It’s the first weekend of August and you would be insane to find yourself anywhere but among the beautiful woodland of Amsterdamse Bos for one of Europe’s most impressive festivals – Dekmantel. Every summer the festival circuit in the UK and Europe see hundreds of festivals pop up, ranging from the fantastic to the down-right futile, but Dekmantel Festival, now in its fifth year, sits comfortably and consistently as one of the best.
Since establishing the Dekmantel brand in 2007, they have gone from strength to strength, building their label in 2009 and eventually going on to put on one of the best dance events around. For the first time in its tenure this year’s edition ran through a five-day period with a series of intimate opening concerts, featuring an array of live acts on the IJ river for a cool and relaxed start before the main event begins.
We arrived on the first of the three-day electronic music spectacular to witness one of the most celebrated figures in the international techno scene Nina Kraviz, whipping up a storm at the aptly named Selectors stage. Blending a perfect mix of open-minded techno, experimental offshoots and acid disco, she dropped interesting and unexpected tracks in her set such as Rimini Rivers ‘Tonight Dub’ and Roots Manuva’s Witness Dub.
Moving from underneath the weeping willow, the crowd-shaking and unmistakeably individual sounds of Mathew Jonson’s live set filtered out across the open grass. Following the electronic craftsman onto the main stage was Detroit’s own Omar S. Delivering nothing less than expected from a Motor City legend, his afternoon assault oscillated between his heavy Detroit sound with flares of his own ‘Ready My Black Asz’ and more smooth, upbeat house and electro like Hurley’s happy house remix of Crystal Waters – Makin’ Happy.
The only conventional tent-like structure on site, aptly named the UFO stage hosted London born producer Ø [Phase] on Friday afternoon. Transporting you to a distant galaxy, the huge dark enclosed space and gritty minimal techno sounds mixed with the disorientating light show quickly swallow you into a techno black-hole, even on a sunny afternoon. After being suitably assaulted by some subliminal techno Job Jobse & Midland demonstrated an incredible agility on the decks of the mainstage. The pair laid down melodic, hypnotic and equally danceable patterns of techno and disco shelling out tracks like Delphi – Blue Tuesday to keep people’s feet seriously grooving.
Closing the inaugural night was one of the pioneering old guards who is still doing it right today, Robert Hood. He remains the epitome of Detroit house and techno, serving up pulsing minimal beats and bouncy floor-fillers. The titanic artist exceeded all expectation and released a barrage of fundamental sounds infusing elements of acid and industrial into grindingly Detroit techno, reminiscent of his earliest productions.
If you had any doubts as to the abilities and deservedness of Marcel Dettman’s reputation as a selector, his midday four hour set on Saturday at the idyllic Selectors stage, only reinforced his place as one of the most influential proponents of contemporary techno. Playing an eclectic yet hard-hitting set the German DJ included classic and unpredictable moments like playing Hands and Feet’s mix of Depeche Mode’s – Enjoy the Silence.
Donato Dozzy alongside esteemed and respected cohort, Peter Van Hoesen graced the UFO tent Saturday afternoon. Similarly atypical techno artists, their four-hour dark, textured and bass-focused fusillade was groovily mind-boggling and left ravers suitably discombobulated. The great length of sets and small setting of the festival site meant we were easily able to float between this marathon four-hour onslaught and the Greenhouse and Boiler Room stages for Joy Orbison & Jon K and Jayda G.
A stand out set of the weekend came in the form of prolific Japanese DJ – DJ Nobu. Closing out the UFO tent after Donato Dozzy and Peter Van Hoesen, Nobu brought hypnotic vibes, flawless pacing and abstract techno that kept energies soaring and roisterer’s sweating under the shrouded smoke and suspended lights. Concluding his two-hour set with Aphex Twin’s Polynominal C, his reputation and demand can only continue to grow as he demonstrates his comfortability and constantly modifying approach to each and every gig he plays, from tiny bars in Tokyo to huge festival tents.
Saturday evening ended with Hessle Audio co-founder Ben UFO. Taking control of the main stage, his set was a constant and seamless transition between the best of his crate-digging abilities and his strengths as a purveyour of hot-off-the-hard-drive exclusives, easily evolving from UK funky classic D Malice’s Gabryelle refix into the harder sounds of Demented by Tres Demented.
The conclusive day of Dekmantel came all too soon. Opening the final day was Motor City Drum Ensemble at the selectors stage. Shanti Celeste pumped out some floor-filling feel good classics at the main-stage while Helena Hauff bombarded the Greenhouse with her stripped-down techno and electro sounds, a set soaked in adrenaline she destroyed the leafy parameters and literally had the floor shaking.
Rapidly growing into one of the most intriguing and talented house producers out there, we found ourselves at the mercy of Berlin based DJ and producer Palms Trax. Shelling out his blend of raw, heavy grooves that translate perfectly from stage to dancefloor, his sound situates him firmly along the Chicago-Detroit axis and the legacy that has so heavily influenced him over the years shines through loud and clear in an uplifting and classic-sounding set, blasting bangers like Giving My Love – Mark Funk.
As with the final set of any festival, the decision between Antal & Hunee or Objekt & Call Super was not an easy one. Beckoned to the main stage by the sounds of Chicago house legend Larry Heard, the true pioneer delivered a captivating and stand-alone history of underground, electronic music featuring his own easily identifiable Larry Heard sound alongside Mr White singing live, culminating in his 2006 hit ‘Sun Can’t Compare’. Once in the middle of the wild and chaotic crowd Mr Fingers had whipped into a frenzy, it was all too easy to be drawn into the jubilant and dazzling disco sounds of Antal & Hunee. In a spellbinding performance, the two heavyweights complemented each other perfectly. Their infectious energy transmitted smoothly through their track selections and into the hearts of those of us in the crowd. The versatility of these two selectors resulted in a disco-,house- and techno-fuelled offensive accompanied by a becoming light show on the main stage’s impressive panoramic LED strip – an ideal and impeccable way to close out a similarly superb weekend.
It seems there is nothing Dekmantel can do wrong, the sound-system is fantastic, the stages impeccably curated and very inclusive, the site is a perfect size for a fluid festival with no queues, the price of both tickets and the bar are more than reasonable and the crowd is one of the best you will find. While it would be all too easy for Dekmantel to cash in on their success and expand, they recognise and appreciate they have stumbled across a winning formula. The coming together of Dekmantel’s own accomplishments and the unique and beautiful city of Amsterdam are what really make this festival so special. If you’ve never been, you need to and if you have, you’ll never want to spend that first August weekend anywhere else in the world.