Ascending one of Ferropolis’s decommissioned excavators, you begin to survey the expanse of Melt! Festival. Industrial dredgers and stackers, each measuring up to 30 meters long and 130 meters high, perch over an open-cast mine. When in production, these machines excavated millions of tons of brown coal, but today, it is an open air museum known as The City of Iron. Since its inauguration in 1997, Ferropolis has also been home to Melt!, one of Germany’s foremost festivals concentrated almost entirely around electronic music.
Beneath these mechanical behemoths are an arrangement of stages and warehouses. Shouldered together in the site’s centre are the Melt! And Medusa stage. To the far left of this is the Big Wheel; a hulking outdoor set up consisting of gently spinning extractor fans. Beyond this slinks a sandy beach and lake, which surrounds the entirety of Ferropolis. To the right is a warehouse alcove, home to the Melt! Selektor stage. Orangerie, an indoors venue, sits a few clicks away from this area. And on the paling horizon is the Sleepless Floor stage, a belligerent 24-hour sensory overload of house and techno. Other modest stands, stalls and soundsystems position themselves around imposing apparatus and sleeping coal engines to complete the grounds. Three days of pulse-galloping depravity in a setting like this is an endurance heaving with stupor and spectacle.
Friday begins with Pev and Kowton of Livity Sound at Melt Selektor. The duo weave together a stout techno set that stomps like the recoiling of a captive bolt stunner. Sound has nowhere to go but directly forward, sonically boxing rows of bodies. Crowds swell and clamber at a breakneck pace. It’s illimitable drubbing is exhausting but a testament to Livity Sound’s capacity to rouse a ruckus at such an early stage of the festival.
As the pair pummel in pre-twilight, Helena Hauff’s decelerated yet equally clamorous performance begins on the Big Wheel. Her take on curt post-industrial techno pounds with an animal eagerness. This brutish sauntering travels around the site as Sleaford Mods shake and spit out a typically gruntish set of cheap laptop punk minimalism over on Medusa. Their performance is notably rigid in aesthetic but they leave their fans practically dribbling in reckless abandon.
This year, mainstream acts filling headlining slots are more discreet – familiar yet unassuming. Tame Impala are one of these acts. Their late night two-hour slot time on the Melt Stage is perfectly admissible. However, while their woozy psychotropic rose-tinted rock is concise and ornate, it lacks moxie and zest. Again, this is also the case for Skepta. His turn on the Medusa stage pulls a mafia of tracksuit donning, flight purse wielding disciples. But his straightforward singles set lacks reverence or an essential sense of grime’s deep rooted animosity. Not even a guest appearance from ILoveMakonnen for upcoming single Coming Soon conjures enough brouhaha to maintain our stamina.
By now it’s 3am. Hours manifest into seconds. DJ Koze and Ben Klock play until sunrise. Eyesights are obscured by complex colours. Ears dully throb at 140BPM. SOPHIE suddenly appears at 5am and all senses are unfortunately restored to witness one of the most reductive sets of his career.
Four hours’ sleep later and it’s Saturday night. Any bleak descent into physical neurosis is instantly eradicated by Peaches who storms the Medusa Stage with a sex-addled exhibition of obscene sexual freedom. Traversing scaffolding and thrusting towards anything hot-blooded, her set is the bar-setter for the night.
Kode9 continues this trend with a bombardment of combative footwork and glib dubstep over on Melt Selektor. Visuals of a blank, eyeless face separate and reform behind the Hyperdub boss’s gently bobbing frame. This intensity is relayed by Lady Leshurr who scrambles on to Selektor as if on Ritalin. Tracks such as Brush Your Teeth, Crispy Bacon and latest single Where Are You Now? coupled with the MC’s impeccable nous for audience participation is flooring. How and why Skepta couldn’t achieve this 24 hours ago is inherently vexing.
The night continues. Jamie XX assembles together a suitably vacuous collection of disjointed club tracks on the Melt! Stage before Modeselektor takes over The Big Wheel at 5am. Ambling from stage to beach to woodland back to stage, there is an unhinged lunacy about this year’s Saturday.
Inevitably, Sunday is a slightly more crestfallen affair. Yet the glut of Saturday is momentarily redeemed by a late afternoon set by the resplendent Black Madonna. With the final trembles of sunlight slow-cooking clusters of bare bodied loons, her track selection is purely euphoric. One of the most consistent, most technically adroit, most enjoyable sets of the weekend. Comparably, a gracious yet sterile headline slot from Disclosure close the proceedings. By this point, however, side effects of festival indulgences are in surplus and heads demand the consoling embrace of a feather down mattress.
The site will once again set down and return to being an open air museum for the year. The excavators will remain unused and hauntingly static for the general public to gawp at. But over the course of three days, Melt! Festival permits these machines another lease of life. They provide infinite optimism to swathes of hedonists. Nearly 20 years after the festival’s inception and Melt! sustains its pedigree as electronic music’s pacesetter for audiovisual escapism.