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
This will be the third, ongoing year of the young festival of electronic music, hosted in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. From the opening concert on the 30th of July to the last beat of the closing act in the early hours of August 2nd, Dekmantel will vibrate all the way throughout the capital with its new improved and expanded layout; and I sure as hell can’t wait to be shaken by it.
For the past two years Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest) has been the main and only location of the festival. The 1,000 hectares of the entirely artificial landscape park –that is three times the size of Central Park if you need a comparison are located just outside of the city on the borders of Amstelveen. Although artificially created, don’t expect to see fake trees and little ponds. The site is a host of immense natural beauty and amongst other things you can expect to see lush forests, grassy meadows and large water areas including lakes and rivers. It is also a host of a variety of animals but I doubt you’ll get to see any before they are chased away by the boisterous vibes. De Heuvel (The Hill), is one thing you shouldn’t miss; an artificial mountain turned massive slippery slope in winter for kids to enjoy winter sports on. But who says you can’t use it for your regular adrenaline rush tumble? And if you want to fully embrace nature in all its glory there’s even a ‘Naturalist area’ where you can ‘kick your clothes off’ and relax. This year, the space will host five stages (MAIN, UFO, THE LAB, SELECTORS, BOILER ROOM) and not only will you have the chance to experience all of the above, but also another two additional venues!
Treating the opening concert (30th July) as a proper concert, the team have decided to host it in the concert hall for contemporary classical music, Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ (Music Building on the IJ). The building features two massive venues -one for music, one for theatre- and is located above the IJ tunnel by the waterfront, just a 10 minute walk from Centraal Station.
The second, newly adopted venue for the night programme is one of significant importance to the Danish electronic music scene. Former dairy factory, the Melkweg (Milky Way) has been the city’s most well-known electronic music venue ever since its renovation and re-opening in 1970. Located in the nightlife hotspot of Leidseplein, the venue features a number of multi-purpose rooms including two on the ground floor with ridiculous capacities (Max: 1,500 and Oude Zaal: 700) which will most likely be used for the purposes of the festival.
The Dekmantel team lives by the ethos they started with: quality over quantity. The music scene is grand and there really is something for every taste.
I for one can’t wait for some of the big names that will hit the stages of Amsterdamse Bog. The king of the infamous Berghain in Berlin, as well as producer and label owner, Ben Klock, will be gracing us with his presence, followed by the equally influential techno master Marcel Dettmann. Both will play on the Friday evening as a perfect reminder of what is to follow in the next couple of days. Two of the biggest American names in techno, Carl Craig, Detroit master and experimentalist and Jeff Mills with his relentlessly hard and industrial sounds are certainly going to grant some life-changing dance floor experiences I do not want to miss. One of my personal favourites, Nina Kraviz, will be one of the last to share her unique blend of acid house and techno with the festival crowds on Sunday at the UFO stage, clashing with the deep beats of Dixon from the Main stage –it’s going to be a hard choice. Incorporating more styles into his techno beats than anyone, from hip-hop to jazz, grime and live instrumentation, our very own U.K. artist Four Tet will also be gracing the Main stage and is certainly someone I never tire of seeing. Certainly, there are more names that strike a chord and a lot more genres for you to look out for. Squarepusher will be bringing us some drum & bass, musique concrete and acidic beats with jazz influences, Ricardo Villalobos his mad dance beats, Madlib his hip-hop influenced sounds and Siriusmodeselektor will give us the opportunity to feel his mad bass live. And if you need a break from all the electronic music just for a little while, Roy Ayers will be there to chill you out with his funk, soul and jazz.
Last but not least, I have to mention the treats the team has lined up for our evening entertainment in the Melkweg. Again, I just have to praise one of the headlines as I am monstrously excited to see this guy. After his recent release ‘Faith in Strangers’, Manchester dub and techno producer Andy Stott will be playing a live set. Another highlight will certainly have to be watching the U.K. father of disco/garage/house, DJ Harvey, mix another one of his incredibly varied sets. Moreover, two artists will be returning to the Dekmantel stage after their successful sets last year: the granddad of U.K. techno Surgeon and U.S. experimental house boss Traxx. Once again, there will be something for every taste. Answer Code Request will be bringing the industrial punch and fierce determination, Basic Soul Unit the deep house, Boris Werner the house and others a lot more.
My expectations are big, but my excitement is bigger. I know I’m not missing this for the world… why should you?