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For a festival that’s been going for 18 years, Melt! still feels like a secret that Germany has only just started sharing
Tucked down a non-descript dust track somewhere near Berlin, the journey to Melt! is a pilgrimage with a million different meanings, a place where Bavarian disco queens dance with Dettman fans under a dystopian skyline.
Held on a spit of land home to little more than a collection of souped up industrial cranes, Melt! has the initial feel of an abandoned wasteland. Stages are scattered around the machinery that comes to life when nobody’s looking, underneath which 25,000 Europeans quietly lose their shit for one weekend a year. The site is surrounded by an enormous lake and as the sun sets into the water, the night is illuminated by sporadic balls of fire thrown out by the cranes.
The crowd who dance below the fire is varied, from Dutchmen who've driven from Dam with boot loads of speakers and stash, to Kylie fans who care little about the rest of the line up. Policed by practically no-one, festival goers can come and go as they please, ferried between arena and campsite by a twenty four hour stream of shuttle buses; Germany’s notorious efficiency proves itself once more in a consistent lack of queues throughout.
A couple of the acts over the weekend would always bring out the lingering British barmy army - a dependable sight at every festival with a solid line up and a decent ticket price. Jamie xx’s lakeside set on the Selektor stage had the atmosphere of an away game sponsored by Wavey Garms, its crowd made up of young, male and distinctly SE15 types. A rapturous cry launched as snatches of "All Under One Roof Raving" dropped and a wry smile spread as “WE KEPT IT UK” fast became the unofficial chant of the night. A setting sun and flurry of red smoke over the water made his a quick contender for set of the weekend.
Followed by Bonobo and Autechre, the Selektor stage proved its worth over the weekend as a solid choice for quality British exports. Further highlights included Saturday night's showing from the inimitable Kevin Martin, AKA The Bug. Bringing his murky basslines and grime snatches to a strictly eyes down crowd, he was joined on stage by the silhouetted outlines of Miss Red and Roll Deep originators Manga and Flowdan. Skepta freestyles and the inevitable final roll of "Skeng" brought a special kind of darkness to the edge of the water.
The tangible difference between stages seemed entirely appropriate for a festival whose line up choices dipped from hard techno to sparkly pop. If the Selektor stage had the salty taste of the British Isles about it, the larger, behemoth like Big Wheel Stage felt definitely more Kraut. Acts like Marcel Dettman and Sven Vath brought and kept a steady home crowd, responsible for keeping the mud in front of the stage perpetually churned by all day and all night stomping.
Bowed legs could find solace and ample seating over at Melt’s two larger stages: the undercover Gemini marquee remained dedicated to pursuing the festival’s high energy agenda with bookings from separate ends of the critical spectrum. BBC favourites Years & Years on Friday night and Mercury winners Young Fathers stepped up to the opportunity to prove themselves on foreign shores, as London Grammar re-jigged "Help Me Lose My Mind" with a distinctly darker territory in mind.
The main stage’s low rumble of ambience on Friday served as an ominous precursor to the party cannon that was to explode over it on Saturday night. The event the entire festival seemed to have been waiting for, began with an all singing, all dancing set from the grandfather of disco, Giorgio Moroder. Playing behind an enormous booth to a backdrop of visuals from forty years of hit making, the septuagenarian's set was an uncontrollable nail gun of party anthems, ricocheting off rows of fans covered in Kylie Minogue apparel.
A more suitable warm up act couldn’t have been chosen for Kylie and her appearance made Melt! suddenly feel as if it had transformed from an underground rave into the final night of a stadium tour with techno trimmings. In 90 minutes she’d managed to reel through every hit that any self-respecting music fan should be able to name, showing an audience who might not have been otherwise interested precisely how a pop concert is staged - including a tip of her perfectly delivered "99 Red Balloons".
The tolls of dusk till dawn dancing paired with a schizophrenic weather pattern started to show on Sunday, when pools of rainwater liquidised the tired floor of Ferropolis. A scattered line up meant that the feeling of a ‘final push’ was never quite realised- staying in the arena until 1am for Toro Y Moi seemed feasible in theory but chorelike in practice. If there was somewhere Melt! had let itself down it was this: leaving Sunday as almost an afterthought felt a little like a day wasted.
However, scrabbling around to find a weakness in a festival like Melt! seems pointless- the energy and attitude the place breathes is contagious enough to forget any shortcomings. Just being there feels so like you’re part of a secret club, you can almost feel the knowing winks being exchanged the second you step onto the camp site. It’s an all you can eat buffet of a music festival, where playing as hard as you like to music can play as hard as you like, watch as many different types of music that you like, all under a sky of flame throwing cranes.
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