13 - 16 July
Squint hard enough and you might imagine the pristine waters of Lake Gremmin, in eastern Germany, as the colossal coal mine it was nearly 30 years ago.
There are clear reminders on its shores: rusted over control rooms, heaps of menacing excavation machinery, and towering cranes from which giant disco balls are hung, casting an interstellar highway of swirling lights over the ground below.
This post-apocalyptic scrapyard is known today as Ferropolis and the site of Melt! Nicknamed The City of Iron, when I last attended the festival, in 2010, the bill had a different tilt. Electronic music has always taken centre stage here, but other acts are often in the direction pop music is pointing. Back then, it was bands like Foals and Futureheads who, unfortunately, haven’t stood the test of time. Today is another moment entirely: hip-hop and RnB are top of the pop music pile – a fact not only reflected in this year’s line-up but what elevated the festival beyond its usual means.
As the late afternoon sun beat down on the Friday, The Internet were first on the main stage. Crowds perched on the colosseum-style stairs surrounding the arena, as Syd, the lead singer, arrived in a grey t-shirt, black cargo pants, and Adidas trainers. The Odd Future affiliates mostly played tracks from Ego Death, and of those, Girl got the best response, the seductive melodies bring the temperature up even further. Steve Lacy, the guitarist, was an offbeat counterpoint to Syd’s cool. He bolted around like a maniac, strumming his turquoise Telecaster like a West Coast Nile Rodgers. The smokey chords of Roll (Burbank Funk), a single off their new album, were case in point, strongly bringing to mind Clyde Alexander and Sanction’s 1980 disco classic, Got to Get Your Love.
Tyler the Creator, Syd’s close ally, gave a solo performance later that deserved a headline spot at Melt! – or any other festival worldwide, for that matter. With a white crewneck on, shorts, and green flat cap, he drifted onstage as if on a beach holiday. The rapper’s presence was always felt, whether he looked unfazed or unhinged; his delivery near-flawless with the raspy weight of his studio work. November was a high point – and the lounging monologue that followed, as he spoke into the sky about past relationships. With the backdrop visuals transformed – his silhouette practically floating in space – Tyler closed with I Ain’t Got Time!, spraying lyrics into distant galaxies over a Deee-Lite sample.
The Forest Stage, however, was the most consistent in its billing. A shaded area among the trees, near the water’s edge, the music often leant towards deep house as the weekend unwound. Hamburg collective Lehult epitomised that, with a standout set shifting effortlessly between older New York records – Pal Joey’s Party Time lifted a few hands in the air—and more recent pad-heavy sounds from Germany’s second city. Awesome Tapes from Africa’s Brian Shimkovitz also pulled a number of bouncy, feel-good house numbers from the vaults of his enormous reissue catalogue. He went on to play driving Cameroonian sanza, and a crowd-pleasing 12-minute marathon in the shape of Fela Kuti’s Zombie.
The winding forest paths landed festival-goers at Meltselektor, the second stage. With the lake on full view and sand filling the soles of dancing shoes, the spot had a distinct beach party feel. IAMDDB was the strongest act there. The Mancunian singer holds herself like Erykah Badu, but is firmly in her own lane. She wore a long floral cape and squared off glasses; her hair flowed down to her thighs as she demanded the crowd for a smoke. Request answered, she lit up and dropped straight into Vibe 2Ø2Ø, its slow-moving synth pulses and staggering hats were irresistible. But it was Shade, last year’s single, that saw drinks fly on its reload. Her ruthlessness on stage brought the longest applause all weekend – concrete evidence she’s likely the best RnB singer in the UK right now. A producer, but this time from Guernsey – Mura Masa – disappointed on the same stage the following day. His set was too varied at times but was saved by an energetic feature from Octavian on last month’s single Move Me, a London lyricist who can do no wrong at the moment.
Elsewhere, the pick of the Sunday came on the Sleepless Floor, the only place with music at all hours. Removed from the main festival site, the pagoda-shaped stage had a remote quality. There, Binh demonstrated why he’s a favourite at Berlin’s Club der Visionaere: his obscure record selections were simply first-rate. Spanning 80s acid, brooding B-movie samples, and dubbed out piano stabs, he proved taste transcends any era – another feather in the cap of a festival which has aged well itself.