Melt! festival got into my blood. I’ve been bitten by the bug. No, literally, a tick has latched onto my leg – stay out of the long grass around the campsite.
It’s a bit of a wilderness, even without this slice of wildlife. Visually, the festival’s like a steampunk Jurassic park, with the vast, Meccano flanks of antiquated mining equipment ever hanging in the periphery. Illuminated and coloured by complex lighting systems, their giant winches, blades and chains seem to shake, flitter and whirl with increasing intensity as both Marcel Dettmann and Richie Hawtin play neck-and-neck sets in the open air – it’s as if you’re a Borrower and you’ve wandered onto the set of Robot Wars.
There’s more to the location than this, though, like when Sunday dawn breaks through the dust kicked up at the Dekmantel DJs’ superb takeover of the never-ending Sleepless stage, rays refracting off the surface of the giant moat that is lake Gremmin, a submerged quarry that surrounds you. The site is ingenious. You always know where you are, but you can still feel wonderfully lost in the various zones – especially ‘the Forest’ area, with its faint sense of mystery and depravity.
Well-judged live performances take place at Red Bull Music Academy’s small compound. Friday is challenging and immersive – Ben Frost sounds like he’s smashing up icebergs in slow motion, Lorenzo Senni plays the same head-spinning loop for ever, and Egyptian Lover funks the shit out of us while slurring crude come-ons into the mic. On Saturday the vibe is decadent – the feathered, majestic Kiddy Smile takes on ballroom and classic Chicago house with Parisian elegance, before the perfect cadence of a champagne-soaked show from Zebra Katz with plenty more slithering, smoke-shrouded movements from the entourage. This stage hosts great DJs too, Lil Silva being a highlight for bringing a clever and varied set of fizzy garage funk to wash down all the festival’s bread and butter techno.
There are many concessions to those not satisfied by the free party techno this festival has its roots in – enough to make it a German answer to Glastonbury. On the main live stages we see Sampha create a soft, emotive cocoon around his adoring audience, M.I.A. playing a raw set of favourites, stomping about like a soldier from the future to Paper Planes in the dust-quenching rain, and South African duo Die Antwoord make the place erupt on the Sunday evening headline slot with ear-splitting, bizarre EDM-rap as the smoke machines and lasers work overtime.
Whenever we wander into the dusty, ragged Sleepless zone though, we’re sent back into the chugging rhythm in this 360° dancefloor, laid out like an ancient burial ground. Lakuti’s sacred house geometry; Massimiliano Pagliara’s snakey, opalescent thump – this place doesn’t stop with serious DJs selecting from Thursday until Monday afternoon. Melt! is a trip.