Still on Top: Caprices Festival Brings 20 Years of Style to Crans-Montana
Apr 26, 2023
8 min read
Caprices Festival has transformed from a multi-genre event to one of Western Europe’s most popular destinations for electronic music, taking the profile of its Swiss homebase and resident DJs with it. We caught up with one of them, Giorgio Maulini, during the event’s 20th anniversary to learn more about the rich history of the mountain-top gathering and where it’s headed in the decades to come.
Getting a music festival off the ground is a lot of work. Keeping it there for 20 years is a much rarer feat, but Switzerland's Caprices Festival is one such success story (it also takes the phrase “off the ground” quite literally — after all, its mainstage sits some 2,200 meters high in the sky!)
But the mountaintop Modernity Stage that Caprices is best-known for these days wasn’t always the main attraction. Even electronic music served as somewhat of a side note back when the gathering first took shape two decades ago.
In the 70s and 80s, Crans-Montana — the stunning resort town that Caprices calls home — was popular among luxe travelers who favored ski-sports, Alpine spas, gourmet cuisine, and other high-end experiences. By the 90s those thrill seekers had moved on, taking a bit of the sparkle with them. That’s when Caprices’ founder, Maxime Léonard, got the wild idea to kill two birds with one badass party. His festival would not only satiate his desire to perform before a wide swath of discerning music lovers, but it could also be the gem that put Crans-Montana back on travelers’ must-visit lists.
In 2003, he brought the inaugural edition to life, right in the heart of town where visitors also had a front row seat to Swiss Alps’ jaw-dropping vistas. In the early years, Caprices welcomed seminal acts from across the musical spectrum including Radiohead, Cypress Hill, Lou Reed, and Bjork. With lineups as stunning as the surrounding landscapes, Leonard’s brainchild achieved its desired effect — people poured back into the vibrant mountain town in search of tunes and good times.
To most, the event’s unique variety was a unique selling point. But it’s impossible to please everyone. “I fucking hate that techno shit,” the rockstar Iggy Pop spouted in a now famous news clip captured ahead of his performance at Caprices’ 2007 installment. He was less than stoked, sandwiched between two electronic acts. It’s safe to assume he has strong words about what the event looks like today, too. Despite defiant headliners, there was no stopping this cable car — Caprices stood destined to evolve.
You don’t see us complaining — we can respect The Godfather of Punk without sharing his hot take. It never became the popular opinion. By the time Iggy rocked out in Valais, Caprices had already cemented itself as a mecca for rare house and techno performances.
“About 12 years ago at 7 AM, we had a spontaneous idea with Sonja Moonear, Guillaume Coutu Dumont, and Luciano to take the speakers on to our shoulders into a gondola and organize an afterparty up the ski slopes for about 30 people,” Leonard shared in a 2020 interview with ND World. “The following year we did the same with Ricardo Villalobos playing back-to-back with Luciano for a couple of hundred people and after that we decided to build a proper stage for a few thousand people 2,200 meters up the Alps.”
And voila, the glass-enclosed greenhouse now known as the Modernity Stage was born. This April, the aforementioned duo returned on weekend two of the event (April 14-17th) to unleash their now annual b2b marathon. It’s a tradition and throughline that’s helped paint the picture of Caprices’ steady transformation (and one that would probably have Mr. Pop cursing loudly under his breath — this is techno at its finest.)
We didn’t experience that hallowed performance ourselves because we went all in on weekend one (April 7th - 10th.) Still, we witnessed how Caprices’ organizers take clear steps to pay homage to the festival’s rich roots. Sure, we caught bpm-ripping sets from acts like Adriatique, BLOND:ISH, and Arodes whose soundprints veer between melodic and positively pumping, but acts like German vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Monolink, as well as Satori and WhoMadeWho, the Copenhagen-based trio that brought their club-adjacent hybrid-live set, integrated plenty of analog elements in their playa tech-tinted performances. We even had a chance to catch Leonard’s electro jazz-leaning band, F.O.E. (Live) ahead of Jamie xx’s garage-fueled stylings on Saturday night, a slot progression that rather poetically linked Caprice’s past with the present.
The Festival’s residents do a good job of telling Caprice’s growth story, too — take house producer Giorgio Maulini, for example, who’s been on board with the event for more than half its history. He arrived in Crans-Montana 12 years ago while playing in the 2nd division Danish football league, and after receiving a better offer from a local team, decided to stay. Today, he’s living his best life as a ski instructor and one of Modernity’s familiar faces.
“My life has always been very linked to sports at a high level of performance, and I have always been crazy about music,” he shares of the duality of his career. “I never thought I would find a place where both activities melted together as well as here in Crans-Montana. It’s like Yin and Yang, I suppose.”
What started as a job constructing the Modernity Stage (“hard manual work” as he puts it) eventually paved the way for Maulini to become one of the company’s beloved residents. “Everything felt very natural as it was supposed to happen,” he says with gratitude.
He closed out this year’s Sunday night “after glow” party in the intimate club stage that sat tucked away behind the main daytime venue, adorned with disco balls and filled with beats, offering a more relaxed alternative to the always packed main stage where acts like Black Coffee, Bedouin, and YokoO unleashed a mix of soulful and introspective grooves.
“Many things have changed — styles of music, location inside Crans-Montana, size of the events, staff members… but somehow the feeling that it evokes [among] its attendees never has changed,” Maulini shares of Caprices’ inspiring energy. “People here are happy, excited to be together in such a breathtaking part of the world and being able to share moments in a collective state of mind.” He says this shared consciousness is what makes Caprices improve year after year.
“Something that I always admire is the architectural configuration of the festival which allows the attendee to find zones or spaces where they feel safe and comfortable,” he continues. “The same thing happens with the artistic direction and hand picking the right artists to create the perfect musical journey and vibe that will fill up these spaces with the right sound.”
He’s certainly right about that — by day, fashionable friends sip drinks amongst the clouds. At night, they take the gondola to the bottom of the slope for a proper multi-stage rave. There they can immerse themselves in melody, live stylings, or psychedelic journeys that names like DJ Tennis or Ryan Crosson and Shaun Reeves of Visionquest are uniquely equipped to deliver. Caprices has all the bases covered. It’s adopted the same choose-your-own-adventure mentality of its hometown, it seems.
Maulini also recommends checking out slopes like The Glacier of the Plain Morte, Le Grand et Petit Mont Bonvin, Les Faverges, and all of the Aminona backcountry upon a visit for a deep dive into Switzerland’s most picturesque points.
Thank God Caprices’ participants are fully committed to a “never stop exploring” mindset, because next month there’s a new edition kicking off in Marrakech, Morocco (May 12-14, 2023) featuring performances from techno and house stalwarts like Archie Hamilton, Âme, and Cassy. Stephan Bodzin and Mathew Jonson, will bring their live sets to keep that long-time offering center stage.
When we ask Maulini what’s in store for the next 20 years, he answers without hesitation. “I have no doubt that it will still look great — we’ll probably be trying to expand this ‘know-how’ and good vibes all around the globe but always in breathtaking locations very close to natural wonders — we will have to stick around to discover what’s coming up.” In that case, count us in.