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Dekmantel Festival: In Review

Dekmantel Festival In Review
The Amsterdam collective’s second annual festival is assessed by James Manning and Tony Poland.

Approximately three times the size of New York’s Central Park, Amsterdam Bos is just far enough from the city centre to get there by bicycle, and it’s these luscious woodlands that played host again to Dekmantel Festival. Still riding on the success of its debut year, and with the sparse surroundings on offer, it’s pleasing to see the Dutch event almost double its size for 2014. Bringing each ten hour day to a close were artists like DJ Harvey, Optimo, Jeff Mills and Traxx, followed by mass two-wheeled scenes of exodus more familiar with the daily traffic of Vietnam than Amsterdam.

With the very real chance of a torrential down pour threatening to cancel day two (Dekmantel founder Thomas Martojo revealed to us backstage they were two minutes away from shutting down proceedings) the festival was instead drenched in warm sunshine. This made for relaxed, backyard BBQ vibes powered by a tightly rigged sound system at The Woods stage. Here, 3 Chairs became six when Kyle Hall and Jay Daniel’s B2B set was cancelled due to the aforementioned weather concerns, and the pair joined Marcellus Pittman, Rick Wilhite, Theo Parrish and Moodymann for the next six hours.

Big don Parrish made himself known on the decks by flooding The Woods with too much bass – or no bass at all – reacting two different sets of smiles from Hall and The Godson Wilhite. During one beat mix Parrish kept his head lowered and hidden to the crowd by his snapback cap, and working the EQs like he does, timed the moment to reveal his gleaming, teethy grin and trademark head-swivels on point to the track’s disco and vocal hook.

RBMA alumnus Braiden opened The Woods on Friday with a refreshing set of disco old and new, with Cottam’s extended thick set edit of Bola Johnson’s “Lagos Sisi” blasting out as we arrived. It was a pleasure to see this accomplished DJ run through music you might not catch from him in the club, though he did occasionally expertly filter off into house music territory. Of everyone to play The Woods it was Inga Copeland’s solo set – Martyn was nowhere to be seen for the duo’s collaborative live performance scheduled to debut at Dekmantel – that turned to more atonal, hard techno and broken dub sounds, making for a pleasant and stark contrast to laid back and summery vibes of Mood Hut and Young Marco.

Given how much coverage the Vancouver-based Mood Hut collective have rightfully demanded on Juno Plus over the past year or so it was only natural we’d want to check out their representatives at Dekmantel. There were plenty of good sonic omens as you approached any of the five stages over the weekend, but few topped the sounds of Maurice Fulton’s classic Syclops production “Where’s Jason K?” that snapped out of the speakers on the Woods Stage as we ambled over to catch Pender Street Steppers sharing decks with the Hashman Deejay. Following this was the lead track from Jack Jutson’s soon to drop Mood Hut 12”, and the appearance of Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” caused a small riot and singalong amongst the assembled crowd.

An unexpected highlight of this stage and the weekend as a whole was Jameszoo, who, as it goes, picked the short straw to play Friday evening while a good chunk of the festival was enduring Levon Vincent in the UFO tent or enjoying Harvey’s dynamic mixing close by. Having checked out both these headline draws, curiosity brought us back to the Kindred Spirit DJ at The Woods and a set that impressively cut through numerous styles and genres without missing a beat. In a weekend dominated by various shades of house and techno, Jameszoo dropped everything from newer Ed Banger material to “On & On” by Missy Elliott and “Red Hot Car” by Squarepusher via some vintage Coki, and a lot more.

A stones throw from The Woods was the Selectors stage (pictured above) which exuded a vibe similar to the Brooklyn parties of Mister Sunday Afternoon, with kick drums and the occasional TTT or LACR t-shirt intermingling with overhanging trees. Of all the stages it was The Woods and Selectors that have the most vivid memories for us over the weekend and the opportunity to see two hour-plus sets from Optimo, Ben UFO, DJ Harvey, Traxx and more is in part what made Dekmantel work so well. Giving Ben UFO three hours to play on Sunday afternoon ensured a lot of tired bodies sought out that extra bit of strength and were rewarded with a set full of pleasant rhythmic deviations. Just as you felt the Hessle Audio man was going too deep into a techno wormhole he threw in a Sizzla tune that jolted people right up and you could feel the surge of bodies gravitate towards the DJ stage as “All Night” by Soundstream consumed the speakers later in his set.

The day before on the Selectors stage, a proud local crowd cheered Rush Hour chief Antal’s Saturday evening set by the mix as he spun a varied assortment of Amsterdam-styled house and the odd dub reggae cut. Two encores later and Dekmantel highlight Traxx provided the festival with a vivacious set of alternative techno and body music which more than lived up to expectations. Opening with a cacophony of noise and spoken word monologue that could have been one single record or three played out of sync, Traxx swiftly weeded out those attendees not familiar with his abrasive yet impressively dynamic approach to selecting. Those that remained were treated a two hour set of unrelenting Jakbeat at full volume that also demonstrated the Nation boss to be a wonderfully skilled DJ and flamboyant showman too. It’s hard not to get consumed in a performance such as this when Traxx is so clearly enjoying himself. As the end of his set and the night’s music as whole drew closer, Traxx cut the music and gave a brief impassioned speech thanking the audience and organisers before launching into one last, newly edited track to a grateful mass.

Another compelling highlight was Shackleton’s live set in the awkwardly humid UFO tent on the Saturday, the same canopy that played host to an Ostgut overload on the Sunday with Dettmann and Slater’s back-to-back antics proving a festival favourite. On the Saturday, however, Shackleton followed a Joey Anderson DJ set and the first quarter of the enigmatic producer’s performance was noticeably lacking in low end oomph. This was all part of the plan it seems. After close to 20 minutes of complex percussion, half-step breaks and Skull Disco polyrhythms that kept UFO in a state of jungle-like flow, a turbo charged surge of bass executed by Shackleton swept through the tent like a sonic boom. It was there and then the Shackleton experience began.

Before gates opened on the third and final day, Marcel Fengler & Efdemin warmed the speakers of UFO (for what would be Dekmantel’s biggest day of beats) with abstract swirls of industrial atmospheres leading into piano-driven ambience to the eventual introduction of beats through the deep and linear house you’d expect from Efdemin. The sound of drums slowly lured early arrivals into the tent and groups of friends enjoyed some space to dance in before techno took over and UFO began to fill. This then sent us over to a more relaxed early afternoon in the shade with Young Marco playing James Mason’s classic “Nightgruv” back at The Woods. The rising producer would later perform an equally good set at the Boiler Room stage, one of the few stages at Dekmantel where you find little pockets of space either side of the set up to get lost in and dance to. For no real reason the Boiler Room stage was one that we didn’t really frequent that much over the weekend, other than to take in Intergalactic Gary’s sublime set of Italo, electro and techno, with the way in which he teased Massimiliano Pagliara’s “In Order Of More Depth” with an extended, unknown jack track a standout moment.

Trekking between the crowd pummelling set of Rødhåd, Truss & Tessela’s hardcore-infused live show as TR//ER in the UFO tent, Mr Ties and Antal on the Selectors stage, 3 chairs at The Woods and Kowton in the Boiler Room, the Hessle Audio Trio spared no genre on the Main Stage. Be it Pangaea thrusting techno, or Ben UFO and Pearson Sound delineating the wide arc that is UK bass music. Meanwhile, Nina Kraviz kept it real by playing what looked to be an all vinyl set of finely structured techno and acid. Those surprised by the lack of dancing by Kraviz behind the decks will probably like to know she was nursing a foot injury that need crutches when we spotted her later backstage. A running joke of the weekend was how Axelbot was a better name for the recently formed Talaboman party unit of Axel Boman and John Talabot. Regardless of the name, their stage presence – a flat cap wearing Talabot bobbing next to a slick, spectacle wearing Axel Bowman – was as entertaining to watch as it was to listen to.

Dekmantel Soundsystem would open the Main Stage each day and it was the woozy synth lines and shuffle of Thomas Brinkmann’s “Isch” that welcomed us to the festival. Following this Magic Mountain High hooked up a live set of downtempo key stroking and machine sequencing in a performance inverted from what you’d expect to see the trio pump out at a festival like Freerotation, and it was perfect. Over the three days the Main Stage played host to acts like Jamie xx, Nicolas Jaar, Âme, Joy Orbison and Daphni, but what sought our attention was Jeff Mills, loose as always, flexing his 909 like a master at full tilt. The pull of Optimo on the Selectors stage however drew us back for the closing hour of the festival’s final day and it’s little use to try and trainspot their tracks when the desire to dance is so great. A feeling that summed up Dekmantel Festival as a whole.

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Review by James Manning and Tony Poland
Photography courtesy of De Fotomeisjes