indieBerlin are delighted to announce that we are offering our readers 2×2 tickets to Melt!Festival 2018. We got in touch with the festival’s creative director, Stefan Lehmkuhl, to discuss the festival’s history, backstage freak-outs, band split-ups and keeping things fresh.
For 20 years, Melt has been taking up the cause to delight the world’s most sophisticated audiences. With several international awards under its belt, Melt has been one of Europe’s favourite festivals amongst artists, music lovers and the media, always in the recommended ‚festival top 5‘. Every year, festival-goers from all over the globe travel to Ferropolis, one of the most spectacular festival backdrops ever. As if it were the Melt Festival’s charm, musical boundaries are broken and trends set every year. It’s no wonder Melt-goers keep on celebrating the festival’s motto ,You Melt My Heart!‘
indieBerlin: Tell us how the festival started and what the main concept behind it is?
Stefan Lehmkuhl: Melt started as Electronic/Techno festival for Berliners with Berlin-Techno players who are still the top of all RA lists: Dixon, Ellen Allien, Ben Klock, Marcel Dettmann etc. and premiered in 1997 at the Bernsteinsee in Velten. Since 1998 it has taken place in the unique venue Ferropolis – one could say it‘s the Berghain of the Festivals in Germany, with a strong live-element and mix of Genres, the 24h-heartbeat is still tastemaking, credible electronic music.
The audience does not age with us. And of course we always try to attract new visitors and inspire them.
indieBerlin: How do you feel MELT stands out from other European festivals?
SL: Well, there are quite a lot of festival legends in Europe, which we now also might be after 20 years. This is definitely a long time. And at the same time, there are many ups and downs. But the bottom line is that it’s like a good club or a great band that you’re always loyal to as a fan: if you’ve been delivering quality for a long time and have experienced relatively few disasters, if you’ve been stable over time and still managed to stay young, that’s good. Festivals and their organizers are getting older, but of course not necessarily the audience. They are not coming for twenty years in a row. The audience does not age with us. And of course we always try to attract new visitors and inspire them.
indieBerlin: Tell us about your background and how you came to work at Melt festival?
SL: When Melt had to pause in 2003, I was still an editor for Intro and Festivalguide and responsible for media partnerships. That‘s where I got to know the Melt founders. Before that, I’ve always had something to do with concerts and events, starting as stage hand and later all sorts of other jobs at events from Rammstein to Dieter Thomas Heck’s “Music Is In The Air” or André Rieu at Halle Münsterland Münster, where I come from. In 2004 we gave up on our plans for our own festival and co-hosted Melt in 2004 – with some restrictions, because the founders left shortly before the festival. The team was so small back then that everyone had to do everything. I had some booking experience for three or four years, because I booked ‚Intro Intim’ and Introducing shows. Of course, I did not really have any festival experience. The founders provided a lot of knowledge in the first year. In the years that followed, learning by doing was in fashion until we gradually professionalized it.
…and think a lot about how I‘d feel about it myself if I bought a ticket .
indieBerlin: Can you describe the booking process? How do you manage to keep the lineup fresh every year?
SL: I always exchange a lot of ideas with people whose music taste I trust, besides my own feeling who’s right for the next edition, of course. I have agents and managers who’s suggestions and roster I like and trust. I used to exchange a lot of ideas with the editors of the Intro Magazine – which has unfortunately closed now and I hired a DJ booker very early as I realised I couldn’t judge all genres all by myself. I also have a healthy exchange with all the bookers at our booking agency Melt!Booking and other young people in our office who work in different fields of the business and in different music genres. It’s our so-called “Melt committee” and its big fun. That way I can also make sure the line-up is fresh every year.
indieBerlin: According to you, what are the main qualities an artistic director needs to have?
SL: Be able to make your own decision but be open to the opinion and ideas of others, too. Don’t think you always have the best ideas yourself, be communicative, be able to say no to interesting suggestions, be hungry for music and have a good feeling how you d like to experience 24 hours at a festival yourself. When I program I always try to set the right music and right vibe to the right time of the day, night, morning and think a lot about how I‘d feel about it myself if I bought a ticket .
Pete Doherty was running around backstage splashing around with a used syringe
indieBerlin: What is the most stressful moment you experienced during the festival?
SL: As many other festival promoters have experienced, it was weather-related. The worst weather we had was in 2009 where we had to evacuate the site due to heavy rain and storm. The tent where Deadmau5 (without mask/DJ-set) was supposed to start playing was about to collapse because the roof was full of water. So I had to ask Deadmau5 to leave, to take a microphone and tell the people to walk to the camping site and also to inform them the busses will not run due to overcrowding risk. Lovely job.
indieBerlin: Any backstage freak-out’s?
SL: In 2013, Pete Doherty was running around backstage splashing around with a used syringe. Not too nice, but at least the Babyshambles made it on stage and had a good show. Oasis played their second to last ever concert at Melt! – there was trouble in the air, they canceled a show in the week of Melt! because they were fighting and we were very worried whether or not they‘d show up. They did in the end, in separate private jets, separate cars. They didn‘t see each other for a minute in the backstage and Noel went on stage first for an intro. Then Liam five minutes after. After the gig Liam left stage first, directly into the limousine, Noel still on stage finishing the set and driving to the airport 15 minutes later. The week after Melt! the news came that they broke up. Let’s hope for their reunion in the future, at Melt! of course! Liam came back in 2011 with Beady Eye by the way!
indieBerlin: What artist are you most excited about this year?
SL: Very difficult to name just one if you like them all and almost have seen them all live. Maybe Faka and I still want to see The Busy Twist. But regardless, Erobique live is one of my all-time faves, I‘ll definitely make sure to be there Sunday early evening.
indieBerlin: Who would be your dream headliner, regardless of money?
SL: This is and always has been Radiohead.
indieBerlin: Do you have any local up-and-coming bands that you want to recommend to indieBerlin readers?