Melt Festival 2010 reviewed

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Germany doesn’t do air-conditioning. Understandable, really, for a country accustomed to sub-zero temperatures. However when it’s 40°C on a bustling train bound for Melt Festival, you can’t help but wish for some climate control. Luckily, Germany does do beer on trains – warm, perspiring bottles of beer maybe, but beer all the same.

Of the myriad festivals that crowd the Northern summer, Melt has always been the one for me. While this is only my second expedition – $2500 and 24 hours in Economy does present barriers – each year I marvel at the line-up. It’s not hard to find bombastic festival bills in Europe, but they only get you so far. What Melt does so well is all the other stuff: spectacular setting, immaculate sound, manageable crowd numbers (20,000-person capacity in 2010) and programming that makes sense.

Lugging tents and boiled beers, we spill gratefully off the train at Dessau – not a station that sees this kind of action very often. From there, a raggedy bunch of Germans, Brits, EU holiday-makers and at least two Australians cram onto a charter bus to complete the journey.

While you wouldn’t guess it from the sleepy country roads you travel along to get there, Melt’s calling card is its location. The festival is staged at Ferropolis, an open-air museum of industrial machinery, perched at the tip of a peninsula. The enormous hulking machines tower over proceedings, their austere grey surfaces illuminated by the festival’s light-shows. It’s a long way from your customary field with tents.

From sweltering bus to sweltering campsite, the time eventually comes to join the procession of punters bound for Ferropolis. And who better to kick off day one of three than Marcel Dettmann? Having somewhat shamefully missed Pantha du Prince, Dettmann is to be our first taste of the Big Wheel Stage. As the festival’s techno stomping ground, the Big Wheel’s sound-system is fittingly vigorous – and the Berghain resident is showing it no mercy. Sporting a ready-for-action black singlet, Dettmann delivers precise, functional techno against a spectacular sunset. The dancefloor (dust-floor?) is visibly psyched for the incongruous hour of 9pm, and it’s not hard to see why.

Perhaps the best area for ‘vibe’ is Desperados Beach (that’s Desperados the beer flavoured with tequila). It’s actually a beach, with the stage set at the lake’s edge. It’s here that Henrik Schwarz and Jesse Rose get stuck into a euphoric set as Black Rose. The cheers and waving arms that greet Schwarz’s live laptop workout of his own Who Is He is something to behold.

For my tastes, Friday is the most packed with ‘must-sees’, so it’s then a mad dash – via a bar, I’m not that mad – to the close quarters of the Intro Zelt stage for Yeasayer. The delirious rush of their songs is only heightened by the heat of the room and the vivid neon lights. That they play Dark Was The Night cut Tightrope and invite The Very Best onstage for a live remix of Ambling Amp amplifies my Desperadoed-up joy to dangerous levels. It takes The XX on the mainstage to bring some much-needed mellow.

At 1am, we’ve entered the business end of Melt. This is where that creative programming comes in, and a festival where the music doesn’t have to die at 10pm sharp is an exciting proposition. Via a brief rave-up with Modeselektor at the Desperados Beach, it’s back to the main-stage for Booka Shade. After last seeing the duo, I figured I wouldn’t need to again for quite some time – but something about the balmy night air and incredible setting rekindles that feeling of first hearing In White Rooms or Mandarine Girl. Even getting bitten on the lip by a wasp floating in my beer can’t kill the buzz.

With the sun rising on a picture-perfect morning, it’s over to the Big Wheel Stage for two hours with Berlin’s adopted disciple Ricardo Villalobos. By now, the crowd is a little more muted in its appreciation, swaying and stumbling for the most part. The morning honours see Villalobos keeping it rolling and percussive, flanked by an ever-growing legion of randoms crowding the stage. At times he’s barely visible amongst the melee, but the slow, seductive strains of techno are unmistakeable. And so to bed, kebab in hand…

After a few hours of insalubrious sleep, the campsite begins to buzz early on Saturday afternoon. Despite having to squelch through glutinous mud to get yourself wet, a swim in the lake is a good substitute for showering. It’s funny and a little perplexing to see hordes of campers returning from an hour-long round-trip to Dessau armed with crates of beer already well and truly warmed.

Just outside the gates to the festival site is The Sleepless Floor, Melt’s 24-hour, non-stop stage. Today it’s hosting an OstgutTon showcase with the fixtures of Berghain and Panoramabar Steffi, Prosumer and Ben Klock, but it’s not the most welcoming spot in searing temperatures. Instead, we take shelter under the marquee of the Bench Gemini Stage, which tonight is pretty unbeatable for the ‘indie-dance’ inclined. From 7pm till 7am, it goes: Holy Ghost!, Hurts, Friendly Fires, Miike Snow, Jamie Lidell, Hercules & Love Affair, Chromeo, A-Trak and Tiga.

Hurts turns out to be my discovery of the festival. The aesthetic of their live show is stylised to the most minute detail, with all members meticulously coiffured and dressed to kill in tailored suits. It would skirt close to parody if not for the steely sincerity of all involved. However, despite Hurts and a typically virtuosic performance from Jamie Lidell, the Big Wheel stage is where it’s at. There’s a loose, slightly manic vibe at this corner of the festival as Joris Voorn gets stuck in to his one-hour live set. Set against a pulsing LED screen, the Dutchman plays to the peak-time slot; all loopy, restless house grooves and ecstatic drops.

A last-minute set time shuffle sees Ewan Pearson stepping into Tiefschwarz’s slot (they’re delayed somewhere), and he goes about proving why he’s one of my all-time favourite DJs. As his Twitter will later surmise, the set is all about ‘hits aplenty; cheese with the bangers’. It helps that our position at the mercy of the right speaker stack ensures each bumping house bassline is a bodily experience. Oh, and the anthem of Melt 2010 is far and away Late Nite Tuff Guy’s I Get Deeper. By contrast, when Tiefschwarz do arrive, their tech-house selections are serviceable but never distinctive enough to raise much excitement.

By now, beer has got the better of me (I almost don’t notice my slice of pizza has come with no-extra-charge topping of cigarette butt), so Moderat’s brooding set on the mainstage is a good time to re-compose. While past years have seen headliners like Bloc Party, Oasis and Kasabian, 2010 seems to be largely a celebration of electronic music, a situation that suits me fine. Moderat may not be a rousing, sing-along finish, but from the first bass rumble of A New Error, there could not be a more fitting act for this setting. Standing in a row commanding their machines, the collective genius of Modeselektor and Apparat is in full effect.

The Big Wheel Stage beckons again for Carl Craig’s closing session, my most anticipated set of the festival. It’s a more muted sunrise this morning, with hints of orange streaked through the clouds. Tiefschwarz signal the home stretch with a drum-heavy remix of Moloko’s Sing It Back, as Craig sidles into view. After trading 5am chat with the ever-growing legion of hangers-on in the DJ booth, the familiar poker face goes up and it’s down to business. The order of the morning is big, building techno that’s distinctly Detroit, and the dancefloor is shoulder-to-shoulder. While the occasion doesn’t allow much in the way of warmth, it’s pretty special to be dancing in the open air at dawn to Carl freakin’ Craig.

Tender heads abound at the campsite on day three, with a surprising number of punters packing up to head home. Their hefty loss. Today boasts the weekend’s most pleasing weather, fresh and toasty. Recent Melt editions have been struck by severe rain and thunderstorms, so it’s no wonder there’s such a jubilant atmosphere this year. Commanding a sizeable crowd to the Bench Gemini Stage at 4pm, Erlend Øye’s super-super-chilled Kings Of Convenience is a subdued start to Sunday. However, it doesn’t take long for all that to change, with the arrival of six-strong Swedish crew Slagsmålsklubben. Reminiscent of Hot Chip in stage presence, their performance is delirious and more than a little unhinged.

With the Big Wheel Stage and Desperados Beach now dormant, Sunday at Melt is a less frenetic proposition. Broken Bells – the languid, folky band led by James Mercer and Danger Mouse – takes to the mainstage in the cool evening air. Seeing a living legend like Danger Mouse perched unassumedly behind a drum-kit is quite something, although I can’t help wishing it’s a Danger Mouse & Jemini show. After marvelling for a bit at Fred Falke’s snappy dressing and missing Goldfrapp entirely for no good reason, it’s time for Massive Attack.

If anyone was going to challenge Moderat for most Melt-appropriate band, it’s these slow-burners. While the set-list is near identical to their Australian shows in March, the industrial surrounds give it a heightened sense of occasion. The video screen that fills the rear of stage sprawls with (German) words and statistics, as 3D darts around in the darkness leading the shadowy players. As usual, Daddy G goes missing for long stretches, but when he does slink up to the microphone his voice is as darkly seductive as ever. I find myself most enthralled by the not-yet-classics like Splitting The Atom, which sees 3D, Daddy G, Martina Topley-Bird and Horace Andy spread across the stage, bathed in soft white light. As a closer, Karmacoma hits just the right spot, with the two men who made Massive Attack trading verses like it’s 1994 again.

After such a galvanising headline performance, I’m not expecting the best is still to come. However, the final stretch of Melt 2010 is in the hands of Ellen Allien and Sascha Funke on the Sleepless Floor. We arrive to Allien dropping I Get Deeper (there it is again) and the dancefloor is positively overflowing. By the time Funke takes over at 4am, though, only the true remain. Perhaps it’s a combination of gin and tonics, laughter and end-of-festival vibes, but this is the DJ set of Melt. The BPitch man keeps it deep and measured over several hours, punctuated by the occasional big’un like Carl Craig’s twist on Beanfield’s Tides or the Henrik Schwarz remix of I’m Feeling You. At some early hour, he’s joined by another DJ and the music only gets better. Before long, it’s 9am on a picture-perfect day and they’re letting the last track play out. This is not how I’m used to spending Monday mornings.

And so the trudge back to Berlin begins, with only warm beers to ease the pain. Should this rambling review have left you in any doubt of its message, let me make it clear: go to Melt.