularity could also be reflective of electronic music’s increasingly mainstream status. The choice of “Princess of Pop” Kylie Minogue, was the festival’s most poppy headliner ever (last year’s equivalent was Royksopp & Robyn).
Her curveball selection actually turned out to be a stroke of genius from the Melt! team, the no-holds-barred-three-costume-changes-and-eight-dancers-KYLIE-explosion providing a weirdly relieving hour. I shouted nostalgically along with classics from my puberty like ‘Spinning Around‘, while spinning around.
Jon Hopkins returned Melt! to peculiar normality at 2am. The 35-year-old Surrey-born producer released a dose of transcendental melodic electronica that might be described as the audio equal of crème brûlée, ending with his creamy yet crispy remix of Coldplay’s ‘Midnight‘.
Back on the Big Wheel Stage, Sven Väth wasted three hours of Melt! time playing some ghastly thrashy electro, while groovy minimal master Marek Hemmann ended the arena’s night with some superb mellifluous music.
On the Sleepless Floor, Pete Tong played a bass-driven set that toed the line between fun and dark, with tunes such as Kollective Turmstrasse’s ‘Sorry I’m Late’. DJ Tennis followed with lighter, more textured techno, with harmonies such as ‘Tundra’ by Dorisburg.
Sunday saw a more chilled-out line-up. Jamie T brought an interesting slice of south London to the Main Stage. Howling, the soulful collaboration including Frank Wiedemann and Ry X, were the best thing on the Gemini Stage. Black-clad and theatrically static under blizzard strobe, the trio stirred the Gemini pot like three Macbeth witches, coolly building sonorous song to a heady climax.
Over on Sleepless Hot Since 82 drove the crowd to almost mosh-pit frenzy on the back of inky techno. With delirious skill that crafted a three-hour noise dually hellish and euphoric. To end the arena’s performances Nina Kraviz played gratifyingly clever, delicate techno at the Big Wheel.
It was not all wonder and light. The catering was crap. A Coca-Cola costs the same as a lager. There is a ludicrous cup-return system that forces you to choose between stashing beer cups down your trousers and losing a euro.
But even with all that, Melt!, you were a dream.