Sometimes even one decade can feel like a lifetime. The last time I attended Germany’s Melt! Festival the original line-up of Bloc Party was headlining, Klaxons‘ were still a thing and so were Glasvegas, Phoenix were riding on the success of their indie smasher album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix while Oasis played one of their final gigs before famously splitting up three weeks later. That was 2009 and in 2018 it feels as if none of those bands is relevant anymore … at least not for the majority of the festival’s audience. People changed, music scenes changed and the whole world changed. It’s a lovely coincidence that all of this year’s headliners – Florence + The Machine, Fever Ray and The xx – were releasing their debut albums in that year (Fever Ray even played Melt! in 2009 as I just noticed). Returning as an almost 34 year old person, thirteen years after attending my first Melt! Festival and nine years after my last one felt both – strange and familiar. By now I’m probably not the target group anymore, yet that was never the intention anyway.
This festival has always been one that aimed for the younger generation, one that is bursting with excitement for pop culture, new music, party, excess, glitter and stylish outfits. Because let’s face it – these aspects do get weaker once you are in your thirties whether you like it or not. That specific target group also ‘forced’ the festival to slowly adapt over the years to stay on track with a modern independent music scene. Traditional indie rock sounds are barely visible in the festival line-up and they somehow also survived the short-living EDM-Hype (Deadmau5 was performing the last time I attended). Hip Hop and Rap are more present in the line-up and especially strong female representatives like Princess Nokia, IAMDDB and Catnapp truly represent the new musical confidence of this generation. Besides that pop and electronic dance music dominate the line-up, showing that a gap between cheesy mainstream pop and underground isn’t really a thing anymore for those modern music lovers. People would go ape shit crazy if Rihanna was performing, something ‘my generation’ would have totally despised back then, trust me. That embracement of those different vibes and pop cultural understandings results in a feeling of liberation but probably doesn’t make it easier for Melt! to compile its line-up.
All in all the festival is still a great place to discover new music if you happen to arrive early enough for the first acts who usually start around 4 p.m. But considering the fact that it’s been a hot summer weekend throughout all three days that really wasn’t the problem. Personal highlights from the ‘discovery’ section where the catchy and soulful pop vibes of Kali Uchis, the charming lo-fi indie/soul of Yellow Days and the neo glam-pop approach of Rex Orange County who will probably be pop music’s next big superstar four years from now (mark my words). Badbadnotgood also did a great job in introducing jazz to a new generation – and they are less spaced-out than Kamasi Washington which will probably help them with that. Besides that it was also great to see the artists you already like actually not disappointing. Cigarettes After Sex are still only capable of writing ‘that one song’ but they perfected that by now and performing in the middle of the sunset truly favours their music. Jon Hopkins was massive as expected and partly even a bit too much for people like me who actually enjoy the more gentle aspects of his sound way more.
What’s the price of escapism?
Other personal highlights include the hypnotic sound of Russian underground star Kedr Livanskiy, the craziness of Estonian rap madman Tommy Cash, German entertainment treasure Erobique and the joyful DJ sets by Nina Kraviz, Roman Flügel and the almighty Robag Wruhme. I probably missed something right here but well – who wouldn’t in this sensory overload? Over the years my line-up-driven notion to see as much bands as possible significantly changed towards a more floating approach towards such festival. I’d like to walk around the area, lose myself between different venues, getting to stages without knowing what’s going on, dancing around in a druggy haze while absorbing all those impressions, sounds, people etc. … it’s a common trend in our crazy times as people long for more excessive and dedicated escapism. Over the past decade countless smaller festivals sprout like mushrooms all over Europe. Often carried by a certain DIY spirit and love for the detail they promise this new generation an even more fulfilling opportunity to free your mind and lose yourself into the sound and spirit.
There’s a slowly growing desire for more sustainable and deeper hedonism. And with cheaper production costs more and more people actually don’t mind which DJ and band is performing in front of them as long as the whole vibe and the surroundings are cool enough.
Germany’s long lasting Fusion Festival, a non-profit neo-hippie extravaganza that regularly attracts around 70.000 people, might be the main influence for these new festivals and even Melt! Festival can’t ignore that. They got new smaller stages hidden in the woods around the sea, all with wooden benches, lovely decoration and less obvious DJ superstars spinning tunes here. This is the place where you suddenly find yourself dancing to 80s italo disco around 5 a.m. in the morning. This is where a DJ like Luz1e delivered finest Balearic break beats which I haven’t heard in years. Those were the places of surprise, away from the big cooperate stages, tobacco advertisement and food corners. Melt! cleverly created its own counter festival and included it within their own festival ground. Not bad, not bad.
Still, this whole issue brings us to a general problem the event is facing – it surely gets more and more difficult to attract such a diverse audience, one that seeks for a different notion in a festival than just seeing the music they love live on stage. Melt! hasn’t sold out in years and although it officially always communicates 20.000 people the number feels a bit lower on the ground. But that is also partly due to the fact that people tend to split between those countless floors and as a festival visitor it’s a nice thing to actually get a good spot in front of the main stage only three minutes before the band starts to play. The question is whether this works from an economic perspective as well. With this variety of new smaller festivals with a similar and more authentic escapism/ hippie-esque approach a lot of younger people struggle to pay the almost 130 Euro a Melt! festival ticket costs when you can have a more cosy feeling for half the price. And on the other hand people of my generation find it harder and harder to keep track with that ‘hot new shit’. Melt! Festival‘s bigger and more mainstream-focussed ‘brother’, Berlin’s Lollapalooza is currently trying to fill exactly that gap by saying ‘Look, we got a band for everyone and you don’t even have to leave the city for it.’ It’s an efficient yet soulless concept. Melt! is trying to work against that the best way it can and the great carefully curated programme as well as its reputation (During their headliner set, The xx stated multiple times how much they love the event) plus the stunning Ferropolis area really create their own magic.
Maybe downsizing isn’t even the worst thing to do but the organizers have to actually embrace the idea.
In 2018 Melt! cut down its second headliner stage and split the bands on other stages which worked pretty well. The European festival landscape is drastically changing. Smaller festivals with a lot of heart and little profit might remain due to a strong connection with their audience while the truly big mainstream festivals will also stay due to the sheer amount of money and bands they can come up with. Melt! however is in the middle of it like many other festivals. It got its reputation but it appears to be still looking for a new place after two decades in the international festival scene. However, adaptation has always been a strong quality of the event so I’m confident to attend once more in the future… but probably a bit earlier than 2025, I hope.