I was pleasantly surprised by this year’s MDRNTY event in Gstaad, Switzerland. The Swiss brand has been throwing parties since 2009, although this is only their second visit to this particular location. Earlier editions were held in various other venues in and around the surrounding areas—including Davos and Uetliberg—and also as part of Caprices Festival, the larger-scale annual event that comes under the same ownership.
The focus of MDRNTY as a whole, I am told upon my arrival, is to create “special” parties by hosting great music in intimate locations—throwing “events” rather than “festivals,” confirms my host for the weekend. Caprices, he explains, is the only annual MDRNTY party that falls close to the latter category; all others are small enough so as to retain the sense of intimacy that can seem so absent at many electronic music events of the modern day. As way of example, the brand once threw a party in a hot air balloon—part of their highly exclusive MDRNTY+ series—and plans are in place to find similar unusual locations in the future.
On the whole, it would be difficult to deny the successful application of this formula—much more so than with other events that attempt to abide by a similar tried and tested model. Make no mistake: MDRNTY is a real party—a good one by many standards—but also one that leaves plenty of area for improvement.
After a slow start on both days—particularly so on the Sunday, for obvious reasons—the energy picked up in the mid-afternoon as people made their way up to the top of the mountain on the cable car. Early sets were provided by locals James McHale and DJ Blazer on the Saturday and Sunday, respectively, both playing to a quiet dancefloor as anyone who had decided to arrive early either made their way inside the attached chalet to grab some food or outside to enjoy the view in the afternoon sun. It was a blissful scene, but there were little signs of a party until much later—around the time DJ Tennis arrived on the Saturday or Seth Troxler on the Sunday. This kicked on until around midnight, and even continued into the early morning for those who wished to attend the after-party hosted in a gymnasium in the village at the bottom of the mountain—although the sound in this venue left plenty to be desired. It’s a shame the hours could not have even extended at the main venue; the party really was in full swing by midnight on the Saturday. Sunday curfew was at 7pm meaning that it never really reached top gear—another consideration for next year’s edition.
Much of this success comes down to the venue—and compliments must also be made to the organizers for really maximizing the space at their disposal. Hosted at the peak of a Swiss mountain in a 270° degree transparent custom-built tent, it is without doubt one of the most unique spaces you’re likely ever to party. But, in contrast to many organizers of such electronic music events, those behind MDRNTY do not assume that this is enough; instead, it was clear that great care had been taken to ensure that the space was used wisely—both in terms of layout and sound. While the volume could certainly have been lowered, the room acoustics had been reasonably well managed given the temporary nature of the structure. In addition to this, strictly enforced capacity restrictions meant that the room never felt overcrowded; also, the outdoor area allowed plenty of space for those who wanted to grab some fresh mountain air.
As good as the venue is, however, the lineup needs improvement. It really is the weak link in the chain—the only oversight in an otherwise solidly applied model. It’s difficult to divulge too much on this without sounding overly critical, but let’s say this: MDRNTY 2016 was excellent despite the music on offer rather than because of it.
Of course, the event wasn’t entirely absent of good music: DJ Tennis and Adriatique were as solid as we’ve come to expect—although the latter’s set lacked imagination to say the least. Anthea’s after-party set came good after a patchy start, and Seth Troxler started wonderfully well before tailing off after 40 minutes—but it’s difficult to think of anything else of particular note besides James McHale’s DJ set and Guti’s live performance, two positive musical takeaways from a weekend short on them. At the other end of the spectrum were Guy Gerber and Alex Niggemann, both of whom delivered sets of generic tech-house, leaving one with the feeling that the artist budget had been poorly spent. Given the deep pockets at the organizers’ disposal, you’d think they could use their imagination to curate a lineup better suited to such a stellar musical environment. There’s no shortage of names that spring to my mind.
But it’s important to be positive because MDRNTY is a nice event. It’s a beautiful concept and one that is tremendously well executed, on the whole. Those who attended this year— almost all of whom came from Italy or Switzerland given the party’s remote nature—are sure to have enjoyed a special experience, but one that stemmed more from the venue and the setup rather than anything musical. It must be noted that any of the issues can be easily addressed; and with these simple changes, MDRNTY could become an international musical attraction too.
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Photos: Valeriu Cătălineanu / Romanian Club Culture