2015 marked 20 years of the Amsterdam Dance Event. When it first started less than 300 people attended and just one club was involved, now it is a multinational event with over 300,000 delegates on its books and a mind-boggling number of club events connected to it. While on the ground in Amsterdam THUMP caught up with some of Holland's biggest stars, new and old, to talk about the influence ADE has had on them and their home nation…
Holland's long-standing support and encouragement of dance music culture has served the country's electronic music scene well. Some of the world's biggest commercial DJs are from The Netherlands; Armin Van Buuren, Hardwell, Afrojack, Martin Garrix, Tiesto, Ferry Corsten… the list is long and hugely impressive. That's before we even get started on the underground, from Jaydee, whose "Plastic Dreams" is one of techno's all-time classics, up to contemporary movers and shakers such as Tom Trago, William Kouam Djoko, Mees Dierdorp, Boris Werner and the wildman himself San Proper. Generation after generation has flourished in Holland's progressive ecosystem, developing at a rate of knots and remaining stable and strong throughout any kind of 'recession' within dance music culture.
ADE rose out of this permissive environment, launching in 1995, when very few electronic music conferences existed and the culture was rarely taken very seriously by any kind of authoritarian establishment in the UK, or anywhere else in the world, besides Holland and Germany. DJ Jean, one of the nation's longest serving and most prolific selectors, told THUMP, "The Dutch were pioneers in the house scene, not that it was invented here but we were one of the first nations to have a real big scene. That's why we've got this advantage over other countries; like the eastern bloc, like the US, who only just woke up five years ago."
"Here it all started 10 or 15 years earlier, it was very important time where we formed a very strong base — all the hype around the Dutch DJs now, is thanks to that period," he went on to say. "With things like ADE, all the big festivals and club events back then, we were the first to really make this thing professional and that's why the Dutch DJs and organisations are such a worldwide phenomenon."
Johan Gielen, another old hand who was born in Belgium but became a star in Holland, added, "Over the years we've produced some really good DJs here and Holland has been on the map for a long while now. Before all of this we had to go to Cannes, to WMC… but ADE has become a key player."
The influence of ADE on The Netherlands and its fertile electronic music industry is unrivalled. In 20 years the ever-growing influx of foreign visitors has led to creative relationships and partnerships that have pushed the national and international scene forward and helped international superstars to reach the highest of heights.
It may be hard to believe, but DJ Mag Top 100 winner Hardwell was handing out free CDs to people at ADE before he made it big on the international EDM circuit. We sat down for a quick chinwag with the man who has 13 million followers across his social media channels and found him to be a proper little sweetheart. Through an indelible smile he told us, "I definitely think ADE has helped me progress in my career. The first time I went to Amsterdam Dance Event was nine years ago, I was one of those kids in the streets with his CD promoting his stuff to other DJs and label owners. It's all about meeting people and having a chat."
Reinforcing the point made by his forefathers, DJ Jean and Johan Gielen, Hardwell was keen to highlight the strength of dance music culture in his home nation, "People in Holland always embrace dance music, there's no other country that has been so supportive of dance music… One of the reasons it happens in Amsterdam is because of the strong dance music culture in Holland. We've had a thriving club culture here since the eighties and that's how it started, we've always been into dance music. The English too, but there was never a big conference to bring everyone together, it was more underground. Amsterdam Dance Event definitely helped to push everything to another level," he said.
Each year what puts ADE above most of the other conferences THUMP has attended is the fact that everyone there really wants to knuckle down and do business. Yes, it may be the antithesis of the 'doing it for the love' ethos this culture is built on, but this is a business now, a fully fledged billion dollar industry, so it's important to keep everything as professional as possible. At Amsterdam Dance Event we party, but we also arrange meetings so we deal with our associates face to face. It's a crucial part of a working relationship to have some real-life 'face time'. And underground rudeboy William Kouam Djoko counts this among one of the catalysts behind his recent upwards trajectory. "Things get done here. Things get done at ADE. As opposed to Sonar, or Winter Music Conference or BPM in Mexico — they're all fantastic 100%, but in Holland at this time of year the weather is not fantastic so you're not gonna hang out on the beach and chill. You're cold, you wanna get things done and that has a huge on our scene, the Dutch scene and the international scene," he stated, in his typically buoyant enthusiastic manner. One of the most jovial and energetic members of Holland's younger generation of artists, William has had releases on mobilee, Leftroom, Tuskegee and Dutch labels Rush Hour, Soweso and Voyage Direct among others. He continued, "This is the first year I've partaken in the day programme. I usually do the nights and you get a lot of things done, either in clubs or being on the streets. You're backstage at shady hours with shady people doing shady things, doing business talks. You get booked after ADE through having conversations here."
This 'real-life' interaction and communication came through as one the main selling points of ADE with all of our interview subjects. Garrix told us, "People from Holland get access to people they might not normally meet. On Friday I'm doing a Q&A where I'll be taking people's promos and listening to them and giving them feedback. It's way more personal, people can see you, chat, hear your story and be inspired. It was the same for me when I was coming here, my experience here motivated me and gave me a lot of knowledge."
Even DJ Jean, who lamented the whole conference set up to THUMP and griped throughout the Dutch legends panel with fellow countrymen Jaydee, Ton TB and Johan Gielen, admitted that Amsterdam Dance Event facilitates good business relationships. "This year is 20 years of Amsterdam Dance Event and, in that time, I've probably been here four times so it hasn't influenced my career at all. But I realised over the years that networking has become more and more important. Digitally-speaking, the world is becoming smaller and smaller – instead of communicating digitally, people can come here and work things out in person. It's very important, but for me it's less important, to be honest I don't give a fuck," he vented.
A point echoed by Johan, "As many people say, it's crucial to meet in person to speak about things, especially business and ADE is without a doubt the main gathering for electronic music every year."
For the Dutch artists, and international faces, ADE can also be a good barometer of their progress. A DJ may throw a small party at a little-known club during the conference one year, and two years later be headlining at one of the bigger venues. Much as it may be in Ibiza, but this is a once a year period where you can really gauge your standing within the industry, especially when you get that golden ticket to appear on stage to contribute to a panel, or even a keynote interview. This year there were pioneers like Juan Atkins, Robert Hood and Jeff Mills on that hallowed stage together with Seth Troxler, Nicky Romero, The Black Madonna and a myriad other talented artists, new and old.
William Kouam DJoko couldn't contain himself as he explained that this year was his first panel appearance. At ADE 2015, he'd truly arrived, "I did my first panel discussion this year. For me that's a marker of where I'm at in my career. I'm the guy on the stage, being 31, grey hairs on my head – people are looking up to me like, "Hey mister, can I ask you a question?". It's a good indication I'm doing something right, and that's really important for me – ADE is a good measure every year to see how developed I am."
And for the ultimate demonstration of ADE's influence, we leave it to 'conference hater' DJ Jean, who begrudgingly told us, he too is now a regular at ADE, saying, "It's very strange to say but I'm a convention hater. I've lived here in Amsterdam for 20 years and the only times I've been to a convention are when I've played. When I haven't played at any of them, I haven't gone because of the talking all day…
"I'm a creature of the night and conventions are all about the daytime. I have to get out of bed at 9 or 10 in the morning and do all these agreements, all this talking – not that I hate talking, but it's the daytime that kills me. I'm used to the 24/7 life, going to bed 7 days a week between 4 and 6 in the morning and getting up after 12. So this convention stuff, there's really nothing for me. However, for the last two or three years I've been getting into it."
Need we say any more?
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