As soon as you enter Amsterdamse Bos – the expansive national park at the South-Western edge of Amsterdam city centre, it’s easy to see why Dekmantel has sold out every year.
The festival is compact, tidy, beautifully constructed and, most importantly, houses a number of monolithic Funktion One soundsystems unfettered by decibel ceilings. This means that whatever time of day, however hard the sun is shining, however dark and heavy the music, however long you’ve been up, there’s little choice but to get down to the expertly curated selection of DJs and live performers over the three long days and nights that make up the festival weekend.
Before the festival starts proper however, we’re treated to an impossibly rare performance of Manuel Göttshing’s seminal proto-house anthem E2-E4. Named after the popular opening chess move, it proves to be a popular opening move for Dekmantel too – the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ concert hall is very much sold out when we arrive at the clear and breezy shores of Amsterdam’s waterfront. Like chess however, it proves to be a long, mesmerising and often tedious thing to witness, with Göttshing sat on stage clicking away at his laptop while that classic, effervescent loop tumbles around the expansive hall. Intermittent keyboard and guitar noodles bring bouts of interest, but it’s a performance that proves a confusing thing to perform in a live setting. The following pummeling from Autechre makes more sense – after plunging the room into complete darkness (and putting up signs asking people not to leave for the duration), they assault more than one of our heightened senses with pure, glitching, heaving sound. Rhythms manifest and disintegrate in seconds, melodies dissolve half-formed, and unheard-of sounds warp around the void. These two acts, which at first seem to represent the polar opposites of the electronic music spectrum, in fact share a common desire to simultaneously celebrate both the micro and macro aspects the form. Whether it was an entirely successful meeting of minds is up for debate however.
The following day as we arrive on site for the first time, we’re snapped rudely into life by Shed, Berlin’s resident breakbeat-mangling genius. Performing live in the expansive UFO tent, he tears the place to shreds with his trademark blend of Bagleys euphoria and Berghain wallop. While nary a smile was shed on stage, a swarm of people decided to most certainly ‘av it at 2pm on a lovely Friday afternoon, proving to be a good sign of things to come.
The rest of the day was spent getting our bearings, sampling many glasses of Weissbeir and witnessing superb sets from IRL bezzie mates Call Super and Objekt over in the cosy confines of the Boiler Room stage. Both rattled through hi-NRG, good vibes house and techno, while Objekt’s opening record – which we later discovered was a forthcoming bit from A Made Up Sound, provided one of the more out-there, ear-opening experiences of the weekend.
This year, Dekmantel By Night has been expanded to become arguably as important as the day portion of the weekend. Taking place in the warren-like expanse of the multi-purpose Melkweg center, the Friday night saw a rare back-to-back set from Tessela and Untold – two of the UK’s most forward-thinking producers. Taking over the cavernous Rabozaal room for two peak-time hours, they presented a focused selection that drew from the weirder edges of techno and experimental club music. Following them in the more intimate Oude Zaal room downstairs was the pairing of Spencer and Tasker, who took a more wide-ranging approach to selection, dropping everything from recent Number’s belter Pantalón by Kornél Kovács, to EBM and electro heaters.
Saturday felt like the weakest line-up of the day, but even then, witnessing killer sets from Anthony Naples, Palms Trax, Shackleton, Thomas Martojo, DVS1 and The Wizard (you know, Jeff Mills) makes that seem like quite an absurd statement to make. Martojo proved to be the surprise standout, as the Dekmantel founder delivered a speedy, tight and insanely fun set under the sweltering roof of the Boiler Room stage that had everyone vibing out of their tiny little minds.
Saturday’s By Night was filled-out entirely by the inspired pairing of Livity Sound boss Peverelist and Dave Huismans aka A Made Up Sound (aka 2562), as they took over the Resident Advisor curated Theatre for a five hour all-nighter. The extended set meant they spread out the inevitably enviable selection of bangers (Pev’s tripping remix of Hodge’s Amor Fati being a notable highlight) with some deeper than deep cuts before closing the session with a belting 45-minute run through proto-hardcore history that concluded in the absurd, Francis Lai sampling Lighter by Sound Of The Future.
Sunday was an absolute heater, and as the temperatures tickled the 30c mark it was a pleasant coincidence that almost all the music we wanted to see was taking place at The Lab – the Red Bull sponsored greenhouse-stage overrun by tropical foliage. There we watched the place get absolutely laid to waste by the heavyweight run of Minimal Wave’s Veronica Vasika, Actress, Helena Hauff and the Hessle Audio trio of Pangaea, Pearson Sound and Ben UFO.
Hessle’s closing three hours proved to be arguably the most enjoyable set of the weekend, ripping through a +130bpm workout of fruity house bangers and off-kilter techno. As Pev and A Made Up Sound did the previous night, the music took a turn towards the spirit of 90s rave in it’s final moments as Pearson Sound dropped Gramrcy’s recent homage to the sound in Ruffian, and more explicitly so as Pangaea provided the final tune of the day with the Reinforced classic Feel Real Good.
The final stint at Melkweg saw Paranoid London camp it up to the max with their live acid show, before diving in to a three and a half hour education from Tama Sumo and Prosumer. We left to the jubilant sounds of the Dekmantel Soundsystem boys going at it deep into the morning.
From all accounts, this year’s edition of the ascendent festival was the best yet, and it’s easy to see how in such a short period it’s become regarded as one of the essential destinations for those who appreciate the finer things in electronic music. In a world of seemingly endless dance music festivals, Dekmantel has once again proved itself as one of the finest in the game.