From a small beginning in a bar to a purpose-built stage at 1,600m on the ski-slopes above Verbier, the Polaris Electronic Music Festival has morphed in four years into an international must-go-to event.
Held over four nights (and days if anybody is awake) in the ultra-chic, ultra-posh Swiss resort beloved of Brit, Swedish, and Belgian (yes, they do have some too) royals and A list ‘slebs. James Blunt has a chalet here and co-owns Le Vache mountain eatery with England rugby legend Lawrence Dallaglio and superbike racer Carl Foggarty. He’s even got a lift named after him.
Careful on that piste…you might bump into Ed Sheeran, Pixie Lott and her squeeze Oliver Cheshire, or Madonna. Bear Grylls owns a home, but presumably not a lift-pass…he runs back up the slopes. In the game of my-chalet’s-bigger-than-yours, R. Branson must hold Top Trump. In his ‘The Lodge’ he’s hosted Leonardo Dicaprio, Jude Law, and Barack Obama.
Polaris’s line-up is dotted with the royalty of the Electronic Music scene and some stars-in-the-making like Kyle Hall who’s talked of as a true prodigy. He puts it down to his heritage. Born in Detroit in ’91 as Motown’s power was on the wane, he picked up on the rich pool of top musicians in the city; musicians steeped in jazz but equally able to turn up at a moment’s notice as a session players for the Supremes, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Martha and the Vandellas.
“Detroit’s really a jazz town” Kyle told me over lunch before his set. “As a kid I heard all kinds of stuff, but the guys playing could do anything. They were the tops. That’s gonna get into your head. I got into spinning records when I was 11. DJ Raybone Jones was my teacher. He taught me the history”
It’s Kyle’s first time at Polaris and he’s not fazed by his youth. “I’m looking forward to it, it’s what I do. But I want to check out the slopes with a board. They tell me Verbier’s cool”
“But not today, Kyle! After your set, man” cuts in Mirko Loko, Polaris founder and artistic director. Kyle just grins his big happy Detroit grin.
Mirko is antsy, despite a stunning opening night. “I want you in one piece, man” he laughs.
“This is a huge gamble for me. My money’s in it and sponsorship is tight. It’s a different ball game to when we started four years ago in a bar here. Even though tickets are a sell-out for the weekend I’m still nervous as hell”.
I ask him who picks the artistes: “That’s me. That’s why Kyle’s here. He’s one of the young new breed making waves in the Electronic Music scene.”
The main stage is atop a plateau, home to golfers in summer, skiers in winter. Designed by Mirko so that the stage is framed by a view of the lights of Verbier and the valley beyond. It’s utterly stunning as the sun sets over the distant 4,000m peaks and the music kicks off.
The luminary list of performers is as royal as the real royals: Nina Kraviz, Dixon, Ben Uffo, Jeff Mills and the legends that are Carl Craig and Rick Wilhite.
The evening builds and the crowd settle into the groove, helped, no doubt, by the obvious and extensive intake of additives. It’s everywhere, in the Gents, spilt on the carpet (and helpfully swept up by a smiling Security guard). But this is Switzerland, and we’re high (geddit!) up a mountain, far from the madding crowd and admittedly loose laws on medication. The raised V.I.P. balcony sways alarmingly to the weapons-grade beat and snow begins to fall, inside and out.
Massive Attack open the proceedings. “So, Mirko” I ask afterwards, “is Banksy around? Daddy G was the only one I saw” – it has long been mooted that Banksy is Robert “3D” Del Naja, the other half of M A.
Mirko doesn’t bat an eyelid. I sense he’s been asked this many times before. “I don’t know. There’s no graffiti appeared in town”.
“So you haven’t seen him?” I reiterate.
Saved by the bell. His mobile goes off and that’s the end of the questioning.
Not forgetting his original start-up in the bars of Verbier, Mirko keeps the vibe live until 4.00am back in town with the OFF Festival in L’Etoile and Le Farinet where nothing comes cheap, a bottle of Taittinger Brut clocking out at 4,200Chf (£3,295) which doesn’t seem to daunt the denizens of this dive.
But no Prince Harry sofa-dancing here this time like he did before his recent nuptials.
For more information on the Polaris Festival see online.