Over this past MTV European Music Awards weekend, Rotterdam’s central district was transformed into a hub of open format music as REC Festival celebrated its inaugural edition.

Nestled within a slew of venues within the industrial Dutch city, the venues of Transport, Annabel, BAR, Perron, and HipHopHuis brought over 50 acts from around the world over the course of tow days, all leading up to Sunday’s massive European Music Awards (but, we’ll just skip that part in this review).

Friday, 4 November saw a more dance music heavy lineup than Saturday’s much more eclectic take on things. Annabel, the biggest of the venues, set across two stories and two rooms brought Mount Kimbie, Marcus Worgell, and Henrik Schwarz, but not before grime’s main man Skepta just destroyed the place, with the always up for it crowd jumping, moving and swaying to hits like ‘Shutdown’ and ‘It’s Not Safe’. On the more eclectic side of the dance music spectrum BAR featured a combination of Ata Kak, Awesome Tapes from Africa, Afrobot, and Sassy J, while Perron brought the techno in the form of a Clone Records showcase featuring Objekt, Randomer, Serge, and Zadig (amongst others).

As I mentioned, Saturday was a much more diverse lineup with Annabel featuring the live band Mayer Hawthorne, Lianna la Halvas, and Santigold leading into a pretty banging DJ performance from the masked SBTRKT, ultimately leading into Dekmantel favorite Palms Trax. BAR saw Rush Hour’s Antal, Skymark, and Ge-ology, following Syria’s Omar Souleyman. Hip Hop was a bit more scarce on this Saturday but Chicago’s Joey Purp did turn up in Annabel’s upstairs with his brand of punk infused rap.

All in all, REC Festival did hold a certain atmosphere and, perhaps coming from the very polished Amsterdam market, its grittier, industrial, and slightly DIY feel, felt appropriate, especially given the cold, rainy weather. Personally, I had never gone out in Rotterdam before and I was especially taken by Transport, with its underground (literally), low ceiling feel. Too bad it seemed to be the least busy of all the venues, of which Annabel was SURELY the most. Both Santigold and SBTRKT was packed to the brim with, for me, the latter being particularly dynamic. I’ve never been one for the masked DJ and, back in NYC, I had avoided SBTRKT in the same way I avoided Deadmau5 and (uggghhhh) Marshmello, but this set was a dynamic, bass-laden one that fluctuated between Trap, tech, and Dubstep, with a low end that struck to the core of the crowd, easily the best set of the festival IMO.

I think their was a potential for REC given its November date (after festival season), in Rotterdam, and multi venue, however it did seem like their were some organizational issues. The ticket line was slow, drinks weren’t transferable from venue to venue, and sound was a little off in BAR and Annabel, with a certain amount of speaker crunch going on. Still though, as someone who is always going to dance music specific festivals, the open format crowd is becoming a breathe of fresh air to me. There is more diversity, more colors, and less pretention when events bring acts spanning the spectrum. Not to mention, it brings a certain “edge” to the festivities, which i do think is a positive. Sometimes, the dance events seem like way too much of a “safe space,” which for me represents a certain lack of artistry. I’ve always found that the best experiences have the sharpest edge. Not that REC necessarily had that but it was getting there.

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