The iron city of Ferropolis lies on a small peninsula. Smattered with mechanic giants, some up to 30 meters high, it still pays testament to an era of days long gone by. What looks like a scene from Mad Max is actually the site of a former strip mining operation located two hours south of Berlin, but now host to one of Germany's most acclaimed and longest running electronic music festivals, Melt.
The stunning environment, a beautiful lake beside huge excavation, has certainly helped cement the festival's reputation as one of the best of its kind. But this is also due to a 20 year-long history of fusing together both well known alternative bands and pop stars as well an impressive array of electronic headliners and credible house and techno acts.
So even for the die-hard clubber with a sole interest in electronic dance music, the Melt is well worth a visit. Also notable is the generally chilled out vibe. With 20,000 visitors spreading out to see acts over seven stages, one might expect hectic crowds pushing against each other. But at Melt everybody seems unstressed, taking their time to wander around, so much so that many ignore the shuttle busses going between the camp and festival sites in favour of an unhurried half-hour stroll along the lake.
Thursday night kicks off with a pre-party. One huge tent is already packed with excited festival-goers as Art of Noise producer Trevor Horn and his recent band project play through an irresistible string of uber-classics such as 'Video Killed The Radio Star' or 'Relax' by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, another pop group he pioneered. The atmosphere is then taken up a notch with New York singer (and former Björk support act) Santigold inviting people from the audience up on stage.
Aside from that it's a fairly quiet night, with festival-goers still arriving and setting up tent. It's not until Friday afternoon that the real party really starts to get going. Berlin outfit Modeselektor open their Melt!Selektor-Stage with an unexpected ambient set, playfully informing people they will not be dropping any beats “because there's more than enough of that coming”.
Something unsurprisingly confirmed by their testosterone-induced closing set much later. In between, Jamie xx once again proves his rich musical taste and uncanny ability to balance soulful, elegant elements alongside tougher techno textures. However, the stage’s main attraction proves not to be a DJ, but rather a small strip of sandy beach. This has ravers rocking with their feet dipped in the water and gazing out onto the lake, which makes for a special vibe indeed. It might be a little too relaxed were it not for Dorian Concept’s soulful performance during sunset. The young Austrian synthesizer-virtuoso and RBMA-alumnus has translated his compositions to great effect for the live context, him being joined on stage by live drums and bass and making for an early festival highlight.
Striking a similar tone but to a much larger audience is pianist Nils Frahm and his impressive setup of grand piano, Rhodes, a Juno as well as drum machines, a modular synthesizer and even an electronically-controlled wind organ.
Becoming increasingly successful both within the electronic and the classical music scene, Frahm seems only to get more inspired and adventurous, leaving listeners in awe during each with his extensive musical exploration of various themes.
The stage is conveniently seen from afar, cleverly set into what was once a mining pit, effectively making it an amphitheatre with tiers on all sides.
Sadly, though, even with the luxury of being seated, Italo-disco legend Giorgio Moroder is a huge let down. Billed for a 55-minute set that's neither a live nor DJ set, Moroder rattles through a playlist of his most recognisable hooks and basslines while clapping off-beat and making other awkward hand gestures.
In addition, his iconic pieces all sound notably modified by frenetic drum rolls and big drops, unashamedly catering to an EDM sound not usually associated with this festival. Following him is another questionable booking choice: Kylie Minogue. While her glittery and cheesy show hardly fits the alternative context of Melt, its audience — perhaps with a touch of irony — seem to love it – even forming a flashmob of 90's aerobics moves.
Ultimately, though, both these bookings reinforce that Melt — despite going heavy on house and techno — has a commercial slant that cannot be denied. The stages are named after sponsors, branding is all-apparent and while walking around we are bombarded by promotional teams giving out items and begging us to have their picture taken with them. These kinds of distractions and a very mixed crowd in terms of age and attitude do serve to distract from a overall, unifying vibe to totally get absorbed in, but that's perhaps inevitable for a festival of this size and with a legacy as such — and DJ Mag is found amazed by Melt's many offerings nonetheless.
Besides, the chance to dance away at Big Wheel Stage to the likes of Sven Väth, Scuba, Chris Liebing or Marcel Dettmann is never something we'll turn our noses up at. Things categorically go off at Sleepless Floor, which located just outside the festival's gates, opens early Saturday morning when all other stages have closed, sucking in people on their way back to their tents. Essentially a huge sandbox with a DJ-booth and booming sound rigs, this rave runs nonstop until Monday noon and plays host to some of the most current names.
Highlights include Chicago’s The Black Madonna, who's eclectic set is as volatile as the weather, and Cologne’s Lena Willikens, whose dark collection sketches out a seriously moody atmosphere. Sunday welcomes varied selections from both Dekmantel Soundsystem, the guys behind the Amsterdam label-turned-festival, and Live At Robert Johnson regular Massimiliano Pagliara. With all sets around two-hours long and a crowd way more up it than at any other stages, it's where it's at most the weekend.
Apart from this, we find the odd nice surprise such as a raclette stand playing loud trap music or a block party with a reggae soundsystem.
So, with a mixed bag this big, there's always something for serious dance heads something at Melt — even if that means spending most the weekend on the Sleepless Floor. LEOPOLD HUTTER