Who stole the show at the beloved Ferropolis festival? Carlos Hawthorn finds out.
In a recent interview with Indieberlin, Melt's creative director, Stefan Lehmkuhl, described the 21-year-old event as the "Berghain of the festivals in Germany." This raised my eyebrow. Melt is a 20,000-capacity festival with all the trappings that come with an event of that size: corporate sponsorship, huge headliners, campsite toilets that you have to pay for. But after spending the weekend at Ferropolis, the sprawling former mine that's been home to Melt since 1999, I began to see his point. As Lehmkuhl said in the same interview, "electronic music is the 24-hour heartbeat" of Melt, with five of its six stages dedicated, by and large, to dance music of various strains. Just outside the grounds sits Sleepless Floor, the sandy arena that hosts house and techno acts non-stop from Thursday evening to Monday afternoon. The vibe there, as it is across most of the site, is one of wild abandon, exemplifying that most German approach to promoting parties: meticulous attention to detail combined with a huge respect for people's personal freedom.
As such, Melt is a blast. The experience was heightened this year thanks to a few major tweaks to the main site, in addition to spotless weather. Melt Stage, the largest of the six, was expanded and given the full length of the vast sunken pit that makes up Ferropolis's centre. MeltSelektor, the stage co-curated by Modeselektor, moved to the stunning spot by Lake Gremmin, and Forest Stage, which last year was programmed by the Berlin club Sisyphos, widened its booking policy to bring in bigger acts like Palms Trax, Baba Stiltz and Jayda G. Overall, across the three days, the atmosphere was as I've come to expect from Melt: fun, friendly and, for the most part, bullshit-free.
Here are five key performances from the weekend.
Mount Kimbie's first Melt performance in five years took place late on Friday evening at MeltSelektor. A refreshing breeze blew through the crowd as groups of friends swayed by the reeds and the London duo, who tour as part of a four-piece band, scurried onstage. Their 50-minute set, which leaned heavily on material from 2017's Love What Survives, went beautifully with the setting, all balmy guitar licks and perky synth hooks. On record, their sound is often intimate and understated, yet it filled the giant space, particularly on "You Look Certain (I'm Not So Sure)," a track whose catchy riff and motorik drum beat shows the duo at their most indie rock. As the sun faded in a haze of pinks and blues, the energy and strobe lights intensified, peaking with the excellently frantic "Blue Train Lines." For the finale, I was praying for "Maybes," their 2009 breakthrough cut, but it wasn't to be. Bubbles floated on the air as Dom Maker, Kai Campos and Andrea Balency sang the lyrics to another of the duo's hits: "Made To Stray."
Henry Wu, who took the midnight slot at the vibey Forest Stage on Friday, wasn't the performer I was expecting. With a black bucket hat pulled low over shades, the South Londoner displayed a street swagger that belied the jazzy house and broken beat he makes solo and as one third of Kamaal Williams. The music, too, was initially tougher. Leading with a run of classic deep house cuts, including Soichi Terada's "Rising Sun Up" and Kerri Chandler's "Rain," he worked the faders with rough precision, chopping phrases from the next tune before slamming it in. In between tracks, he occasionally leapt to the side of the booth to grab the mic. "Can you lot dance to slow music?" he challenged with around an hour to go, before slipping into "Liquid Love" by Roy Ayers. Sometime after, he wheeled up a disco-house track—not a move you see often. His pièce de résistance, though, was still to come: during Simbad's "Soul Fever," he left his post behind the decks and started boogieing centre-stage, cementing his reputation as a great party DJ and an even better showman.
"They've got to be trolling the crowd," a friend said about ten minutes into FAKA's set at Superdry Sounds on Saturday morning. He had a point. Wearing nothing but black loafers, tights and waist-high briefs, Fela Gucci and Desire Marea were circling each other in slo-mo while letting out elongated growls. Behind them, DJ Bigger, wearing a denim jacket and gold chain, bobbed his head to the sludgy noise soundtrack. Were they making a statement? Was this performance art? It was impossible to tell, but the pair, who are currently spearheading South Africa's black queer movement, were the most spellbinding act I've seen in a while.
The latest incarnation of the FAKA project, which extends to photography, performance art and fashion, riffs on gqom, the heavily percussive strain of house that originates from the townships of Durban. "Are y'all ready to dance?" Gucci asked the audience. For the remainder of the set, the duo rapped in their native tongue and capered seductively to a succession of rhythmic explosions and wild basslines. The crowd, enthralled, hollered along in response.
Stage patter is a hard skill to master. At first I thought Diana Debrito, the Manchester-born trap and R&B artist better known as IAMDDB, was overdoing it—there's a fine line between acceptable and cringeworthy weed chat. But as her brief set wore on, the MeltSelektor audience fell increasingly under her spell, enchanted by her endless giggling and straight-talking charisma. She'd stop to chat in between each track—also a neat way to pad out a set—and at one point lobbed her sunglasses into the crowd, perhaps as a reward for the girl whose spliff she'd borrowed earlier. The more the crowd warmed to her, the better her rumbling slow jams and club bombs went down—last year's smash hit "Shade" got the biggest response I heard all weekend. She closed with a killer rendition of "More," before signing off with a quick "I love you, I'm out." If the post-performance reviews of my friends were anything to go by, she had just made herself a lot more fans.
Modeselektor b2b Apparat
Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, AKA Modeselektor, have been playing Melt for a decade; since 2010, they've co-curated their own stage. In 2018, they took it one step further and headlined MeltSelektor twice, DJing on Friday and Saturday nights. For the latter set, they were joined onstage by their Moderat collaborator Sascha Ring, AKA Apparat. Where the duo's Friday night set sounded as loud as their productions, Saturday night was a very different proposition: restrained, emotional, smoky. As thick breakbeats crashed in time with intergalactic visuals, heady tracks like Axel Boman's "Nokturn (Grand Finale)" and A Made Up Sound's "Half Hour Jam On A Borrowed Synth" helped brew a stormy atmosphere. Sirens wailed and cymbals spasmed. Then, suddenly, everything dropped away, leaving the beautiful and beatless "Endorphin" by Burial, one of the trio's biggest influences. That morphed nicely into Moderat's "Versions," followed a track or two later by another of the band's hits, "The Fool." I’m not much of a Moderat fan, but in that setting, with first light creeping over the pastel-blue lake, their music couldn’t have felt more fitting.
Photo credit /
Stephan Flad - Lead, FAKA, Modeselektor b2b Apparat, Bar, Gurr, Fever Ray, DJ Hell, Florence & The Machine, House Of Presents
Woodywoodsn - Mount Kimbie
Steve Klemm - IAMDDB
Frank Embacher - Yoga
Christian Hedel - Lake