After a long build-up and red hot anticipation, both national as international, last weekend it was finally time for Dekmantel Festival 2014. What we saw and heard over the two days we were there, Friday & Sunday, was pretty much as good as it gets in the Netherlands, and it definitely showed that the organization has gone through lengths to not only correct the mistakes of last year, but to also improve on a lot of fronts. The result was a three-day musical paradise with international allure.
In the months prior to the festival it became clear that Dekmantel wasn’t taking its line-up lightly. With every new wave of artists that were announced, more and more buzz went round and put the event on the radar on an international level. The praise and royal blessing of Resident Advisor, who also played a part in the event itself resulted in the fact that nearly half of the visitors came from other countries than Holland, namely Britain and Germany. This was something that was immediately visible as you entered the festival terrain, tucked away in the middle of the ‘Amsterdamse Bos’.
The lines in front of the entrance were massive from day one, especially when considering that everything revolves around (the finest) underground artists here. Free water bottles were handed out at the peak hours when the lines were longest. All around you there was this international vibe, not only because of the different languages spoken by also by the looks of the diverse crowd. Right next to the hip London girls with purple or pink-coloured hair you saw a pack of soberly-dressed tattooed gents from Berlin, who looked as if they came marching straight out of some dark corner at Berghain. This colourful mix of people gave us a warm feeling inside, since you could see that all these people here, both the Dutch and the foreigners, came solely for the love of music; a motivation that is perhaps lacking at other large-scale dance music festivals in the Netherlands.
The facilities at the festival were overall very well done. The toilets stayed relatively clean throughout the day, the bar staff was kind and people could even hand in leftover tokens in return for money. Also, you could freely refill your water bottle without a razzia by overly enthusiastic security guards. Some minor things did went a bit eschew, like the wrong address that was printed on the tickets, which meant that some people had to make a 45-minute detour to arrive at the entrance, and a couple of organizational problems with the shuttle bus on Friday. More importantly Dekmantel did a great job at reacting immediately to whatever went wrong on their social media and weren’t hesitant to make an apology when necessary. Something visitors really appreciated, as most organizations ignore this completely. Respect for that.
The line for tokens and a locker was swift and didn’t take long at all so we could quickly continue to the Main Stage where we received a warm musical welcome by the disco fanatic Prosumer. The vibe that we hoped for was already well on its way. After exploring the terrain some more for a while on Friday we ended up at the cosy Selectors stage, where Gerd Janson & Prins Thomas were giving a magnificent b2b. The atmosphere here was by far the best throughout the festival, in part because of the surrounding trees and the willow that stood in the middle of the dance floor. Daredevils were constantly climbing up the tree to either impress or enjoy the view.
Just around the corner was The Woods stage, which was just as snug. Fans had gathered up to see Tom Trago and Cinnaman play together. Things were banging as you would expect when you combine these forces of house music. Lost gems and well-known classics were being dropped at an energetic rate, begging the crowd to throw their hands up and cheer with every new track.
Before checking out the day’s closing set by Nicolas Jaar at the main stage we had to see DJ Harvey at the Selectors stage. The veteran who has a strong following in Amsterdam got a huge turnout and definitely showed that he is a true record selector. With his signature sound, a mix of connoisseur balearic and disco, he turned the place into an outdoors Paradise Garage and had the crowd in the palm of his hands.
Heading over to the main stage, we saw Nicolas Jaar who was working his magic in front of a sea of people. As darkness fell, the stretched out LED-screen really came to its full effect. Jaar was playing music that only he could play, keeping his listeners in suspense for as long as necessary and then hits them with that brilliant record that boosts the energy level in a split second. It was a beautiful scene to witness.
Sunday would be the day that was more focused on techno featuring old masters and members of the new guard. In the afternoon the main stage was already boiling up as Nina Kraviz was spinning her brand of sleazy acid and lush techno. People still gave a remarkably fresh impression when looking around at what was happening on the dance floor, considering that this was round three for a lot of the owners of a weekender ticket. The weather was also absolutely perfect for a festival day with a nearly cloudless sky and a cool breeze to keep things from overheating.
Following up Nina were Karenn, the techno duo made up of Blawan and Pariah. This was pure analog techno warfare and it was a bit too aggressive for our taste, so we checked out what else was going on. At The Woods stage we witnessed a grandiose performance by DJ Koze. What started out as deep and melodic, his set soon turned into a pumping techno marathon that really got the crowd going. Back at the Main, the legendary and favourite of Dekmantel, Robert Hood, was destroying the dance floor. His blend of driving techno, clever and impressive drops together with some deeper excursions here and there made this one of the highlights of the day.
Next up was DVS1 at the Selectors stage. A very strong set full of energetic house and kick drums that almost made your ears, pop. Again the feeling at this stage was by far the best, especially in the vicinity of the willow tree, where everybody was smiling and dancing as if there were no tomorrow. DVS1 has surely made a load of new fans that day.
We were just in time to catch a bit of the Ostgut Ton sound at the XLR8R stage, where Marcel Dettmann and Luke Slater were using up the Funktion 1 sound system to its limits. The dark tent was the perfect place for the duo to make their set work. I encountered Thomas Martojo over there, one of the founders of Dekmantel. As he spoke I could sense a sincere pride of what they had achieved this weekend and a great deal of relief now that everything fell in its right place – they had an extremely difficult few weeks prior to the festival because of the tragic loss of their dear friend Tim Nieburg.
After catching a rather timid set by Tale Of Us, we headed over to Sunday’s all-star: Jeff Mills. Mills would be closing off the festival at the main stage and the place was packed accordingly. After getting hold of a few square inches of dance floor we were blown away by the Detroit demi-god. His trusted 909 drum machine was placed neatly before him and used its instruments as a technician. From the way that he inserts a hi-hat to the build-ups he creates this is a man who has talent flowing through his every vein. Everybody around us were simultaneously giving it every last bit of energy they had and closely watching his every move. The LED-screen was just as hyperactive as the music that were coming out of the speakers and at a few key moments huge volleys of smoke were blown into the air, answered with cheers and shouts by the audience. After the last beat faded into the air both Mills and the Dekmantel organization received an extended and well-deserved applause by the thousands of visitors standing in front of them.