Equaliser London

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Dekmantel Festival 2014

It took a short bike ride from the centre of Amsterdam to end up in a huge forest with a promise of a music festival somewhere in the middle. The Amsterdamse Bos is a beautiful place, with planes flying overhead, people swimming in the lakes, and narrow pathways with no signage.

You know that feeling when you get closer to a party and the sound gets louder and louder? With Dekmantel, it guides you through the forest. At its peak, you get to the large open area in front of the site, where music from all stages wonderfully melts into one.

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We sat down on the grass, had a couple of Heinekens, our idea of supporting the local, and soaked in the sun while watching the mostly Dutch and English-speaking crowd. We finished it off with a joint, all of this to become our daily routine, picked up our passes, and entered.

After going through security that seemed like a bit too much, it was Magic Mountain High that started it off for us over at the main stage. The trio played a brilliant set, chain smoking and twisting knobs all throughout. We picked up some coupons and beers after waiting for no more than a few kick drums and got dancing.

Everybody’s beautiful and the sun is shining when we move on to Tom Trago. You can’t go out in Holland and ignore him – the set was perfect for the setting, and it put a smile on our faces that lasted all day. At the other end of the spectrum, there is Jackmaster and Oneman, who delivered the most ridiculous party of the weekend under their Can U Dance title. Rapid fast house party mixing, out-of-this-world technical abilities, and the confidence to play songs that everybody loves to hear, but nobody dares to play. No genre and no boundaries, and it worked so fucking well. Chunky was a brilliant hype man as always, and had everyone going mental by 11.

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The next day, Three Chairs didn’t quite click for us, with the bass being a bit too much, but was great fun anyway. On a Sunday, Motor City Drum Ensemble absolutely killed it. Nobody plays disco better than him, and his set left the crowd beyond ecstatic.

But enough about the music, cause it’s all else that made Dekmantel exceptional. The queues were minimal, the sun was shining, the people were nice and danced well. We didn’t quite enjoy the XLR8R tent and its obvious premise of shoving the darker techno sounds in the, well, dark, but all other stages were excellent. RA hosted the main one – a wide spectacle of LED lights, smoke, and killer sound. The tent was right next to it, while the 3 other stages were a minute away, deeper in the forest. Wow, weren’t they gorgeous; floors decked with wood, stages surrounded by trees. They were minimal, yet spacious and nice. The Boiler Room was probably our personal highlight, as it featured a small covered stage directly on the ground with a dance floor on both sides of it.

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Dekmantel showed us that a festival does not have to be inferior to a club in terms of the focus and refinement that the experience offers. Organisers did an amazing job polishing all the details, so each act and each stage feels right. Their work did not go unnoticed, and it was clearly a festival for them to enjoy as well.

Back in the city, we went to the Gay Pride and wandered the unusually colourful canals. We saw a massive rainbow flag on a cathedral, African LGBT groups, and a lot of otherworldly outfits. An amazing celebration, yet disappointingly absent from the festival.

Another highlight was the cycle back from the festival each day. Imagine hundreds of cyclists lit by a few massive spotlights, all humming their personal highlights and ringing bells to the beat. You could call it a perfect conclusion to the community feel of Dekmantel, but we’ve yet to get to Trouw, where Marcell Dettmann and Optimo have just been announced. We followed the Dutch once again, and got to the square that houses both Trouw and Canvasopde7e across the street. The place was buzzing as we joined the ticket queue.

Now, with Trouw: I’ve been a few times before, and I have yet to find a huge club that feels better. It’s so welcoming, the whole experience. You get in, you go up a narrow staircase to get to the main floor, and stay in the smoking area for a few minutes. Really, have you ever enjoyed an indoors smoking area? You do in Trouw – it’s a bit higher up than the main room and is separated by a huge glass wall. It’s beautiful, and you can’t even hear the music yet. You walk through one of the doors and are welcomed by so much at once: the music, the lights, the massive ceilings, the seemingly never-ending dance floor with an incline at the top, and a DJ booth placed so that it has a large group of dancers behind it.

Trouw pushes a party as a visual experience much further than all I’ve seen. The sound is excellent too – in the beginning it is a bit quiet, and I have yet to figure out whether it gets louder and louder or if I just get more and more into it.

It was amazing on both Friday and Sunday, and the dream line-up on the latter got even more dreamy when Ben Klock joined Marcel Dettmann for a surprise b2b session.

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We’re back home now, missing the few days we spent in Amsterdam. The Dutch really go an extra mile to make sure everything feels good and looks good. You can see this everywhere: at Dekmantel, at Trouw, even in the stunning Grachtengordel lofts. It’s a stark contrast to the glorification of the ugly that exists in Britain.

Dekmantel is the best festival we’ve been to, and the sheer passion of the people behind it, as well as the attendees, is what makes it so great.