Underground dance music fans in Amsterdam cannot complain when it comes to both, the amount and the quality, of local festivals. Starting with DGTL in spring, almost every following summer weekend, Amsterdam hosts the world’s top underground dance music acts (including world class local artists), presented via a flawless dutch organisational efforts of Dekmantel, Awakenings, Straf Werk, Pleinvrees, Pitch and so on. However, over the course of Amsterdam’s festival season, a lack of the unexpected musical journey, a fuller diversity of electronic sound can nevertheless be felt.
Don’t get me wrong, there is no denial that these festivals always deliver a top notch standard in every aspect – both party and music wise. However there is this minority of festival goers, music fans, geeks, collectors, that might understand and feel that lack of being able to get on a musical adventure. That’s why this weekend the editorial team of DHA is going on a journey to Amsterdam’s Noorderlicht to explore the Strange Sounds From Beyond, a boutique festival with a line-up that internationally spans over almost all continents, music styles, live and DJ performances. From world’s house, disco and world music authority Gilles Peterson, Acid Arab, Antal, Young Marco and Red Light Radio co-founder Orpheu The Wizard!. Live acts include the Syrian musician Omar Souleyman, that had a magic night at Melkweg just recently, a rare presence of Ata Kak, and greek composer and musician Vangelis Katsoulis.
Curated by Outsiders, Red Light Radio and The Rest is Noise, the festival is kicking off in few days, thus we caught up with one of the organisers, Quintin van der Spek to talk a little more of the concept and the reasons behind Strange Sounds From Beyond.
First and foremost, could you tell us, how and why the idea to organize this festival came up? What were you aiming to do differently than others?
Me and my business partner Roos were in Italy and we were talking about the fact that we did not go to festivals that much anymore. We asked ourselves why and came to the conclusion that even though we have more than 900 festivals in Holland and over 300 in Amsterdam alone, only a couple appeal to us. The development that the clubscene made with a broader and more experimental offer in their programming (Trouw, 80, De School, Subbacultcha‘s concerts) did not really take place on the festivalside yet. On the one hand logical because the financial risks are much higher and festivals need a lot more visitors than clubs, but on the other hand I wondered how many people feel the same as we did. So we are really trying to fill a gap here. I would never start a new festival in Amsterdam if I wouldn’t feel that it would add something to what there already is. More top quality experimental music, less commercial names.
Artists on your line-up are brought together from almost all continents. Was that a conscious choice in the way to showcase the sounds from everywhere around the world?
With the festival we want to question the definition of “strange”. Since what is strange to you might not be so strange to others. We want our audience to ask themselves that question. So yes, exhibiting music from different parts of the earth matches that philosophy, but no, we did not condition it in a way that we wanted to represent every part of the world. We just felt that we wanted to approach music as music and not as “African music”, or even “world” or “disco” or “electronic music”. It just needed to be quality music in general.
“I think there are many festivals that look similar to each other, but at the same time I feel that it’s too easy to say that festival organizers need to step up their game.”
Who are you most excited to see perform in the SSFB? What was your line-up curation based on?
For our line-up we decided to only invite artists that we personally love: all killers, no fillers. It was an important condition to us that we would not put names on the bill just because they are known to the mass and would sell a lot of tickets. But of course we did try to keep the balance between headliners and more unknown acts. It resulted in something I’m very proud of and I think all artists that play at our festival are super interesting to check out. I’m very curious to see all of them, but Gilles Peterson, Vangelis Katsoulis and also Ata Kak (who played a very good show in the Rush Hour for our SSFB special just recently) are acts that you don’t see in Holland very often. You don’t want to miss them.
What is your view on Amsterdam’s festival scene? In your eyes,is the supply representing the demand? Is there enough of diversity?
Hard to give you a solid opinion on that. I think there are many festivals that look similar to each other, but at the same time I feel that it’s too easy to say that festival organizers need to step up their game. The financial risks are so high and there are just not a lot of people who love this music just as much as we do in comparison to the amount of people that just want to go out to have a good time and don’t care about the music so much. A lot of people just want to dance and they want to see or hear something they already know, because then they know what to expect. I believe that that’s the way how it works. At the same time I think there are organizers of events, who do have an open minded audience already. I think it’s their duty to tease them and to surprise them. It’s the only way to stand out and also to create a more vibrant scene, just as Trouw has done this for the clubbing scene in Amsterdam. Of course there are good quality festivals who are doing this right now already. I think Dekmantel is a very obvious example, but there are of course more great festivals with top notch music out there.
When I heard the name of the festival I was really surprised, as several years ago I joined a small obscure Facebook group called Strange Music From Beyond, and thought nobody actually knows about it except my few selector friends. What is the connection of the festival with this long ongoing Facebook community?
I got in touch with the group a while ago via a friend of mine, Robin aka Mata Hari, who is also hosting our SSFB radioshow on Red Light Radio. She has such an infectious fascination for sound, that immediately affected me from the moment I met her. When she gives me a heads up about something she likes, I already know it is going to be good. This time was no exception: there’s so much interesting stuff to be found in that music group!
At the time I was looking for a name for the festival. I thought the name of the group was brilliant, because it has some kind of exaggeration/sarcasm in it that fits the idea that “strange” does not exist. I decided to contact George Hysteric, the founder of the Facebook group, to ask him if he would be ok with me using (and slightly modifying) the name for our festival. George was very supportive. He’s also a super good dj. We invited him for our radioshow last month when he was in Holland to play Bordello A Parigi’s anniversary in Rotterdam.
Do you have a long term vision? Such as becoming an attraction continent wise? Or would say, your vision is rather focused on curation? In that case, is there someone, who you would like to see on your line up in the coming years most?
Not really. I felt that this festival had to be there, so I started building it. I love going with the flow and making decisions based on energy and passion rather than making plans in a more systematic way. Good things happen!
There are three organizations collaborating on this project: Red Light Radio, The Rest is Noise and Outsiders. How did these three organizations come together for the project initially?
I have worked with Red Light Radio for an African music special in PLLEK one and a half year ago. The partnership was very successful so I decided to ask them back for hosting a stage at the festival. I think Red Light Radio is one of those organizations that stretch the boundaries and push people forward. I love the fact that they approach things in an abstract way, letting go of any form of categorization. They just do what they love and they don’t care about expectations. Exactly what the philosophy behind SSFB is.
The Rest Is Noise is an organization that I feel that really stands out because of their cutting edge line-ups and the way how well they integrate live performances of bands with dj’s in their programming. From the first moment of working on the festival I knew I wanted to invite some special live acts also, so I thought this could be a good match. Red Light Radio also worked with The Rest Is Noise before, so that made the collaboration even more easier.
I asked both parties to give their input for the line-up. I wanted this edition to be something that we would all believe in, so we picked all names for all three stages together. Luckily we had a lot of overlapping ideas, so everything went really smooth. I believe that we are all equally proud of the end result and I feel like it is a privilege to work with both of them!