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Melt! Festival is the strikingly dystopian techno mecca

The Berlin festival had another stellar year

  • Ben Jolley
  • 27 September 2017

“There are hardly any places in the world where you have such a great layout or look… and so much freedom to be loud 24/7 without disturbing anyone,” says Melt Festival’s head booker and artistic director Stefan, observing the infamous Sleepless Floor in full swing at 6am on Monday as Ellen Allien plays towards sunrise. An all-hours sandpit rave overlooking a serene blue lake, with creepy metallic angels staring down from the bar’s roof, it’s where hundreds of wide-eyed Europeans spend the majority of their 90 hours in Ferropolis.

Set on a ‘Mad Max’-style peninsula that hosts a monstrous museum of leviathan industrial machinery, it’s known as ‘the city of iron’. There’s also a trippy forest to get lost inside, an unspoilt beach that’s clean enough to swim around and six spacious open-air stages. Giant disco balls hang from the ends of dozens of mining cranes and towering diggers, lighting up the 20,000-capacity crowd in neon blues, greens and pinks at midnight as fire shoots into the dark sky. It’s a strikingly dystopian yet beautiful festival where, like nearby Berlin, the party never stops.

Launched in 1997 by the owners of record shop Melting Point, Melt started as a small stronghold for local techno enthusiasts. “The idea was to bring cool, open-minded people from all over Europe and the world together to enjoy what we think is simply great music – no matter if it’s techno, indie, rock, hip hop, pop or whichever genre,” Stefan continues. Fast-forward to its 20th anniversary, having grown “organically through word of mouth” and with an increasingly international audience, Melt still has diversity at its core.

While tough, challenging Berghain-ready techno from Bjarki, Barker & Baumecker, Courtesy, Monoloc and Marcel Dettmann soundtracks much of Mixmag’s mostly-sunny weekend, unsurprisingly, considering Melt’s history, there’s a seemingly endless succession of artists waiting to be discovered from the worlds of jazz, funk, soul, hip hop and disco. From Marie Davidson’s twitchingly sensual electro, MIA’s provocative political pop, Mall Grab’s house groovers and Egyptian Lover’s sexy vocoder funk to NAO’s grooving soul, Bicep’s euphoric, arms-in-the-air house, Dekmantel’s sunrise eclecticism, Sampha’s heartfelt soul-searching and Lorenzo Senni’s rave euphoria, Melt offers musical variety like few other festivals around the world.

The crowd is equally diverse and interesting. Pierced lips, nose rings and fluorescent-dipped hair create a trendy Berlin atmosphere; one tattooed girl dressed all in black munches on a carrot while watching Kamasi Washington’s improvisational jazz. “I think Melt is the coolest crowd a festival can have,” Stefan says. “Everyone is a bit more mature and responsible when it comes to clubbing with style.” Endurance is also highly prized, judging by the amount of tireless post-industrial ravers wearing ‘I Survived the Sleepless Floor’ vests. Elsewhere, 20-somethings sport Stüssy T-shirts while waving pink inflatable guitars, several dress as Wonder Woman and one middle-aged guy opts for a luxurious-looking velvet coat and fur ensemble. There’s plenty of room for eccentricity at Melt, it seems.

Fittingly, Saturday night is all about eccentricity, offering three of the weekend’s best performances. A welcome respite from stern-faced techno, the penultimate night makes for a camper, wilder evening. Kiddy Smile kicks things off, performing his first show outside of France and encouraging the entire Meltselektor crowd to get down to infectious and sexy deep house. Strolling onstage in a green feather ensemble, sporting a gold chain around his neck and pink shades, while wielding a record-shaped fan: there’s no doubt the effortlessly soulful vocalist belongs on stage. Backed by three vocalists with frizzy mains in sheer pink dresses, there’s a classic Chicago house aesthetic with a touch of Parisian glam. As the crowd fills to capacity during the sassy ‘Let a Bitch Know’, there’s a growing sense that we’re witnessing a superstar in the making. One of the most interesting and celebratory performances, it’s the perfect warm-up for Hercules And Love Affair.

Continuing the hedonistic theme, the New York collective promote unity through disco-house highlights ‘Blind’ and ‘I Try To Talk To You’, advocating the importance of freedom, peace and love while drag dancers in outré costumes perform on podiums. Next, Zebra Katz – dressed all in white, face shrouded by smoke – brings dark and venomous trap-heavy hip hop. Cutting a similar stance to Mykki Blanco, the Brooklyn rapper fuses fierce lyrics about sex with haunting production to create a sonically challenging performance while spraying bottles of champagne over the crowd, debuting a speaker-shattering Hudson Mohawke collab and climbing amongst his fans as a girl goes topless on her friend’s shoulders during a raucous rap-along of ‘Ima Read’.

Few come more eccentric than Sunday night headliners Die Antwoord. South Africa’s weirdest exports bring the main stage to a batshit-crazy close as Ninja orchestrates a simulated ejaculation. An hour earlier, Mixmag was dancing to Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’ in a smoke machine-fuelled space where pop classics, throwbacks and free candyfloss ensured nothing but good times... before being whisked away to climb up one of the locked-off cranes to take in the breathtaking view. It’s all utterly bonkers.

There is no sense of continuity at Melt, but that seems to be the point. Instead, you’re transported between various worlds, all far away from reality. “The Ferropolis site is one of a kind, and we would never move Melt to anywhere else because it’s just so unique,” Stefan confirms. “It’s a magical island of freedom.”

This feature is from the October 2017 issue of Mixmag

Ben Jolley is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter

[Photo credit: Steve Klemm, Stephan Flad]

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