The province of Macerata in Italy’s Marche region is a picturesque area of green farmland, rolling landscapes and church spires that can be seen from miles away. It’s home to FAT FAT FAT, a festival run by a group of locals who started throwing parties nearby in the early 2010s. In an area like this one, dotted with settlements but lacking the central focus of a big city, running regular events can be a struggle. After a few years of gradually diminishing returns, the crew decided to launch an annual festival in 2016, bringing a crowd from across Italy and beyond to enjoy a carefully curated lineup in a beautiful setting.
Three days of music are spread across two locations. Friday night took place in the historical Piazza Vittoria Emanuele II in Morrovalle, one of the area’s many tiny hilltop towns, and saw acts perform on a stage in the square below an illuminated medieval clock tower. Saturday and Sunday evenings were hosted at Grancia di Sarrocciano, where two dance floors sat either side of an old farmhouse at the end of a cypress tree lined avenue. The set up was simple – there’s very little that needs doing in the way of production in such an exquisite setting.
DJs and live acts joined the dots between house, disco, hip-hop and soul. The festival has a cohesive but unrestrictive music policy – summed up best by the FAT FAT FAT Soundsystem DJs who played for several hours each night. At their sets you could hear tracks by CJ Bolland and James Brown within the same 20 minutes, to the joy of the ever-enthusiastic but relaxed crowd. The line up featured some pretty eye-catching headliners, but in general it was the little surprises and one-off moments that were the most exciting.
Carista followed Shigeto and co. in the Piazza. Sadly, due to the late start her slot had to be cut slightly short. She made up for lost time immediately by taking things up a level, skipping the warm up and laying down a set of loose and banging house, weaving in disco and acid cuts throughout. There were no shortages of great peak time house sets over the weekend, but Carista’s was easily one of the best. Tracks like ‘Grand High Priest – Mary Mary’ epitomise the perfect balance of groove and rave she manages to pull off.
Andres was a late edition to the lineup after his live set with Amp Fiddler was cancelled. Closing the Piazza, he stuck to his own personal brand of deep house, which is interspersed with Detroit electro, hip-hop and breaks. He mixed energetically – scratching relentlessly, throwing in curveball vocal samples (like a ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ acapella) and hardly dropping the kick for a second. At one point he played an incredible live version of his classic ‘New For You’, with a sax solo that had mouths hanging open on the dance floor. It was something between technical master class and an anything-goes party set.
Lakuti opened up on a hot Saturday afternoon with a four hour set. She started with an empty dance floor, sound tracking everyone’s first aimless traipses through the garden of La Grancia with lazy soul and disco. As the golden hour approached the crowd in front of her started to thicken. She responded with dustier, deeper grooves and hats that that swung and popped a little harder. By the time she played Jellybean’s ‘Twilight Dome Pt. 2’ around 8:30pm, the seamless transition between low-slung mid afternoon soul and pumping, late night house was complete. As warmup sets go it was fairly straightforward, but built with an impeccable sense of pacing – the sort of set that could only come from someone with Lakuti’s experience and deep record collection.
Khalab’s music is an amalgam of diverse and international influences, including afrobeat, Afghan music, electro, techno and dub. Taking a darker and more intense tone than anyone who’d come before, he challenged the crowd with a freeform set of his own compositions, crafted from barreling kicks, polyrhythms and trippy, hollowed out samples. He touched on genres that you wouldn’t really have expected to hear at the festival – at points half time or broken beats brought to mind UK funky and dubstep, while his squiggly and frantic synth lines evoked trance or Detroit techno. It was some of the most intricate, weird and hard hitting music heard all weekend, and it had some other artists in the booth looking on in amazement.
With a record collection that resists genre categories, and an ability to make slower and more laid back records work wonders on a dance floor, Mafalda was a perfect match for the tiring Sunday evening crowd. After resetting the dance floor with some Anderson Paak early on, she laid down a set of soul, dubby house, hip-hop and everything in between, mixing casually and playing each track out in full. It’s a deceptively difficult way to build a set – when each track is quite different from the last, but there was enough excitement and momentum not to interrupt the flow. Regardless of genre, there was a sensitivity and romance that ran through everything she played, a feeling that came to a head when she closed with Tyler the Creator’s ‘911/Mr. Lonely’. In many ways it’s a classic ‘headphones’ track – careful production, unconventional structure and yearning, introverted lyrics. It’s a track that most DJs would never consider playing to a crowded dance floor, yet something about the setting, the quality of the sound system and the gorgeous music that it followed made it sound better than ever before.
Mark de Clive Lowe, Shigeto and Melanie Charles
There was a tense start to Friday night as a storm that threatened but never broke held things up. After a couple of hours of waiting the crowd started to get impatient, chanting ‘Fat Fat Fat’ as the crew cautiously sound checked. When the music finally started there was a collective sigh of relief.
Mark de Clive Lowe, Shigeto and Melanie Charles took to the stage after a very short warm up set. They dedicated their set to Ras G, the LA beat scene icon who sadly passed away last month, before playing a gorgeous cover of Pharoah Sanders’ ‘The Creator has a Master Plan’ – Melanie Charles supplying the melody on her flute, as well as singing the vocals. They then rolled out an hour of stripped back jazz, soul and hip-hop, including a particularly memorable 2-steppy take on De La Soul’s ‘Stakes is High’. Talking to Shigeto afterwards, we learned that this was the first set the three had ever played together, and that their first rehearsal was only two days before, in a studio a few miles from Morrovalle. It felt like an education and a primer on the genres that form the festival’s musical backbone. An instant highlight.