Under One Roof Is Building A Vital Sense Of Community

An essential link-up between South London and Amsterdam…

It’s difficult to overstate the complexity of organising a DIY festival. With the likes of Field Maneuvers calling it a day after this summer, and Amsterdam’s techno institution De School turning off the lights for the last time this January, apprehensive promoters nervous about embarking on these unprofitable ventures may be dissuaded by a new intervention.

The first time organisers of inaugural mini-festival, Under One Roof, held in Amsterdam over the first weekend of March, were not dissuaded by the bureaucratic and economic complexities of staging underground music to the public. This little triumph of a party played out as a figurative handshake between two underground crews, one based in Amsterdam and the other in London. Programming duties were convivial, split between the runners of independent label South of North – Dominik Rodeman and Ryan Dougan – alongside operator and co-founder of London-born Formant Soundsystem, Grady Steele. Conceived over a game of pool in London last summer, it was a stroke of programming genius that pulled a crowd from both sides of the Channel.

The collaborators agreed to exclusively book artists they had the phone number of, reticulating a network of predominantly British and Dutch artists, described by the festival’s project co-manager, Celeste Girot, as relating to the ‘sonic realm’ of South of North. Founded in 2018, the imprint has organised events in the city ever since, with a regular spot at DIY venue Occii beginning in 2022. 

Across the water, Formant Soundsystem built its reputation showcasing artists like the dub scientist Mad Professor, the Black Audio Film Collective (whose work has been exhibited at Cafe Oto and The Royal Academy), Flora Yin-Wong who has released on PAN and Modern Love, six-deck showboater Neffa-T and Jennifer Walton, amongst others. Under One Roof was the first time their sound system was used for an entire festival.

The roof in question – a community kitchen and public arts space, De Sering – is sandwiched unassumingly between the railway and the Westrandweg highway in the neighbourhood of Sloterdijk, an industrial area 10 minutes west of the city centre. The space is well known for its experimental kitchen and support for grassroots organising, opening its doors to a formidable roster of DJs and live performers. 

The line up drew a thread through the time ravaged rave of Rezzett and John T. Gast to Inga Copeland’s solo project Lolina. Closing on the Sunday were krautrock paragons Embryo (supposedly Madlib’s favourite rock band). 

Reflecting on the venue, the South of North team shared that: 

‘It felt like the natural extension for both crews to collaborate and join forces to essentially be able to host an event fully on their own. Since the system and artists were all provided by ourselves, we just had to find a venue that shared a similar communal attitude and was willing to let us use their space as a sort of ‘blank’ space. With De Sering, we were no longer bound to conventional music venues, but could set-up our idea and make it look and feel however we wanted. De Sering felt like the perfect spot for that as set designers Celeste and Serena got to work on decorating the space. Having this liberty of freely putting something together (self-funded, self-built, etc.) felt exciting and meaningful compared to the usual limitations we might be given when hosting a night at an already established place.’ 

The Friday evening began with two hours of steppers from labelmates Fry Ry & Marathon Man, who warmed up the pillowy subs of the nine-piece system as the venue filled out. By midnight, a thick cloud of smoke curled around the room and Rezzett emerged from deep within the fog. The duo made up of Tapes and Lukid delivered a live set of their characteristically caustic transfigurations of 90s rave hedonia, sonically reminiscent of sandpaper scratching some unearthed tapes of spaceage Detroit techno and scuzzy jungle.

A closing set from enigmatic South London druid John T. Gast followed. The many-monikered artist has quietly amassed a devoted following over the last decade through collaborations with Dean Blunt and releases on his 5 Gate Temple imprint spanning everything from slo’d and reverb’d Sinead O’ Connor to mediaeval steppers and dungeon synth. Running the DJ mixer through a guitar pedal for added greaze, he took dancers on a trip through dub siren techno and gnarly tech step. 

After spying an anti Geert Wilders sticker in the toilets, I caught up with Grady. He’d recently minted a club night, ‘G. S. Presents’ at Le Chinois Montreuil that has programmed boundary pushing DJs like Kode9, Upsammy, Lee Gamble & dBridge. He told me that along with crewmates Patrick, Stefano and Ollie, he’d driven the rig from London to Dover the night before, catching the overnight ferry just in time to set up before the first DJs arrived. If that wasn’t enough of a feat already, he was to kick things off with a live performance on the Sunday.

Grady soothed a seated crowd with his nylon stringed guitar run through a granular synthesizer, washing out the hangover of Saturday night while the kitchen passed out kimchi pancakes. 

Jacob Dwyer followed, accompanied by Kim David Bots and Lyckle De Jong. His soft-spoken word performance conjured, in his words, ‘a blizzard in slow motion.’ Part diaristic poetry, part ambient soundtrack, it came off like a gentle counterpoint to the work of Sockethead and prompted a subsequent deep dive into his ‘The Devil Museum’ project.

After captivating performances from La Rat and Lolina, the amusingly named Jeremy Bellend was next up, whose hour plus of mangled tape deck experiments amounted to one long scream that left many in a state of confounded quandary. It was instantly resolved, however, by the gorgeous kosmiche of Yosa Peit, an artist whose smiling delivery is a refreshing contrast to the performative hyper cool of so much avant garde electronica. 

After a lengthy set-up, Brokenchord delivered a stand out set of dubbed out guitar distortion. Nodding to the likes of Jimmy Page and Johnny Greenwood’s experimentation with violin bows and electric guitar, the trio took the crowd into the rambunctious night, topped off by a climactic fullstop from the well seasoned Embryo. 

On the long coach home, there was time to reflect on the weekend. 

Under One Roof proved that the cultural exchange between the underground music scenes of South London and Amsterdam is vital, that despite the misguided and isolationist impulses of Brexit, collaboration with the continent is still possible; and necessary. A testament to the resilience of arts and electronic music ecology in both cities, it delivered a blueprint of DIY music organisation and scene resuscitation in the context of an urban property market that is increasingly hostile to grassroots music venues and a local authority that is reluctant to host tourists. 

Less than a year ago, Amsterdam City Council released an alarmist advert urging young British males in particular to stay away from the city. Drawing on the well established and really quite valid stereotypes of drunk and disorderly Brits abroad swarming the Dutch capital on the hunt for legal weed, access to sex workers and the adrenaline rush of almost or actually riding a rental bike half cut into the Singel, the advert in more or less words gives off the nativist sentiment that tourists seeking hedonistic abandon in what is supposed to be one of Europe’s most liberal cities shouldn’t bother. Knowing that far too many Brits have done an awfully good job of developing a terrible reputation, it’s hard not to be reminded of the words of Babyfather’s ‘Stealth Intro’, looped into insincerity, “this makes me proud to be British.” 

While it’s completely understandable residents of Amsterdam are frustrated at Brits flocking to their city, the suggestion by the city council that anti-social behaviour is all tourists come for leaves little space for transnational underground music events. Even worse, this kind of cynical discouragement of tourism aligns with a sentiment propagated by xenophobes like Geert Wilders, whose party has just been elected as the largest in the Dutch parliament, that foreigners should just stay away. 

A concerning prospect considering Under One Roof wouldn’t be possible without the kind of international solidarity Wilders is anathema to. In a festival that had the capacity of roughly 250 people, at least twenty different nationalities were represented. By making decisions as a collective and creating space for collaboration, meaningful experiences with a truly international crowd are still possible, it’s just getting harder. With no definitive date for their next event, the team behind Under One Roof are doing things at their own pace.

Words: Cam Christie

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