This article was originally published on THUMP Netherlands. All photos by Bart Heemskerk.
Dekmantel isn't the best festival for the music connoisseur who wants to take in full sets from as many artists as possible. There are simply too many good things happening simultaneously at the Netherlands festival that just took place August 4-7 in a picturesque forest outside Amsterdam. While you're dancing to Matrixxman, you know that you'll probably miss Donato Dozzy's opening track. And if you want to see DJ Koze, you won't be able to make an on-camera appearance at Ben Klock's Boiler Room set. If you want to hear Randomer's latest track and then head on to Call Super, when in in the hell will you be able to eat? You certainly won't make it to Motor City Drum Ensemble's closing track on an empty stomach. I think you get my point: you'll always miss more than you'll be able to see. After spending two hours on the festival grounds, it was clear that no other Dutch festival (or perhaps any in the world) has managed to book so many relevant names from every corner of the dance world, and present them throughout such a diverse and tasteful program. Luckily for you all, I tried my best to soak in many of the event's most intriguing acts, as well as some of the unique happenings provided by Dekmantel's devoted clientele.
At around 3PM on Friday afternoon, I spot a guy with a curly head of hair awfully close to the speaker of the UFO-tent, leaning directly against the fence. His girlfriend is watching him from about thirty feet away, with a faint smile on her face. She seems to be considering the fact that he might soon be completely deaf. Throughout the weekend, I see the same guy popping up in different places, always hanging out around the speaker, with his girlfriend watching him from a safe distance. On that Friday afternoon, the couple has arrived early to see Ben Frost, the Australian producer who tries to break skulls with his icy noise landscapes and terrifying growls. As usual, he plays a thrilling set, but it isn't very different from the ones he has been playing for years. I later find Helena Hauff and DJ Stingray's B2B in that same tent far more interesting: he's wearing a balaclava, while she is stylishly dressed in all black. Together they play a mix of techno and acid at the ridiculously 140 BPM pace, and the chemistry going on between the two of them is applaudable. When Stingray moves brings it up to around 150 BPM, Hauff smiles confusedly. "How am I ever going to adapt to this?" her gaze suggests.
Theo Parrish and Marcellus Pittman share the same kind of chemistry a bit later, between the trees of the fairy-like Selectors stage. They make up half of the Detroit-based group 3 Chairs, and Moodymann, another member of the group, soon appears at the stage to high-five his friends and musical colleagues. While Parrish and Pittman might not be able to keep everyone's attention throughout their full five-hour marathon, it's great to see how Parrish, with his fluffy beard and broad smile, fooling around with Pittman, who is playing some slow-burning soul music. I even see Parrish lick the tip of his finger before he goes on to spin a record—pure class. Together, the two veterans embark on a journey from afrobeat, to fuzzy funk rock, electro funk, and deep Detroit techno.
ESG, the post-punk group that emerged from the Bronx in the 80s, are even more charming. Their music has been sampled by everyone from J Dilla to Notorious B.I.G. over the years, and it's clear they're not as young as they used to be. Fortunately, the singer still has that soulful, raspy voice, and it soars over the bass, drums, and congas.
The next day, the b2b2b2b of Mood Hut's Canadian disco-tape duo Pender Street Peppers and America's Beautiful Swimmers provide some of the weekend's biggest smiles. They're performing as if they're four friends throwing a house party—chatting and giving each other friendly pats on the back. One of them is enjoying the record he just put on so much, he's nodding his head almost violently. Another is dancing hard as hell while screaming along to the sultry disco, Italo, and electro funk being played at the top of his lungs. While doing all of this, the guys portray a chemistry that's not only fun to dance to, but also fun to watch.
The second day is characterized by weirdos, like 52-year-old electro madman, Egyptian Lover, who plays an insanely eclectic set, cutting up old records and showing off his rehearsed dance routines. The two elder enthusiasts of AUX-88—who wearing their white dust-coats look like a pair of crazy scientists—are rapping over their own electro, using a vocoder. Although the music sounds a little dated, their energy is contagious either way. Meanwhile, Japanese DJ Nobu is dancing to his own brand of darkened techno. He seems to be enjoying some sort of cosmic rhythm that only he can hear. It's all very disorienting, but still awesome nonetheless.
Back in the dark UFO tent, I watch Objekt, a pale guy who doesn't seem to care about the rules of techno any more than Nobu does. He mixes an explosive track with a bizarre saxophone record and honey-sweet vocal sample, before combing acid records with tambourine music and a brutal, slow dub record. He keeps his face down, focused. He's the kind of guy you wouldn't be able to recognize in the street the next day, even though you have been staring at him for two full hours. Regardless, his set sounds delightfully fresh.
Two days have come and gone and it's finally Sunday, the festival's last day. On the main stage, Africaine 808 mixes up comical percussion sounds, pianos, whistles, and beats that are just a tad too cheesy for my liking. Beside me, two guys in harem pants and glitter faces seem to be enjoying it enough for the lot of us.
Fatima Yamaha, whose career was partially revitalized by the Dekmaneal's own re-release of his track "What's a Girl To Do?" seems to be doing a better job. His set sounds super fresh, with melancholic, gloomy chords colliding with equally sad melodies. He jams on his synthesizer, offering what sounds like double guitar solos, over P-Funk bass lines. Every now and then, he teases his audience by pausing the music, waiting for an applause. Obviously, everyone puts his or her hands into the air as soon the intro to his most notable track soars out of the speakers. The eleven-year-old anthem still feels as relevant as ever.
Meanwhile, DJ Koze's grand finale set has begun. The Pampa label owner plays tracks as light as a feather, all of which seem to float away on little clouds of MDMA, during the first half of his set. The last few hours of Dekmantel are dominated by Berlin-based Ben Klock's techno, Digital Mystikz's abstract dubstep, and an eclectic disco set played by Motor City Drum Ensemble. I choose to go for the last option. Motor City Drum Ensemble mixes kind of like your average hip-hop DJ: no transitions, hopping straight from one track to the other. From obscure African boogie to a classic house, techno, and reggae, his set is as kaleidoscopic as the festival itself. Complete strangers put their arms around my shoulder, two men euphorically climb onto poles, while everyone's hands are raised one final time.
When you finally arrive home after the festival, there's no doubt you feel like shit. You also realize that you have missed much more than you could ever have possibly seen. And there still are so many unanswered questions. Like, does that guy with the curly hair still have eardrums?