NDSM Docklands

Describing the news cycles in the past few years as turbulent would be an understatement. And yet, though lockdowns may be over in some countries and masks no longer worn by many, the notion that the future remains uncertain still looms ahead; specifically, the future of the planet.

After a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, DGTL brought its Amsterdam edition back, staging it across the former shipyard NDSM Docklands. Its clean, litter-free site was a clear marker of the festival’s green mission, which was to pair raving with an environmentally-conscious mindset. Via its thorough, well thought out sustainability policy, DGTL Amsterdam is actively enacting the change it wishes to see in the world, marketing itself as the planet’s most sustainable electronic music festival.

The weekend began with a tour around the site, which was compact, easy to navigate and surrounded by glistening waters. No meat was present on the site this year, and recycle stations were dotted around the festival. The government will green-light events that are eco-friendly, the team revealed, and DGTL Amsterdam threaded this ethos throughout the site as much as they could. There was recycled seating, vegetarian food, signs detailing the scientific research that went into making each aspect of the festival recyclable or nutritious for the earth. The attention to detail was astounding, and I left the tour impressed with the festival’s proactive approach towards reducing the carbon footprint of thousands of people.

The tour ended with talk of a mysterious wellness experience on-site, and off we went to find it. After ascending a steep flight of steps, we entered a hazy room of dancing, massages, facial rollers and gold eye masks. Feeling sufficiently restored, we climbed higher to take in the views from above, observing a tightly-packed greenhouse-like venue below, the strong afternoon light filtering through the glass to illuminate the throng of dancers.

Down we went to rejoin the festival, making our way past the picturesque greenhouse stages to the darker, more enclosed Gain venue, which featured a circular booth in the centre of the room. There, Mala took over the soundsystem for over an hour of heavy bassweight, working his way through the smoky dubstep of Glume & Phossa (Ruins), the sinister bassy mutations of Mistah’s Forge and the apocalyptic Homeland by Cartridge. By the end of the set, the crowd were lurching forwards to the pulse of Mala’s selections, hooked onto the reload and hanging onto each blend in a frenzied anticipation; Mala shaking his braids as the room reached fever pitch.

Next, we went for a tour around the site, clocking the Bar De Luc activation that was a cube-shaped venue with recycled water running down the sides. Though the NDSM Docklands is compact, there were three main indoor areas linked together that made for an impressive space to get lost in for hours. On the left, you had minimal techno from Craig Richards and Nicolas Lutz. Walking on, the cavernous area was lit by suspended, twisted shapes that spun beneath neon lights and around a corner was KI/KI headlining a gigantic, tunnelistic space that stretched beyond where we could see. We took a detour to see the Zenker Brothers, where the buoyant ghetto house of DJ Deeon (The 604) could be heard; Dario Zenker on the decks as Marco smoked cigarettes beside him, the two trading spliced up broken beats as the night wore on. Needing rest, we headed out where revellers cycled past us, the festival surrounded by construction and the stillness of empty blocks of new flats.

Programming for the second and final day of DGTL Amsterdam started early. As the sun beat down, this sadly left for sparse crowds at most stages as they were all indoors. DJ Python couldn’t make it to the event, and we headed to watch Anz. Emotion is Equal to Life by Till Van Der Meid was played out to a small selection of dancers before cries rang out to the sprightly intro to the producer’s 2021 hit You Could Be featuring vocalist George Riley. Anz could be seen grinning throughout her entire set, bouncing to Pieces by Blackboxx or Nicola Cruz (Vai Sentir); waving a fan to her own track Helps Your Two Hips Move. A much larger crowd could be found where Overmono were playing, the gradual crescendo of their remix of I Have a Love feeling close to those life-affirming moments you experience at a festival. The evocative remix of the For Those I Love track was well-received, and segued into Overmono’s Gunk. The day continued to pick up more at VTSS, who raced the crowd through a no-holds-barred set of techno and hardcore, zooming through the analogue jam General Data Standard by Sync 24 x Privacy, and hardstyle track Black Winter by Bass Agents.

Octo Octa provided a brighter change from the darker, more rugged techno of VTSS’ set, flipping through vinyls whilst Armand Van Helden’s edit of The Bomb (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind) played out to a tightly-packed, humid greenhouse; sunlight streaming in. Later in the night, everyone’s favourite jokester Moodymann could be seen taking selfies and goofing around to Maceo Plex’s Mutant DX.

We ended the festival with Shanti Celeste, who freewheeled through a vibrant, colourful set; bouncing to the soaring vocals of Duke’s So in Love With You and feel-good 90s classic Morning by Direct 2 Disc. It was an undeniably fun set to round out DGTL Amsterdam with, as we danced to the glossy pop of ATC’s My Heart Beat Like a Drum. Of course, after the music, we had to finish the Easter weekend with the festival’s offerings of vegetarian food, winding down with meat-free hotdogs. The festival, at that point in time, had still managed to stay so clean; the recycle stations still staffed and open. Did this make raving lose its gritty edge? No, it didn’t. DGTL Amsterdam managed to balance the hedonism of raving with a conscious attitude, whilst maintaining an eco-friendly site with picturesque stages (note: there seemed to be a lot of influencers on site). It was a sun-drenched pleasant weekend with some of the most in-demand DJs booked for the line-up. As we walked out, we weren’t ankle-deep in plastic cups or trash. Perhaps this was another new kind of normal, an example for festivals to follow.