Review: Фузион Festival
The anti-festival movement is growing. UK festivals were the first to be criticised: the prices were too high, mud too thick, and line-ups predictable. And yet this year’s British summer still managed a turn for the worse. Thanks to the state-sanctioned patriotic conveyor-belt-of-yawn that started with the Queen’s Jubilee, ran through the European Championships, into Wimbledon – with the Olympics to come – it was perhaps no wonder that Michael Eavis decided it would be a good year to rest his land. With Glastonbury, the only big UK festival capable of answering the above criticisms (minus the mud) was postponed. Bring on 2013?
Not quite. For the last few summers, anti-festival sentiment has been channelled into journeys abroad. Promoters have acknowledged the viability of merging the traditional holiday with the festival weekend. The results have been varied, but as the Leeds Student festival preview section evidences, this summer’s most anticipated festival experiences can be found on the continent.
So what’s the attraction? With English names like Hideout, Melt, Exit, Way Out West, Outlook and Sonar on everyone’s lips, what is offered beyond the exportation of Anglo-American acts to warmer climes? Seemingly little. Club 18-30 for those who consider themselves to have taste.
Now there’s obviously no problem with this. English-speakers are occasionally quite nice. But what if you’re looking for a festival that avoids pricing out the locals? That throws a little localism into the global festival mix?
Фузион may have the answer. Staged in a former Soviet airport, the brilliance of this festival is so difficult to convey in words that it may be easier to tell you what it’s not. There’s no main stage, or even headliners. Hierarchies are redundant here. Anglo-American acts are thin on the ground, perhaps due to the reportedly low fees offered. Rumour even has it that those who do perform are asked if they can afford to donate their fee back to the organisers. This enables the same team to work throughout the rest of the year on anti-fascist community-building projects in the deprived villages nearby.
This festival is wary of globalisation. In this – its sixteenth year – it attracted nearly 60,000 attendees, and yet I heard only one other person speaking English over the entire weekend. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the national and international press are actively discouraged, with no formal press accreditation. There’s also no time for commercialism. Advertisers and even sponsors are notable for their absence (though hip Berlin tipple Club-Mate easily claims unofficial status).
Festival-goers are by now used to suffering from intimidated by employees of private security firms as they attempt to smuggle food and drink into festival areas. The aim is to force them to fork-out £7 for an under-cooked burger and £4 for warm a beer. But not here. For a start there are no barriers, so you’re welcome to bring as much as you like. Even those less adept at carrying or planning are not penalised – the prices at the vast array of food stalls are very reasonable. The food is so interesting that browsing the stalls is an experience in itself. Diversity is only compromised by the activist stance that all stalls must be meat-free. No complaints from me.
There is also some light-hearted political posturing. This year the theme was ‘Holiday Communism’. Tickets featured an illustrated Lenin in oversized headphones. Others on the revolutionary left were honoured with paths named after them. Although this area has suffered from mass emigration and a shrinking state since reunification, attendees are patently aware that no such hippy-fest could have taken place here under Soviet rule. But thankfully this irony fails to disparage the optimistic leftists; whose banners adorn almost every festival surface, offering political visions not just from the past but also for the immediate future (see below).
The ten stages are differently themed. Dub, electro, techno, house, balkan, folk, pop, trance, drums’n’bass – each has a spiritual home. Thankfully these reductive labels are often transcended by the experimental artists and dynamic scheduling. Spread across almost the entire airfield, it takes up to an hour – or rather a saunter up Simone De Beauvoir Straße, a short-cut across Ho Chi Min Pfad, and then a brisk stroll down Karl Marx Allee – to visit those furthermost apart.
Alongside the music stages there is also an artificial lake, a cinema, a circus, a theatre, the amusing ‘Shower Tower’ (above), a fire space, robot field, and numerous site-specific art installations (including for example Peter Hudson’s ‘Charon’ skeleton wheel, below). The use of lighting and sculpture is magnificent, obviously prepared for months prior to the festival. Especially at night, the visual experience is amazing – so it’s hardly surprising that people may be tempted to broaden their perceptions. For those that go a little too far, the Red Cross are present. But for less serious cases there is also an alternative medical tent, where judgements are completely shunned in favour of relaxing music, massage and chai tea.
The first set I took in was at the Sea Stage, submerged in a wooden boat before a dancefloor is paved with sand. Berlin electro-swing quartet Schön Schwarz & Koku combine conventional beats with electronic strings and rap vocals, immediately connecting with passers-by and amassing the largest crowd of the early evening.
Berlin, of course, is famed for parties that last until morning. Only here that means Monday morning. With the 24-hour schedule beginning on Thursday afternoon, festival goers have their work cut-out trying somehow to digest as much as possible without falling foul of the soaring temperatures and sleepless nights. To combat this some of the festival’s biggest names are scheduled for sets starting in the not-so-early hours.
Friday’s stars of the Tower Stage are Kolektiv Turmstrasse. Hailing from the north German city of Lübeck, these guys offer stripped-down minimal techno. This appeased an agitated crowd struggling to cope with the scorching 30°C heat. Sunglasses and umbrellas were out in force in response to the little shade offered by the Stage’s origami roof (below).
As the sun goes down, anticipation for Malente’s set is palpable. His disco-infused set exhibits influences from across the world – imploring fans simply to move. Somewhat a regular here, Malente appears emotionally moved by the receptive enthusiasm of the early morning crowd as he end his set with a remix of Wankelmut’s rousing ‘One Day’.
Sunday morning goes less smoothly for Hamburg’s DJ Koze. Due an impressive tropical thunder storm, his set is delayed until 6:30am. Thankfully he and his crowd are up to the task. And as the sun emerges not just from behind the clouds but also from the horizon, the set itself develops from a laid-back opening to an all-out party vibe. Some will have been up all night, others early-risers. Either way Koze doesn’t care. You get the impression that he’s seen it all before.
As Sunday moves into Monday, the tiring revellers go back to their campsites dazed. The shared enthusiasm will soon dissipate as the cognoscenti struggle to explain the things that they saw and felt here to those on the outside. With artists booked to play until noon, the community disperses from the stages, in stages. Only one act of collective conscience remains; the clean-up begins immediately as thousands of bulging bin liners are responsibly returned to refuse points at the exits. The campsites appear green and unspoiled after five days of constant hedonism. After all the crazy things my eyes were exposed to over course of the weekend, this image still has me boggling the most. Nowhere else.
Author: Chris Dietz
Featured Image: Sebastian Stolz (Flickr)