This past weekend, perhaps lost amongst the behemoth that is Awakenings, Amsterdam saw an interesting and diverse festival event.
An intimate gathering of eclectic tribalism, Strange Sounds From Beyond descended onto Amsterdam Noord’s Noordlicht space on Sunday, June 26 with three stages of
DJs Selectors from around the globe. Curating these stages with musicians from Greece, Syria, UK, NYC, and more, was the renegade trio of Outsiders Festival, Red Light Radio, and The Rest is Noise, each bringing their own respective approach to the event’s sound and feel.
On what was a day somewhat volatile in temperature, fluctuating from warm to chilled seemingly by the minute, the rain managed to stay away, creating a communal atmosphere in a space much more set up for a chill experience than a rage. As I walked in, Awesome Tapes From Africa was just wrapping up his set on The Rest is Noise stage, providing the appropriate eclecticism of rare cuts and tribal beats giving way to the live afro-house of Ata Kak. Unfortunately, after Ata Kak, I missed Amsterdam favorite Orpheu the Wizard!, rather making my way to the Outsiders area where BBCs Gilles Peterson was dropping a set that fluctuated from samba to techno and, literally, everything in between. Peterson really set the stage for Outsiders the rest of the way as Rush Hour’s Antal, followed by Intergalactic Gary, took things over for the stage’s final two sets. For those who can remember our fun post from a few weeks ago regarding Antal’s DJ skills causing an aspiring De School goer to sell his turntables on Marktplaats, his set can give some proper insight into that dynamic as well.
Personally, the highlight of Strange Sounds From Beyond came in the form of a one-two punch on The Rest Is Noise, in the forms of Syria’s Omar Souleyman and Holland’s Legowelt. Though an odd pairing, one after the other, the two artists brought their respective talents to the event’s largest stage. Souleyman’s stage presence is undeniable. Clad in all white with the accent of red coming from his headscarf, the ambassador of Middle Eastern electronic music had a more than up for it crowd swaying to his emotionally charged voice. A performance of just under an hour saw Souleyman and supporting keyboardist go through their entire discography. Following Souleyman, Legowelt, who also has a strong stage presence, albeit with more of a hippie/anarchist aesthetic, brought the analog techno, perfect for gearheads and casual observers alike. The stoic Legowelt pumped the bass through the speakers, ranging from urgent thump to deep Chicago House to Ghettotech. For me, it was the set of the day!
As for the smaller Red Light Radio stage, it may have featured the widest range of music of the three, as the trio of Vangelis Katsoulis, Tako, and Ilias Pitsious presented a special Into the Light Records showcase. Also on hand were the likes of Clara3000, Acid Arab, and Steel Bonus, however (again, subjectively), the highlight came from New York’s Aurora Halal, whose immersive, non commercial, and multi disciplinary approach to performance was both a breathe of fresh air at this festival and within the wider festival infrastructure.
For me, there was not much to change or improve upon for future editions of the festival. Perhaps stages could be separated more, minimizing sound leakage, especially between The Rest is Noise and Red Light Radio. Also, the greenhouse like glass enclosure that housed Outsiders was reminiscent of a Turkish bathhouse in its humidity, so I’m sure it could have been opened up a bit. Still though, aside from some practical alterations, the boutique event undoubtedly provided a positive experience for its, surely, discerning crowd, satisfying a world’s worth of musical tastes along the way.
All in all, Strange Sounds From Beyond was a breathe of fresh air in a(nother) summer filled with festival events, each (seemingly) less diverse and less distinct than the last. Simply by existing on a weekend where the dance music establishment (in this case, Awakenings) took yet another opportunity to congratulate their respective brand ambassadors, Strange Sounds From Beyond’s very existence turned itself into an act of artistic and curatorial dissent. Here’s to next year’s edition, which I, for one, can hardly wait for!
Photo Credits: Bibian Bingen