As much as I’d rather not mention the C-word which litters the language in much of the news and conversation currently dominating our world, the devastation COVID19 has and continues to have on a somewhat shattered live music industry cannot be ignored. Particularly we have watched as many of our beloved festivals have spent the summer battling difficult decisions of rescheduling, postponing and in many cases cancelling altogether. The balance between the authorities guidance (in some part negligence) and the promoters ability to viably structure an event has been a difficult one to meet, without caging households off in relatively lifeless arenas or fields. Caprices Festival on the other hand might have just offered a golden glimmer of hope.
The Swiss staple festival situated in the ski resorts of Crans-Montana has paved the way for success, having last weekend completed its seventeenth season in a safe, socially distant, yet seemingly normal fashion. Although not without its challenges, Caprices has overcome the odds to live up to its name, as one of the most iconic electronic music festivals in the global underground circuit. In fact, the way things are looking right now, it might be the only credible festival to have taken place this year.
The 2020 edition of Caprices Festival was split across two weekends. Despite the impossibility of going ahead during the usual month of April, new dates were set for September, one weekend after another. A reduction in capacity and stage space to accommodate Government guidelines brought with it a slightly stripped back lineup. Not to say it wasn’t still brimming with as much talent and flair as is usual, hosting a delicately selected handful of world-renowned artists across the six-day total. Sven Vath, Luciano, Dubfire, Ricardo Villalobos, Sonja Moonear, Audiofly, Guti and more would all play the idyllic Modernity stage, 2200m high up in the Alps.
As our readers might expect, we attended the second weekend with Sonja and Ricardo. Arriving via Geneva airport in the evening we took a two-hour transfer to Crans-Montana, the beautiful base of the festivities. As the snowstorm set in during our ascent to the picturesque plateau, it became apparent we were in for a weekend of winter; a stark contrast to what had been sunshine and shorts weather the weekend before. We welcomed the added beauty and adventure.
It is important to note at this point, in the days leading up to the second instalment of the festival, the authorities had announced that masks would be required to be worn at all times due to a rise in the country’s COVID19 cases. This would have to become a permanent fashion accessory. A fair request in working towards keeping people safe and the preservation of the party.
Having missed the first day of Caprices Festival we clambered straight toward the night do. A mist of red light shone through the blizzard of snow as we heard our first thump of the beat carrying down the hill before us. The new Forest stage was something quite special – a disused cable car station offering 360-degree views of nature, a circular, industrial space keeping many of its raw, architectural features. The DJ booth is centred between Zones A, B and C. These pre-determined areas would in effect keep three, 300 capacity crowds socially distant for the duration of the festival.
Traumer was heating up his audience with an expert concoction of the deep rollers he is typically known for. Subtle energies bubbled below booming kicks, while an ever-present sprinkling of atmosphere drifted in waves, orchestral synths floating around the circular station from one crowd to the next. Each side of the DJ booth was equipped with decks and to the delight of the audience, the excitable gettraum boss just couldn’t resist mixing between the two. An unusual and impressive party trick that only added to the fun. Moscow Records main man Archie Hamilton came on to close and despite sticking only to the one setup, he brought with him uplifting grooves, acid basslines and a clattering of percussion that kept the tempo popping until close.
Sadly, close really did mean close, and this would be our only experience of the Forest stage. Following an official announcement by Caprices Festival the next morning, the Forest would be unable to open due to the difficulty of mask enforcement in this area. Thankfully, however, the show would go on and Modernity up on the mountain was safe and would remain.
Saturday brought with it a bunch of festival favourites. Those of us who haven’t experienced the magic of the mountain first hand have in some way been privy to the media that often follows. More often than not, said media involves Ricardo Villalobos. Pair him next to Sonja Moonear and the boxes for many will already be ticked. Excitement brewing, there was little time to be wasted. After a quick jaunt into the quaint little town of Crans-Montana, a delicious but expensive pizza and a swift glass of wine, we made haste toward the Gondola station.
The journey to the top is quite simply, breathtaking. The anticipation of slowly edging ever closer to the summit is rousing enough before you remember to take a look back down at the shrinking plain below. Not so often does a party feel so remote and disconnected from the rest of the world, in keeping with that release we crave.
We arrived to find usual suspects ALCI and Dana Ruh had joined forces, weaving a concoction of deep, minimal and grooving party starters. It wasn’t long before Sonja was in tow, records positioned and mask at the ready. ALCI signed off with an elegant edit, the Conant Gardens Posse Remix of Omar S’ ’S.E.X’.
Sonja set about structuring a selection of big beats, old and new, energy brimming from the off. Cool basslines offered hypnotic hip-swaying whilst wonky growlers made for fidget fuelled bounce. Groove laced classics the likes of Gemini’s ‘Where Do I Go’ ignited nostalgia of what could be a future in the past, whilst not much else can be said for Laurent Garnier’s ‘Coloured City’ than that it’s freaky and downright heavy presence had the whole of Modernity on fire. Quite ironic really being completely surrounded by a blizzard of snow.
Of course, Ricardo Villalobos was set to close and Edward had been invited along for backup. Although less may be known of the Berlin-based artist than his counterparts, he is certainly no stranger to the family, often sharing the booth with Zip, Sonja and Ricardo. It was Perlon’s first release of the year that came from Disordered Rhythm Metronomy, a collaboration between the back to back booking. And judging by their performance here at Caprices Festival, it seems the pair are just as in sync behind the decks as they are behind the machines.
Ricardo has a flair of unpredictability about him, for which most of us have the utmost respect despite the controversy sometimes caused. Today controversy would take a swift exit. Many of his usual classics had been stripped out. Of course, it wouldn’t have been without a rendition of Josh Wink’s ‘Higher State Of Consciousness’ but the artistic bond between the two performing this time led to something deeper.
Obscurity and intricacy took over, with the crowd hanging on to every second. Swinging percussion, dreamy Latin vocals and synth laced basslines became hard-hitting techno as the surrounding mountains darkened and luscious lights swirled within the glass walls of the club. The night came to a classy close with Ricardo’s own extra-long version of Aaliyah’s classic R&B rhythm ‘Try Again’ and Round Two’s old school uplifting, house vocal ‘New Day’.
The last day at Caprices Festival is reserved for Sven Vath. This proven formula has become a regular fixture for the festival’s Modernity stage closure. Year on year the Cocoon founder brings an arsenal of powerhouse techno, the sort that can instantly blow off the cobwebs of fatigue that sometimes settle after several days of the party. Fellow label stalwart Doiran Paic was on warm-up duties this time and as we settled into our final position for the weekend, we strapped in ready to embrace the final hours.
Sven cautiously took to the platform, re-familiarising himself with an environment he like many other DJs have had to step back from in the previous months. Of course, a reshuffle of records later and it was clear he was right back in his natural habitat. What ensued was an expertly mixed vinyl collection of funky, chunky techno. Warmth flowed from Traumer’s ‘Proxy’, a dance floor mover laced with a jazzy piano melody that had fingers dancing along gracefully on invisible, floating air instruments.
The energy continued to climb as the Papa drew on his classics one after the other, the Adana Twins ‘Origo’ initiating huge response while Sven’s own charisma shone from the booth. What was created here was clear unity between the artists, the organisers and the attendees. Particularly when we all fell arse onto the floor for one of his epic sit-downs. For many, this was the first party in a long time, maybe the last party in a long time. But for a minute in time, on top of that mountain, the outside chaos didn’t seem to matter.
The separate crowds did nothing to deter the clubbers. The bubbles were big enough to offer a sense of connection, an opportunity to share smiles with strangers, despite being with your eyes instead of your mouth. We were all there for the same reason and the necessary obstruction of safety couldn’t take that away.
Of course one would hope that soon we will all be sharing our dance floors as one, but in the meantime, in the midst of a global pandemic, Caprices Festival has just proven that this can still be done in splendid fashion. Albeit with half-hidden faces.