Melt festival 2018 review: Icons of Berlin’s queer scene perform at Germany’s picturesque music festival

Set to the soaring industrial backdrop of Ferropolis, the German “city of Iron” which ceased operation in 1991, Melt festival’s skyline is populated by a collection of towering abandoned cranes.

The cranes are seriously dramatic. The backdrop seems perfect in fact for the thunderous industrial tones of Germany’s famous techno music scene. By night energetic light displays reveal every gnarly inch of these monstrous relics, which look as if they are about to burst into motion at any moment.

Less historic is Melt festival’s burgeoning queer scene, which is a relatively new attraction for festivalgoers. After two years of the Yo Sissy troupe managing the queer scheduling, this year (as the group are sadly no more) the baton has been passed to a drag performer called Pansy, who also heads up the cabaret at Berlin karaoke institution Monster Ronson’s every Tuesday.

(Melt Festival)

“Next year they should give us more money and a better sound system,” Pansy said from the stage, wearing the festival’s requisite ‘juice purse’, an old juice bottle Melt punters fill with booze which is, bizarrely, the only way to bring alcohol ‘officially’ into the festival.

She was presenting the nightly drag show at the House of Presents stage buried deep in the woods at Melt. The stage suited the underground, activist feel of Pansy and her troupe, yet also felt creatively comprising (there wasn’t enough performance space and Pansy was right that there wasn’t high-tech enough speaker systems).

When I watch, one performer has to reschedule for later in the show (“she’s high on ketamine right now,” Pansy says) but others fill in. They perform lip syncs, choreographed dances to power ballads and political protest songs under the treetops. Others perform theatrical dance skits from a balcony above the intimate stage – the drag on offer veers from tongue-in-cheek to activist to serious live theatrical performance.

In-between acts at the House of Presents queer stage, Pansy’s chat is both politically loaded and chilled out in turns, designed to include the festival’s straight audiences. “Straight people are okay I guess,” Pansy said. “I mean none of us would be here without them.”

“Drag makes certain people feel uncomfortable, and I love making people feel uncomfortable,” she said later during the set, as she launched into a critique of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its commercial appeal.

(Melt Festival)

“The world of drag is so much more strange and complex and weird than what we see on television,” she insisted to the crowd of 200-300, who nightly missed segments of main acts like Florence and the Machine and The xx to catch the drag queens. “To me, drag is not just about female impersonation. My pussy is on the other side of my body.”

Pansy and her troupe vacated the woods on Saturday night to introduce queer electronic duo Fever Ray to the main stage, where the queens performed a raucous drag warm-up.

On Sunday, gay rockers The xx shouted out trans DJ Honey Dijon, who was playing on a stage close by, and said they were sad to miss Pride in London. “I missed one of my favourite days this week,” bassist Oliver Sim said. “So I dedicate this song to all the beautiful LGBT+ people out here tonight.”

Elsewhere, a diverse range of music acts populated the line-up, which had a focus on electronic acts. Florence and the Machine leaped about enchantingly by the small hours of the morning, when it was much cooler, dispensing beguiling new tracks from recent album High as Hope while begging the audience to switch off their mobile phones and “be present”.

(Melt Festival)

Mount Kimbie introduced British experimental sounds to Berlin on a stage which filtered out onto a sandy beach (lake swimming is an option by day) and The Black Madonna, on the Big Wheel stage, rebelled against the traditional German techno sounds with a lighter disco set.

Nina Kraviz, by the small hours of Saturday night, was one of many proponents of the iconic Berlin techno which drew huge crowds to the party, which swelled all night and from the early afternoon each day.

Melt festival is a place of sharp visual contrast. Of sandy beaches against vast industrial relics, and beach cabana huts against the thumping introspective beats of the Superdry sounds stage. The image of the landscape lingers.

It’s all unified by the German appetite for the party. Melt kicks on until something silly like 11am on the Monday morning – a fact which makes British festivals look largely like an embarrassing pre-game session, really.