The shadow of Dekmantel had been lurking upon us for months, as we contributed two films to the festival’s Sole Selectors series in collaboration with Grolsch – getting us overly excited and making the wait more and more unbearable although we perfectly knew the mouthwatering lineup was just the tip of the iceberg and lots were still to be done to make it the unforgettable moment we were all hoping for.
Since its launch in 2013, the once punctual one-night event turned four-day festival rapidly became an institution amidst underground summer festivities. Sitting along the south-west fringes of the vast and magnificent Amsterdamse Bos, Dekmantel had not just a full-on astonishing program to offer but also a fine organisation and careful attention to detail. Here is our report.
Words by Baptiste Girou and Vittoria de Franchis
O P E N I N G C O N C E R T S
After crossing the North Sea canal by ferry and reaching the cultural center of Tolhuistuin, the contrast between the rather cold, highly modernistic frontage of the place and chilling mood of the festival’s site gives us a first glimpse of Dekmantel’s very unique look-and-feel.
Funky tones heat up the terrace, people are sitting on the grass, enjoying the sun that shines over Amsterdam with a beer or a joint in hand. On the second floor, Brazilian trio Azymuth managed to turn the darkness of the room into an effusive firework of jazz, funk and electronics mixed up with an impeccable sense of groove. It all feels like being drowned in the middle of South America during the ’70s: everybody interacting, spurred into ecstatic dancing by the mad drums of Ivan Conti, Alex Malheiros’ guitar riffs and Jose Roberto Bertram’s captivating keyboard lines.
Next stop: Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, where we find Richard H. Kirk – the remaining soul of Cabaret Voltaire, standing half hidden in front of a huge screen as fast-moving shots and videos juxtapose, following the musical stream of consciousness which oscillates between a vast scope of genres: a strong, dark imagery colliding with colourful and innocent pictures as harsh noise and techno sounds clash with post-punk vocals and hidden disco vibes.
Back at Tolhuistuin it was best to arrive a bit early as the crowd rapidly started to bunch up at the doors, impatient to witness fabled afrobeat drummist Tony Allen in action. The rather small venue was filled in the wink of an eye, with people from all generations instantly communing as one, tied together by the Nigerian legend’s extended blends of jazz fusion and tribal funk as by one unique cosmic order.
Allen kept beating the pulse in his seemingly effortless, ever-classy manner, all smiles as he dispensed rousing versions of tracks from his album ‘Film Of Life‘ such as the resonating ‘Boat Journey‘ or the delicate ballad ‘Go Back‘, raising a loving army of echoing voices in its path. Eventually inviting Amp Fiddler and his Roland keytar for a straight up epic rendition of ‘Ewa‘, the voodoo percussionist topped things off in the most electrifying way possible. Intense.
Third time we had the chance to attend Raster-Noton’s 20 Years celebration, after seeing it in Berlin and Barcelona, and the ever on point German label provided to the restricted audience (a maximum of 200 hundred people could attend the show which was sold out long ago) nothing less – but nothing more this time, than expected: a synergic union between pacey mental visuals, sharp-edged minimalism and a proper techno demonstration from Kangding Ray.
Last but not least, we finished the night in good company, and fact is Cómeme label honcho Matias Aguayo certainly knows how to deal with a crowd. Swinging from a DJ set to live mode, Aguayo offered a well physical performance, dancing and singing on stage whilst delighting us with two hours of hectic tribal house, glaring disco gems, traditional salsa and cumbia beats sprinkled with a healthy dose of salt and pepper. A highly energetic display.
F R I D A Y
The sun is shining when we get to Amsterdamse Bos, the superb park sheltering the Day festival, located in the southern outskirts of Amsterdam. As soon as we enter, the main stage looms as an impregnable citadel: a semicircle decorated with alternative visuals shifting shapes as DJs succeed one another.
As we step in, the crowd is moving in rhythm to Ricardo Villalobos’ mystifying minimal grooves. The Chilean producer slithers in front of three decks, putting on a mind-boggling set in which you couldn’t tell where the seams are: a series of overlapping tickling sounds suddenly winding with new ones, yet always retaining that bouncy kick that cast its hypnotic spell on the audience like a snake charmer’s. Mental.
It’s then time for the Greenhouse, where Detroit godfather Moodyman has taken over the decks. Making the palm trees around feel funny with his druggy flexes of lazed-out house, mellow tones and entrancing synths, Kenny Dixon Jr does his thing like only he knows how to do, turning the stage into a surrealistically intimate party where the DJ might abandon his decks for a second, grab a bottle of vodka and pour a few drinks to his frontline guests. Magic.
Continuing our exploration we head to the UFO stage – i.e. the most techno-oriented one. The mood is very different there, switching from the dancing pink flamingos of the Main to a sheer rave-like situation. Boosted by the proper ragged techno drops of DJ Stingray and Helena Hauff – who succeeded in keeping up with Drexciya’s drilling mood, it’s a feast of fast-breaking heaters and gusty Detroit vibe that blows under the marquee.
That’s when widely-praised selector Ben UFO and partner in crime Joy O take control of the Main with a solid mix that traverses an extra-large sound spectrum, from bassy moves to pounding techno beats onto anthemic classic house stabs, the latter certainly getting the most reaction from a crowd not entirely conquered at times – just like when they dropped Objekt’s nevertheless excellent remix of Radiohead’s ‘Lotus Flower‘… A hard-fought battle.
Sir Jeff Mills aka The Wizard steps up to lift the party up to further spaced-out techno realms with an unerring science for what kicks and what not. The groove is straight going, enough to put you into the zone but not enough to get you stuck up there. No, Jeff Mills is a gent. He gets you off the ground but doesn’t let you struggle an hour for the next shuttle back to planet earth. He accompanies you, sober and elegant, confident and caring – unlike many of nearby attendees. Pure class. Always.
We ended up the night before another pair of legends – who kept throwing black plastic for no short than 5 hours, no big deal. The mighty Theo Parrish and his pal Marcellus Pittman rocked the Selectors stage like the finest old hands they are. Pure vibe amidst the darkling greenery that’d even managed to cheer up the weeping willows – meshing pounding 4/4 monsters with more trippy chillers. If the scope was wide, the precision was deadly. Masterclass.
S A T U R D A Y
Aiming to enjoy the marvelous weather on this Saturday full of promises, we head to the Selectors stage. It’s time for Mood Hut’s staple duo Pender Street Peppers to dialogue along with Washington DC’s Beautiful Swimmers through the decks and the double pair seemed to have had even more fun than the crowd – even though the dancers were really feeling that catchy mixture of breezy coastal house, honey-dew R&B and technoid oddities.
The Red Light Radio shed in the middle of the park offered a pleasant getaway from the intensity of the dance floors with several notable performances amongst which a personal highlight: the mighty Intergalactic Gary who – as he usually does, crafted a quirky set full of unexpected mood twists, actually the prelude to his great closure at the Selectors stage on Sunday.
An expert in the art of meshing heavy breaks, off-the-grid techno and more leftfield try-outs, Objekt didn’t disappoint in the UFO tent. His set was a fine concoction of never-ending spirals and understated grooves, not only dishing out the raucous 4/4 tremors expected on the most rave-dedicated stage, but also offering a diversity that lacked in some other sets – maybe by fear of straying too far from beaconed paths and overall anticipation.
Rapidly heading back to the Selectors stage for one of the most eagerly awaited sets of the festival: the Cologne-based producer Lena Willikens delivered an improvised guide for a desert music trip, bringing us to meet imaginary tuaregs – faces clad behind the folds of their blue scarves as profound downbeat melodies played along the languid glide of sand. The more esoteric vein of her music was apparent in her hour-long depiction of organic landscapes made of samples and field recordings, that always manages to gather various feelings coming from unexplored parts of the planet.
Under the glass-roof of the Greenhouse, The Black Madonna dispensed an absolute hell of a set – finely marrying bass-driven techno grooves to uplifting disco slabs, captaining the crowd like few managed over the three days in the woods. Who could have resisted a floor-devoted rebuild of Nina Simone’s ‘I’m Feeling Good’? Well, accordingly to the screams of pleasure heard at that time, you have your answer. No one.
We stayed set for Juju & Jordash’s take-over of the magic little hothouse – a place that welcomed some of the most unforgettable moments of the festival definitely. Anxious to play after such a successful set, the pair did well and showed all the pseudo analogue heads out there how it’s done. Killer from top to bottom: acidic, physical, nervy, danceable, propulsive and more crucially, inspired.
Picking up where Lena Willikens left off on the Selectors stage, Donato Dozzy took us for an even deeper journey across techno galaxies, enhancing the rhythm of a driving yet subtle pulse, turning the Selectors stage’s little shack into the minaret to a Sufi-like ceremony in which far out mysticism and techno deviance seemed to make for an indistinguishable whole.
Still thirsty of music and willing to live up to the marvelous feeling that Donato Dozzy left us, we reached the central city to have a taste of the nightly side of Dekmantel, in Melkweg and truth be told, Melkweg really isn’t a nice place to party at. Small, poorly laid out and well, really not sexy at all – the crowd there didn’t even patch it up, far from it. A black spot in the festival’s voluptuous CV, really.
That said, the Rush Hour showcase started with the excellent Interstellar Funk who laid down a solid set fusing outer space techno and more offbeat slices to warm up the legs and minds. The room was packed when Soichi Terada stepped up on stage. The legendary Japanese producer – responsible for the soundtracks of the unforgettable Ape Escape video game series and boss of Far East Recording, must we remind the uninitiated – did the job with that extra dose of communicative joy that makes him such a special character. Smooth, bouncy house at all floors, with a special origami shadow puppet show-off to top it all – right before Rush Hour mastermind Antal and mainstay Hunee nailed it with a rousing session of disco, house, exotica and techno.
Samo DJ and Ron Morelli shared the decks again for an extended three-hour performance that definitely went full-on ruthless techno mode, nonchalantly transitioning back and forth from 4/4 thick kick drums and basslines to uplifting grooves, adapting well to the atmosphere of the well-lit Theaterzaal. It was a refreshing take on a night set, underlining how idyllic and fun moods are not in opposition to techno bangers.
Another massive back 2 back was Minimal Wave boss Veronica Vasicka and industrial techno legend Regis’ one – a truly unmissable performance. Like a rough landing on the uneven surface of the moon, our feet rapidly got used to that unnatural weightlessness whilst we got our eyes used to the complete dark. An orgy of recklessly galloping industrial techno interspersed with bleak post-punk accents, as downward seismic ripples collide with Minimal Wave’s mercurial temperament.
S U N D A Y
Sunday wasn’t outdone on massive sets and astonishing performances. As he admitted after his set, heavy techno trader Voiski was a bit nervous when penetrating the UFO arena as he hadn’t played his live set for about a month prior to that. Well, fact is one couldn’t have felt that from his performance. The Frenchman delivered a proper huge set, dropping as much quantum-leaping techno as he offered a more panoramic view of his melodic skills.
Next we moved to the more luxuriant Selectors stage to witness the performance of a producer we were particularly eager to see in action after the drop of his latest EP on the festival’s own imprint. Joseph Seaton aka Call Super clearly served up one of the finest sets of the whole four days. From African-indebted polyrhythms to hi-NRG house beats to hedonistic disco to rugged techno grooves onto sheer UK bass and dancehall melters… phheww… Top mixing, top floor-intelligence. Top-dog.
When we entered the Greenhouse where Mala and Coki aka Digital Mystikz had just taken control, the mood was rather quiet, and the floor not empty, but not full either. Two hours later, everyone was drenched with sweat and not really sure what time it was anymore. The pair tranquilly turned the hothouse upside down, galvanising the crowd with a chaplet of incendiary dub, grime and hip-hop monster anthems that echoed deep inside the green-and-glass structure. Oh, and special mention to the crowd! Fierce and fun as ever.
Up on two fronts, Ben Klock effortlessly took charge of the last three hours of the festival in the woods with his superman abilities. Three years after his last Boiler Room appearance, he returned with a tight and fun set, evolving from cold atmospheric patterns to more dramatic tunes laid down intricately in what seemed to be just ninety minute-long tracks, closing with a mix of groovy basslines and deep rumbling kicks that certainly met everyone’s expectations.
The excitement and emotional involvement of the crowd would be the only fair review, as all the moods, sounds, emotions, beats, energies accumulated throughout the whole festival seemed to find their cleansing eruption inside the aptly-named tent. With incessant rattling drums and coarse but heartfelt bangers that were taking everyone closer to the brink of giving in to the sheer ecstasy of partying – a rarely-reached sweet spot of synergy where it’s not about the music or the artist anymore, nor the festival or one single aspect, but how every facet of it combines into a pure and fleeting celebration of life that resonates with Fellini’s wishful thinking in 8 1/2 – “È una festa la vita, viviamola insieme” (“Life is a party. Let’s live it together”).
Photography by Bart Heemskerk, Desiré Van Den Berg, Niels Cornelis Meijur.
S O L E S E L E C T O R S