The Amsterdam music takeover that is Dekmantel week has once again come and gone, leaving a trail of scattered vinyls and rarities across the city in its wake.
What started as a multi-day festival in Amsterdamse Bos has become a full on cultural event in the city of Amsterdam, now featuring a slew of diverse events, screenings, panels, conversations and, of course, some of the finest dance and electronic music you will find anywhere. This year, things kicked off with a special, intimate performance on Wednesday, 2 August as the minimal music pioneer Steve Reich was honored and held court at Muziekgebouw. Then, by Thursday, things really felt like they were officially kicking off with the Dekmantel Opening Conference and festivities.
For me, a highlight of the weekend, the opening conference at The Eye Film Museum manages to interject a different dimension to the festival experience with insight into the world and creative process of some of its key artists. This year, I attended conversations with Robert Hood, as well as a dual conversation between Hunee & Nina Kraviz. The former saw the Detroit pioneer discuss everything from music to faith and family, frequently expounding on the virtues of his Christian outlook in relation to approaching industry and experience. The latter, a conversation on “The Art of DJing,” saw the Rush Hour selector and Trip boss expound on their respective appraoches to reading crowds, preparing sets, dealing with unwanted backstage lurkers, and more. Much like last year, which saw conversations with Surgeon and Marcellus Pittman, these two, though highly subjective to the approach of the individual, really do provide the intangible for a more intellectually minded festival affair like Dekmantel; the understanding there is creativity and artistry to the craft of DJing. The day concluded with a spectacular 70mm screening Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, a major inspiration to the brand’s aesthetics. Opening night afterparties went down at venues around the IJ River including Muziekgebouw, where GAS (Wolfgang Voigt), Dekmantel staple Fatima Yamaha, and a solo live performance from Floating Points all featured prominently. Further events went down at Tolhuisten and Shelter, both Amsterdam Northerly venues which hosted the likes of Actress, Optimo, and Nathan Fake.
Finally, it was time for the festival and, for those who don’t know, it really is a the preeminent festival experience Amsterdam has to offer. Over the past few years I’ve written on its organization, intimacy and curation, but this year Dekmantel seemed to take it to another level. As usual, the event was spread across its standard stages – Main Stage, UFO, Green House, Selectors, Boiler Room, and Red Light Radio. The massive semi circle Man Stage hosted the likes of…well, a lot of people to be honest, with Robert Hood, Ben UFO, and Antal & Hunee closing out each respective day. Vibes were high each night, although for different music, however it was undeniable that the soaring Disco of the latter duo, and local favorites, brought festivities to a head, closing down the week with a communal feeling of emotive resonance.
Elsewhere on site, there were some items of note across the festival’s stages. Perhaps most prominently, the vinyl walled Selectors Stage featured the most interesting of dynamics – bringing Nina Kraviz, Marcel Dettmann, and Motor City Drum Ensemble of OPEN the stage on its respective days. Usually reserved for Main Stage duties, the trio of International renowned DJs were given some 3+ hours to experiment, set the mood, and show their chops to the most determined of festival crowds. In fact, for Nina Kraviz, the set led into a surprise Boiler Room appearance later in the day!.
Speaking of Boiler Room, I have to say, this may be my least favorite aspect of the Dekmantel experience. Not that the music isn’t up to snuff. It is, and very much so! But, the experience of Boiler Room just runs a bit antithetical to what Dekmantel is about. Firstly, for a festival who prides itself on intimacy and a no overcrowding approach, Boiler Room is something of a clusterfuck of hipster, frequently having to close itself off to the rest of the festival goers due to its capacity. Secondly, there’s a certain showy aspect of Boiler Room and Dekmantel’s utilization of it. Entourages, festival goers, and randoms crowd (as they do) the DJ booth for a bit of notoriety, turning towards the camera in their face, or in their hands, to maximize the every present FOMO of those not in attendance. Regardless, the sets here were great and featured (once again) personal festival highlight Helena Hauff closing things down on Sunday night. Other Boiler Room performances of note were Peggy Gou (perhaps the first victim of the stage’s overcrowding), I-F who also threw down a sick Acid tinged set at the Green House under his Beverly Hills 808303 alias), DJ Bone, and Blawan. One thing to pay respect to this stage, and to Dekmantel as a whole, is its impeccable focus on diversity. One would be hard pressed to complain about the lack of demographic representation here!
Once again, it was the UFO stage that held my attention throughout the weekend. I don’t know why but something about the relentless hard Techno that comes from there is such a welcome relief for me when so often surrounded by the much safer and softer “deep stuff”. Though a bit less in energy than last year (which, to me, continues to be a highlight of my entire time in Amsterdam as a dance music figure), the warehouse vibes were strong regardless. As per usual, Dekmantel staples like Matrixmann, DJ Nobu, Donato Dozzy & Peter van Hoesen rearranged faces and insides with the never ending barrage emanating from the booth, but it was also special sets from Ancient Method & Vatican Shadow, British Murder Boys, Unforseen Alliance, and Talismann, which really set the stage apart due to the rarity of their appearances.
There’s so much to say about Dekmantel it turns into an event one really has to handicap and accept that they simply will not be everywhere at all times. I could say more about the soul vibes on the Green House stage, from the likes of NYC’s Joe Clausell, for example, or the eclecticism of the Selectors Stage, but lets keep it at what it is! Dekmantel is simply the gold standard for Amsterdam festivals. It is undisputed, verifiable fact. From curation to organization to social consciousness to positive depiction of Dance Music’s diversity, Dekmantel pushes all the buttons as the boss it is.
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Featured Image: Bart Heemskerk