There’s not much that isn’t clean about Switzerland, perhaps except for the graffiti. From our SWISS flights, to the Sierre-bound SBB railway journey (for information visit Switzerland Tourism); the closest mainline station to our final destination, everything is pristine. The kind of place where you might want to think twice before vomiting into a shoe.
Add to that our home from home — the particularly Alpine-looking ski resort of Crans Montana — and Caprices Festival, the reason we’re here, is likely to attract a particular sort.
Snow sports rarely go hand in hand with a tight budget, pass and kit being pre-requisites, so throw in some discounted but still-not-cheap accommodation options — largely comprising timber-clad lodges — and it’s easy to assume those considering a trip won’t be short of a few pence, or the equivalent in Francs.
Making our way up the funicular to the hilltop town and the overriding question is what all this means for a party? Champagne quaffing airs and graces, with music secondary to appearance and locale? Or ravenous debauchery and stunned café owners?
When we arrive on Friday things have already well-and-truly begun. The daytime soiree, at the spectacular summit of a ski lift, is unfortunately over, but disappointment at missing out on thumping beats at 2200metres above sea level quickly dissipates, giving way to excitement as we gather our thoughts and take in what’s happening.
The junction of the only two roads in sight has been transformed into the entrance to a temporary village centre. Tables and chairs spill out of bars, both makeshift and permanent, wristband-holders maraud past stalls selling decent standard fast food from a multitude of global cuisines, and staff in high-vis jackets are acting like traffic police, directing cars towards the good time evidently kicking in.
Wherever you walk, whatever you do, the thunderous thuds of weighty kick-drums appear to be omnipresent. Save for a few bemused locals and worried-looking families, it seems as though this usually well-mannered enclave for the rich has fallen to (admittedly polite) revellers, running the full gamut from well-heeled to well-versed in the art of skinning up.
Not that the two are mutually exclusive. With social lubricants obviously taking effect, judging by the overall mood, for all intents and purposes the town is now under our control.
If house music ever asked for anything it’s hard liquor, and whilst we can’t quite tell if those clamouring for the stage inside the main arena (AKA ‘Moon’) are more drawn to the free drink being poured into their mouths or the soundtrack, the optimist in us hopes it’s a combination of the two.
We’re in the thick of things with dOP and what’s now their typical vodka-sharing show, albeit more accurately described here as ‘the thin of things’. Apparently half the festival has yet to make it out, with innumerable distractions between here and the mountain top meaning their collective ETA is open to wildly varied speculation.
Despite all the pockets of space on the dancefloor few could deny it’s all well, good, and enjoyable. Yet it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, which seems to be a running theme of the first night shift. As the big room brigade get into gear, Marco Carola and Richie Hawtin step up to the mark but leave us with mixed feelings on the walk to bed.
The sets clearly require significant skill, both perform well enough, but neither really delivers on reputation, forsaking proper solidness and depth for bouncing tech disguised as something more involving. Not that the après ski crowd seem to give a snow boot
Jaw-dropping in production then, but perhaps not in sonics; nevertheless a memorable time was had and we wake to find the major Caprices selling point staring us in the face. Ascending the fabled ski lift to arguably the most anticipated daytime bash of the weekend and the afternoon venue ‘Modernity’, is enough to make you weak at the knees.
Or maybe that’s just the increasing gap between cable car and rocks below. Either way, we’re taking in staggering views across peaks stretching to the farthest reaches of the horizon, and the sight of t-shirt clad gents necking beers and smoking cigarettes on a heated terrace as snow falls behind them is now permanently ingrained on the mind.
From the word go the decadent atmosphere here is tangible — expressions of readiness at what lies ahead evident on the faces of pretty much everyone in sight. More so, there’s a sense of delight in the fact that we are where we are.
The relatively small bar, boasting a capacity of just over 1,000 (Caprices will welcome 65,000 over the next six days), comes complete with balcony marquee, and heaves from front to back thanks to a big-pull triple-header, who already seem intent on creating what feels a bit like some bizarre Ibiza-On-Alps.
There’s no denying Tini and Magda are both on good form, with the intimate location no doubt acting as catalyst for their track selections. The room resembles an extravagant party your mate who owns that ski chalet wishes he had thrown. From diners gorging on actual meals (don’t get too excited, though, they’re not that great), to the lunatics sticking their heads in a speaker stack and the smoke signals emanating from that bubble machine, if Friday lacked the zeitgeist of mayhem Saturday is currently making amends.
Reassuringly, then, Ricardo Villalobos follows by doing his job, launching into a set of increasingly ‘what the?’ moments, veering from Balearic warmth and funk-inflected vocal numbers, to South American tribalism and onto edgy, groove-fuelled micro-tech bombs. Perfect for the space, it’s unsurprising the two guys to our left have given up pretending not to be full-blown disciples. To paraphrase their comments, they really like this guy, and by all accounts we do too.
Elated, we make our way back down to base camp for Canadian-born, Berlin-based jock Hreno, playing outdoors at a drinking hole you’d have to be blind not to stumble straight into. Solid disco and meaty but soulful house being the operative words, we’re not quite sure if 'Baby Wants To Ride' is a direct tribute to Frankie Knuckles, but nevertheless the choice seems wholly appropriate, with the track’s freaky, funky and born to make you dance attitude apparently exactly what the doctor ordered.
From now until next Sunday, whilst Caprices will change its line-up, moving to focus more on live outfits such as the legendary George Clinton, the concept will remain the same. And we’re just beginning to realise that isn’t really about a festival at all.
Maxime Leonard, CEO and founder of whatever this is, puts it better than our words ever could as we ask if the overall cost of attendance risks putting punters off.
“Actually the tickets are cheaper than many Swiss festivals… It’s true there are a lot of things to pay for, but I also think people come who want to go away for a week or a long weekend,” he tells us.
“The experience is completely different to any other festival, people came to this edition for a long time, to turn it into a real holiday, which makes a lot of sense as we had some good hotel deals. But also we never want to be a huge open-air event, we don’t want the venues to be too big. What we’re offering is special.”
Back over in the ‘Moon’ arena, several hours later, somewhere overlooking the throngs of jacking bodies below, several facts are becoming clear. Firstly, we’re gutted to be leaving in the morning. And, secondly, Jeff Mills still knows how to deliver the kind of raw, stripped, 303-dominated, electro-riddled set that doesn’t need to rely on an aural arsenal most sane people find overwhelming.
But, more important, though, is the emerging evidence that Caprices is delivering what was promised for this opening weekend. All day, all night sessioning with something sadly lacking from many other one-off events — genuine personality, in this instance afforded by the truly stunning settings and a relaxed, worry-free, vacationer’s mood. Unique being the operative world, although it might take some saving, we’d like to think this won’t be the last time we find ourselves this far off-piste.