Easter weekend saw the return of the April edition of Crans-Montana’s Caprices. After navigating graciously through the pandemic period, the Swiss Festival continues to sit firmly on top of the mountain that hosts it.
As the only major European electronic music festival to go ahead in 2020, Caprices became a beacon. By replacing the usual winter session with a September edition, the organisers were able to provide, where others had been unable. Initially, what seemed a temporary measure to keep the party alight, there’s now ample opportunity to attend this ever-expanding event as we see the multiple months continue. In keeping with the autumnal slot, they haven’t missed a beat and yet so soon after the last, another stand out session has been delivered.
Nestled in the heart of a small Swiss ski resort, Crans Montana makes for a most idyllic of settings. Stunning scenery surrounds the town. Colourful, calming lakes rest patiently beside forests of evergreen and majestic mountains. Sun-kissed reflections of beauty dazzle by the day, a breath of calming air that settles the soul before you’ve even started up towards the top.
The festival is split by day and by night. MDRNTY serves as the main act, a purpose-built stage perched upon high at the summit of the snowy mountain slopes. Accessible only by cable car, there’s no entrance quite like it. Fifteen minutes of anticipation and excitement, floating 2,200m up into the Swiss Alps. Iconic in image, MDRNTY has continued to host the best in the business for the majority of Caprices 19 editions. Now spread across two weekends, there’s plenty of space for programming and both dates offer something a little different in terms of musical flavour. And whilst some sum up the stamina for both, most have themselves a choice to make.
Weekend one featured a blend of talent, from Dixon to Digby, Archie Hamilton, Cassy and Guti, to Fumiya Tanaka, Mike Shannon and an ever-present LIVE set from Mathew Jonson. Weekend two, as per, happened to be full of our favourites and our choice for attendance had been made. It was to begin with our beloved pair of percussive kingpins. Longtime musical partners Luciano and Ricardo Villalobos were set for an extended back-to-back, for the second season in a row.
Sadly as Friday’s festivities were just beginning, it was announced that Villalobos wouldn’t make it due to a skiing accident. While the well-wishes poured in, it was of course disappointing that the maestros of minimal wouldn’t have their time together. But Luciano was ready to fly solo and it was quite clear that the party wouldn’t sacrifice.
By the time we arrived, the Swiss-Chilean was already at the controls and Giorgio Maulini was on hand to offer some company. The Caprices resident brought his record bag, relishing the rare opportunity to play back-to-back with the Cadenza boss. Between them, the pair worked through the wax, armed with bags full of playful house groovers. Bright day-lit classics like Nightcrawler’s ‘Push The Feeling On’ brought the buzz early on, as the dance floor filled under a sun-soaked sky.
Luciano continued into the night, spanning a set of over six hours. Delving deep into his back catalogue, favourites got the full treatment. Johnny D’s ‘Orbitalife’ managed much of the eleven or so minutes it comes with. Percussion echoed across the hall on a constant, defined by Luciano’s trademark delay that has come to dominate his sets in recent years. Such meticulous mixing coincides with a return to roots, blending vinyl and CDJs rather than the Traktor set-up that had driven much of the last decade. Still changing, still current and a master in his craft.
Downstairs was hosted in the Night Village. Across the weekend, multiple music partners would take the reins in the stages of Signal and Forest – two connected venues, not two minutes from the cable car exit. Signal sported a harder sound and the Friday was dedicated to Cocoon. Dana Ruh was already at the controls by the time MDNRTY had closed. The 1000 capacity dance floor catered for the big-room sound. Spined lights ran like electric along the roof while bass pummelled across the space. Ruh went straight into a blend of garage beats, drum heavy rollers and big, tasty grooves – a perfect energy in warm up for the label boss to follow.
Over in the adjoined Forest stage, a Yoyaku takeover was underway. Representing the French label were the usual suspects, close associations tight-knit to the Yoyaku sound. Charlotte, Janeret and Lamache dished out deep, rolling grooves of warmth between them over the course of the night. Softer sounds of the second room meant for a fine balance in the blend and reason for movement between, depending on your flavour. That being said, the selectors at hand were digging deep and Lamache took us down a twisted path with Further’s Secret Destination mix of ‘Nowhere Left To Run’.
Papa Sven arrived soon before his set, patiently waiting and poised with a bag full of wax. As some of us discussed Sven’s affinity to the sound of the record, the crowd lapped up the last of Ruh’s classy infusion – bellowing the lyrics of Marshall Jefferson’s ‘House Music’ to those in front.
The room was full and ready for Vath. Often a firm fixture at pretty much every edition of Caprices, he is very much part of the family. An extended set meant he had plenty for the occasion, delivering the kind of euphoric techno he has championed over the years. Hands raised to the air, faltering only for seconds during a blend of straight-up vinyl inched together impeccably. Closed with a fond choice, the Eric Prydz edit of Sven’s own ‘The Beauty & The Beast’.
Saturday was a day dedicated for the most part to the Romanians. MDRNTY curated another extended set, as Raresh, Rhadoo and Petre Inspirescu came together for a long-overdue debut on the mountain. Not strangers of course to the festival, the members of [a:rpia:r] have all had their time at Caprices. But never before was the majority of the day in their name. One after another, the trio worked magic. A blend of Raresh’s playful, melodic groovers, Inspirescu’s chugging, mystic minimal and Rhadoo’s deep, bassline winders. For seven hours, the mountain was theirs.
Fellow Rominimal selectors SIT took over the night-time at the Forest stage, with ALCI and madnax (live) in toe. It was a fine way to follow on from the governors at the top. House classics built the energy, with Inland Knight’s ‘Lone Time’ setting the tone early on. Cristi Cons and Vlad Caia captivated whilst the heavy hitters destroyed it in Signal. Marco Faraone flew through sprightly tech house, dominated by lively drops and spine-tingling scores of vocal. Pan-Pot made the closing, the heaviest of the bunch. Not for the faint hearted and the 1000 strong crowd were certainly not phased.
Sunday served up sounds of a slightly little different flavour, party-starting all the same. Lola Haro wasted little time building the momentum. Headliners Recondite and Ame followed, delving deeper into strung out synth lines and euphoric techno. Emotion poured through acapellas, while an energetic kick remained, the same which could be said about the feeling of the crowd as the final cable car ride drew ever closer.
Back at the bottom, there was still one more session to go, an intimate affair to mark the festival’s closure. The Signal stage was out of bounds and the final soiree continued in the dome-shaped Forest. We refuelled in one of Crans-Montana’s finest pizza establishments before making our way back to the party. Something that should be said about Caprices is that it’s just so convenient. The dance floor is always waiting for you round the corner.
We were greeted at the doors by the sounds of a flute drifting around the dome. It took a double-take, before spotting the instrument was being played live and direct from the stage. Swiss duo Dune started the night out superbly, as deep house grooves were complimented graciously by soft notes of the woodwind. Renditions made originals like Afriqua’s ‘Soul Correction’ seem all the sweeter. Pleasantries that made smiles, as we celebrated the final night of the weekend.
Jay Fase followed on, before Norman Weber of Luna City Express came on to close, marking another debut appearance at the festival. Weber made sure we made it through until the last minute, working through jazz-infused deep house and cheery basslines. A blend of funk-fuelled house became polished with classics like Miami Sound Machine’s ‘Dr. Beat’ and a rendition of South Street Players – ‘Who Keeps Changing Your Mind’ to close. It made for a vibrant end to a fine weekend that had shone from the beginning.
It’s clear artists and attendees alike are all feeling the magic of the mountains. Luciano captions his experience of the weekend quite simply, quite perfectly – I left my heart at Caprices Festival. It’s what we’re all thinking, as the snow is settling down at the top of the mountain and the thousands of festival-goers make their descent towards home, from the town of Crans-Montana.
It’s easy enough to bequest love to such a special meet up and once you’ve made it to one edition, there’s no doubting it will remain a firm fixture in your annual calendar.