Amsterdamse Bos

Speaking in our Destination: Amsterdam documentary last year, San Proper praised Dekmantel for sustaining the event’s initial energy, saying, “they showed the rest of the festival culture that it’s actually way more interesting to keep it intimate.”

Proper, a veteran of the Amsterdam scene, was the first booking for Dekmantel back in 2007 when he played a 200-capacity party.  Having lit the fuse with that event, you get the sense that Dekmantel has gradually grown into a dream scenario for its creators. Not only has it become a major focus within electronic music – amassing an unwavering support base and garnering ecstatic reviews across the board – it has also allowed them to invite a growing tally of their musical heroes year on year. And Proper was right – throughout the event emphasis is placed on intimacy despite demand growing exponentially. This year’s festival seemed to be its biggest yet in terms of scope but its success was fueled by never losing focus of its initial spirit and charm.

2016 saw the team stick with its winning formula, pouring passion into every aspect of the event. The beautifully constructed site, consisting of five expertly curated stages woven neatly into its woodland setting, remained relatively untouched from last year, with regulars soaking up new experiences on their now-coveted stages and new attendees noting the ease at which you can move between them. There were slight changes – this year the opening programme was expanded to include conference talks with the likes of Marcellus Pittman and Surgeon alongside rare performances such as Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H. Kirk and Tony Allen (the latter who performed a joyous celebratory set at the waterfront Tolhuistuin venue), giving the event a well-rounded feel that nicely reflected the seriousness with which it is taken by dance music enthusiasts.

One of Dekmantel’s strengths is its interspersing of first-class electronic talent alongside those on the rise. DJ Harvey’s opening set on the beloved Selectors stage was a particularly special touch. With a solid hour and a half of precipitation greeting those first through the gates, the first 45 minutes of his set were abstract wanderings that somewhat suited the dank weather. Mirroring the anticipation before the inevitable sky-clearance gave way to sunnier climes, the groove was eventually found and the pleasure in watching an empty dance-floor become packed out was fulfilled. Later in the afternoon, Ricardo Villalobos was in a playful mood as he returned to take the slot he played last year. Even by his own flamboyant standards, this was an animated set skirting between hi-octane cuts that reflected the good weather and more abstract techno wanderings towards the end.

Diversity was also a focal point this year. Friday was a great example of this, spanning Holly Herndon’s avant-laptop pop in the UFO tent, freaky acid jazz and wigged out house from Theo Parrish b2b Marcellus Pittman, driving jams from Ben UFO and Joy Orbison on the main stage, and whiplash electro from DJ Stingray at Boiler Room.

The variation in sound on Sunday in the Greenhouse was a welcome addition, with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s wayward vocal wanderings halted sporadically while he pulled fans on stage to share joints and slow-dance. Special Request’s proto-jungle got a huge response, as did the absolutely ferocious set from Digital Mystikz. With a British crowd dancing like it was 2006, there were three mosh-pits at the final count as Mala and Coki turned back the clock. Old and new cuts were shared – the latest from The Bug gave way to classics like Shattered by Coki and Anti-War Dub. The reverence with which Mystikz are held was evident from the large numbers of producers and DJs fully locked in by a speaker at the front.

As well as spanning such a diverse array of talent, the event also acts as a snapshot of the Dutch scene and artists close to the festival’s heart. The headline scheduling of homegrown talent reflects how far much of Dekmantel’s core artists have advanced since the festival began: Tom Trago played back-to-back with Cinnaman, and label regular Joey Anderson closed out proceedings at the foliage-filled Greenhouse stage, and Intergalactic Gary proved just why his profile has risen so much over the past year while closing proceedings on the Selectors stage. After closing out the festival, the theme continued with after parties at The Melkweg. Hunee and Antal’s soaring disco infusions, IF’s moodier slant and Legowelt’s live electronic explorations all continued to capture our imaginations in the Crack Magazine-hosted room.

Red Light Radio was another embodiment of the ongoing strength of the Netherlands’ tight knit DJ community. Holding down a tiny pop-up studio amongst the catering area, station regulars were joined sporadically by the likes of Lena Willikens and Trax, and the latter has recently developed a personal connection with the station crew, banging a three hour set of jacking acid out of the tiny hut to a sparse crowd who looked like they couldn’t quite believe their luck. Motor City Drum Ensemble’s exuberant closing set on the main stage offered up the pinnacle of this homegrown support and was a fittingly epic zenith of a success story that keeps artistic integrity close to its heart.