Despite only being in its second year, Amsterdam Dance Event is the world’s biggest club festival and one of the most important platforms for electronic music on the planet. The festival runs for five days in October (15th to the 19th in 2014), with events spread out all over the city throughout the days and nights.
The roster for ADE is huge, with over 2,000 DJs performing and every kind of dance music catered for. The city comes alive with pop-up record shops, art exhibitions, workshops, talks and conferences, as well as demonstrations of the very latest in DJ gear and technology.
With such a huge range of artists and events throughout the festival, it’s obvious that you’re not going to be able to see everything. However, Amsterdam’s compact size and its brilliant public transport means it is easy to hop from place to place quickly. As it happens, I end up getting very familiar with the city’s tram system, and it becomes apparent that my week pass is a savvy purchase.
Amsterdam is a city where the classic and the contemporary lie side-by-side perfectly, a quality that is apparent in everything from its architecture to its lifestyle. So it’s fitting that one of my highlights from the festival is seeing Maceo Plex performing at Concertgebouw, a 19th century concert hall built specifically for classical music. Maceo’s filthy-but-beautiful techno set is perhaps the most well received of the whole week, turning the usually refined, dignified venue into a sweaty, sticky mess.
Later the same night, John Digweed plays a huge set in the humble, intimate surroundings of Melkweg before Lunice, Montreal’s favourite son and one half of TNGHT, shuts down Paradiso, spinning rap classics at the Warp x LuckyMe showcase.
Saturday night is centred around the Amsterdam Music Festival, which takes place in the Amsterdam Arena. The line-up for this party is immense, with some of the biggest DJs in the world on the roster. Dash Berlin warm the arena up for David Guetta, who has the crowd enthralled with a harder-than-expected set which still makes room for a few of his more commercial hits.
Each year at Amsterdam Music Festival, attendees find out the winner of the DJ Mag Top 100 list, and this year Hardwell is announced just as he arrived onstage. Unfortunately I miss the surprise element of this announcement as an excitable taxi driver has already voiced his opinions on it to me at length after the list was leaked online earlier in the week. Amsterdam Music Festival also sees sets from Armin Van Buuren, Martin Garrix, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike and a heavy hardstyle showcase from Wildstylez.
The fan frenzy and excitement that greets a Dutch artist being named the world’s best DJ at Amsterdam Music Festival shows the true respect that they have for dance music on the continent. The UK is well represented on Saturday night, too, at AIR nightclub’s Fat Kid’s Cake party. Radio 1 DJ Hannah Wants follows T. Williams and cements her reputation as one of the most creative and consistent names in the bass-music scene, flowing effortlessly between her own personal brand of house and other genres.
DJ EZ had nervously tweeted about losing his trademark black Nike cap earlier in the day, but happily they’ve been re-united by the time his set starts. Rolling back the years, the garage mainstay takes us through generations of UK culture, with his typically spot-on track selection matched only by his legendary technical ability. Bristol bass duo My Nu Leng continue a stellar 2014 with a brilliant showcase of their street-house stylings to round the night off. If they’re nervous about following EZ, it doesn’t show.
ADE is far from all about the music, and there are events all over the city throughout the week that tie in with the festival’s ethos. Dutch artist GabyGaby’s Tulipman installation is a particular highlight, telling the story of Holland’s first ever superhero and his DJ sidekicks (who included Armin Van Buuren, Calvin Harris and David Guetta). This 360-degree piece is designed to be seen through the camera of a smartphone, with an augmented-reality app adding further layers to the paintings around the room.
Amsterdam’s Sonos studios hosts talks and interviews by famous DJs and musicians, as well as extra-intimate DJ sets and more. Melkweg Cinema also plays films throughout the day including Alex Lawton’s Rewind4Ever, a history of UK garage, and Behind the Machine, which gives you a behind-the-scenes look at Chase & Status’s recent summer of festivals.
Amsterdam Dance Event is a young event, but well on the way to becoming one of the best around. With festivals becoming more and more about the experience rather than the line-up, it’s refreshing to see one that balances the two so well. ADE’s tourists are welcomed warmly to the city and there is plenty to do at all times. It’s also encouraging to see that music festivals are no longer confined to the summer – so here’s to next autumn.
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Words: Paul Gibbins
Photos: Koen Peters