An industrial playground for every type of electronic music fan, the seventh edition of DGTL Amsterdam was the biggest - and hottest - in the festival’s history. Taking place at NDSM Docklands, just a short ferry ride from the city’s central station, 20,000 ravers arrived ready for two days and nights of grooving house, thunderous techno, acidic breaks and funky disco.
With the sun shining from start to finish, this year’s sold-out festival (which had a capacity of 20,000 per day) felt like the perfect start to the summer as twenty-somethings in Daily Paper t-shirts who were there to kick-start the festival season rubbed shoulders with older ravers keen to relive their youth. By booking more than 100 artists across the Easter bank holiday weekend, the DGTL team curated their biggest - and most varied - line-up to date.
Alongside international headliners like Dixon, Kolsch and Maceo Plex the festival provided a platform for newer, upcoming DJs, including a handful of fast-rising local favourites. And with the action spread across seven stages - each differing in size and design - there was no shortage of music to get lost in…
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The most intimate stage, Gain, offered the chance to catch some big names in a tiny church-like space where DJs worked the room in-the-round: Moxie’s high-energy breaks ensured it was full early on before sets from De School resident Upsammy and DJ Seinfeld, whose fast-paced genre-hopping selections kept the energy high. A house set from Ben Klock proved a treat, too; a chance to see the Berghain regular playing a genre that’s a total contrast to his usual heavy-hitting techno, he visibly let loose a lot more, throwing his arms in the air and hi-fiving those upfront.
Meanwhile in the greenhouse-like sweatbox that was Frequency, Amsterdam-based upcomer Carista worked the crowd brilliantly with joyous vocal-led house like FCL’s ‘Let’s Go Seven’, her beaming smile proving infectious. A live set from DJ Boring, meanwhile, provided an energetic jolt to start Sunday, his acid-tinged lo-fi house attracting a sizeable crowd.
The Black Madonna, closing the festival on Sunday night, was a delight to watch: opting for laser-heavy acid house, she put her heart and soul into the set, dancing behind the decks with a massive smile on her face and swinging her towel around overhead before launching it into the crowd. She really was the life of the party…
Generator, a dark and industrial indoor stage that remained full all weekend, provided the perfect setting for Amelie Lens’ heads-down wall-shaking acidic techno, her punishing, relentless selections making the ground beneath our feet tremble. Equally impressive were Serbia’s Tijana T (who, despite playing to a small lunchtime crowd, delivered a standout set) and Dr Rubinstein, who mixed vinyl records with ease: the German DJ looked like she couldn’t believe her eyes, gazing out on thousands stomping along to her unforgivingly fast-paced set.
Just seconds away but carrying a completely different energy inside, the massive hangar-like Modular stage was a great fit for Bicep’s euphoric and hypnotising set, dropping fan-favourites ‘Glue’ and ‘Orca’, as well as Cromby’s ‘Retribution’ to several thousand transfixed faces in the crowd (one guy even got them to sign his arm).
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New for this year was the dome-shaped Live stage on which UK musicians George Fitzgerald and Tourist - as well as Dutch artist Satori - brought their atmospheric electronic soundscapes to life. A welcome addition to the festival and a nice break for those who wanted something other than DJ sets, Live offered a chance for audiences to hear the artists material in full, played with a band.
The most visually-impressive stage, though, was AMP: a giant, dome-shaped greenhouse overlooking the river, Patrick Topping’s tech-house back-to-back with Green Velvet had the place packed, as did Floorplan’s gospel-techno and Disclosure - whose first DJ set in the Netherlands in several years saw them draw for old favourites like ‘Running’ and ‘White Noise’.
But it was Honey Dijon’s endlessly uplifting set that really won the weekend: mixing older dance classics like Inner City’s ‘Good Life’ with a house remix of Cardi B’s ‘Backstreet Freestyle’, she had the audience reaching for their phones to try and identify which anthem was coming next. Her love of DJing really spread to the crowd, who loved every minute of her two-hour set: faultless from start to finish, watching her behind the decks as the sun began to set felt like a real moment…
Although the festival technically began on Saturday, the Friday night opening party (which boasted eclectic DJ sets from DJ Koze and minimal techno maestro Maceo Plex who continued the party into the early hours) was equally impressive, as it was the first opportunity to experience Skyline II.
An eerie, technologically-advanced, shape-shifting, colour-changing spectacle that innovatively combined an immersive art installation with a hardware-driven music performance by experimental Dutch musician Colin Benders, it somehow defied the speed of sound. Neon strobes flashed from moving light fixtures in time to the apocalyptic whirring electronics as those who arrived early enough - including two girls with fairy lights draped around their necks while carrying an inflatable neon green alien - sat hypnotised by the surreal piece of performance art, their eyes darting to try and keep up with the brightest source of light.
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What was most impressive about DGTL Amsterdam, though, was that it felt like a lot of time and effort had gone in to ensuring each artist suited the venue they played; and the line-up itself was a dream for dance music fans. Away from the music side of things, DGTL’s main focus - as it pushed forward with its aim of becoming a circular festival by 2020 - was sustainability.
Whether through its thought-provoking art installations like Helen Blanken’s ‘When Water Falls’ (described as “a reflection on our attitude and abuse towards plastic waste”) and ‘Refract’ (an innovative project using 15,000 ‘end-of-life’ lenses in the centre of the festival site) or the recycling stations and food court on site that only offered vegetarian and vegan options, or the token scheme that encouraged people to reuse their plastic cups (“don’t give up on your cup” was the printed message’), being as eco-friendly as possible remained at the heart of DGTL.
It was something that extended beyond the festival site, too: hired electric cars were used for airport pick ups - therefore reducing the festival’s carbon footprint - while the recently-opened Hotel Jakarta was chosen for artist accommodation (because it’s the most sustainable in Amsterdam).
By understanding the importance of sustainability in the midst of climate change and being wary of the way that some festivals can negatively impact the planet, DGTL proved that it’s possible to throw a great party without damaging the environment. Other festivals should take note.
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DGTL Santiago takes place on May 3rd, DGTL Sao Paulo on May 4th and DGTL Barcelona on August 23th.
Words: Ben Jolley
Photography: Gemma Ross
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