Festival Report: Dekmantel
Friday & Saturday by Steve Rickinson
Sunday by Soren Schmidt
Over the past weekend, it was time once again for one of the continent’s finest underground House and Techno festivals, Dekmantel.
In its third year, the intimate festival held at the beautiful Amsterdamse Bos, did not disappoint with an absolutely stacked lineup of some of our favourite artists from across the globe. At first glance, the lineup featuring the likes of Four Tet, Jeff Mills, Dixon, Ricardo Villalobos & Zip, Robert Hood, Jackmaster, Tale of Us, and the rest of the who’s who of underground beats, was salivating, rightfully selling out its 10,000 capacity tickets within days. However, diving deeper into the three day affair, it was quite clear that Dekmantel, really do keep their finger on the pulse of creative artistry within the ever-expansive scene.
The ambition of Dekmantel is undeniable. In their own words, the festival aims to:“take an extra step towards perfection with each new edition. By adding two new festival locations to the program, we can offer you a wider range of some of the biggest leftfield names in electronic music, as well as a larger draft of adventurous contemporary frontrunners and local heroes who are equally capable of giving you the best festival experience possible, both outdoor and indoor”. Refreshingly, this ambition does not present itself in terms of over saturation or mainstream crowd pleasing, but rather in building a lineup of “…outspoken live acts and DJs who are all calling the shots in their own niches” playing an event designed by “investing in quality instead of quantity”.
With that being said, our Dekmantel adventure began during the latter half of Friday’s kick off day (unfortunately, we were unable to attend Dekmantel by Night at Amsterdam’s Melkweg, or Thursday’s official kickoff at the beautiful Muziekgebouw. Trust us though, this was not due to a lack of interest, as these lineups were also quite appealing, with the likes of Autechre, Omar S, DJ Harvey, and Derrick May, doing their thing well into the morning hours). I Walked into Amsterdamse Bos as Ricardo Villalobos & Zip were about half way into their tag team, mainstage set. Villalobos has been in the news a bit recently regarding festival performances as his recent Cocoon in the Park set received a slew of negative reactions from the internet community. Despite this negative press, the ever colourful Villalobos did not disappoint the Amsterdam crowd, going back and forth with frequent DJ collaborator Zip, providing the education even the most discerning of house fan could get behind. The 3 hour set, which took place under blazing sun, was an expected mix of bangers, surprises, and edits, with Robert Hood’s Floorplan alias’ ‘Baby, Baby’ a particular highlight.
Next up on the main stage was Detroit Techno pioneer Juan Atkin‘s Model 500. The live band, which has been performing with more frequency as of late, provided the eager crowd with a highlight selection of their back catalogue including the 1985 anthem, ‘No UFO’s’.
As with any festival, the primary issue for press personnel is to find a way to be everywhere whenever there is something of interest occurring. Coming as no surprise with Dekmantel, everything was of interest, so the possibility of being at all stages at all times was just impossible. For Friday, our focus remained on the mainstage, which was closed out by non other than Berghain mainstays Ben Klock followed by Marcel Dettmann. For anyone reading this, you are surely familiar with the DJ stylings of this Berlin duo, whose lengthy, and frequently collaborative, sets are no stranger to Amsterdam. With that in mind, we did make it over to the festival’s Boiler Room stage for the night’s end, which turned out to be a highlight of the entire weekend. As Robert Hood was DJing to a packed house, he was joined by his own daughter Lyric, keeping it all in the family with a b2b set. Perhaps it was the surprise, or the rapport created when two generations of muscial heritage perform together, but the feeling throughout the indoor/outdoor stage was that of pure bliss, with even Ben Klock and Ricardo Villalobos cheering on. By the time Hood dropped DJ Pierre’s ‘Box Energy’ or Mark Broom’s edit of his own ‘Never Grow Old,’ the Boiler Room stage was firmly in the palm of his hand.
Still buzzing from the experience of Dekmantel’s first day (this was my first year at the event), Saturday began with Mano Le Tough on the main stage. The Maeve main man played mid-day, twisting grooves to an audience just getting ready for the day to come. Followed by Jon Talabot, this 2+ hour section gave the crescent moon-esque stage a nice dose of melody, perfectly leading into Four Tet‘s eclectic performance.
With Four Tet, you really never know what you are going to get, except for the knowledge that it will be diverse, creative and, most importantly, FIRE. His set was a smattering of disco, house, garage, and ghetto tech, but the highlight came through one of the sets very last tracks, which was none other than big room Pryda banger ‘Muranyi’. If I remember correctly, this may have even been his last track of the day, which was an interesting send off as next up was Detroit’s Wizard, Jeff Mills.
Before I get into the specifics of Jeff Mills performance, a brief word on the design of the main stage. As I am sure most are familiar, main stages tend to be somewhat generic affairs, full of hard angles, video screens and (sometimes) pyrotechnics. Well, not with Dekmantel. As I mentioned, the design was more of a semi circle, with sections of wooden dance floor, as well as a certain amount of shelter from the blazing sun. Spanning the entirety of its stage is a massive LED wall, which really got going as the sun went down. Bypassing a mix of hard imagery, the LED wall instead morphed colours, light and shape, mixing itself to the music on hand (and with such diversity of sound, this must have been no easy task). Sound-wise, the main stage featured an endless parade of Funktion One speakers, emitting the clearest of levels with punch and authority. In fact, during the Four Tet/Jeff Mills transition, once the bass was tested with the Wizard’s, 909 including, setup, even the sound manager gave an expression of intense satisfaction (or was it fear, I couldn’t tell). As promised though, Jeff Mills did not disappoint, and played to a main stage that was the busiest I was witness to. Turning out classic after pioneering classic, with the driving precision of the dark arts, Jeff Mills did Detroit proud. By the time his anthemic ‘The Bells’ dropped, the Dekmantel faithful were more than ready to continue the party into the Melkweg.