Dekmantel Selectors – In Review

Frank Mitchell highlights Lena Willikens, Joy Orbison, Hunee and The Black Madonna as some of the festival’s finest curators.

Bringing a festival into the peaceful confines of a small Croatian village is always going to have its risks; from noise complaints to boisterous festival-goers, to locals feeling like an army of crazed kids have descended on their sleepy little town. With the debut edition of their Dekmantel Selectors, the Amsterdam operation neatly avoided all of these problems while sticking to a mission statement to celebrate: “the extraordinary DJs that have turned collecting and playing music into an art form.” Tisno set the scene for around a thousand attendees to enjoy the best-curated selection of acts I’ve ever seen. The sound, crowd and location were all ideal for a perfectly-scheduled five days of music encompassing a broad range of genres, and made for easily the best festival I’ve had the pleasure of attending.

Location has been key to both Dekmantel Festival and their smaller scale Lente Kabinet event, and the organisers chose another perfect venue to host Selectors. The Garden is a small holiday resort that could best be described as a Croatian Butlins with a beach. As the name suggests, the festival is dedicated to the art of the selector; DJs that are renowned for their wide-ranging knowledge and mixing skills. This core concept wasn’t only present in the acts themselves but in how they were programmed, resulting in an impressive continuity throughout the five days. Each DJ perfectly suited the last, and every one of them carefully considered the sounds of the following performer.

Another important part of any festival is the layout. Large distances can be frustrating, with sound bleeding between stages even more so, but The Garden seemed like it was purpose built to avoid such problems. The first space you encountered was the so-called Stage With A View that was found by making your way around, or through, a small restaurant set up into the hilltop. A series of small, stone stairs led down a shallow incline leading onto the Voodoo Beach; a square, pebbled area with a DJ hut at the back with looming speakers stationed on either side. After snaking through a few bars and food stalls – including a champagne bar fully stocked and willing with Prosecco – a flat stone path led down to the small Beach Stage. The DJ booth nestled on the end of a short pier, enclosed within a stunning alcove of Adriatic coastline. Lastly a curved stone ledge led round onto the main stage; a large, covered dancefloor with the DJ booth set high into the rocks. The Garden felt like a custom-made wonderland, powered by Funktion-One, and avoiding all noise complaints and sound bleeding.

ATMOSPHERE 3 (CREDITS DESIRÉ VAN DEN BERG) ATMOSPHERE 2 (CREDITS DESIRÉ VAN DEN BERG)

The locals too were always happy to help, and for anyone thinking of attending future editions of Dekmantel Selectors I’d suggest finding a taxi driver and sticking with him. “Ivan our man with the van” was just one of many Croatian professionals befriended at the Selectors. On call 24/7 to take us from the festival site to the after party space, Ivan made our entire experience an absolutely pleasure, consistently undercutting everyone else and only ever a text away from a hair-raising ride through the dark Croatian countryside in a vehicle the size of a transit van.

Entering on the first evening, the Voodoo Stage had Interstellar Funk hammering out The Immortals track, “Ultimate Warlord”, before Italo standard “Spacer Woman” caused an already teeming crowd to descend further into madness. Intergalactic Gary held it down on the main stage with full-force Italo hammers and hard-hitting electro destruction. The impeccable programming saw Pender Street Steppers ride up next, Robert Bergman conducting proceedings on the adjacent stage. There was something for everyone, with the option to catch a bit of everything. No big clashes and a sense of musical continuity that demonstrated the thought going into the line-up.

The programming on day two was also incredible; Beppe Loda’s soundtrack-like disco obscurities on the main stage complimented by the slow, funk-tinged jams of Christian S. at Voodoo. Then things took a fierce turn when Cologne’s Lena Willikens, cigarette consistently hanging from her mouth, hammered out record after record of dark, nightmarish techno. Mike Servito matched Willikens’ intensity, pushing the limits of the main area, bringing New York’s gritty Bunker vibrations to the quiet hills around this picturesque alcove. The Black Madonna was a fine choice to close out the main stage that night, her tight mixing and pure party selections covering disco, house and techno was the perfect advancement on Servito’s set. Geraldine Hunt’s “Can’t Fake the Feeling” being a notable highlight, causing a massive eruption from the manic crowd moving fervently to the music.

For reasons that were not widely communivated, DJs scheduled to play on the main stage on Sunday were switched over to the smaller beach stage – Dekmantel organisers later told us this was “because the vibe there was just right that day.” The move caused an issue with space, but that was entirely eclipsed by the incredible selections of Hunee – one of the most eclectic DJs currently on the circuit – who was given an extended four hour set. By festival standards, four hours is a long time but Hunee’s understanding of mixing and selections made it feel more like two. Stripped-back jazzy house, obscure disco screamers and huge house tunes were all covered, with the sudden introduction of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence” causing bodies to melt into the ocean as hundreds of voices belted out the chorus.

I was soon pulled back to beach stage by Helena Hauff. The heavy boom and snapping sounds of Drexciya marked a segue into a series of low-end, bass movements mixed with relentless four-four patterns; the energy cutting people off at the knees, leaving torsos in shorts bloodily gyrating in the tide. This was a serious selection, and among my personal highlights of the festival.

Music programming at Dekmantel Selectors went on to 2am, with after parties continuing until 6am at a nearby venue, Barbarella’s, affectionately dubbed, “Babs” by the large Glaswegian contingent in attendance. There was a short journey to the venue and a long line of taxis waiting but Ivan had our back. On arrival the gates led through a courtyard enclosed by small stone walls, leading to a large open area covered by a canopy and a DJ booth at the back. The soundsystem, as expected, was tuned to perfection and resonating immense bass frequencies into the previously still Croatian evening. Over the entire festival, Will Bankhead, Palms Trax and Call Super all played outstanding sets at ‘Babs’ but the highlight was Joy Orbison. Two hours of unknown belters that left me stunned.

WILL BANKHEAD (CREDITS DESIRÉ VAN DEN BERG) SASSY J (CREDITS DESIRÉ VAN DEN BERG) ORPHEU THE WIZARD (CREDITS DESIRÉ VAN DEN BERG)

The Dekmantel ethos of people passionate about music was truly visible in the crowd. Everyone was friendly, respectful and enthusiastic (maybe a little too enthusiastic at points as most people opted to nurture their shattered remains within air-conditioned apartments on the Friday). Even the stage move on the Sunday wasn’t a problem, people just naturally packed themselves into any available space and had just as good a time as they normally would. A good crowd is as important to a memorable festival experience as the programming; allowing a wide age-range of people from different backgrounds to have a wee holiday getting mindless in the sun and listening to the best DJs in the world.

With this debut edition of Selectors, Dekmantel remain at the forefront of the festival experience in Europe. Transferring a successful festival oversees could bring obstacles, but there wasn’t any evident in Tisno that weekend with my own expectations surpassed. The Dutch promotion team that began from humble beginnings have completed their mission; creating a celebration of DJ culture and the individuals whose passions and commitments help to evolve this established art form.

Frank Mitchell

All photos courtesy of Desiré Van Den Berg