Prince’s Street Gardens
FLY’s Open Air Festival brings Edinburgh’s very first electronic and dance festival right into the heart of the city’s historic hub; the throngs of people heading towards the castle make up a very different troop from usual tourists. Situated in the same gardens as plays and performances have been held in days gone by, it seems apt to continue this wonderful tradition of live performances under a new likeness.
Despite the promoting being a bit fatiguing in the run-up, anticipation is still high. Just missing Nolan & Herd’s set, Motor City Drum Ensemble bring in the midday grooves. Having him so early on only benefits the early birds who anticipated the queues. Making full use of the available space while it lasts, the audience bounces through several funky numbers spanning Afrobeat and Brooklyn-based soul jazz. Like being asked for a dance by the Prom King, there is a nervous excitement that emanates around. The lyrics from Fatback Band “I’m looking for the party people who love to get down” baits the crowd to stand up to the plate. Once their attention is sealed, Plessow goes crate digging, arriving at one of my favourite summer finds; the initial guitar reverb and buoyant vocals of Gyedu-Blay Ambolley’s ‘Akoko Ba’ really brings the highlife to the festival, adding an unknown elasticity to the crowd’s limbo. At this point, no one seems to mind the rain and Plessow dips into some 4×4 techno before rounding off his slot with Africaine 808’s remix of Pasteur Lappe’s ‘More Sekele Movement’.
Detroit Swindle takes up the mantle thereafter, starting with a perhaps unexpected calypso tone. You can see the mutual appreciation between the artists with a quick selfie at the changeover with Motor City. Getting into the swing of things, they feed off the audience’s energy, periodically breaking away from the decks to have a good dance. The set looks like it was made in an arts and crafts session; the visuals would have fit perfectly in a ‘How To Stage A Gig For Dummies’, bringing back flashbacks of Windows ’95. Nonetheless, the superb sound system and well timed jets of smoke more than makes up for it, bringing out the best of these impressive artists.
As Detroit Swindle wraps up, I take my first break to wonder at the selection of food stalls available – an important factor in the festival experience. Returning to the sound of Harri and Domenic, identifying tracks becomes nigh on impossible; their performance is consistent with their Sub Club clientele but perhaps a bit heavy handed for daylight hours. Their technical skill is faultless but their approach certainly tests the endurance of these fresh-faced enthusiasts.
It starts to get dark as Theo Kottis begins,, capturing our full attention whilst everything else falls into obscurity. Having started off as another promoter in Cowgate, Kottis is the perfect model for those aspiring DJs and producers here in the capitol to persevere in such a competitive field. Smashing out an early evening set, his choices centre around house and techno with some favourites including TRP’s ‘Saturday Morning (Headache Mix)’ and Axel Boman’s ‘ABBA 002’. The real highlight comes towards the end with Koze’s remix of ‘Låpsley – Operator’, heads begin to poke above the crowd during its introduction, trying to spot if anyone else had clocked this summer sensation.
The German headliners Booka Shade definitely win the prize for best showmanship, pulling out a glitzy live percussion show. Still as popular now as they were back in the early 2000s, they bring a new feel for audience engagement with popular track ‘Body Language – Interpretation’, so nice they play it twice. While the night comes to a close, everything is put out on the dance floor, leaving nothing behind. The mechanical sounds of ‘Pong Ping’ from their sophomore album Movements are characteristic of this duo and cause a wave of euphoria.
In the space of just a month, this year is set to create a new precedent for music in this wonderful city. Almost choreographed, residents have taken initiative, blowing off the dust to create a new image: live music restrictions have been relaxed, student-led club nights have mushroomed and now we have a music festival slap-bang in the middle of the city. FLY’s Open Air Festival is a great success and something to pencil into the diary for next year. Round two is scheduled for May 2017.
Photos: David Wilkinson // EMPIRICAL