Review: Nachtdigital

Last weekend, I attended Nachtdigital for the first time. Earlier on in the year, I had carried out an interview with Jan Bennemann, one of the festival’s organisers, in which he said, “We put everything we have into Nachti, please come and see it for yourself!” I decided to do just as he suggested and, along with a group of nine friends, made the journey to Nachti’s home of Bungalowdorf Olganitz.

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My intial thoughts as I walked through the entrance were “how lovely to have a live band welcome you in to a festival” and “Holy Shit, look at all these trees!” The official opening was not until 8pm, but there were already plenty of people there, most of whom were drifting about on the lake in all forms of inflatable vessels – it looked like a contest in who could boast the largest and most unique lilo (I was quite envious, as none of us had thought to bring a lilo with us). We took this opportunity to swim and explore the festival site, a picture of pale, rustic colour, surrounded by a large forest. Dotted around the place, an array of quirky art installations could be found, such as smoke-blowing eyes and a light projection of people dancing on the river.

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Once the arena opened, we investigated the different stages, which consisted of a large, open air stage, where you could dance on the sand or in the lake, a smaller outdoor stage just next door, and a dark, sweaty tent with screens displaying visuals. The running order was kept secret, which had its advantages and disadvantages; on the one hand, it made me uneasy, as I didn’t know what to do with myself a lot of the time, and I worried about missing particular DJs. However, once I surrendered to it, I began to see the benefits and learned to follow my ears, rather than a timetable. In this way, Nachtdigital was more experience oriented than headliner oriented, and we tended to stumble upon things by accident, as you simply cannot plan there. One example was on that first night, when we spontaneously came across the “Rave Cave” and found ourselves in a tiny, obscenely hot and cramped (but at the same time fucking epic) club with low ceilings and ventilated padding on the walls, dancing to a DJ who goes by the name Fruchtfleisch. Unlike the other stages, there was no talking or half-assed dancing going on in the rave cave; everyone there was full of energy, flailing their limbs to tracks such as My People by Dwayne Jensen, Floorplan’s Tell You No Lie and Roy Keane by Brame & Hamo.

All of the stages offered a variety of music; there was no “Techno Stage” or “Live Stage”, making it all the more unpredictable. However we later discovered the Ambient Tent in a field outside the front gate where the music was, as you’d imagine, consistently mellow and hazy, and people were mostly sitting or lying down on sofas. There never seemed to be music playing at all stages at once, which made choosing where to dance that little bit easier and brought the crowd together more. On the second day though, we faced a dilemma: dance on the beach to the beautiful Housey melodies of Giegling founder DJ Dustin or venture out on the second Techno Safari of the day? (We’d already missed the first.) I picked the safari, while my friends opted to stay for Dustin, who they later claimed “had the whole festival in the palm of his hand”. According to them, a standout moment was when he played a dreamy remix of Aliyah’s One in a Million, a rather highly sought after track, though it is unlikely to get released. Meanwhile, on the safari, which consisted of a colourful truck adorned with inflatable animals, blaring out Techno (surprise, surprise) and a whole lot of people dancing behind, things were getting a little wild (excuse the pun). I didn’t follow it the whole way, as it was blisteringly hot and I was missing the lake, but a couple of hours later, I was on my way to take a nap in the shade when I heard the sweet sound of 90’s Trance coming from somewhere in the distance. Eventually, I discovered it was coming from the truck, which was now parked up in front of the entrance to the festival, where people were jumping up and down, fist pumping like there was no tomorrow. After playing a series of old school Trance and Techno bangers, the DJ thanked the crowd and the crowd in turn thanked the DJ, who turned out to be ‘very special guest’, Job Jobse.

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Another surprise was walking into the arena at 10am on Sunday to find Richie Hawtin on the decks. I know his presence provoked different reactions, with some people being thrilled to see him, and others wondering why the hell such a mainstream artist was playing at this small, underground festival. I personally enjoyed his set, it was energetic, got the crowd going and he dropped a couple of classics, including Loop by LFO vs F.U.S.E. However, my favourite set of that day, and probably of the entire festival, was courtesy of DJ Polo, who had played in the tent just a few hours earlier. At that time, it wasn’t overly crowded, so we had a nice spot right at the front and plenty of room to dance. Polo’s set was deep and hypnotic, enabling us to get totally lost in the music, and he ended on an absolute gem – 747’s Pangea – my current favourite song.

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Sunday afternoon was very relaxed, as everyone had clearly exhausted themselves by this stage, but the sun was still shining, the music still playing and the crowd still smiling. At one point, a water aerobics session was taking place in the lake, which looked like fun so I joined in. A few minutes in, a girl lost her ring and seemed pretty glum about it, so the instructors initiated a search for it. After several minutes of paddling around, stroking the lake floor, one person yelled “Found it!” and everyone began cheering and splashing. This really reflected the care and consideration for others shown by the crowd at Nachti, many of whom come back year after year. In my interview with Jan, he commented that the festival’s guests “make it what it is” and are “just the loveliest people on earth.” After that session in the water, I could see what he meant.

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Speaking of lovely people, I feel a special shout-out should go to the Drug Scouts, simply because they were taking such good care of those who were lost/ tired/ scared/ tripping balls. It’s nice to know that there are safe spaces such as these at festivals for when it all becomes a bit much and you need to get away.

Nachtdigital culminated with everyone dancing wherever they could find a spot at the small outdoor stage, which was totally packed, as it was the only one still open. This was a great way to end the festival – everybody in one place, giving it their all to the sweet tunes being played by Dusseldorf’s Salon Des Amateurs resident, Jan Schulte, and savouring those last couple of hours. At 6pm sharp, the music stopped (they don’t mess around) and we slowly made our way back to our tents.

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Overall, what I found impressive about Nachtdigital was the creativity and variety, combined with high-quality music and a loyal, knowledgeable following. The food options were basic but good, the location was beautiful and moreover, everyone was conscious of keeping the place clean – there was practically no litter on the ground and smokers even kept their cigarette butts in small, plastic containers that were given out at the entrance. I’m intrigued to see how the festival changes from year to year and what surprises will be in store for us next time round- bring on Nachti 2019!

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