Some would say hosting a five-arena outdoor festival on the last weekend of September is hubristic in the extreme. Walking into Mint Festival, DJ Mag was shivering beneath its coat and wooly hat, though the gods were generous enough to at least hold off the storm clouds that had so liberally doused the north for the majority of the week.
But while the tents that promised to prevent a repeat of the Somme-like Cocoon in the Park were reassuring, the ubiquitous production problems that plague first-year festival soon reared their unwelcome heads. Watching Surgeon in the Black Light arena, it was clear he was putting that multi-deck computer to some pretty serious use. But even his most impressive efforts proved ineffectual on a rig that offered no bass, especially in a half-empty tent at three in the afternoon. When Untold’s ‘Motion The Dance’ doesn’t have a room erupting, you know something’s wrong.
Things improved slightly for Ben Klock, whose muscular techno swelled the crowd slightly, but the increased bodies just meant things got quieter, so it was with heavy hearts we wandered across the park to see how the other stages were faring. After a glimpse into a near-deserted Bigger Than Barry stage, we found our answer to the barren crowds in the System and Flux arena, where Wolf + Lamb were laying down the funk-fuelled house to a tent that was rammed to the gills.
Seeing 3,000 plus people singing along to Todd Terje’s take on ‘Love Is The Drug’ is quite a sight, although it was probably topped when the same crowd serenaded the 27-year-old Seth Troxler with a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’. Surprisingly, the lovely Technics 1210 birthday cake the organisers had laid on remained untouched at the close.
The System and Flux tent was the only place to be for most of the punters who’d paid their readies, to the detriment of the other arenas. Weak sound and weak crowds elsewhere meant that a clear migration into that corner of the park was apparent throughout the day. Even Eddie Halliwell, that surefire pull, found his pyrotechnic assisted headline set of high energy bangers sapped by a mostly-empty room, although he still put out all the energy of a four-year-old who’d got into Keith Richards’ ‘special drawer’.
Back in Black Light Sandwell District were taking the stage for two hours of dark, tunneling techno that had committed punters enraptured. Function and Regis have that very particular skill of taking the sparse and making it sound enormous, and every new snare crack or bass thud was met with raised arms and jacking bodies. As Karl O’Connor described it when we caught him coming off stage: “Festivals are weird, because you never know what you’re going to get. It was like a thousand badgers in labour. Like an orgasm, but it’s all ours”. One can only imagine how it would have been received had the rig been up to scratch.
Despite that, it was all about the big tent. Troxler’s birthday set was surprisingly tough, cuts from Duke Dumont and Carl Craig sitting alongside the woozy tech-house he’s made his own over the last few years, before big boy Jamie Jones stepped up for two hours of low-slung funk, ‘Benediction’ by Hot Natured and Ali Love and his own ‘Panic’ proving especially devastating.
“It’s kind of funny, because we haven’t played together in ages but it’s the old crew, in a way,” explained Troxler after his set. “Really old friends, who’ve been together for so long. Having Wolf + Lamb play before me, and then Jamie [Jones] after me, it’s building. Every time it’s different depending on who you’re playing with. But it was amazing to be with so many of my old friends. Especially on my birthday.”
After the big, booty bass Reboot’s minimalistic tech-house felt a little flat, but even as we fought our way through the hordes the tent continued to bounce in unison. In stark contrast, outside was more a ghost town. Those hardy ravers who’d stayed for John Dahlback in the Bitch Arena, or Speedy J in Black Light deserve credit, but not envy.
It’s unfair to label Mint as unsuccessful. The stages that did work worked very well, and Leeds has long had a rabid appreciation for that house sound. But perhaps its biggest failing was a lack of inspiration – a techno tent that ignored the exciting undercurrents of modern techno, a house tent plucked straight from the DC10 roster and production that did little to impress. It was a functional festival, executed adequately, but as the ranks of festivals swell you feel that promoters are going to need to work harder than this to make themselves stand out. Especially in late September.
Words: Tom Banham
Pic: Ian G Ramsey