Arriving down the pristinely kept walkway of Princes Street Gardens one could be forgiven for thinking we'd ventured to the wrong neck of the woods for an electronic ‘knees up’. It was only the thud of the kick drum that helped us meander through the gardens and make our way to the entrance gate.
Access proved a little tricky with quite a few punters walking in different directions only to be sent to the far side of the gardens. But once through the main gates it was to be the only speed bump in what was an amazing spectacle for more than just the music. Edinburgh needs FLY, a city that has only in recent years been properly introduced to electronic music, and it is FLY that has played an instrumental part of 'electronically programming' the youth.
You could feel an air of divide between the older generation that didn't understand why the gardens had been transformed into a musical playground for big kids, whilst on the flip side, a youthful audience who were delighted that they finally had a viable proposition in which to let loose - although it’s worth pointing out that there were the odd ‘OAP’ popping over to ask about gaining entry too.
As soon as we arrive, FLY resident LA LA is settled into a groove, delivering a melodic, enchanting opening set. The crowd pours into the bandstand, they gather on the old stone steps that sprawl out from the stage like that in a Roman Amphitheatre.
The setting is beautiful, part of the rich heritage that Edinburgh tourists flock to see throughout the year, with the weathered walls of Edinburgh Castle providing what is arguably one of the UK’s most majestic festival backdrops. Sunk into the belly of Princes Street Gardens, the bandstand, clad with an immersive LED screen, is transformed for just one night. The shiny new facade is a stark juxtaposition for the norm here but a scene that the young crowd savours.
The crowd embraces LA LA’s slick warm up, as she crafts a musical path that tee’s up the next DJ perfectly, that being the inimitable Eats Everything. He takes control just after 3pm; heavy bass lines rattle through the concrete deck below us as his bass-driven breakbeat style soon takes charge. The dark, heavy piano chords of his rebeef of Prosumer's take on Murat Tepeli's 'Forever' swallow up the crowd as Eats settles into rhythm, the familiar vocal claiming the first 'hands in the air' moment.
At this point projections of the crowd beamed onto the LED screens, causing a raucous crowd reaction, whilst Eats reaches peak Everything, the party-master playing to the crowd and giving them enough of what they want, whilst prescribing some more of what they need.
He drops an obscure, disco-infused mix of Floorplan's 'Tell No Lie', the eminent chorus sending the crowd into frenzy — the correct Edinburgh lingo here being 'pops off, tapsss off!!' As Eats' short set draws to a close Green Velvet's 'Percolator' bubbles along, another go-to tune for the Bristolian selector, to delight the revellers. As quick as Eats was on he was off again, swiftly escorted onto his next gig in Leeds, I believe via helicopter - pretty pimpin' by any DJs standards if I do say so myself.
Next up on the wheels of steel are Dekmantel Soundsystem, only Casper on this occasion. Forget transition, forget the decibel meter, it was his turn. The sound system blitzed to the max with slick arpeggiators echoing around a thudding kick drum, snaking high hats and melodic melancholy.
This is prime Dekmantel; no compromise, taking no prisoners; this pensive intro melody serving only to exhilarate the crowd and symbolise a changing of the guard. Italo disco and comical choruses make for an effervescent period. DMX Krew's 'Come To Me' and then a chorus of “big tits.. big tits” from a tune that must have been pulled from the darkest depths of an 80s disco dungeon in Naples took precedent.
A break in the clouds after a short burst of rain and the sunshine beamed down once again. Acidic themes laced between rolling basslines ensue, whilst the cigarette smoking Casper’s laid back and confident nature make for a slick and effortless set, akin to when Columbo takes a toot on his cigar and gives you that look of satisfaction when he solves the case knowing he's beast mode.
A dapper Jasper James follows suit, the crowd visibly in their delight to see one of Scotland’s house & techno prodigy’s behind the decks. In his smart trousers and bright red socks, Jasper’s the first play vinyl, hurriedly searching for the right record and delighted with each eventual selection. Old school 90s melodies and bass lines ensue as dusk draws close; Jasper’s in full control.
A charismatic performance is a winner with the crowd. Paul Johnson’s 'Follow This Beat' another notable crowd pleaser, livening the reveler energy followed by KiNK's 'Perth' (Chord Mix). It’s Jasper selecting for his crowd, connected by more than just the occasional crowd glance, hand gestures or from the speaker stacks; there’s a synergy at play here.
The stacked lineup see two heavyweights combine as FLY resident Theo Kottis joins George Fitzgerald. Huge piano solos with squelchy acid drops and heavy basslines are the order of the day, with both acts mixing flawlessly. Now pitch black, the lasers pierce through the sky towards buildings in the distance
. Bright-eyed revelers pack out the arena illuminated only by the lasers giving the scene a stop motion-like effect. The duo closes their set with Joe Smooth's classic 'Promised Land'. A freshly shaven (head) Leon Vynehall begins to set up and take over, the new look taking the savvy crowd by surprise. He delights the crowd with an unmistakable style and sound none of them will forget in a hurry. Head-melting melodies take centre stage and Vynehall’s signature set captivates the crowd.
Lil' Louis made his entrance felt by all, much like how a boxer enters the ring as he reaches the decks. The living legend marking his territory in the booth in a physical sense before his assault on the crowd comes with an increase in BPM and sonic style. Industrial, pounding techno follows, and he’s a master around a mixer, demanding the attention from the crowd, to which they respond in kind and lap up his performance. Lil Louis doesn’t mess about, he lets the music do the talking and it’s a joy to behold.
That rounds up the second edition of FLY Open Air. From humble beginnings as a weekly student night FLY has built their brand into a Scottish juggernaut, cementing itself as Edinburgh’s outstanding club-culture event. With plans afoot to further grow in 2018 we’re very much looking forward to seeing FLY’s next step.