The approach to Monegros desert was a memorable experience. Near the end of a two-hour car journey from the centre of Barcelona, a cluster of lights appeared on the horizon and it became very clear just how far the festival was from the outside world. The 20-plus-hour event prides itself on being "in the middle of nowhere."
As I entered the main area, the undeniably powerful main stage soundsystem kicked into life for a DJ set from Justice. This was the first time I'd seen them since 2008 when they and their Ed Banger comrades managed to appear in seemingly every festival lineup I came across. Half a decade and a sophomore album later, I expected something fresh. Such expectations were dashed within five minutes as "Waters Of Nazareth" came through seemingly every effect on the mixer before quickly crashing into Boney M's "Rasputin." The set relied heavily on the inescapable hits from Cross that everyone knows, skipping almost entirely over any newer material. The whole performance felt like it had been transported directly from 2008, but it still managed to draw a crowd.
The journey to see Marcel Dettmann was the closest thing to the kaleidoscopic adventure Monegros had promised, with massive mechanical dinosaurs, a 60-foot silver horse dangling overhead and enormous hanging planets flanking each stage. Poised in a DJ booth lit up like a Las Vegas billboard, the Berghain resident played during a thunderstorm to an enthusiastic, rain-soaked crowd who kicked up dust to every track, while biblical lightening speared itself down from the sky. Next was Public Enemy, whose 11-strong crew provided easily the most entertaining performance of the night, at least in terms of sheer absurdity. Camouflage-wearing backing dancers? Check. Invitations to tweet Chuck D every five minutes? Check. Explosive renditions of "Bring The Noise" and "Don't Believe The Hype," complete with Chuck D weaving through the audience? Check.
Vitalic's live show drew an impressively large crowd and fell into a similar category (for me at least) as Justice, in that I hadn't seen him perform since his heyday. But where Justice had remained in one place, Vitalic drew from all parts of his back catalogue, tweaking old material, sometimes into more trance-leaning territory. Toward the end came bright, towering visuals and a hyperactive version of "La Rock 01."
Richie Hawtin's DJ set failed to deliver on any level. It was a particularly dull performance of lackluster tech house that may have worked elsewhere at the festival, but stuck out sorely on the main stage in between acts with a much fuller sound. That said, I was careful what I wished for once Nero took to the stage to deliver a grating medley of brostep peppered with trap hi-hats. Following this full-on assault, Len Faki managed to hit reset, opting for Talking Heads' "I Zimbra" before moving on to UR's "Jupiter Jazz" as the sun finally rose over the desert.
Overall, Monegros was a bewildering experience. In places it showed real potential, even if the lineup lacked any real adventure, with mostly big names on every stage. The art direction felt like it was aiming to be an answer to Burning Man, but naturally fell short. Any opportunity to feel real escapism by journeying into the desert was lost because the entire event lasted just 20 hours, and you were never too far out of sight from the VIP area that was offered to anybody who felt like paying a premium.