On the very last day of July, I began my journey to Europe to attend Amsterdam’s Dekmantel Festival, which occurred August 2-6 in various locations in and around Amsterdam. Celebrating its tenth birthday this year, Dekmantel is a music company that operates multiple festivals yearly throughout the world, hosting their main festival each August in Amsterdam.
Dekmantel also operates a record label, radio show, and excellent podcast series. Having followed this crew and their output for a while, I jumped at the chance to attend their flagship festival. What I encountered was an expertly curated weekend exploring Amsterdam and listening to great music.
The first night was a sort of pre-party, featuring a live set from legendary experimental composer Steve Reich in collaboration with Slagwerk Den Haag. Thursday August 3rd was the true opening night of the festival, featuring performances at different places around Amsterdam. One of the main event hubs on Thursday, and where I spent the majority of my night, was Bimhuis. A beautiful building on the river that is normally used for improvised jazz concerts, Bimhuis was repurposed into a multi-theatre setup for the variety of events. I caught a live performance from Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas, who recently released their first album in 17 years.
The highlight of Thursday night was Gerald Donald’s Dopplereffekt. Playing on a bevy of live hardware, Donald’s synth had a texture I have never heard before, operating between extremes from a beautiful, analogue warmth, to feeling like it was ripping the skin off my bones. I finished the night at Amsterdam’s club Shelter, a beautifully put together club that is entirely underground, with Demdike Stare. They played old, rave-oriented breakbeats that kept an incredible rhythm, mixing jazzy breaks with darker fare. They were one of my favorite sets of the weekend.
The rest of Dekmantel took place on the festival grounds at Amsterdamse Bos, a forested area right outside of city limits. The festival was divided into 5 stages, each with its own distinct setup and vibe. One thing that really amazed me was how compact the festival grounds were. It only took five to ten minutes at most to walk between stages, and there was no sound bleed between them. I spent the majority of my time at the techno-leaning UFO stage. This stage was lodged inside a huge barn, and provided an intense visual experience. My favorite set there was Donato Dozzy & Peter Van Hoesen. Dozzy and Van Hoesen play a hybrid setup that goes between traditional DJing and live music improvised on synthesizers and samplers. My favorite stage setup had to be the Greenhouse stage. Situated in –you guessed it– a greenhouse, this stage had lush plant life and a constant stream of fog. Helena Hauff’s Sunday set on this stage was amazing: a punk-themed take on electro and techno that was mixed with surgical precision.
After the festivities ended on Sunday, it was back to Shelter for the final Dekmantel after-party. Headlining this event was techno pioneer Regis, owner of the record label, Downwards. While the opening act, Overmono, played an excellent rhythmic set, the moment Regis took over the decks, it was as if the depth of the sound went into the deep end. The kick drum was so large it enveloped me, and Regis presented two hours of strictly club shattering, hard-edged techno.
One aspect of the festival itself that I found interesting was that everything was sold on-site through a token system. Attendees would go to one station right by the entrance and buy tokens that could then be exchanged for drinks and food. While I’ve seen similar setups before, it was an interesting system to see in practice for such a large festival, and I thought it did a great job of keeping concession lines under control. Overall, everything at and around the festival was so well-paced, and so well-set up, that it just felt right. I recommend that you do everything in your power to attend a Dekmantel event in the future.