Dekmantel, in its 11 year tenure as a DJ crew and events brand, has always been an institution synonymous with quality, representing all corners of the dance music continuum, working closely with a core of local Amsterdam artists as well as associates from around the world. Alongside outposts in Sao Paulo, the sixth edition of the eponymous festival, held in Amsterdamse Bos, achieved near perfection in its execution: expertly and efficiently run to ensure peak enjoyment for festival goers, and more importantly an inspired lineup, drawing from its key associates as well as more leftfield selections handpicked from around the globe.
Going against the grain of the usual big name festival headliners, Dekmantel placed faith in the music and its reputation first to drive ticket sales (which sold out in record time) and as one RA commenter astutely stated, “it takes balls and self confidence to go from Dixon and Tale Of Us to A.R.E and Gesloten Cirkel in only 3 years.”
Big name hitters like Jamie xx were given opening slots as well as never before seen (or imagined) bespoke b2b sets, like Special Request and Source Direct, gave the festival programming an arguable edge over any in the world. Below are 5 key performances from separate stages over a magical 3 days across the festival.
1. Shanti Celeste (Main Stage)
Bristolian Shanti Celeste has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, with releases on Apron, Secretsundaze and her own Peach Discs imprint amongst others. She’s cemented herself as one of the best feel-good party DJs around. A Dekmantel 10 Year anniversary release last year split with Call Super, as well as a Dekmantel podcast highlight, acknowledged the crew’s faith in upgrading her from Boiler Room’s stage in the 2017 edition to the Main Stage.
Directly in front of the entrance at 3PM on Saturday meant that Shanti set the vibe for the weekend to come for a large proportion of the festival. There was talk amongst many punters over the festival how the scale and more specifically the width of the main stage meant many artists struggled to create a vibe, but this didn’t seem to phase Celeste in the slightest, nor did the fact that the artist following her directly after was none other than Ricardo Villalobos.
Bouncing energetically behind the decks and constantly smiling, Shanti kept a consistent energy with her signature dusty house cuts, occasionally raising the vibe for swells of new entrants, most memorably sending hundreds of hands skywards as she dropped Dan Habarnams cut “High Pass Rambo” on Idle Hands, the record store and label where she used to work. If there were ever a taller order in dance music than bridging the vibe on the main stage for arguably the biggest DJ of all time, Shanti took it into her stride, increasing the energy at the end of her set with a series of heavier and more abstract tracks. Breaks may be in vogue in 2018, but Dave Clarke’s 1994 cut “Xeno Zero” had never sounded fresher.
2. Joy O (Selectors Stage)
Following up on a slow, acidic masterclass from Lena Willikens, Joy O took to the Selectors stage to close the Friday night. As before mentioned, a quirky part of programming placed him on one of the smaller stages in the festival, and his undoubtable popularity meant the crowd stretched back hundreds of yards, located in a woody hollow peppered with trees and low hanging willows. The crowd level DJ booth, as well as the leafy setting as darkness set, meant the booth and actions of the DJ were invisible to most, creating a forest rave vibe and perfectly complementing Joy’s unpredictable and chameleonic DJ style, sending the crowd wild with every left turn.
Mirroring his Dekmantel Selectors compilation, his set was quintessentially UK centric, while exploring and bouncing between a number of styles. Slick UK garage cuts propelled most of the groove of the set, only to be juxtaposed with harder hitting bass heavy house and techno gems like MMM’s (Erik and Fiedel) – Dex. The session also had its more playful moments, sending a reveller climbing high into the trees fist pumping and waving to the crowd below as Da Hool’s Ibiza classic “Meet Her at the Love Parade” was deftly blended into a breakbeat techno track. Towards the end of his set, Joy O sent serotonin levels peaking with an influx of classic Moving Shadow-esque hardcore tracks, leaving the Friday closed on an all time high.
3. The Bug (live) feat. Miss Red (Greenhouse Stage)
The Greenhouse stage played host to possibly the biggest variety of music across the weekend. Early afternoon sets included Melodies International disco digger Mafalda, feel good house vibes from John Talabot, as well as a session from roots and Dub legend Jah Shaka. The glass roof of the Greenhouse created a perfect setting for happy go lucky vibes, but also increased the intensity of high energy sets from Goldie and Randall’s Metalheadz Classics set and The Bug’s live show, hosted by Israeli MC Miss Red. Following up from an hour and a half of jazz-indebted beats from Brainfeeder affiliate Kutmah, The Bug took to the stage in silence as an eager crowd gathered.
After a few minutes of periodic walls of sub-bass, a steady beat dropped, putting the crowd into a steady half time sway and a minute or so later Miss Red emerged to a cry of cheers as her unmistakable patois rang through the Greenhouse. Having been collaborators for years, the synergy between the two radiated into the crowd (with Miss Red spending significant periods right against the front row) as both ran through classics from The Bug’s back catalogue as well as tracks from Miss Red’s recent album “K.O.”, with “Come Again” and “Dagga” baiting the biggest cheers and whistles from the crowd. After a high intensity hour, the two laid the floor perfectly for two more Soundsystem focused b2b sets; Special Request b2b Source Direct and Goldie b2b Randall.
4. Gesloten Cirkel (UFO II Stage)
Very little is known about Gesloten Cirkel himself, although his music, mostly released on Dutch label Murder Capital creates atmospheres very similar to that of his label mate I-F and those closely involved in the Hague’s infamous music scene synonymous with Bunker Records, Viewlexx and the rest, propelled by the more twisted strains of acid, techno and electro. The live set took place at UFO II, a brand new stage dedicated to acid, electro, EBM and experimental music, and fittingly looked more than a little like a bomb shelter. Earlier in the weekend Detroit in Effect and Stingray had laid down neck breaking sets and, despite being on the penultimate slot of the Sunday evening, there was not a tired raver in sight.
Following up from Parrish Smith’s EBM onslaught, Gesloten Cirkel dived straight in, raising the tempo accordingly and firing through a number of classics from his back catalogue, the 303 squelch of the opening acid line and vocal of “Zombie Machine (Acid)” instantly recognisable in the first 5 minutes. Dystopian and ominous vocal samples are a main calling card of Gesloten Cirkel’s work and the mesmerising vocal passage of “Chasing Away the Night” on Murder Capital 012 was laid over a slick electro beat. Improvised and extended intros teased the crowd throughout the set and from just outside the back of the stage there was more than one occasion of a false alarm thinking the next tune would drop. Tension and release kept the crowd on their toes and three quarters of the way through the set, after an extended period of looped broken beats, many a hand was sent aloft as the demonic opening chant of album highlight “Submit X” rang through the bunker, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
5. Courtesy (Boiler Room Stage)
The Boiler Room stage acts as a window to Dekmantel for those who have never been, and over the years there have been some much loved and iconic sets live streamed from there. Many big room acts such as Palms Trax and Special Request took to the Boiler Room for additional sets in search of a more intimate vibe, in an open ended shelter in the woods towards the back of the festival site. Here, dancers were tightly packed together around the DJ in the middle which added to a more full on experience than other stages. On Sunday afternoon, former Aperion Crew affiliate and Ectotherm Label head Najaaraq Vestbirk, aka Courtesy, produced a high energy display showing why she is worthy of the title of figurehead of Copenhagen’s rapid techno scene.
Kicking off briskly at what could easily have been north of 135 BPM, Courtesy worked through a number of pacey acid techno tracks at breakneck speed, using quick fader cuts for impactful mixing and, despite only having an hour long set, managed to take things from the contemporary to the past and back again, in a particular ravey section including 1999 Belgian trance cut “Free My Soul” by Butcher and Son. Aperion Crew and Ectotherm may be no more, but this performance alongside blistering sets from Mama Snake and Solid Blake earlier, showed that the Copenhagen scene is in rare form.
Words: Declan Law
Featured Images: Bart Heemskerk, Neils Corneils Meijer