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Special on every Level: Dekmantel Festival 2015

Jack Rayner explores and reviews the incomparable Amsterdam dance music festival


Dekmantel grew from very small club nights with a capacity of around 150 people, in contrast to the vast majority of festivals of this kind. The difference in enthusiasm and passion in a home-grown party like Dekmantel is palpable

In thinking of appropriate ways to describe the sheer, glorious madness that was Dekmantel 2015, “special” is the only word that truly does the festival justice

 

As established events increase capacity year-on-year and new faces enter the calendar every summer, British festival-goers are truly spoilt for choice, and as several major parties are built, enjoyed and dismantled every weekend, you’d be justified in thinking that going abroad for a 4-day party is close to pointless when our own country is such a powerhouse of fun and creativity in the same industry.  Dekmantel, however, is evidence in itself that despite our well-earned reputation, continental promoters and curators can smash our ideas of what makes a great festival into pieces.


 

Before I arrived, I wasn’t as enthusiastic as you might expect. With such an enormous lineup and a large handful of corporate sponsors dominating the pre-festival advertising, I was worried that attention to detail would have been overlooked by the promoters and I would be completing a 700-mile round trip to visit another soulless, money-focused event of the kind that I’ve seen far too many of in the UK. It was obvious, though, how laughably wrong I was by the time I’d made it through the entrance and caught my first glance of what is possibly the most ambitious and impressive main stage area of any festival I’ve ever seen: a colossal semi-circle of LED screens wrapped around a white canopy, with Funktion-One speaker stacks aimed at the audience from every possible angle. Whilst the daytime sets from favourites like Tale Of Us, John Talabot and Ricardo Villalobos were all excellent, the stage truly came into its own at night, and the sight of the unbelievably impressive light show blazing into life towards the end of Marcel Dettmann’s masterclass of a closing set on the Friday night is still burnt onto my retina and is worth the ticket price alone.

The ambition shown by the Dekmantel team extends across the festival site. The ‘Radar Area’ encompassing three stages is set amongst the willow trees of Amsterdam Forest and provides a stunning backdrop for the perfectly curated lineup of DJs and live sets. The UFO stage, in contrast, is the punishing techno hell to the Radar Area’s heaven: An immense warehouse backed by bizarre and disorientating visuals, with huge international names like Rødhåd and Blawan providing dystopian sheet-metal noise to complement the venue perfectly. “Special”, once again, is the only appropriate word.

 

As with any event, well-tuned soundsystems and a strong lineup mean nothing if the atmosphere isn’t up to scratch, and yet again Dekmantel didn’t disappoint. Aside from the perhaps 5% of attendees who were too trendy to enjoy themselves, the 3 days were a sea of grinning faces, and one of my main impressions of the entire event was the attitude of the locals: In contrast to the British, who have a natural tendency to keep pleasantries, warmth and smiles to an absolute minimum, the Dutch are stunningly, universally friendly. As the locals watched about 5,000 foreign ravers descend on their gorgeous country like a plague of fist-pumping locusts, I didn’t witness their hospitable and welcoming attitude falter once. This might not be a factor that Dekmantel themselves can take credit for, but the cordiality expressed across Amsterdam definitely seeped in through the festival gates, and I didn’t see a single fight, argument or even minor disagreement over the entire weekend, which is almost unheard of at an event of this size.

You can almost taste the pride that the organisers put into the event: Dekmantel grew from very small club nights with a capacity of around 150 people, in contrast to the vast majority of festivals of this kind which are funded by pre-existing events companies. The difference in enthusiasm and passion in a home-grown party like Dekmantel is palpable, and aside from the overload of corporate tie-ins and token-based payment system (which comes across as a poorly-disguised attempt at making you forget how much you’re paying for half a pint of Warsteiner), the whole experience is flawless from start to finish. As I reluctantly boarded the sweaty night coach home after almost a week of acute sleep deprivation, I couldn’t believe I’d ever doubted the team’s ability. See you next year.

 

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