Amsterdamse Bos, Netherlands
Hype is a strange thing. Over seven years, Dekmantel has become one of the most celebrated events in Europe, with a near-universal level of approval. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, every year the festival risks disappointment. When your reputation has been built on continuous evolution, how do you keep from stagnating after so much time? Is there really any way to evolve and improve further every twelve months?
In 2019 Dekmantel’s answer to these questions was an increased focus on live acts, of which there were plenty of expectation-shattering examples. The opening concerts, in particular, were stacked with a challenging array of artists rarely seen on competing festival bills. Where else would you find the king of wiggy synth-pop (Wally Badarou), live electro (Deena Abdelwahed), chaotic interstellar jazz (Comet is Coming) and doom-mongering pagan priests (Sunn O)))) on the same bill?
During the festival proper – the three days held in a large clearing in the heart of the Amsterdamse Bos – live acts were also a consistent source of surprise and delight. Marie Davidson’s slick set of muscular techno was a stand-out on the final day; her energy as she bounded about singing Work It channelling directly to those dancing among the foliage. Nitzer Ebb sent the same stage into even higher planes of rapture on Sunday. Their chuggy, chunky EBM and ecstatically snarling delivery on Getting Closer and Lightning Man prompting shared glances of incredulity throughout the room. Lotus Eaters, RAMZI, Galaxian and Jah Wobble all brought a live spark to the weekend, and boogie don Leroy Burgess’ set was a history lesson in groove.
With star-studded afterparties every night and panel discussions in the lead-up, there was plenty of auxiliary programming to ensure the most rounded festival experience possible, but all of this would have meant nothing if the basics weren’t done right. Again, Dekmantel excelled: soundsystems were weighty and well-tuned, bar queues practically non-existent, and each stage had its own character that felt both unique and perfectly aligned with the programming. Where else but the cavernous UFO stage for Blawan and Ben UFO’s b2b, with the former swatting away every curveball teed up by Ben UFO with more galloping techno? DJ Storm’s festival-closing set too, an onslaught of drum’n’bass (complete with MC for maximum throwback energy), would have felt out of place anywhere but UFO II’s dripping, neon hangar.
Outside on the mainstage, the sunshine seemed to elevate the love at two of the best sets all weekend. Octo Octa and Eris Drew shared a kiss before launching into their set of feelgood house bangers and classic hardcore on Saturday. Meanwhile, Carista had half the field wiping at the corners of their eyes when her mother rushed out to engulf her in a proud embrace at the end of her own masterclass in fairweather heat on Sunday.
If forced to pick just one standout moment, Batu’s closing set on Saturday – chopping and sliding through tempo with mind-boggling disregard for convention – would take some beating. But in truth the essence of what makes Dekmantel such a standout event is that everything mentioned here barely scratches the surface of its offerings; had we missed any of these moments there were three more that would have stayed in the memory for just as long. Seven years in, the festival remains at the forefront of its field, unmatched in scope, vision and perhaps most crucially, fun; it’s hard to imagine that changing any time soon.