If you weren’t already dribbling with excitement over the prospect of another year of Amsterdam’s Dekmantel festival, then, well.. what’s wrong with you? Even a quick glance at the lineup announcement should be enough to make you look like you need treatment for rabies. It’s an absolute monster.
Set in the idyllic and enormous Amsterdamse Bos forest, about 20 minutes outside the city centre, Dekmantel is thought of as one of the best techno and house festivals on the European calendar and its a reputation which has been snowballing year on year. Ever since more humble beginnings as a series of events and parties (not all legal) in and around Amsterdam, curators Thomas Martojo, Casper Tielrooij and more recently Matthijs Theben Terville have faithfully nurtured their concept with an unwavering and inherently simple philosophy “we’re not a festival that changes the lineup year on year” “We’d rather focus on quality.”
Just by taking a quick glance at the latest lineup release you can see what they mean, a good number of this year’s artists and selectors are tried and tested Dekmantel veterans. Theo Parrish, Robert Hood, and Moodymann return, harking back to 2007/8, when Thomas and Casper brought Detroit’s uniquely industrial stylings to Amsterdam’s at the time minimal house focused scene. Ben UFO, San Proper and Juju & Jordash also represent a significant part of Dekmantel history, the latter pair being the first to put out EPs on Dekmantel’s own label. The more recent release of EPs from New Jersey master Joey Anderson, and accomplished Ukrainian producer Vakula, not to mention an ongoing partnership with Robert Hood really bolt down a flourishing feeling of trust surrounding the label. Both working on the basis that they “need to release it, because it needs to be heard” the pair further established the Dekmatnel name as a bustling hive of raw talent.
With a long line of successful events and a contact list that would be any promoter’s wet dream it’s no wonder the Dekmantel name has become synonymous with excellence, and looking at the list of djs gracing the selector stage this year you can see why: Ricardo Villalobos, Dixon, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Jackmaster, Nina Kraviz, The Black Madonna, Tale of Us, Fatima Yamaha, Rødhad and Ben Klock all make up just a glimpse of what an utter dream of lineup the trio of music devotees have put together, putting pay to the strong Dekmantel ethos celebrating artists that simply need to be heard.
Also on the bill are a number of scintillating partnerships which are not to be missed. 808 state’s Graham Massey and ‘Voodoo Ray’ creator A Guy Called Gerald reunite to showcase a live all-analogue acid house set. Ben UFO and Joy Orbison also team up again, spinning anything that falls between house and techno, as well as local boys Antal and Hunee putting together what is sure to be a lively and soulful collaboration.
For those who just don’t know when to go to bed, the festivities will continue well after the sun goes down at the long-established Melkweg (Milky Way) club, which will play host to the likes of, Jackmaster,Legowelt (live) and a dizzying swathe of exciting up and coming talent. The festival will kick off on the 4th of August with a series of opening events dotted around the city, all connected by a free ferry, neat huh?
Day one at the much-anticipated Amsterdamse Bos site, is like entering a dystopian playground. This is going to be my haven for the next three days and I can’t wait to start exploring it. Some of my absolute favourite sets take place during that Friday. On my first visit to the famous Boiler Room stage I am greeted by an uplifting and feel-good set by Tripeo, who gave us an hour-long House set highly influenced by Disco beats. The bright sun instantly transports my thoughts to a chilled summer in Majorca as I dance along to the sound of summer.
After the attending the start of Robert Hood‘s ruthless set in the UFO stage, my impatience grows as I am aware the time for Ben Klock to grace the Main Stage is fast approaching. Arriving before his set, I am happy to find that his predecessor Model 500 is closing his set with a hard punch. After a long anticipatory silence Ben Klock takes the stage. The sun behind us is setting to the perfect soundtrack and we are all on the same train to sundown as he transitions into darkness, seamlessly easing into a steady beat. The next set by Marcel Dettmann is perfectly complementary. His sound descends all God-like and you know that the darkness has finally taken over. The bright sun has set with Ben Klock and the dark moon is rising with Marcel Dettmann.
I leave the main stage half-heartedly to catch another set I am dying to see in the UFO stage. I arrive whilst Blawan is ending his set with a surrounding embryonic sound as a clash of machineguns blasts through the speakers. Squarepusher has signalled his presence. His signature mask, often slightly different with each appearance, is easy to make out in front of the geometric colourful visuals which appear behind him and his white fencing suit. The white iron mask completely hides his face. Feelings are intense, like stepping into a Matrix world of which he is the leader. The deck might as well be controlling us and not the beat. It’s something amazing to witness; his control of both the unpredictability of the beat and the crowd. He stops after every track to impose seconds of torturous silence before hyping the next one and backtracks the tempo just to test us before the track climactically ends. If I had to use just one word to describe his set it would have to be ‘orgasm’. Pure orgasm. Mixing in Andy Stott’s ‘Damage’ was just the cherry on the top. Definitely my personal highlight.
As the second day kicked off, I move straight up to the tower between the Main Stage and the entrance. Aphrohead’s ‘Let’s Prance’ echoes from Mano Le Tough‘s set, who played before John Talbot took the Main Stage. I move to The Lab stage in time for Palms Trax. The vibe during his set reminds me of an exotic house party; chilled, light groovy house music with a nice selection of vocal samples and melodic synths. I notice the groovy track by Jack J, ’Thirsting’ come on and instantly everyone is whistling and swaying to the beat.
The glorious weather persuades me to leave The Lab and return to the tower. The vantage point towards the Main Stage and the crowds gives me no reason whatsoever to want to move. The long silence between John Talabot and Four Tet was agonising but the soaking sun and friendly vibe on the tower made up for it. When his set kicks off I know I’ve made the right choice. His musical choices such as ‘OAR003-B’ by Oni Ayhun are another perfect soundtrack to the perfect sunset. My only regret on that day is not witnessing what must have been an impressive 5 hour long set up to the end of the day by Antal RH, Hunee and Floating Points at the Selectors stage.
On the last day I decide to see a majority of female artists. Helena Hauff in The Lab is going to be my first lady. I see her standing behind the deck, nonchalantly smoking one cigarette after the next whilst she spins the crowd into motion. To my surprise the German techno artist shies away from her usual acid techno touch and brings in some hard-core bass lines into what can only turn into an extremely ruthless set. Instead, she surprises us with some ‘on your feet Disco’ beats and RnB samples which put the pop and lock into her classic techno. It turns out to be a highly experimental and varied set impossible not to dance to. One look at the stacked speakers in the lab and you can see them helplessly emerged into a continuous tremble. Each beat feels like a punch and the more she punches the more we yearn for. She is certainly giving us all she has.
The other lady I am dying to see is Nina Kraviz. Upon my entrance to the UFO stage the black widow of techno descends like a dark cloud. The vibe on the dance floor is animalistic and she is ruthless from start to finish, playing some of her favourite tracks such as the relentless ‘All Aboard The U.S.S. Severe EP’ by Barcode Population from 1996.To finish, she brings in some groove to calm us down with Cafe del mar song ‘Energy 52 (remix by DJ Kid Paul)’. And although the energy and undeniable talent bursts out of the stage, part of me leaves the stage with a desire to see her bring something new to her next sets.
I return swiftly to catch a bit of Clark‘s visually stunning dark set before setting off for the main stage to catch UK hit artist Carl Craig. His set brings the UK scene to Amsterdamse Bos with its groovy and vocally rich tracks. It is now only one set before the end of the last day and the crowds are going wild. A drone-like voice echoes around the main stage ‘You have been the best audience that we ever had’ and the words are being projected on the massive screens ahead. Germans Siriusmodeselektor (Modeselektor + Siriusmo) appear on stage. Hip Hop, RnB vibes and vocal samples blast from the speakers after a majestic intro. Their monkey logo appears playfully on the screen as the presenter stands on the control panel with a microphone reaching out to the audience. the hype is rising as he waves his hand in the air as if saying ‘Dance monkeys dance!’. He does the same throughout random moments of the set; a powerful figure on top of our world reminding us to dance as if it is our last chance …because for some it is. Some of their hit tracks featured in the set include ‘I’m not into twerk I’m into Kraftwerk’ and ‘Evil Twin’, which comes in towards the end to leave the Main Stage in a cloud of smoke and dust for the last time.
Special kudos have to go to the techies for putting together a jaw dropping personalised Siriusmodeselektor visual show. I would also like at this point to congratulate all visual artists and lighting technicians as the level and quality of atmosphere was truly amazing to witness and added a serious bonus to the whole experience. Each stage both at Amsterdamse Bos and the Melkweg had its own personal atmosphere and the variety between stages was fascinating. Special mention has to go to Heleen Blanken, visual artist of my visually favourite UFO stage and to the lighting team of The Max in the Melkweg, who managed to add a colourful touch without compromising the underground and eerie set up of this main stage.
On the third and final night I am visiting the Melkweg, the after-party which runs till the early hours of the morning. I am pleased to find that it’s refreshingly different to the day site; a predominantly underground vibe with four stages and an indoor smoking area, each stage with its own unique character – its perfect for an after-party. There is one person I am lucky to be watching playing a live set tonight; Andy Stott. Well before the clock strikes 2am I abandon my roaming of the spanning three floored club and enter the Oude Zaal stage. I arrive just as the last set ends in a funky disco tune which I find odd as a prelude to Andy Stott. However, the short silence and the slow emergence of an intro as he takes his place beneath the smoke and swirling lights has me catching my breath. A hypnotic, angelic voice sounds from the speakers reminiscent of a combination of his two tracks ‘Leave’ and ‘Time Away’ I can’t shake the feeling that there is incredible pain in his intro and the same feeling remains throughout the entirety of his set. It is influenced by various genres such as Industrial, Noise and Dark Techno but he surprises us with some Gabber, which through his dark dexterity feels like repetitively and mercilessly being shot by a shotgun. All in all, what I’m feeling is a disturbingly beautiful pain and strangely I do not want to let go of it. His final beat comes as a sigh of relief and a cry for more.
Dekmantel is certainly an event no one should miss. The selection, variety and dexterity of the artists is like no other; the team is devoted like no other; the site is breathtakingly beautiful like no other and the experience, well, it is like no other
A gorgeous beach on the south coast of Croatia, laden with sun bleached pebbles jiggling from nearby reggae/dub blaring speakers, is the day time hang out for the 7000 strong festival. It gets rather crowded but seemingly almost entirely by bikini clad bass lovers or it could have been that I was trying to avoid the flexing posers they had brought with them. Dimensions is up there with the best of the UK festivals but there are some contradictions in it that need to be addressed.
Image by Zoe Lower
The festival takes itself extremely seriously; this is evident just through their extraordinary attention to detail when it comes to sound. Anywhere you stand in the crowd you will find the sound is flawless, even 3 inches from the speaker I never found it necessary to make use my trusty earplugs. You might think I’m a fan of tinnitus, quite the contrary; the sound was somehow literally perfect while still being the perfect volume for anyone at the venue. The music was also chosen with diversity in mind, an electronic music festival may sound monotonous but this was anything but that. An overview of the music is that there is something for everyone, from the experimental compositions of Nils Frahm to the swampiest Reggae dub and even Warpaint for those who are interested in something lighter, in fact there is too much to see as I spent many of the nights frantically trying to catch various acts. Unfortunately this was not always possible as the schedule appeared to be constantly rearranging, which is a true shame as the first night offered flawless artist swaps, exactly on time. Some techies worked extremely hard and took a lot of pride in their work. The staff were also dedicated to assisting anyone in need, from the volunteers right the way up to the PR managers that press have to deal with. Treating the press well is expected from the paid employees, but I’ve never heard of a PR representative sprinting with members of the press (while huffing and puffing on an asthma inhaler) to sort out a boat party mix up – that is dedication to the festival.
Photo by Dan Medhurst
Something that astounded me at Dimensions was the use of the Fort; an already interesting space was transformed into a structure of infinite possibilities. Every night the walls took a life of their own, different visual projections were animated across their decrepit cracks, making their dimensions, age and detail uncertain. The fort is a place outside reality, endless as it cannot be fully explored and magical as you can never expect what it will look like. The stages are much the same: The Garden’s stage hidden at the end of a slope in emerging shrubbery; The Moat a corridor of inestimable length, piles of speakers guarding the bricked walls; The Void appearing far below the fort shrouded in the darkness of geometric visuals; The Ballroom’s circular portal to the night sky; Fort Arena lined with colourful patterns of unknown origin. Mungo’s and The Clearing were the least magical of stages. Mungo’s offered a viewing platform above it with a spectacular view of the nearby city Pula. The Clearing, effectively steel rigging protruding from trees, was a sight to behold but did not offer the same ambience as the fort which was, thankfully, inaccessible during the day. It would be a shame for someone to wander in there in the day time and realise the tangible nature of the fort, to explore it fully and ruin what Dimensions have done so well.
Photo by Dan Medhurst
The Dimensions team, then, work very hard to make this festival an excellent place to come and listen to your favourite artists, it’s beautiful and the sound is perfect which should make any festival goer happy. Unfortunately though, the festival goers often ruined the atmosphere, whether it was them being too drunk or just laddy English plebeians out of control, they definitely impacted my experience of the magic. Setting the scene, that God of Techno, Marcel Dettmann was beginning his set from utter silence after Ben Klock. His plan evidently to go all out, a true crash course in Techno for someone who has never experienced it on the scale of The Void and you can be sure he delivered; I was in a state of utter glee at the journey the sternest and most uncompromising genre of electronic music was taking me on. Or I should have been, if the vest top wearing wafer-head next to me hadn’t released his suction from the female beside him and started singing the best of hits of Carly Rae Jepsen at the top of his lungs. A legion (it seemed) of grunting primates followed suit to completely ruin the ambience of Dettmann’s set, and put me in a bad mood until bed time.
Regrettably, there wasn’t a moment when I couldn’t spot a bulky lump dragging its knuckles behind it, or swinging from the speakers to be warned (over the sound system) by staff that the music would stop if it continued. Of course the female of the species also acted to dampen the atmosphere on the campsite by completely overwhelming the bathrooms for three hours before performances started, emerging as freak shows of glitter and make-up horror. Dimensions, then, is heaven, described to us all as everything one might ever dream of, but also full of pretentious, witless assholes.
Editors Note: This is part two of three of our Dimensions Festival coverage. More about the opening concert, other acts as well as the Ensemble boat party to come! You can find part one HERE and part three HERE.