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Amsterdam’s Most Legendary Clubs

A history of the venues that shaped nightlife in the Dutch capital, as told by their residents.
October 13, 2014, 9:00pm
Foto: Marco Okhuizen

_This week, we're going deep at Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE). But before we do, let's take a look at the city's rich nightlife history. Amsterdam has been playing a vital role in electronic music since the late eighties. Housing some of the best deejays, producers and clubs in the world, the city's nightlife gained international fame and notoriety as one of Europe's most amazing clubscenes. We've mapped out the most legendary of Amsterdam's nocturnal landmarks, and asked the residents to share their personal party folklore with us. _

iT (1989-2004)

**Right off Rembrandtsquare – the same spot where club AIR is now situated, once stood the most influential gay disco of Europe. iT was one of Holland's seminal house clubs and was a wild and colorful place by all accounts. DJ Jean was its resident from the first year of its existence until now. **

 DJ Jean: 'There were two clubs in Amsterdam in the beginning where you could hear house music on a regular base:  RoXY and iT. The first couple of times I played at iT, the place was completely empty. The only guys around were the owner Manfred Langer and his friends, who were shooting hoops on the dancefloor. But eventually, things blew up and iT became the  place to be.

 'The atmosphere in the early nineties was so open… anything was possible. The presence of all those transvestites and  transsexuals always caused amusing scenes. When word got around in Holland about the debauchery in iT and the out of towners started coming in, you'd see many of them hooking up with what they thought was a hot babe – only to find out she was a he after making out whole night.

'As a dj, I was considered not only to provide the music, but to control the vibe in the broadest sense of the word. On gay nights, if Manfred found the atmosphere too stale, he'd say: "Time for some gezelligheid [Dutch word for cosiness]." Which was my cue for climbing up and filling the smoke machine with poppers. As you can imagine, the whole place would go crazy. An act like that is unimaginable in today's clubscene.'

RoXY (1987-1999)

Photo: Dennis Bouman

A stone's throw away from the Munt-tower once lay the cradle of Dutch dance music as we know it. In its twelve years existence, RoXY made an impact still noticeable in today's clubscene. It's also the place where Isis started her dj carreer.

'Moreover, it was the only place in Amsterdam where you could walk around as a woman and not be harrassed. There was a strict door policy, but inside was a uniquely safe and free environment, in which anyone could express themselves freely – gays, fashionistas, alternatives. Even completely naked people weren't frowned upon.

'The one dj that made the RoXY stand out for me was Dimitri. In those days he was ranked among the best jocks in the world, and rightfully so. He was also the one who gave me an opening spot, which marked the beginning of my residency. The years that followed were some of the best years of my life.

'By the time RoXY burned down in 1999, it had lost some of its magic. The fire was a big drama in Dutch house history, but in my opinion, it was the theatrical ending its founder Peter Gielen (RIP) would have wished for.'

Melkweg (1970-...)

Photo: Per

Melkweg on Lijnbaansgracht is one of Amsterdam's oldest music venues. It was also the first concert hall to program house music on a regular basis. DJ Per deserves the credit for making this happen. As a resident on Saturday, he put Melkweg on the map as a dance music location.

 'When I started introducing more experimental music styles like hip hop during my regular Saturday night slot at Melkweg, visitors  were not amused. Resistance against these unfamiliar sounds was so fierce, regulars put up a survey to have me fired. But luckily the programmers supported me and the crowd grew accustomed to my taste.

'In the late eighties, I started playing mostly new beat and acid house. The only other place where you could hear this was RoXY, which had a strict door policy. Melkweg as a subsidized concert hall didn't, so anyone who enjoyed house music but wasn't part of the inner city elite, ended up at my night.

'As you can imagine, this grew totally out of hand when house exploded in '88/'89. In stead of people voting me off, suddenly there were four-hundred crazed househeads already chanting 'Per, Per, Per!' before the evening band was finished. Melkweg was also the first Amsterdam venue where everyone, including the working class clubbers, could listen to the harder house styles. It was in fact the very first place where the word gabber (Amsterdam streetslang for homie) became associated with hardcore.'

Paradiso (1968-...)

Photo: Ali Mousavi

Paradiso, right off Leidsesquare, is commonly refered to as The Poptemple. All the great bands have played in this modified church building over the last forty years. Quazar's Gert van Veen was the first to organize a regular house night there, after a legendary first performance in 1991.

'So many people turned up, Paradiso was completely sold out and people went mad. I'll never forget the magic of that night. When the lights went on at five in the morning and everyone poured into the streets, some guy pulled up his car right in front of the venue, speakers blasting. Hundreds of people kept on dancing right there on the Leidseplein, even attracting the attention of the famous Dutch bohemian singer Ramses Shaffy (a famous Dutch chanson singer). Obviously drunk off his tits, he raved with us for another two hours.

'That was a very important night for me. Thanks to Atmosphere we ended up throwing the first Welcome to the Future parties in Paradiso, breaking artists like Underworld to the Dutch crowds.'

Elementenstraat (1991-1992, reopened in 2014)

Somewhere near the harbour – it just re-opened as the Warehouse – lies one of Holland's seminal hardcore venues. Multigroove's Elementenstraat warehouse wasn't an official club, but would prove essential for the development of Holland's harder dance styles. The police brutally raided the place after a year and a half, the one night resident Dano happened to call in sick.

  'Multigroove was a great organization to play for. They always came up with the craziest illegal locations: just find deserted warehouses and squat them. That's exactly what happened with the Focus hangar on Elementenstraat, which would become the stage for a year and a half of some of the craziest parties I've seen.

'The place was amazing, because there was room to experiment. You could put on a slow track that became extremely fast in the  middle, and the crowd would still go mental. Elementenstraat was the first place where some of us started playing house music in third gear, paving the way for what later became hardcore and terror.

'Of course there were a lot of drugs being dealt, so the police thought we were some kind of criminal organization. They had been conducting a large undercover operation, codename 'ponytail' ('cause most of the Multigroove guys had long hair). The one night I called in sick and asked Flamman and Abraxas [Fierce Ruling Diva] to fill in, the whole place was raided by about two hundred special forces. Even the dj's were arrested with bags over their heads… just because they were having some fun.'

Mazzo (1983-2004)

Photo: Huybert van der Stadt

Up until the closing in 2004, Mazzo on Rozengracht held the record for oldest club of Amsterdam. Starting off as the type of place where you could spot bandmembers of Depeche Mode, The Cure and U2, during the nineties Mazzo turned raw and techno. Bart Skils remembers the club as extraordinary – and so were the bouncers.

 'Mazzo was a great club for many years. From the very beginning, when you could see groups like Public Enemy perform, it was  known as the most important underground club of Amsterdam. When I started going out there in the nineties, it was the place in town to hear techno. Later I organized my own Thursdaynights there called Voltt.

'At some point – it must have been 2002 – Mazzo decided to quit techno because they thought 'black music' would draw in better crowds. That was really the beginning of the end in my opinion. From one week to the next the switch was made, but not before  we threw a last legendary party.

'In the morning, a tired and agitated bouncer came in to stop the sound. He rudely scratched the needle off the record. What he didn't know, was that my mixer was supplied with a sample function. So when the music just kept on going and going, he went totally mad and started hitting people. Mazzo was weird like that. The bouncers were bad news. But they were so scary, not even the management dared to fuck around with them.'

Gashouder (1993-...)

Photo: Dennis Bouman

The Gashouder was of great importance to Amsterdam's party scene. Built as a gas reserve in the 19th Century, the contours of this immense round structure have techno written all over them. It gained fame as a party venue in the late nineties, when the first Awakenings events were held there. Since then it has seen many memorable techno parties, one of which Eric de Man recalls in particular.

  'The Gashouder has that big rave feel to it. Somehow you always end up getting lost inside, even though it's a perfectly round structure. In the late nineties, you had certain spots where soundwaves came bouncing off the wall, creating this blurry cacophony of beats and drumsounds. Then the smoke machine would start blasting, psshhhhht! And just around the time you thought you lost yourself and all your friends, you found them standing right next to you.

'The Gashouder is one of the most important venues for techno in the world. If you're doing anything in that style of music, playing there is the summit. I remember the night I had to close off after Jeff Mills. He had ordered a set of monitor speakers that would normally cater for an entire club. The sound was so loud, it was scary. But the crowd was extremely energetic – most ravers were in those days.

'It's funny though: the one picture that remains of this particular gig shows five thousand people going bezerk, but this one guy in the front row wearing a neongreen shirt and looking at his watch, probably saying to himself: "My God, how long is this gonna go on?!"'

11 (2004-2008)

_Photo: Merlijn Hoek _

When 11 opened its doors, Amsterdam's nightlife was in great need of something fresh. The restaurant slash club on the eleventh floor of the city's old postal building catered for a new generation of musicians and clubbers. This was the place where Dutch minimalism would flourish. But also the cradle of the electro sounds played by Joost van Bellen.

  '11 was the first club in Amsterdam established in a postwar industrial building with very little means. Before that, clubs always had to be beautiful. But in 11 most of the scenery was left its raw self, giving it an almost Berlinesque industrial feel. Most people at the time thought nightlife was over after RoXY, iT and Mazzo had closed down. But 11 proved them wrong.

'What I remember most of our monthly Rauw nights is the synergy of the music, the huge visual screens, the view of the city and the buzzing of the crowd. The trashy environment of 11 was a perfect setting for bands like Whitey, who fused rock 'n roll with the electronic. But the most amazing moment was when DJ's Are Not Rockstars were playing and a major thunder storm outside caused a blackout in the club. The only thing still working was the soundsystem, so the dj's kept on playing and playing. The ongoing lightening provided the best lightshow you could imagine.

'Yeah, it was an amazing place and time, but times have changed. The Bush administration and the war in Iraq enticed a certain edginess. But the crisis of today calls for more warmth – no more stagediving, but grouphugs and human pyramids!'

Paradiso, Melkweg, Gashouder and Elementenstraat are still open, also for ADE. Next time you visit them, take a moment to think about the rave history of these places, and all of the party generations who were raving there before you. Aron Friedman is the Editor for THUMP in the Netherlands, and he also spins records. Follow him on Facebook.