Party Report: Pitch Festival

Over the weekend past, Amsterdam’s Westerpark played host once again to the diversely curated Pitch Festival.

Held over two days, July 2-3, Pitch Festival is one which, for us at least, breaks the pattern of dance music exclusive events so frequently attended. Of course, there were dance acts present of all descriptions – Job Jobse vs DJ Tennis, Tom Trago, Cubicolor, Elias Mazian, Beesmunt Soundystem, Tsepo and others, but it was the event’s additional names from the world of hip hop, grime, and trap that really brought this one to another place amongst the foundational Amsterdam festival massive.

Now, admittedly, Friday’s rain kept me tucked in and warm indoors (After 2 years I guess I’m still not too Dutch), so I missed the likes of Santigold and Grimes, as well as the prospect of mouth watering live performances from dance heavies Dusky, David August, and Floating Points. Regardless, Saturday, and it’s exquisite weather, brought a full day’s worth of music and revelling that more than made up for the loss…I think, at least.

The day started off for me with a full band performance from Belgian outfit Soulwax. Hot off the heels of their ‘Belgica’ soundtrack, the live act brought the brassy funk to Pitch’s Westertent. Immediately following came California’s Anderson.Paak along with his live band The Free Nationals. I had heard a lot about this up and coming rapper, in the midst of a prolific 2016 festival schedule and critically acclaimed album ‘Malibu,’ but was not sure what to expect. What turned out was an energetic and highly musical performance of live accompanied hip hop from the energetic .Paak, as he ran and jumped from side to side, frequently proclaiming his love for the city and the city doing so right back.

Next up was the mightily industrial Gashouder, which was hosting a more urban oriented lineup that began with Swedish rapper Yung Lean. I’ll admit, the site of a pasty white 19 year old Swede spitting lyrics as if he was from the depth of Atlanta did not seem like too promising a thought, but the thickness of his bass and the Black Metal-esque visual presentation behind him added a certain something to an otherwise generic performance.

Yung Lean was followed by British hip hop DJ Snakehips who kept the party going with a more electronic focused selection of rap edits, but it was the night’s next two performers who really took Pitch into the stratosphere for me. These came in the forms of Montreal Trap artist Lunice and British Grime megastar Skepta, respectively.

First off, Lunice, who I was unfamiliar with before the event, clad in a black hooded robe, simply brought the house down with a 1.5 hour set of pure Trap sickness. Now, I know, some of you reading this may equate the Trap scene with EDM, but, to me, it is much more substantive. Chock full of broken beats, rapid fire lyrics, and the kind of low end that makes you question your very existence before the inevitable exclamation of “Fuck It!”, Lunice took an already up for it crowd into a full on frenzy, with barely a still body in the place.

Skepta was a rare performance that I had found myself rather excited for. I’d heard a lot about this artist and his energy with his latest album ‘Konichiwa‘ a staple on my iPod since the day of its release but little could I have known what kind of a performance it would be. From the jump, the crowd was simply crazy…like, mosh pit, fists in the air crazy. From the opening notes of ‘That’s Not Me’ through to the very end, Skepta had this crowd in the palm of his hand, bringing clean enunciations of grime for the masses with a storytelling flow. Simply put, this was the performance of the festival and one of the personal highlight performances of the summer. I truly cannot wait to see what this artist has in store for the future.

As I began to pick up the pieces of what was left of my suburban whiteness, I though, “ok, time to go,” but I remembered that I had not even heard ANY dance music up until this point, so I moseyed on over to the Thump curated stage, entitled Transformatorhuis, where Amsterdam’s own Tsepo had just taken to the decks. Tsepo was clearly building a set meant for the long haul and for the hour or so I was in there, dropped track after track of afro house, tribal beats and acid techno into a hallway light on frills but heavy on the bass (a common theme throughout Pitch). The venue had a brief Trouw feel to it, surely not in the least bit due to Tsepo’s relationship with the, now defunct, venue, as another packed room swayed in unison. The energy levels were noticeably different from Gashouder but, then again, the distinctions between the dance music establishment crowd and the more open multi format crowd are stark (for instance, being a multi format festival really limited the amount of black outfits and amphetamine jaws about).

All in all, Pitch was a breath of fresh air for me. I had been craving hip hop and live music for some time now and it was delivered in spades. My only criticism would be the absent minded schedule where DJ Shadow (someone I missed, and after that amazing Essential Mix last week, was quite pissed I did) and Skepta were playing at opposite ends of the field within 15 minute start times of each other. If that wasn’t the case, I surely would have made effort to catch both but here (executive) decisions needed to be made, and I went with the Boy Better Know rep.

Photo Credits: Bart Heemskerk