Scroll to the bottom for a playlist of IDs.
“Music is the healing force of our universe,” pronounced Idris Ackamoor, in conversation with Red Light Radio. Part of an interview at Muziekgebouw before the Thursday night opening concerts got underway, it was a sentiment that summed up why each and every one of us had made our way to the Dutch capital that weekend.
Now in it’s fifth year, Dekmantel Festival has built a reputation as a leading voice in electronic music, not just in the Netherlands but globally. They consistently boast mighty lineups, spanning DJs and artists from all corners of the globe, but always harness their close knit ties with the city’s mainstays and the family of DJs they’ve built around them.
A breadth of artists from all corners of the electronic sphere littered this year’s lineup. From Ben UFO shelling out Riko Dan on the Main Stage to Robert Glasper’s sundrenched jazz grooves in the Greenhouse, Dekmantel satisfied cravings in abundance.
Opening parties saw Brazilian tour de force Marcos Valle (above) take to the stage, Werkdiscs’ boss Actress perform live at Tolhuistuin and minimal pioneer Steve Reich wow at the festival’s inaugural event on Wednesday. Huerco S stood shrouded in darkness as he performed his live ambient soundscapes at Bimhuis, while screenings of Suzanne Ciani’s A Life In Waves and 2001: A Space Odyssey were shown at EYE.
Heading into the festival grounds, the steel shelter of the Boiler Room stage stood strong under the hot sun, hosting performances from natives I-F, Young Marco and Job Jobse, and a wealth of talented females across the weekend including Eclair Fifi, Shanti Celeste and Peggy Gou.
Over the five stages, DJs teamed up for relentless B2Bs. The Greenhouse saw Manchester’s finest Jon K and Joy Orbison combine forces on Saturday. Palms Trax and Midland left eyes watery when they closed Friday night’s afterparty at Radion with Arthur Russell’s ‘That’s Us/Wild Combination’. And nostalgia rippled through the Selectors stage when Call Super and Objekt played out Sonique and Crystal Waters on the closing night.
The main stage (above) featured live performances from founding father Larry Heard and Northern Irish duo Bicep, while astonishing DJ sets came from Ben UFO representing for the UK and Red Axes who took us into Saturday with their own pan Middle-Eastern grooves. To the rear, the UFO tent stood tall, home to the most fearless techno performances. Standout sets came from Dekmantel signee Matrixxman on Friday afternoon and brothers, Tessela & Truss under their live overmono project, who shook the foundations of the tent with steadfast breakbeats.
Billing heavyweights, Nina Kraviz, Marcel Dettman and Motor City Drum Ensemble (below) at the start of each day may have had a few people scratching their heads, but this tactical scheduling not only encouraged these DJs to showcase a different side to their selections, it also made sure attendees came early in droves.
When it comes to efficiency, Dekmantel’s setup and operation proves that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Each stage remains in the same place, entry is quick, stress free, and you’ll never wait more than a few minutes for the bar and the toilets. Not only that, but being in the peaceful city of Amsterdam and cycling to the festival through the leafy paths of Amsterdamse Bos is more than an added perk.
But back to the matter at hand: the gold standard of music across the weekend. Whittling down the talent on offer this year proved very hard, but there were several that stuck in our mind. Here’s our six standout sets.
Ge-ology b2b Red Greg
As Phuong-Dan brought his spectacular set to a close at the Selectors, Ge-ology and Red Greg flitted behind him readying themselves to take to the decks. Before that day the pair had never met, but you’d struggle to tell with each of their repertoires complementing the others perfectly; this stage was purpose made for them. Both respected selectors, the knowledge, passion and skill we witnessed over their three hour takeover was unrivalled. From the cheerful funk grooves of Webster Lewis to classic Strictly Rhythm dubs, we were whisked away for the duration, brought back to reality by Ge-ology’s signature artistry of playing a record backwards in its entirety. Truly a match made in heaven and something we will remember for a long time. Let’s hope these two meet behind the decks again.
Byron the Aquarius
Byron the Aquarius has been a name doing the rounds this year. The Atlantan producer rose up the ranks last year with releases on Sound Signature and Kyle Halls’ Wild Oats imprint. A trained jazz pianist, he is known to employ live keys in his DJ sets, a sure way to guarantee the energy is at 100%. When we reached the festival on Friday, we headed straight for the Greenhouse, the first of two sets Byron would play that day (caught on camera below). He worked the crowd into a frenzy, journeying through grooves like Harvey Sutherland’s ‘Oscillate’, Fulbert’s ‘Take It Easy’ and the trumpet saturated sounds of Abstract Truth. Byron may have been our first set of the festival, but it remained one of the most memorable.
As the sun parted the clouds on Saturday afternoon, Freak Cult’s top girl, Jayda G (above) stepped up to the Boiler Room for her second innings of the day. She began to ail the Friday night hangovers from the get go, crooning along to the smooth sounds of Staple Singers ‘Do It Again’, before jumping into an inspirational cut from Debra Laws. Known for her relentless vibrancy and enthusiasm, she bounced confidently behind the decks, never failing to raise arms and smiles with her smooth blend of disco, house and soulful grooves. A perfect palate cleanser that left us ready to face whatever the day had to throw at us.
Volvox b2b Umfang
A rare opportunity to see Volvox and Umfang play together couldn’t be missed, and boy did they deliver. As rain fell on the festival for the first time – possibly because the pair’s tracks were so earth-shatteringly good – Boiler Room proved the perfect shelter from the outside world. Steady and in control, Umfang started proceedings with the eerie strokes of RAC’s ‘Electro Fish’ and set the tone for the next hour and a half. The Discwoman selectors travelled effortlessly from breakbeat to electro to acid, all the while backed up by the most passionate bald dancer. Their selections, unquestionable passion and solid understanding of one another’s predilections marked it as the most electrifying set of the festival.
Helena Hauff (above) looked calm and composed as she took to the Greenhouse on Sunday. The Hamburg native took no prisoners in the first of her two sets that day, as she challenged the crowd to writhe to punishing electro, a heavy breakbeat cut from Paul Blackford being a particular highlight. Hauff has expertly refined her technique over the years, a testament to the hours of work she’s put in. The expert precision and control she preserves behind the decks is trancelike and extended into her blinding Boiler Room set later that evening. Whatever the festival, Hauff will forever be a name at the top of our list.
Antal b2b Hunee
On closing duties this year was another fine pairing, Rush Hour’s Antal and Hunee (below). After proving themselves a force to be reckoned with at Dimensions festival last year, we were excited to see how they’d fare for this high stakes slot at Dekmantel’s main stage. The energy was palpable from the outset and attendees clambered through the smoke onto the sides of the stage to dance against the flashing backdrop (even Drake made an appearance). Set highlights included Underground Resistance’s ‘Final Frontier’ that shook and electrified the crowd, and the pair drawing their set to a close with the disco mix of Marlena Shaw’s ‘Touch Me In The Morning’. A unifying moment and a fitting end to a weekend in electronic music wonderland.
Listen to a Youtube playlist of 100 track IDs collected throughout the weekend.
Shouts to the ID crew, Sean OD, Javier, Theo and Aeneas.