I'm putting it out there: EasyJet is the most entertaining airline in the world. British Airways is far too square and punctual for anything unexpected to happen (the stinky shit that forced a BA plane to land in March was a golden moment, but an anomaly). Ryanair is far too cheap, nasty and perpetually tiring for anyone to get a full on rage going. But, EasyJet - with their waiting times, unexpected delays and wildly unorthodox queuing techniques - is just right for someone on the brink to go totally improv. At Gatwick's gate 45 I watched a guy with a floppy bleached blonde mohawk and an Underground Resistance t-shirt lose every single morsel of his shit. He was losing it because the woman on the desk had calmly told him that his hand luggage didn't fit in the right dimensions. So, he logically reacted by slamming it on the ground. Then harder. Now pounding his fists into it like a mad drunk king at a medieval banquet. Then he jumped, he jumped up and down on it for a bit, and the whole time his eyes were fixed on the completely unfazed woman at the desk. He showed her it, and she nodded, but it no longer looked like his luggage. It looked like something that was left in a George Foreman and forgotten.
Aside from that, the flight to the Netherlands was pretty uneventful. We were headed to Amsterdam for Dekmantel, a 5,000 cap festival on the outskirts of the city that only started three years ago but has quickly become the greatest house and techno festival ever created and that ever will be until the end of days. Dekmantel is like Fabric plus Glastonbury multiplied by the Christian concept of Heaven, squared. In fact, if God was a DJ, they wouldn't book him at Dekmantel, because he'd be too obvious — they'd bump him for Mano Le Tough and pay Mano way more. Right, that should get me a sizeable quote in the print program next year.
The quick thing you notice at Dekmantel is the state of the crowd. It's a really good crowd full of really nice people having really good times. None of those that wish you weren't there are there. The ones that perch their caps on their heads instead of wearing them. The ones that take their tops off way before anyone's said "taps aff", play Martin Garrix off their phone speakers, dance rigidly by the pool, and have devised some sort of "no carbs before marbs" bastardisation for wherever they are. Maybe it's because not much of this Dekmentel line up is what you'd hastily call "crowd pleasing" or maybe it's because all those cunts were still coming down from Tomorrowland.
For instance, one guy who wasn't what you'd call an atypical crowd pleaser was Manuel Gottsching. The erudite German was playing his vintage E2-E4 record in full at the Dekmantel opening party. That's the record which is one continuous hour long track, dines out on trance-inducing repetitiveness, and is named after a chess move. See what I just described there? That's a smorgasbord of things most people probably aren't really into. So to have that as your opening party was a big and bold statement.
The show was located away from the main festival site at Muziekgebouw, the type of fancy concert hall you'd expect to see Nico Muhly and the Britten Sinfonia play something with an interval and prosecco. The lighting was pretty awkward: dimmed but still quite bright, like when your mum switches the living room light off and puts all the lamps on to watch Silent Witness. You can imagine when Gottsching first made E2-E4 in the 80s, he was probably like some mad druid flailing around synthesisers, guitars, drum machines and jars full of eyeballs, but these days it's just Manuel, sat in a swivel chair — the whole thing simplified into a Macbook Pro, as he peered through spectacles, and occasionally rested his chin in his hand. So with that and the living room lights, even though the music felt complex and narcotic, it was a bit like we were seven hundred people just watching an oblivious old guy scan through Buzzfeed's "21 Things That Would Happen if Jamaicans Went to Hogwarts".
Autechre came on next, and they didn't fuck with the lighting. They cast the whole venue into complete darkness and opened a can of pneumatic synths, angular beats, strong arguments and abstract suggestions. The black dark and the nutty rhythms blended together to send your brain into overdrive, and I started to full on hallucinate. No other way to put that. It was great for an hour, like free drugs really, but when I saw a baby's face in the back of a bald guy's head I decided it was time to go outside.
There weren't any photos allowed at Dekmantel once we got onto the festival site, and we aren't allowed to run anything but official photos in our write up, so all the images you see are ones that were supplied to us by the powers that be. And the powers that be love shots of recognisable DJs staring at computers. That said, I'm not going to fire shots at a really well run independent festival with affordable ticket prices, a beautiful forest location, and a more than tidy line up just because they wouldn't let me take snaps of discarded kebabs with my Boots disposable. But I am going to describe a few things I totally would have photographed and put in this feature, if I could have.
On the second night, as we walked home after Juan Atkin's Model 500 robofunk roadshow, ten oppressive minutes in Joy Orbison, and four hours of Ben Klock into Marcel Dettmann, we encountered a young Australian guy. He was riding his bike, which is pretty standard in Amsterdam, but he was doing it the wrong way down a busy road whilst trying to smoke a cigarette, and when he saw me watching he decided to pull over for a chat. He said he'd lost all his friends and thought he'd been spiked, but he delivered this all with a wry smile. "You look like you're enjoying yourself though?" I said. "You could say that," he grinned, and then rode off into a cascade of beeping horns and swerving cars. I would have taken a photo of him and put it here.
Over the three days, we saw good things. Four Tet got the main stage pumping with a set that circled gleefully through genres like a streaker with a short leg, culminating in about twenty minutes of grime (the Dutch don't look like they know how to dance to grime yet, but Wiley's "Eskimo Riddim" provoked some jolty fist pumps, and an emotional spin of XTC's "Functions on the Low" closed the set with cries of "JA!"). Robert Hood went back to back with his daughter, Jeff Mills' light show looked like a red neon war zone, and Surgeon scared the shit out of everyone with a brutal 4am techno after party. In fact, everything was so consistently great at Dekmantel, I had to go searching for something horrendous just to balance it out. I thought I'd at least see a fight, someone pissing in a cup, or a gurner lighting the filter end of a cigarette. I saw all three of these things at Unknown in 2013, with the added repulsion of Clean Bandit! But the nastiest thing I could spot at Dekmantel was a pool of sick in the toilets. It was a pretty good pool though — one of those vomits you can't unsee, like snuff porn, or a YouTube video of a wisdom tooth being taken out.
On the Sunday, news slowly filtered into the festival that Cilla Black had died, and the mood was obviously somber. If there's anything ageing techno ravers liked more than coming up to Carl Craig, it was coming down to Blind Date. Still, it was completely lost on a lot of the younger attendees though. While standing at Dixon, I heard two girls in their early twenties discussing it.
"Cilla Black has died."
"Who was she?"
"From Blind Date."
"Who was she in Blind Date?"
Now, if I'd had my Boots disposable, I would totally have taken a photo of her face exactly when she said "Oh…"