Dekmantel 2019: Five Performances

Dekmantel’s flagship festival in Amsterdamse Bos has been widely regarded as one of Europe’s best for some years now and the seventh edition reinforced this claim, with its operational efficiency and wide and most ambitious ranging spectrum of music yet, which was reflected in the programming of the stages, as well as the crowd, comprising of young European dance music fans to those which a more live-leaning penchant.

The opening parties were the most ambitious yet, including performances from jazz outfit Pharoah Sanders Quartet, a rare appearance from Juan Atkins Cybrotron act and an even rarer DJ set from one of the most enigmatic and mysterious figures in house and techno, Shinichi Atobe. Sadly due to illness the performance did not go ahead, however this would have been his second billed performance ever, despite first releasing in 2001 on Basic Channel sublabel Chain Reaction, followed by a 13 year hiatus until tracked down by Demdike Stare. Even though DDS affiliate Andy Stott had to fill in, this stood as a testament to Dekmantel’s trailblazing booking policy.

On site, key Dekmantel affiliates underpinned the festival, with new roster additions such as DJ Python and Roza Terenzi being entrusted with multiple (and in Python’s case main stage) sets with longstanding staple Jay Donaldson aka Palms Trax closing the festival main stage, a honour many commented he’d been ascending to since signing to the label in 2015.

1. Bruce (Boiler Room)

One of the 7 artists blessed with 2 sets (alongside Marie Davidson, Nose Drip, DJ Python, Roza Terenzi, Black Merlin and Batu) was Hessle Audio affiliate Larry McCarthy aka Bruce. After opening the huge UFO stage on the first day, Bruce stepped up on Saturday night for his Boiler Room debut. Having released his Sonder Somatic album on Hessle in November last year (the only non member to do so), Bruce’s set reflected the wide BPM ranges and styles that the album displayed so well.

Starting at a swampy 90 BPM, McCarthy worked through shapeshifting and bleepy syncopated cuts for the first third before throwing in surely one of Boiler Room’s all time great curveballs with an edit of Beyonce’s ‘Naughty Girl’ which was as well received as any other more conventional anthem I heard over the weekend (think the alleged DJ Bogdan ‘Love Inna Basement’ mixes, aka ‘Theme from Q’ VIP’s). There was an effective distinction between the heady and recognisable, with a remix of Inner City’s ‘Good Life’ tucked amongst almost uncategorisable tracks.

A key facet of Bruce’s work is manipulating sound to an unrecognisable degree, and after filtering walls of static he brought the beats up to north of 140 with a string of rapid techno tracks. A friend unfamiliar of his work commented to me the contrast between McCarthy and more faceless Hessle artists (Elgato, Joe et al) as he proceeded to compere his own set halfway through, before closing with Nirvana’s ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter‘ and mounting the table to crowd surf through his closing track despite sporting a elbow length cast from an arm injury. While on the mic, the crowd reaction displayed the obvious appreciation of who Charles Drakeford had just introduced as “one of the nicest guys in dance music”.

2. Ben UFO b2b Blawan (UFO)

Closing the UFO stage on the Friday was one of the most intriguing sets of the weekend, as the only one of 4 b2b sets who aren’t established sparring partners behind the decks, contrary to Octo Octa & Eris Drew, Skee Mask & Zenker Brothers and Darwin & Re:ni who play frequently together and draw from the same pool of the dance music continuum.

Much of the conversation amongst punters on the Friday was how they expected this set to plan out. Would Ben UFO, arguably the most versatile DJ around piggyback the sound (as he often does as seen here and here) of Blawan who’s output in past years has centred around the signature steely techno he makes by process of modular synthesis? Or would this be a nostalgic throwback and a lineage of Jamie Roberts’ musical history to early Hessle Audio and UK bass days of the early 2010s, which he mentioned in a recent RA Exchange as a difficult time where “everything had to sound different”.

The result pleasingly was a mixture of both. The huge UFO stage was rammed front to back ten minutes before the beginning with Blawan taking to the stage solo due to Ben UFO running late. Blawan’s heavy and pounding techno made for a smooth transition from Ugandan Methods, the duo of Regis and Ancient Methods and after around 20 minutes Ben UFO came to the stage to rapturous applause. Playing 2 for 2, the pace can’t have strayed much below 140 BPM and Blawan’s loopy techno keeping energy high with curveballs masterfully mixed in between by Ben UFO. As the Hessle Audio trio often do, he drew for a classic from one of counterparts, as Pangaea’s ‘Stimulant Dub‘ provided a welcome vocal to the mix. Around 15 minutes from the end one of the biggest reactions from the crowd was coaxed by Bok Bok’s ‘Silo Pass‘ as the set closed with a beatless synth track from HDMIRROR.

3. Mala (Greenhouse)

The Greenhouse stage has traditionally played host for most of the UK centric styles of music at the festival, hosting drum and bass legend DJ Storm and Batu (who now is known more for his eclecticism) and last year The Bug ft. Miss Red, Source Direct b2b Special Request and a Metalheadz classics set from Randall b2b Goldie. Opening the stage on Saturday with a 3 hour set followed by Ahmed Fakroun, Leroy Burgess, Equiknoxx and Batu, the music policy was largely dominated by lighter styles of music than dubstep, posing the question if Mala would draw from his wide knowledge of roots, dub and his work on Brownswood Recordings inspired by Cuban music and beyond.

The last hour didn’t disappoint the dubstep and Deep Medi fans with Kahn and Neek’s remix of ‘Topper Top‘ calling for a reload, before Mala took to the mic to apologise for his misjudgement of the time. Reaching for the last plate from his bag, the chugging intro of The Bug’s ‘Skeng‘ rang out across the Greenhouse. The vocal drops, the track is deservedly reloaded and the crowd goes wild.

4. Zenker Brothers b2b Skee Mask (UFO II)

Recently celebrating their 11th anniversary, Ilian Tape could now be considered as one of the essential modern labels, keeping both a consistent release schedule and a singular sound which draws from moody soundscapes, breakbeats and booming kicks. The UK influence has been more prevalent than ever with the latest Stenny release representing a truly Ilian take on UK garage. Skee Mask, the most prolific artist on the label, joined the two label heads with a free wheeling b2b set which touched all corners of the hardcore continuum, spanning jungle, garage, techno and beyond.

The UFO II stage, host to many psychedelic and harder forms of music was the perfect stage for the trio, a long, narrow and low ceilinged space, pitch black with a red glow from behind the booth providing an intense heads down experience. The cross functionality between grime, garage and techno was well exercised with tracks like Spooky’s Refix of Mobb Deep’s ‘Outta Control’ and a garage mix of Jaydee’s classic ‘Plastic Dreams’ sitting tightly alongside straighter techno tracks. The inevitable traverse to jungle came towards the end, alongside other 160 tracks which completed a set as diverse in tempo as it was in style.

5. DJ Fett Burger (Selectors)

The selectors stage provides the most natural backdrop for dancers with the DJ at almost floor level and the dancefloor flanked by Willow trees. This gives a different experience to the industrial mass scale of the UFO stages and the closed expanse of the greenhouse. DJ Fett Burger of Sex Tags Mania is an enigmatic character known for an eclectic style drawing for dub and more psychedelic and slow strains of music. On this occasion, a sunny Sunday afternoon, Fett Burger read the crowd perfectly and invigorated tired dancers with a banging set of house music from his deep collection mixed with his rough and ready style, vinyl skips and all.

A great indicator of crowd reception at Selectors is how many people climb the tree in the middle of the stage. After many whoops from the crowd after every transition, two friends climbed the tree together singing the piano line of Crico Castelli’s ‘Life Is Changing‘. This was a DJ which had the crowd eating from the palm of his hand.

Words: Declan Law

Featured Images: Bart Heemskerk, Yannick van de Wjingaert, Tim Buiting

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