LOWDOWN: FLY Open Air Festival

At first glance, two of FLY Open Air Festival’s qualities immediately stood out: the line-up and the venue. A first of its kind in the beautiful Ross Bandstand, the grounds placed festival goers right in the midst of Edinburgh’s city centre; this central location boasted a view of the Princes Street Gardens on either side, a castle ahead/above, and groovy folk all around. The line-up featured an intelligent balance of local gurus and global legends.

While an event’s line-up plays a majority role in qualifying its credentials, the arrangement of its acts allows organisers an influence over the progression of the party’s energy and tone. Therein lies one of the many distinctions between a “good” line-up and a “FLY” line-up. Mixed and matched acts can cement a line-up as “good,” but only a well-curated line-up of thumping tunes warrants the “FLY” label.

Capitalising on its innately gorgeous locale, FLY’s production team successfully tread the fine line between overwhelming the natural landscape with electrical equipment and complementing the space’s natural appeal. Honing in on the lighting, one could re-imagine their feet on the dance floor of a club; paying attention to the foliage, one could forget their fate as city centre revellers.

Nolan & Herd [12-2]

FLY residents Laurence Nolan & Jonny Herd kicked off the day well by laying down a steady stream of bass-laden tracks that encouraged the keen early arrivals to get their groove on. Reinforcing Nolan and Herd’s choice selects, the sound-system and lighting rig foreshadowed the strength of the event’s kit early on in the day; even in broad daylight, it was obvious that the production team had coordinated well with the sound engineers and musicians.

Of course, opening any event can be tricky for performers (in terms of “bringing the noise without drowning out the follow-up”), but Nolan & Herd showcased a professional aptitude for their set-time. Proceeded by giants of the industry, they held their own and set a high precedent for the following performances. Even with only a handful of people on the dance floor, there was not a body on the crowd that held an idle stance.

Motor City Drum Ensemble [2-4]

Brother and Sister – “Midnight Desire”

Motor City Drum Ensemble (MCDE) kicked off his set with captivating Reggae vocals, reminding listeners that although FLY OPEN AIR was a “House & Techno” event, MCDE’s deep knowledge of dance music ushered in influences from all across the spectrum (and all around the world). With attendees bouncing around the idyllic space beneath Edinburgh Castle, it was clear that MCDE was there to share his knowledge of danceability; more so, it was evident that he had curated a brilliant set-list for the autumnal afternoon.

Jesse Velez – “Girls Out On The Floor”

DJs like him are few and far between, but you can identify their likeness through their ability to seamlessly weave unrelated (in terms of genre and BPM) tracks together into an explosively energetic exploration of a) what gets people moving and b) what makes people happy. For those two mid-afternoon hours, the answer to both questions was Motor City Drum Ensemble’s brilliant set.

Anyone who had arrived early enough to see him perform would have then struggled to tell their friends, honestly, that “you did not miss anything” when asked how MCDE’s set was.

Hamilton Brothers – “Music Makes the World Go Round”

MCDE incorporated sounds from around the world into his set, and Detroit Swindle carried this international intention well into the culmination of their set.

Detroit Swindle [4-5:30]

Donna Summers – “I Feel Love”

Detroit Swindle’s mixing continued MCDE’s standard of amalgamated genres. In the course of their set, they managed to effectively transition (not in direct succession, mind) from SLAM’s “Make You Move” to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Whereas some DJs strive for a homogenised sound that transports their audience into a particular soundscape, Detroit Swindle strove instead for an emotional interplay of stylings that best utilised their myriad of influences.

Their disco-funk selections rained down on the crowd, who had (in part) anticipated another type of downpour altogether; thus, the sporadically spitting sky above was held at bay thanks to the large gathering of (rain-)dancers.

Slam – “Make You Move”

During their set, the FLY Open Air production crew mixed up the visuals. Rather than refreshing the audience’s familiarity with geometric shapes, the U-shaped panel surrounding the DJs donned a live feed of the audience, caught in the fluid motions of their enthused session. This technique served the meaningful function of reorienting the crowd with their own humanity, even in the throes of their euphoric ephemerality. In other words, it granted the crowd a stage-presence that smudged the line between performer and audience by allowing Euan from down the roadshows a chance at (imaginary) on-stage glory.

Harri & Domenic [5:30-7]

Harri & Domenic started off their set with some heavy yet minimal techno that reminded attendees where this dynamic duo calls home – Sub Club. Their musical stylings marked a clear change in tempo from their predecessors, yet the downtempo interlude* was a welcome offering for those dancers who had already been on their feet for hours. Expertly, this (initially) “slower” pace lingered long enough to catch attendees off guard when the duo proceeded to bring out some heavy hitters.

*It mandates clarification that their “downtempo” antics were not a failure to energise the crowd but rather a recognition of the inevitable mid-day lull followed by an injection of infectious synths.*

This mid-festival dynamic provided the vets with contextual flexibility; their deviating tempos were well received in the low-pressure preamble to the setting sun while their hard-hitting techno kept dancers heads in the game and feet off the ground. It was, after all, a House AND Techno festival. In that respect, Harri & Domenic offered up enough (both in terms of quality and quantity) Techno to leave guests’ ears energised for days to follow. Their set was dark; their set was melodic; their set was a perfect iteration of their world-renowned sound.

Steve Silk Hurley (Doorly Club Rub)Jack Your Body

Theo Kottis [7-8:30]

By the time Fly Club resident Theo Kottis took the stage, the light show was in full swing, and the surrounding scenery humbly took a visual backseat to the blaring lights which helped focus the crowd’s attention on the man of the hour (and a half): Theo Kottis. His presence boasted club anthem after club anthem and, when coupled with the production, showcased Fly Club’s ongoing ability to attract talent.

The festival’s grand success was no outlier to Fly Club’s usual proceedings, but their strength as a collective came full circle when it became apparent that the most energized sets of the day was played out by an artist who has been with them since their earliest days.

Theo Kottis “It Wasn’t Meant To Be” EP

Booka Shade (Live) [8:30-10]

Having already enjoyed sets from the above artists, it seemed near impossible that the closing set could somehow elevate the energy of the evening. As Booka Shade set up their staging, however, so too did they pique the crowd’s interest. In anticipation of the duo’s live show, chants and cheers began to echo around the stadium.

The German duo captivated the ever-loyal dancers’ arms and legs, and rounded out the ten hour extravaganza with an encore that showcased the crowd’s intentions to keep the party going well past the planned afterparties.

Words by Austin Bell

Photo Credit: David Wilkinson

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