A Basement, a Red Light District and a Feeling
Arriving in Amsterdam's Schipol airport, you can spy why the Dutch are so dominant when it comes to dance music and in particular DJ Mag's Top 100 DJs poll. Amongst adverts for perfume and other duty free goodies, electronic billboards proudly proclaim this year's annual Amsterdam Dance Awards (ADE). This is sponsored by Buma, the Dutch licensing authority – their equivalent of the MCPS - who take their job of promoting domestic artists seriously.
While in the UK electronic music comes with a history of being anti-state protest music, the soundtrack to social rebellion and a cause célèbre for tabloid drug hysteria, in liberal Holland it's a source of national pride that celebrates its ever growing list of big name exports.
This attitude of level-headed professionalism shines through at ADE and – along with the increasing number of parties that take place night and day amongst the cultural capital's waterways and tram routes – make it the deserved highlight of the dance music calender.
Indeed, if anything, this year's event is busier than ever, at times frustratingly so. While the most popular club nights are often one in one out, the ADE passes that supposedly get you into associated events normally next to useless compared to having guestlist or a ticket to a party, on our first day at the Dylan Hotel – which, alongside the neighbouring Felix, is host to most of ADE's talks and networking – it's a similar situation with the two talks we attend on our first, fresh Thursday in the city.
'The United States of EDM? When Money Meets Music', headed by Tommie Sunshine, couldn't be more zeitgeist, the New York times reporting on EDM as a worthy investment earlier in the year and other commentators labelling it the new dot com bubble, but the room is already at capacity by the time that we arrive, the bodies of standing punters pushed up against its glass walls.
Whether this point of over saturation will soon be reached in the US itself is a matter of debate, but Richie Hawtin and Loco Dice's 'CNTRL: Beyond EDM' appearance capitalises on what they see as the drip down effect of EDM to more underground sounds, fleshing out the aspirations of their recent edutational college tour which paired parties with talks. Sadly, it's a a similar story as we find out way barred at the entrance again but we manage to grab a few minutes with Richie alone in the light, airy press room on The Dylan's top floor.
“The name is on a number of levels,” says the savvy techno man, explaining that his presence is almost purely business this year and that he's been in bed by midnight each night. “The reason the more underground people have had any success and longevity in the last 20 years is because we've taken control of our careers. We've had our own labels, we do our own music with no producers or secret people behind us, so it's that control that's taken us to this level. It's also control, the idea that technology is what we use to give life to our ideas, our emotions, that come out through that technology into entertainment,” he adds, telling us that the mobile phone with its gyroscopic capabilities will be the next phase, the laptop becoming the modern day equivalent of the guitar.
“I think we're at a point now with this new EDM explosion in America where the initial rush is wearing off and people are starting to notice that there are a lot of similar things going on. Some people will get bored and perhaps move onto other things but I think there are a lot of people who will want to dig deeper and continue the exploration of electronic music that they've started in the last six months or year.”
The array of night time choice makes hopping from one venue to another the best way to soak up the true extent of ADE's breadth. At midnight we head to Air for All Gone Pete Tong, catching Eats Everything and Justin Martin playing back to back, Randomer's aggressive 'Freak Dub' smashing its way out of the speakers. With a multitiered dancefloor and impressive central lighting display hanging from the ceiling, looking out from the DJ booth gives an impressive view of the crowd getting impressively sweaty at this early hour.
Hooking up with Catz 'N Dogz (who introduce us to the trip's greatest culinary discovery, beef croquets from vending machines), we follow them to the Exploited Record party across town where they're playing at Het Sieraad. Looking like an old school, its many rooms and corridors are filled with oddities; a crashed bi-plane in a small back room, where dummies also hang from the ceiling, and vintage lamp posts on either side of the DJ booth in the main room, which sports palm trees and a stained glass window. The VIP room meanwhile has it's own Heineken tap to help yourself to.
Keeping it deep, Catz 'N Dogz rock out a seamless set of house before local duo Homework take to the stage. Taking time to explore further, we come across yet another room, this time lined with benches where pumping disco edits accompany the increasingly raucous behaviour but with some semblance of pacing ourselves we head for home, passing Yolanda Be Cool on their way in.
Friday night is DJ Mag's Top 100 DJs Poll awards party at the giant warehouse like Convention Factory. If you don't know who won by now, the chances are that you're not interested anyway, but after scoffing sushi on the boat ride there, indulging in more complimentary food and drink, and getting a free pair of Reebok trainers from the sponsors, we vote with our freshly clad feet and leave the mainly trance, mainly Dutch DJs – each seemingly with their own camera crew in tow - to do their big room thing in front of thousand of enraptured fans and seek out ADE's more niche elements instead.
Club Up might be on touristy road of steak houses and bars, but inside it's pumping to the sound of Paris label ClekClekBoom. With young producer French Fries on the decks, he drops a selection of ghetto-tech, bmore and other lewd, bass driven sounds to a front row that seems heavily weighted towards teenage girls. The rest of the crew around him, he's followed by Bambounou dropping techno cuts from his recently released debut album for Modeselektor's 50 Weapons, while we foolishly indulge in drinking vodka straight from the bottle. Cue a swift “Goodnight” then a long, lost walk, which culminates in a taxi ride back to our hotel.
The signs of fatigue always begin to show on people's faces by Saturday and we gather company to spend the early evening drinking restorative beers and eating more vending machine food which is strangely addictive, not the greatest menu for nursing yourself back to health but enough to steel us for the traditional final night of no sleep before the journey home. First stop for another brief visit is Air, Dusky – one of the success stories of 2012 – joined by George Fitzgerald. Deetron's remix of the latter's 'Every Inch' fills the place with warm bass as they groove out garage influenced house and techno to an early doors crowd that includes one half of The Lighthouse Family, now apparently a fan. After a brief slice of James Zabiela's typically exuberant performance which follows, we split for Get Physical.
Having started as the great pioneering label of what became known as electro house, the Berlin crew slightly lost their way during the minimal years, but their recent form has matched, if not exceeded, former glories. Assembling in Chicago Social Club, we enter to the sub-driven shuffle of ILGOT'N'GANE's 'Method II Madness' as Catz 'N Dogz play an almost entirely different set to their appearance a few days earlier. Label boss DJ T doesn't hold back in front of the jammed in crowd either, Timo Garcia & S.K.A.M.'s ice cool 'Dosado' capturing the spirit of his set.
The final tune is played and with it the sensible time to say goodbye to ADE. But such is the way when you're buoyed by good company and a succession of Dutch lagers, it's not. Instead the evening blurs into a hazy night and day of afterparties – electronic cigarettes smoked with Mr C, following Russ Yallop to someone's hotel room – reckless boasts of having never missed a flight, an urgent taxi ride thwarted by the marathon, then two missed flights and finally home via the night bus after the tubes have closed.
Amsterdam might have left us amsterdamaged, our own 'level-headed professionalism' left somewhere near Rembrandt Square, but it's only testament to how well the Dutch know how to host a party or few hundred.