Amsterdam’s Lente Kabinet festival is the annual little sister to it’s renowned Dekmantel event.

Organized by the same minds, and frequently featuring similar artists (albeit at less than 1/3 of the latter’s multi-day, city-wide offering), Lente Kabinet is something of a precursor to the massive summer events to come (I mean, the English translation has “Spring” in it…but most of you knew already that already), as well as a (welcome) relief from the barrage of open format, mainstream festival events which tend to monopolize and create a complacency toward all those arbitrary definitions of “underground” out there.

My own experience at Lente Kabinet over the years has been none. This was my first year attending, as well as my first time at its lush location, Het Twiske. Now, with that, I should mention that the day started out as Amsterdam’s hottest of the year. Something like 35 degrees, with a blistering sun and cloudless sky to boot, this day featured proper heat conditions, ultimately making me question the practicality of an open air rager. Much to my delight however, as I stepped off the bus from the East to the North, I immediately felt a refreshingly brisk breeze, making the surrounding areas significantly cooler than elsewhere in the city….I’m assuming it was the proximity to the water, but that’s about how far I’ll look into it.

ANYWAY, as I traversed Het Twiske’s greenery to the festival location, stopping for the occasional pic of an abandoned boat or philosophical conversation with the horned goats (rams?!) that lined the trail, I finally arrived. Not sure what time that was, as I haven’t really known those kind of details since like ’97, but as I entered, one could immediately feel a different ambience than tends to envelop much of festival season. On one hand, there is more color in the crowd…meaning, your usual Techno black is minimal, rather giving way to a certain cross cultural patron aesthetic, both in attendance and garb. Secondly, one notices the balance between population and space. Though, sold out early (and one of the hottest secondary market tickets I’d seen recently), never was there a sense of over condensation. Each of Lente Kabinet’s four stages held enough to keep the energy moving, yet never veered into “sardine can” territory…which is good….really good.

On this day, there were two dedicated Lente Kabinet stages, and two additional stages, one hosted by DJBroadcast and one hosted by Red Light Radio. Early in the day, the likes of Chicago house legend Boo Williams and quick rising star Willow handled duties on Lente Kabinet’s Tweede and Eerste stages, respectively (interesting fact, Boo Williams played the first rave I’d ever attended…b2b with Glen Underground in Jamaica, Queens, NYC. The party was a Martin Luther King Jr. day celebration called “I Have A Dream” and I don’t think I attended high school for like 5 days afterwards….good times). On the specially hosted stages, the more “selector” approach was taken, with the likes of Rush Hour‘s Antal and, another Chicago legend, Sadar Bahar doing what they do best on DJBroadcast, while Red Light Radio hosted the likes of Zaltan b2b Orpheu the Wizard and a live set from Toulouse Low Trax, before giving way to the likes of Powell and Helena Hauff.

By the time I had properly settled into the the music, which of course was after some all the frites, dim sum, tortillas and food options offered (I’ll look away from the lack of meat options…sorry vegans, I still love you but…) I settled into things. First up was Matthew Herbert on the Tweede stage. One of the scene’s most innovative figures, Matthew Herbert’s set, which surely was full of exclusive edits, secrets, and other kinds of digital alchemy, was much more danceable than I had anticipated. Perhaps the reason being that my recent relationship with Matthew’s music has been via his extremely avant garde approach to symphonic and experimental sounds, over “dance music”. In fact, the set inspired me to recently curate an interesting new dub from Matthew (check it out here – it’s a manic “Trump” dub, as volatile in its approach than the big orange devil is in his twitter finger).

Next up came one of my favorites sets on the day, which was via Geigling‘s Konstantin. This was the first time I had seen this frequently praised DJ and I’m happy to say I can see what the hype is about. A real smooth journey of a set, which took the stage from daylight to twilight, with solid lights illuminating the smoke that enveloped the stage, Konstantin subtly brought the Lente faithful into a trance, sexy throughout, nightmarish at times, and always attention grabbing. This talented DJ gave way to another…The Black Madonna. By now, its widely known that, due to some security breach at the UKs airport system, The Black Madonna took her own private plane from London to Amsterdam, acknowledging the place the festival and its organizers have played in her career. With that, it could be expected that her set would be one that was, at least, personal. Still though, by now The Black Madonna is one of those artists who is so universally praised, covered, and featured on lineups that her talent and and stage presence have started to wear off on me a bit. That being said though, it is undeniable her ability to read crowds, mix (from a purely technical standpoint), as well as her seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of dance music in all its forms, put her on a pedestal many other DJs simply will never attain. You can hear it in the smoothness of her transitions, and in the audible ranges her selections exude…claps seem higher, bass hits harder…

After a few minutes (!) of The Black Madonna, I ventured over the the closing set of the night via Red Light Radio, which immediately became a highlight of my ENTIRE time spent in Amsterdam over the last three years, and it came courtesy of Helena Hauff (see featured image). Helena is a Dekmantel favorite who just about always pops up on their lineups from Amsterdam to Croatia and beyond, and for good reason. Known for her relentless approach to Techno, (in my opinion) Helena Hauff is the perfect synergy of style, substance, and sound. Her black and white contrasting stage presence gives way to a RELENTLESS barrage of breakbeat, electro and techno straight from the depths of Earth’s most dark and dirty places (just the way I like it). I can’t speak high enough of this set. It was one that began with about half hour of breakbeats as if straight out of Florida’s most LSD influenced raves of the last millenium before giving way to the thick, no-bullshit techno Helena is widely appreciated for. This set was just fire! It was skilled, polished, energetic and interesting, with an artist who understands the importance of stage presence to boot. It all fit together…the red lights, the smoke, the unease created. Again, such a nostalgic experience that brought me back to a place (and time) when raving was dangerous…it was uncomfortable, both qualities usually making for more memorable LIFE experience. Sometimes the polish and the safety that has enveloped contemporary dance music and its festival scene really seems antithetical to what it should be and what it has been…an experience and an exercise in the unpredictability of the underground…a place where one can get jacked up just as easily as hook up…it’s still a feeling I long for and for a moment, the music of Helena Hauff brought me to this place of anarchy…and I loved it!

All in all, Lente Kabinet was surely a highlight event for the Spring, as well as the year as a whole. It’s crowd has an undeniably discerning taste for the finer things in dance music, while its artists are (essentially) family, understanding their place as selectors, as well as wider communal figures. Furthermore, the festival’s dedication to environment and sustainability (which, honestly, should be a REQUIREMENT for ANYONE ANYWHERE to get local permits) was admirable, while its beautiful location created a perfect atmosphere of comfort and space while maintaining intimacy and community. All in all, Lente Kabinet (like Dekmantel) simply operates on a different level from so many of the others in this festival scene and you feel it immediately at the gate. Highly Recommended!

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Photo Credits: Yannick van de Wijngaert & Desire van den Berg for Dekmantel/Lente Kabinet