For those who tire of British music festivals – their inflated ticket prices, the unpredictable weather, or perhaps the recent increases in rules, restrictions and security – there are a wealth of European festivals that might make a refreshing change. Every summer impressive line-ups spring up all over the place, from Sziget in Hungary and Exit in Serbia to Benicassim and Sonar in Barcelona; although they can take a little more effort to arrange, these culturally diverse events can be liberating and thoroughly enjoyable. Melt! Festival in Germany is one such event, and it’s a must for anyone with a passion for live music and partying. Held in mid-July, the line-up consists of rock, indie and dance and the location is stunningly unique: what’s more, although travel costs need to be considered, the ticket prices are very reasonable (face value in 2018 – EUR 90).
Melt! is held in the Ferropolis, located near the city of Dessau, an hour or two away from Berlin. The Ferropolis (‘city of steel’) is an open air museum the rest of the year; a collection of towering cranes which stand as a testament to (and a reminder of) the industrial revolution. They form a stark contrast to the vast lake that surrounds them, hulking metal vs. luscious habitat – but this all changes at night, when the real beauty of the place is unleashed. Luminous lights adorn the cranes, forming multicoloured beacons whose beauty is accentuated by their reflection and refraction in the surrounding water. That the Ferropolis is set on a peninsula only enhances the sense that it’s an isolated wonderland, a surreal and magnificent backdrop for a festival. It’s a fifteen minute walk from the campsite, which is located adjacent to the half-island on a grassy piece of land, but buses run at night to save time.
For those flying into Berlin, trains run from the main station Hauptbahnhof to Dessau, where you’ll need to get a shuttle bus to the site, whilst EU Fest run reasonably-priced coaches directly from the airport to the festival grounds. You can also opt for the Melt! Festival Hotel Train, which leaves from Cologne and makes multiple stops along the way: it’s a sleeper train, and you can use the beds throughout the festival before it brings you back again. There is a Lidl nearby for those who want to stock up on food and drink upon arrival, although it’s a good hour’s walk away.
In the campsite, anything goes. Although stalls sell all sorts of food, and bottled beer as cheaply as EUR 1.50, you can take in whatever you like, including BBQs, gazebos and – as enjoyed by the majority of the festival goers – sound systems. Be Warned: the majority of attendees at Melt! (non-English, for the most part) a. like their techno and b. do not need much sleep. Simply put, there is never a quiet moment at this festival, and for those who relish the thought of that, the ‘Sleepless Stage’ located just outside the main arena is probably going to go down well. Conversely, this is probably not the best choice of festival for those who like their rest.
There are very strict restrictions on the gates to the arena, with security reluctant to let anyone in with any form of alcohol. This isn’t too much of a problem as the beer is fairly cheap compared to British festivals, and the Germans operate a system whereby you pay a deposit on each drink, which means you’re entitled to a small refund when you return your cup. For the savvy, this means a free beer every couple of drinks.
There is a comforting mix of rock and dance music at Melt! and much that falls in-between: this year saw the melodic ambience of bands such as Massive Attack and The XX alongside the erratic circus performances of Berlin-based indie band Bonaparte. However, Melt! as a festival is definitely dance-orientated, which means it keeps Berlin’s clubbing hours – headliners often play as late as 5am. For those with the stamina, this means watching your favourite DJs whilst the sun rises over the lake, a somewhat incredible experience. This is also a welcome change from many British festivals which are restricted on running times and volume: it can completely ruin a set when bands are cut off early or can’t play as loudly as they’d like – just ask Axl Rose after this years Reading and Leeds festivals!
Although there are a lot of German DJs who play at Melt!, there are plenty of British acts too, with past headliners including Oasis, Maximo Park, Aphex Twin and Bloc Party. As the total number of attendees is approximately 25 000, this is a festival where getting to the front of the crowds is not much of a problem – something that makes the experience pretty special if you’re used to choosing between viewing acts from a distance or being crushed near the front.
So, in Conclusion…
There is much that makes Melt! a brilliant festival, from its broad yet infinitely exciting line-up to its beautiful and unique setting. But what really sets Melt! apart is its sense of freedom. This is not just thanks to a lack of restrictions – something not to be confused with a lack of planning, the downfall of Love Parade this year – but to a conspicuous lack of pretension. Swim in the lake, sleep all day, sit atop a crane, or dance ‘til you drop: whatever you do at Melt!, you’ll be surrounded by people concerned not with what you do, or wear, or like, but with one thing only – enjoying themselves and the music as much as possible.