Nachtdigital 2016: Five key performances

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  • My entry into German festival Nachtdigital was through its Dutch spin-off, Nachtiville, which ran for the first time in November 2015. Nachtiville was a riot, brilliantly upholding the killer programming, cheery DIY ethos and overall attention to detail that has long been the Nachti trademark. But, because of the winter weather, it also took place mostly indoors. Nachtdigital, on the other hand, is an open-air party by a lake you can swim in. The sun shone brightly on the leafy surroundings of Bungalowdorf Olganitz for much of last weekend's 19th edition, helping stir up one of the most memorable party atmospheres I've ever experienced. This year's lineup—easily the most niche in years—saw Nachtdigital partner with likeminded crews from Germany and around the world, such as Freerotation (Steevio & Suzybee), Detroit's No Way Back (Erika, BMG, Derek Plaslaiko), Salon Des Amateurs in Düsseldorf (Toulouse Low Trax) and Labyrinth in Japan (DJ SO). This brought together some of the best resident DJs and live acts in the world, rather than the usual list of big names. It's true that Nachtdigital sells out months before any artists are announced, but it's still inspiring to see a festival so unafraid to experiment and challenge its audience. For all its underground bookings, though, Nachtdigital's music policy was also strikingly unpretentious. On Saturday, I spent six short hours in the sun singing along to a stream of pop hits courtesy of Klub Animadisco, an 18-30s-style beach party that took place by the lake. There was speed dating, a limbo competition and tracks by the likes of Justin Bieber, Janet Jackson and reggaeton giant Don Omar (plus many far cheesier besides). It provided light relief after a night of heavy house and techno, displaying the kind of playful sense of humour that you rarely see at dance music events. Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
    Erika The festival site isn't very big, so the booming main stage carries to all four corners. A funny atmosphere hung in the air on the opening Friday night, as child-like excitement meshed with pitch-black sonics. First, there was Leipzig DJ Onetake's searing techno and UK bass workouts, followed by Aisha Devi's doomsday textures. By the time Erika stepped up to open No Way Back's unofficial showcase, the mood was menacing yet infectious, accentuated by great billows of red smoke. She played live, rolling out an hour of deep, detailed, trippy techno that was mellower than what came before it, though just as spooky. Bleepy earworms writhed over purring basslines that stuck fast to hard-hitting kicks; every so often a sassy snare pattern, or an electro break, would burst through. At one point, after a particularly dense swathe of synths, a faint flurry of uplifting keys rose to the surface, like a glint of light in the darkness. From the crowd, No Way Back's Carlos Souffront and Derek Plaslaiko watched on, transfixed.
    Manamana The festival was full of world-class residents, but none of them had the home turf advantage of Manamana. The DJ duo of map.ache and Sevensol have been staples since 2008, though I first came across them at Nachtiville last year, where they played a sublime seven-hour set by the pool. At Nachtdigital, they were trusted with the peak-time slot in The Tent on Friday night, which showed them in a completely different light. They moved between slamming, percussive tracks (Alcatraz Harry's "Ode To Frankfurt") and big room house for the first hour, before dipping into glitchier techno and electro with video game samples. During one particularly vibey electronic disco cut, one of them knocked the needle off the decks. When the bassline resurfaced after a short scramble, the crowd erupted, making the whole thing seem like an unintentional rewind. The vibe was off the chain throughout, though perhaps never more so than when they went from Omar-S's "S.E.X" into Love From San Francisco's "Final Fantasy" into Moodymann's "Hangover." When the lights came up some time after the scheduled 5 AM cut off, the sweaty arena was still heaving.
    Leafar Legov, Konstantin & map.ache Nachtdigital has always had an ambient stage, but never quite like this: a nest of rugs and mattresses under a canvas awning hidden just outside the festival site. People lounged in various states of consciousness—some chatting and giggling, others quietly taking in the landscape, quite a few properly sleeping. On Saturday afternoon, nestled on an old ratty sofa, Giegling's Konstanin, map.ache and Leafar Legov unfurled a wispy blend of rock and electronic gems: Spacemen 3's "How Does It Feel?", Kurt Vile's "Blackberry Song," Mazzy Star's "Halah" (a rip of this video, per request from Job Jobse), Aphex Twin's "Rhubarb," King Crimson's "I Talk To The Wind." The sky grew overcast and someone looped the bassline from Arthur Russell's "Lucky Cloud," only letting it go when the rain finally broke. Safe and dry in our little pod, we watched the downpour in silence as Russell's voice drifted in—"lucky cloud / your sky / a little rain / a lot of fun / one kiss and I go overboard." At least one person welled up.
    DJ Stingray If the main stage had a marquee booking, it was DJ Stingray. One of the biggest crowds of the weekend gathered to watch the US veteran, who wore a Detroit Tigers baseball jersey and his trademark black balaclava. The crowd, meanwhile, were pink from the sun. Stingray went hard from the start, cutting quickly between skippy electro breaks like a hip-hop or UK garage DJ. The music was fast and funky, and the energy frisky, though he could've kept the vibe fresher by switching up his mixing style every now and then. Exactly an hour in, he threw some jagged house chords at the mix, followed by a brief airing of Kraftwerk's "Tour De France." As soon as the crowd roared in recognition of the 1983 classic, it sank away, mutating into another zinging electro banger. More weapons were on the way, though, including Africa Hitech's "Out In The Streets," Kyle Hall's "Finna Pop" and a slice of sizzling, low-slung footwork that I'm still desperately trying to ID.
    Mr. Ties It's hard to imagine a party scene more idyllic than the one Mr. Ties found himself commandeering on Sunday afternoon. While half the festival packed their bags to go home, the other half soldiered on by the lake, embracing the soaring temperatures to catch the Italian's hit-heavy closing set. Those that couldn't squeeze onto the topless dance floor bobbed about in the water, splashing their mates with icy spray. Ties, wearing a psychedelic tunic, no trousers and his hair dyed green and yellow, looked the loosest of the lot, which suited the music's druggy, chugging vibe. With roughly 90 minutes to go, he began rolling out the classics, first slowly and then with wild abandon. The bangers are too many to name, but they included Parris Mitchell Project's "All Night Long," Loose Joints' "Is It All Over My Face," Daft Punk's "Around The World," Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff," Righeira's "Vamos A La Playa" and a stripped-back edit of Robin S's "Show Me Love." He also pulled off one of the most audacious mixes I've ever heard, teasing Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough'" into Gabriel Ananda's "Doppelwhipper." Around 3.30 PM, the music stopped for the final time. As people stood about chanting or pleading with the bar staff for one last beer, Mr. Ties beat a tambourine from behind the decks, as desperate as everyone else not to have to go home.
    Photo credits / Roland Becker - Erika, DJ Stingray, Mr. Ties, Toulouse Low Trax, Steevio & Suzybee Robert Richter - Manamana, Leafar Legov, Konstantin & map.ache, Lake, Ship Anke Guderle - Klub Animadisco, Solar Steffen Bennemann - Ambient Stage Will Lynch contributed to this piece