Nachtdigital Flex: Five key performances

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  • At around 4 PM on Saturday, August 4th, a hundred or so people gathered at the dusty entrance to Bungalowdorf Olganitz for an event dubbed "Techno Safari." Park rangers in tatty khakis rode Segways around a bus painted in zebra colours. Plastic monkeys and elephants dangled off the sides. At one end was a raised DJ booth; at the other, a stationary green tractor. With a rev of the engine, the tractor edged forwards, and the crowd followed, bobbing to the high-octane house soundtrack like rats behind the Pied Piper. The thundering procession made its way through the nearby village of Olganitz, stopping only so punters could buy beers and Sekt off the grinning locals, many of whom were elderly. With the sun beating down and the booze flowing, the vibe grew increasingly nutty, spurred on by DJ Namibiza's set of EDM hits—raving to Eric Prydz's "Pjanoo" in a field of wheat was a moment to savour. Back at the entrance to the site, Job Jobse closed with a medley of trance classics—Tiësto's "Lethal Industry," "ATB's "9PM (Till I Come)"—while Steffen Bennemann, Nachtdigital's main booker, flailed his arms from the back of a pick-up truck. Last year, Nachtdigital celebrated its 20th anniversary by going big—too big, ultimately. Various ambitious art projects, including a timetabling puzzle that had everyone scratching their heads, left the team tired and stretched. One person was rushed to hospital from exhaustion. From the outside, the event appeared to run smoothly, but some weeks after, Bennemann admitted it had been too much. For 2018, he said, the team wanted to start counting the editions down from 20, not up. That might sound like a trivial detail but the message is important: they wanted to go back to doing the simple things well and really enjoying themselves. This shone through in 2018. Everything about Nachtdigital Flex, from the bookings and the installations to the tweaks to the site, felt effortless and on-point, helped by some of the best weather Olganitz has probably ever seen. "Techno Safari" and dawn dinghy trips in the lake meant the fun-factor was through the roof, but there were also countless moments of musical transcendance. Even Richie Hawtin's surprise set on Sunday morning, disappointing though it was, felt special. That, in the end, is the magic of Nachtdigital, the reason it's considered by many to be the best festival in the world: every year, without fail, it delivers another fresh batch of golden memories. Here are five key performances from the weekend.
    Make Me Nachtdigital books its share of big names, but the core of any lineup is the raft of lesser-known acts who, in the mind of the main booker Steffen Bennemann, deserve a greater platform. Chief among those this year was Make Me, a trio of UK DJs (including former Resident Advisor staff member Nic Baird) who run the popular London party of the same name. Much to their surprise, they were given arguably the slot of the weekend, tasked with guiding the sandy Open Air stage from 5 through 9 AM on Saturday morning. When Bennemann first delivered the news several months ago, they were so taken aback that their initial instinct was to suggest they play one of the smaller stages instead. Bennemann stood his ground, and it massively paid off. Make Me have spent the past ten years warming up crowds all over London, and they played with the confidence and grace of DJs who have clocked hundreds of hours studying the impact certain moods and sounds have on a dance floor. The opening moments were trippy and well-paced, leading with Dopplereffekt's beatless "Ulams Spiral" into "Frigia" by Steve Moore. Gradually, the beats quickened and the vibe intensified, though never at the expense of melody or emotional depth. As the sun glided into view, the synths grew twinklier and the pads more lush, the richness of the tunes luring in tired ravers on their way to bed. At around 8 AM, out rolled the hits: first "India In Me" by Cobblestone Jazz, then Âme's "Rej" and, finally, the insanely funky "Get Down" by Liz Torres. From the trio's raised vantage point, it must have looked quite the scene: several hundred smiling faces framed against a backdrop of pearly water, crystalline skies and a perfect semi-circle of tall, bushy trees. In other words, a dream come true for any DJ, big or small.
    Paquita Gordon Around 11 AM on Saturday morning, as temperatures nudged past 30ºC, the action moved from the Open Air stage to the lake, where weary ravers washed away the last night's sweats, splashing around or drifting on floaties. The genius of Nachtdigital's Lake Stage is that it makes this scene part of the party: the DJ booth faces the lake, and the crowd spills past the dance floor into the shin-deep water beyond. Paquita Gordon kicked off the stage this year, and while she may be best known for her eclectic sets at places like Terraforma Festival, here she proved she can thump it out with the best of them. She got started with Jeff Mills "Glen21," a recording of an articulate '90s raver imagining life in the future (i.e. our current era), and swiftly tucked into a two-hour set of party-rocking house, heating things up with floor-fillers like Cajmere's "Feelin' Kinda High" and Planet Soul's "Set U Free," then cooling down atmospheric cuts like Maurizio's "M6."
    Huerco S In spite of its name, the music at Ambient Stage varies more widely than at any other. Anything goes, so long as it doesn't bang. At 4 AM on Sunday morning, Huerco S took this rule to the extreme, playing an hour of quivering tones so slow and delicate you often had to strain your ears to hear them. Faint birdsong mingled with the lapping of waves, soundtracking many a passed-out punter's dreams. Those who lay awake gazed at the psychedelic splodges morphing on the tent's canvas, Aphex Twin's iconic logo appearing for split seconds at a time. During a particularly drone-y passage, one guy remarked the music sounded like it was from the video game Halo, the sound of strafing, tense and scared, through some bleak netherworld. Another girl, charged with too much energy to relinquish to the music, bounced from group to group with a massive blow-up phone, repeating her routine. ("Wanna make a long distance call?") Just before 5 AM, a long guttural growl washed over the audience, most of whom were busy contemplating first light. Then silence, and some light applause.
    Courtesy Courtesy got started just before dawn, as the festival's flashing lights and surreal projections were replaced by its natural landscape: the lake beyond the sandy dance floor, the tree line circling the scene. Bobbing behind the decks, she delivered a perfect distillation of her sound and the Copenhagen techno scene for which she's a tireless advocate. The tempos were high, the beats ultra crisp and clear, and the vibe always more invigorating than sinister. When dawn broke, it was cool and overcast—a relief to everyone who'd sweated through the festival's first two days. Even the downpour that sent half the crowd seeking shelter beneath nearby awnings felt like a festival highlight, thanks in no small part to the trance cut that soundtracked it—Kay Cee's "Love Stimulation." The rain stopped, everyone flooded back to the dance floor and stomped around in wet sand till the end of her set, feeling their third wind coming in.
    Jan Schulte The final stretch of Nachtdigital is always something to behold. As the somber exodus on the campsite begins, those lucky enough to have no reason to hurry home stay by the lake for one last hurrah. This year's final day brought with it a fresh breeze and the weekend's first daytime temperatures below 30ºC. Presiding over the festival's final set was Jan Schulte, playing for the third time that weekend—he'd DJ'd on the main stage on Friday night with Niklas Wandt, then again at Ambient Stage on Sunday evening, both times as Wolf Müller. Like the crowd, he was probably in that sweet spot between exhaustion and sun-kissed euphoria. His DJ set certainly sounded like it. Thick, chugging grooves rolled out one after another, each cradling a different kind of psychedelic hook. Many called to mind the "weirdo post-kraut" sounds of his Salon Des Amateurs family and his own records, like Balztanz. Some were more classic disco; at least one had a filthy acid riff. Before it was all over, there was time to take in the surroundings: blue sky, alpine treeline, people dancing in the shallow water, while beyond all that, a wheat field shimmered in the breeze. As party scenes go, it's a hard one to beat. Photo credit / Patrice Brylla - Lead Ronald Becker - Make Me, Courtesy Peter Becker - Paquita Gordon David Lacoste - Huerco S Steffen Bennemann - Jan Schulte