Commandeering a luxurious liner from Italian shipping Giant MSC, MDRNTY set off from Genova, Italy – calling at the idyllic islands of Corsica and Sardinia, all the while hosting sets from the likes of Black Coffee, Apollonia, Alan Fitzpatrick, Cassy and Dana Ruh.
The ship in question was the MSC Opera, a 65 ton behemoth. It holds 2,000 guests, and boasts an impressive 700 strong staff, six bars, three restaurants, a spa, a sauna, and even an opera house. Unlimited food and drink were including – but what everyone was really there for was essentially 72 hours of non-stop music.
MDRNTY has scaled down for their second addition; in 2017 they launched the cruise on an even larger ship, for five days, stopping off at Ibiza, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca. It became apparent on approach to the festival that the choice to curtail was a wise one, with those returning whispering tales of mayhem from the last edition on the coach journey from Milan to Genoa.
At 5pm, techno was already audible throughout the maze-like Italian port. The vibe was instantly manic – after a quick sign in and passport check and we were left to our own devices, manoeuvring through already drunk European partygoers to find our cabin.
A stressed announcement over the tannoy asserted the need for passengers to come the mandatory safety demonstration, which everyone ignored. On the top deck, bar staff had forgone formality and instead set up various tables around the pool stage to quickly dispense alcohol to the crowd (an initial attempt to take cabin numbers to monitor consumption was abandoned after about an hour).
The crowd littered the entire top level, waving goodbye to land as we departed and throwing fists in the air to the beat – like a twisted version of the opening scene of Titanic.
The pool stage is visually amazing: a black platform layered across one of the pools directly in front of the DJ decks. But due to the size and quality of the sound system, the music can be heard throughout the entire liner. It provided a pretty unique balance of intimate venue space where clubbers can dance right by the speakers, and the very open, loosely saturated throngs on deck.
It’s all overwhelming on first arrival: do you look at the people dancing at the very top of the ship snapping pictures of the sunset as the wind whips hair into their faces, or the guy in a horse mask aggressively smacking the speaker? Or the dancers painted like zebras elaborately swirling around metal hoops? What about the people throwing champagne at each other in the hot tubs? Or the girl launching the inflatable crocodile in the air at every drop?
It became very obvious that the journey was going to need both gutsiness and vitality.
After 11pm the music moved below deck into some of the ships repurposed bars and theatres. Surprisingly, the venues fit the vibe pretty well. The Cotton Club stage, for example, which on a normal voyage would act as a jazz bar, was dark and moody with the red backlight behind the DJ decks; the low ceilings added to the experience.
Similarly Byblos discothèque with its shiny dancefloor and mirrored ceiling actually provided a unique backdrop for DJs like Archie Hamilton, Apollonia and Ricardo Villalobos. It's surrounded by windows looking out to sea and even a back balcony to view the sunrise; the first specs of land becoming visible each morning the perfect antidote for the dazed congregation.
As far as performances went, Austrian techno extraordinaire Cassy provided the most memorable performance of the festival. What had initially been proposed as a three-hour set on the pool stage transformed into four-and-a-half hour presentation of her capabilities – her live, soulful set had all of her trademark warmth with the crowd reaching over the barriers to shake her hand as she mixed. The feeling of jubilation at her offering was only intensified by other DJ’s, with American producer Onsunlade steeping up and joining her on the decks for an unplanned hour B2B.
For his own set, Onsunlade took the sunset crowd on a spiritual journey, with vibey house that seemed to break through the chaos so far experienced by the weary masses. A slowed down, soulful rendition of “Crystal Waters, Gypsy Woman” snapped us out of our reverie and reminded us exactly why we’d boarded in the first place.
Below deck, taking time way from his residency at Hï Ibiza, Black Coffee delivered his two-hour beat-heavy serving from 6am to 8am – but the hour did not scare away the gaggle.
Overall the voyage was boisterous and loose, with a hedonistic sensibility that many contemporary festivals have lost. By a few hours into the voyage phones were a second thought, looking good and posing for instagram even further down the list - the primary aim was to enjoy yourself.
It could have been the music, it could have been the unlimited alcohol, or it could have been the freeing nature of being at sea... who knows? who cares?
The one thing that was missing from the MDRNTY Cruise were giant red caution messages that really should have been placed next to the boarding terminal as bright eyed, naïve festival-goers prepared to embark. We really ought to have been warned not to board this relentless techno voyage without the required endurance and reckless abandon.