The four day affair that was Dekmantel 2016 began on Thursday, 4 August, with a series of opening shows spanning through the spectrum of medium, presentation, and venue, each conveniently situated on the banks of Amsterdam’s IJ River.
It all kicked off at the architectural marvel that is The Eye Film Institute, where a series of panels, talks, and screenings went down over the course of a full day’s schedule. From Rush Hour’s Antal speaking with Young Marco and Serge on the deep digging phenomenon and the reissue labels leading the way, to an engaging talk on inspiration vs practice that featured the likes of Objekt, Dasha Rush, Randomer, and Palms Trax extrapolating on their respective creative approaches, the panel discussions were surprisingly thoughtful and engaging (the only reason is say this is because, as a current “academic,” this is rarely the case in my experience). Also on the bill were (in participation with Resident Advisor) one on one talks with British techno legend Surgeon, and Detroit selector Marcellus Pittman (who would later provide an epic b2b education in soulful Detroit flavor with his indelible Three Chairs cohort, Theo Parrish). Each of these industry trailblazers, in their own respect, brought the cultural flavor of their respective homes to Amsterdam with amusing anecdotes and insightful commentary on career, creation, and culture at large.
Following the talks came the screenings. First up was Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay, which took a look at the development and influence of Industrial Music, from its British origins to international prominence. Featured were seminal artists from the genre including Cabaret Voltaire (who would also play Concertgebouw later that evening), Throbbing Gristle, and others. The film featured interesting insight into a scene I personally was not very familiar with, however its 60+ minute runtime left something to be desired in terms of a narrative cohesion. Afterward, The EYE saw multi platform productions from Shakleton & Ernesto Tomasini who, along with Pedro Maia, presented an analogue cinema concept highlighting Tomasini’s electric four octave voice. Here, high falsetto’s descended into deep baritones, all wrapped within the perforated package that is low millimeter film stock.
Unfortunately, as the scope of Dekmantel is so vast, its only drawback would be that one simply cannot be everywhere and see everything, which as you will see throughout this article, becomes something of a theme. With that, I was unable to attend the Raster-Notion label showcase, which closed down Dekmantel’s EYE programming. Rather, I made my way over to Concertgebouw, eagerly anticipating a performance from James Holden who would be playing a rare live with band set. This performance interested me for two reasons. Firstly, in my two years living in Amsterdam I had yet to attend Concertgebouw in ANY capacity and, secondly, James Holden has been a personal favorite electronic artist for over a decade. Now, with performances increasingly rare, the man known as the psychedelic shaman and his four musical collaborators represented an event, both as stand alone and as part of Dekmantel’s wider program. Sitting full lotus at stage center, enveloped by horns to the right and percussion to the left, the techno sorcerer utilised the crisp acoustics of Concertgebouw to maximal effect, wielding an hour performance that spanned career and genre. From lush melodies to frantic stabs, all set in front of an ever moving, psychedelic visual, James Holden and co. surely brought the artistry to these opening festivities, setting the stage for the maximally curated festival that was to follow.
Of course, the centerpiece of the Dekmantel experience is its 3 day festival event held within the forested confines of the Amsterdamse Bos. Tucked away in one of its many clearings, the space itself feels open yet intimate (not unlike the festival itself). There are 6 dance areas: Main Stage, UFO (for those more inclined toward the sounds of techno), Selectors, Greenhouse, Boiler Room and, in the middle of it all Red Light Radio. First off, my only criticism, which is the size and procedure of Boiler Room. Though the likes of Daniel Avery, The Black Madonna, Mike Servito, Ben Klock, and more feature, the sheer crowd saturation is overwhelming, bringing to forth the feeling many may be more concerned with the potential of on screen appearances than the experience of the actual set.
Aside from this criticism (again, having NOTHING to do with music quality), Dekmantel was, quite frankly, the finest festival event I have attended in my two+ years in Amsterdam. From its spot on curation of diverse talents (the dub of Lee “Scratch” Perry, academic inspired machine music of Holly Herndon, original dubstep of Digital Mystikz, more conventional deep house of Tale Of Us), complementing time slot construction (Friday’s Helen Hauff b2b DJ Stingray – Rodhad – Surgeon – Blawan setup a prime example), minimal yet engaging production, and one of the most knowledgeable festival crowds Amsterdam has to offer, Dekmantel was a veritable feast of atmosphere, bringing the kind of respectable insight into the diversity of dance music it so desperately needs (or, at least, be reminded of from time to time).
For me, standout sets came from Japan’s DJ Nobu, whom I had never before seen. His type of no holds barred techno took no prisoners, reverberating through the sauna that was the UFO. For me, said stage saw many of the events best performances, with additional highlights coming from the ever groovey purveyor of deep techno Rodhad, as well as Matrixxman, Blawan, Robert Hood and, of course the unbeatable one two punch of Ben Klock and Marcell Dettmann. I know we are called “Deep House Amsterdam” and not “Deep Techno Amsterdam” or the likes, but the techno stage of Dekmantel consistently plays to a style where one simply cannot turn away. Its relentless pace, matched with the intangibles of shakey wooden floors, dense humidity, and the kind of smoke that lingers on the body for days, is the atmosphere that drew me into raving in the first place and one that satisfies nostalgic necessity and contemporary curiosity alike.
Here comes that old inconvenience again, where it is simply impossible to check out everyone at Dekmantel that you may want to, no matter how hard you try. I did, though, make consistent efforts to walk the space, so everything from Boiler Room to Selectors to Greenhouse were experienced in some way. Of this, the Greenhouse stage seemed to emanate its personality through a glass exterior that saw memorable performances from the likes of The Egyptian Lover, who brought out the old school b-boy call and response with an 808 rhythm to boot, or the maniacal bass of the aforementioned Digital Mystikz bringing that original dubstep heat to an up for it crowd. The space also saw intimate performances from Detroit’s mysterious Moodymann, Amsterdam hero’s like Tom Trago and Cinnaman, to Moritz von Oswald, Aux88, The Black Madonna and more.
Selectors, unfortunately, was where I spent the least amount of time, not because I lacked interest but rather for the sheer amount of investment needed to truly experience the sets of DJ Harvey, Intergalactic Gary, Magda & Mike Servito, Donato Dozzy, Marcellus Pittman & Theo Parrish, Len Willikens, Orpheu the Wizard, Pender Street Steppers, and others. Stage design here, however, may have been the best of the festival, as a vinyl centric turntable set up was propped against a massive record collection backdrop. I couldn’t get close enough to see if these were actual records but, never the less, the stage and the drooping willows that enveloped it, surely added an intangible to the experience that was Dekmantel 2016.
Finally, let’s focus a bit about the Main Stage; the heart of Dekmantel. As always, it is an LED lined semi circle with elevated DJ booth and spherical canopy (I wonder why this isn’t the UFO stage as there were moments where, under the sphere, the crowd seemed completely within the grasp of their DJ leader, hanging on every beat, blip and glitch that came out of the thunderous Funktion One audio system). With Ricardo Villalobos, Midland, Fatima Yamaha (graduating to Dekmantel’s Main Stage from last year’s iconic Boiler Room performance), Daniel Avery b2b Roman Flugel, and DJ Koze handled most of the daytime duties, each bringing their most eclectic selections, and personalities to boot, the Main Stage served as the festival’s barometer, gauging pressure and stability as it incrementally increased in visceral intensity. It was for me, however, the evening DJs who really brought the heat, utilizing the production to its full capacity, each with their own subtle changes from night to night. First off was Jeff Mills who brought his pioneering classics to a CDJ and 909 performance, breaking any sense of musical monotony with on the fly psychedelia throughout. On the final day it was Dekmantel favorite Motor City Drum Ensemble who, cigarette in hand, bobbed and weaved through his two hour festival closing set. It was, however, Innervisions’ Dixon who truly stole the Dekmantel show for me. Closing the festival’s Main Stage on day 2, Dixon’s eerie blend of unpredictable basslines, tribal embellishments, and select vocals truly became a transcending moment. For an hour and a half he relentlessly induced a collective body movement from the Dekmantel massive. Without a standing soul to be seen this was an eyes closed musical helping of introspection, a rare moment of overt cohesion amongst DJ and crowd. Put simply, a set for the ages.
Obviously, there is so much more that could be said, from any number of artists not mentioned in this article (and my apologies for that as each and every one played an equal role in the Dekmantel experience), to its diverse food offerings, to any number of substantive conversations with its informed fans (I wish I could get into my hour+ conversation on Brexit, Donald Trump, and the necessity of Capitalism’s fall, which actually was within 10 minutes of entering through the gates, but that’s definitely a story for another day). There are many, many things that Dekmantel and its brand to so very right, not the least of which is the innate ability to create something hugely important yet intimately experienced; eclectically presented yet never chaotic; providing a place for entertainment, as well as education. For the seasoned veteran to those encountering it for the first time, Dekmantel is a festival any fan of dance music, and the culture it represents, simply must experience.