Caprices Festival in Switzerland, review: House and techno blowout in the Alps sticks to a winning formula

John Talabot and Axel Boman's Talaboman project was a highlight at this visually spectacular event

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The Independent Culture

Caprices Festival has been going since 2006, but in the last few years it has completed a transformation from rock and pop festival (Patti Smith, Bjork and Iggy & The Stooges were typical bill-toppers in the mid-to-late-00s) to an exclusively electronic music-focused event, with Ricardo Villalobos, Sven Väth and Carl Craig recurring stars of the show.

The festival's home is the decidedly high-end ski resort of Crans-Montana in the French-speaking Valais Canton: home to majestic upper Rhône River Valley vineyards, the enormous Aletsch Glacier, and the Matterhorn. 

Crans-Montana, which is actually two contiguous towns (Crans and Montana, logically enough) lined up along a ridge on one side of the valley that gives the Canton its name, is a place littered with designer outlets and eye-wateringly pricey restaurants, where even the sign above the door of the police station is emblazoned with the town's playfully cursive, entirely meaningless “Absolutely!” slogan.

The flipside of all this monied silliness is the truly astounding beauty of the place: it's hard to imagine ever getting used to the gorgeousness of the snow-capped mountains surrounding the town or its pristine lakes and wooded areas, especially given that this is also the sunniest place in Switzerland.

I had been to Caprices in 2016 and had a wonderful few days before overindulging a tad on the final evening and enduring the next day's two-hour drive to the airport in Geneva in the company of the most ear-ringing, spirit-crushing hangover of my life.

Determined to replace those shuddersome final memories of the place, I headed back up to Crans-Montana last weekend to find another hugely successful edition of a festival where the credo these days is clearly “if it ain't broke don't fix it”.

The lower of Caprices' two main venues is named The Moon, and is a giant tent-like structure down in the town that, as was the case last year, had lineups from Thursday to Saturday running from 7pm to 6am.

Catalan-Swedish duo Talaboman (John Talabot and Axel Boman), turned in a masterful two hours of warm, sweeping, hi hat-driven house that seemed to be most people's highlight of the weekend there as well as mine.

On Friday, Cassy's crunchy, twanging house had been the best thing on the bill, while the remainder of Saturday night was given over to the pounding techno of Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock.

The former injected meaty, electro-ish flourishes into his set and Klock, long-time resident at Berlin's legendary Berghain club, also played into the festive atmosphere by adding sprinkles of melody to his machine-like grooves.

During the day The Moon also acts as a kind of base camp from which you can have some food and drinks in the sunshine before making the 15-minute cable car climb up to MDRNTY, the second of Caprices' venues.

Music Box Session #7: Little Cub

Surely one of the most visually spectacular music venues on earth, MDRNTY is a completely clear, greenhouse-like structure sitting 2,200 metres up with mind-boggling views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains and (more often than not) crystalline blue skies.

It's a thoroughly decadent environment that unsurprisingly suits the more extrovert artists on the scene, and it's no accident that Villalobos and Väth  – masters of stagecraft as well as music – always do particularly strong business up there.

Villalobos, who probably incorporates loose-limbed twirls and luxuriant hair-flicks when he's grouting the tiles in his bathroom, clearly had a ball during his three-way back-to-back-to-back set with Seth Troxler and Fabric resident Craig Richards.

Väth, meanwhile, mined 30 years of house and rave (“I haven't heard this played out in ages” is always the most commonly heard comment during his sets) while not so much playing to the crowd as conducting them. With some inevitability, information about a “secret” after party began to filter through the crowd at MDRNTY as Väth's set drew to a close.

But, with memories of last year's mistakes still fresh in the memory, I headed off for a 20-quid pizza and a long, blissful sleep in the alpine stillness. It wasn't rock'n'roll, but as I drove down the mountain the following day drinking in the amazing view instead of a mixture of stomach acid and dread, I couldn't help but conclude that I liked it.