FLY Open Air Festival: The Review

FLY Club present a stunning array of local and international talent at their first Open Air Festival in Princes Street Gardens

Live Review by Claire Francis | 04 Oct 2016

While Glasgow tends to look out grimier, downtrodden city spaces and turn them into clubbing hotspots, today Edinburgh – in fitting style for the capital – goes grandiose. Edinburgh Castle makes a spectacular backdrop for the first ever FLY Open Air Festival, looming imposingly over the Ross Bandstand. The house-skewed line-up of top class international and local acts has drawn a sold-out crowd, leaving just one factor to contend with: Scotland’s notoriously fickle weather.

Early drizzle casts an ominous pall over the site – which has evidently been planned with sunshine in mind and offers little in the way of shelter from the elements – but the FLY promoters are in luck. For the most of the day, the sky is slate-coloured but precipitation-free. The noon kick-off time proves a tad early for party-seeking revellers, and it’s a smallish crowd that gathers for FLY residents Nolan and Herd. Likewise, Danilo Plessow – aka Motor City Drum Ensemble – draws a more thinned-out audience than expected, perhaps due to the lengthy entrance queue that has formed by mid-afternoon.

The gears shift when Detroit Swindle lead off with some high energy, body shaking tunes; all whistles, steel drums and jangling percussion that creates a summery vibe contrasting with the menacing sky. Navigating the compact event space is easy, and it’s a relief to see that FLY haven’t overlooked the small but important details. Drink queues are relatively short (and thankfully, there’s no pesky token system in place) and vantage points are plentiful, and the Dutch duo’s mix of disco edits forms a carefree late afternoon soundtrack.

Given their ubiquitous status, it can be easy to take our own Harri & Domenic for granted. A last-minute cancellation by Mr G, rumoured to be over a dispute when the latter’s demand to play adjacent to the Scottish pair was denied, reminds us just how widely revered by their peers the duo are. They certainly put in the day’s most aggressive set; all hard, driving techno and swirling dark synth.

If Theo Kottis is feeling any pressure to deliver the goods in his hometown, the local talent doesn’t show it. He charges through an absolutely blinding set, assured both in tone and demeanour. Kottis handles calypso beats, woozy 80s synth, African chants, techno tempos and thumping bass with immense skill, crafting a set that’s eclectic but never disjointed. Amidst the darkening sky, flashing stage lights and smoke machines, Edinburgh’s shining star shows exactly how it’s done – when was the last time you heard hammering house bass sliced so effortlessly between elegant disco strings? Rounding out the jubilant performance with cuts from Layo & Bushwacka! and a sample of Running Up That Hill, Kottis hands us a triumphant, personality-filled set.

While some half-hearted recent releases have cast doubts on their continuing relevance, there’s no questioning Booka Shade’s immense pulling power as a live act. The German duo put on a dazzling closing show, working the drum pads and keyboards hard and digging deep into their immense back catalogue. The spectacle is such that it draws throngs of curious passers-by to the Princes Street fence, reminding us what clubbing, at its core, is all about – bringing people together in shared spaces to celebrate great music. And if this first edition is anything to go by, FLY have on their hands a festival that could well become a world-stage contender.