Dekmantel Festival 2018: Five key performances

  • Find out who excelled—and who didn't—at the sixth edition of the Amsterdam festival.
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  • On Saturday afternoon at Dekmantel Festival, some crutches began bobbing up and down amid the crowd at the Selectors stage. A few moments later, their owner was held aloft, his braced leg dangling helplessly. I squeezed past a few people—all dancing to the Brazilian duo Selvagem—to get a closer look. As Free Life's "Dance Fantasy"'s disco guitars and Moroder synths unspooled, several lads, who may or may not have been friends, gathered in a tight huddle, jumping and laughing as though they'd won the World Cup final. There were countless moments like this at Dekmantel: pure, feverish, heedless outbursts of joy. It's never been easier to have this much fun at Dekmantel. The sixth edition exceeded expectations for how a large festival should run. Tokens for food and drink were readily available at ATM-style machines scattered throughout the site. The Dekmantel app gave real-time updates on artist cancellations (Xosar and Donato Dozzy, for equipment loss and medical reasons, respectively), weather conditions (bloody hot) and queue times (around 15 minutes at the front gate, where free water was handed out on Friday afternoon). The experience was as hassle-free as you could hope for. The festival also revitalised its programming. This year's lineup did without a pair of Dekmantel favourites, Antal and Motor City Drum Ensemble, for the first time. (Hunee, last absent in 2014, was another notable omission.) You could catch bona fide legends like Tangerine Dream or Terry Riley midweek and see fresh talents such as upsammy and Cashu through the weekend. A new stage, UFO II, became a home for electro, EBM, experimental live acts and big-room DJs looking for a change of pace. In the space of an hour, you could wander across the site and encounter ghettotech and Miami bass from Detroit In Effect, Senegalese drum music from Mark Ernestus's Ndagga Rhythm Force, synth-funk jams from Dâm-Funk and full-bore techno from LSD, AKA Luke Slater, Steve Bicknell and Function. Dekmantel has never felt bigger, broader or better. Here are five key performances from the weekend.
    Elena Colombi It's not easy to describe what Elena Colombi plays. She DJs with tracks that fall between the cracks of familiar styles—in a given set, you might hear obscure new beat, a chilly Viewlexx B-side, Benelux synth jams or tracks from modern producers who share her taste for crunchy industrial. She played two sets on Friday. The first was at the Boiler Room stage, a corrugated shed under which people took shelter from the 30℃ heat. Those who weren't wearing floral-patterned shirts had them over their shoulders. One woman in shades and a headband was fanning herself with the cardboard casing of a Grolsch six-pack. Colombi's music often suited the intensity of the weather. One track had a long, mind-bending melodica solo; another, her last, had thick synth sheets whose trails melted as though wilting under a torch. Her second set, at UFO II, channeled a similar mood. (One memorable track seemed to lock an El-B bassline in a sleeper hold.) DJs of this style sometimes lead crowds into noisy dead ends, but Colombi's tracks were full of spinning, high-momentum grooves. Midway through her hour at UFO II, she poured herself a large tequila and, with a shy nod, raised her glass to the crowd. She'd earned it.
    Orbital Orbital in a field. The combination seems as obvious as milk and coffee. For their headline set on Friday, the main stage, which resembles the deck of the Starship Enterprise, was altered slightly. Some panels were taken off the front so that the brothers' full hardware setup (a table's worth of gear and a tri-rack of synths to the left) was on display. Though they've been in the game for nearly three decades, they performed with boundless enthusiasm. And they played the hits. "Chime," "Belfast" and other early jams like "Satan" all got an airing. Unfortunately, the version of "Halcyon On And On" featured the Belinda Carlisle/Bon Jovi mash-up that appeared on 1997's In Sides compilation. That, along with their new material, much of which incorporated the buzzsaw bass sound common in US dubstep circa 2011, made parts of Orbital's set feel perfect for a commercial-leaning festival but wrong for Dekmantel. One onlooker, who entered rave culture wide-eyed after catching an Orbital gig nearly 20 years ago at Hammersmith Palais, was disappointed. But you don't go to Dekmantel to see Orbital. While it's nice to catch the likes of Tangerine Dream or A Guy Called Gerald, Dekmantel is unique because it gives emerging and established underground artists a massive platform. On Saturday afternoon, DJ Stingray played UFO II to a crowd that stretched a good 50 feet out of the building. Same place next day, Job Sifre worked the EQs on a beatless track to a rapturous audience. Call Super took the main stage after Ricardo Villalobos on Friday afternoon; Helena Hauff was handed Sunday's closing slot. Dekmantel has created its own culture by supporting its own heroes.
    Mafalda Over the course of the weekend, the airy Greenhouse stage covered the greatest range of styles. Thundercat closed on Friday, while Sunday's bill charted a course through UK soundsystem culture, beginning with a dub set from the South London legend Jah Shaka and ending with nearly five hours of jungle and drum & bass. Often, the largest stages took a while to heat up, but, at Greenhouse, just a couple hundred people swaying slowly to dub felt just right in the early-afternoon sun. Playing the opening slot on Saturday, Mafalda smiled from ear to ear, singing along to beautiful soul tunes that split the difference between rare groove and classic party DJing. A heavy section saw her move from a broken beat cut into a space disco tune released this year, Emanative's "Planet B." In Mafalda's hands, these modern tunes felt anachronistic, smoothly fitting into a soulful continuum of Rhodes, funk bass lines and warm vinyl crackle. Late into her two-hour set, she played De La Soul's Smokey Robinson-sampling "Breakadawn," then wrapped up a suite of romantic songs with Marvin Gaye's "My Love Is Waiting." The label Mafalda runs with Floating Points and a gang of London diggers operates with a simple mission: "To spread love all over the land in general and happiness in dance floors in particular." Each time she plays, these lofty goals feel just a little bit closer.
    Juju & Jordash & Shawn Rudiman A few minutes before Juju & Jordash and Shawn Rudiman's set, things seemed to be falling apart. Jordan (Jordan Czamanski) was animated, yelling something at Juju (Gal Aner). Shawn Rudiman, shirtless and wearing his trademark "hobo special forces" hat, stepped up to the edge of the stage and gave the audience the middle finger, slowly turning from right to left. There was good reason for pre-show jitters. The trio was about to play a 90-minute set at one of the most renowned festivals in underground dance music, and they had no idea what they were going to do. Rudiman is a long-time studio hoarder from Pittsburgh who specializes in improvised live hardware sets in front of dark, sweaty dance floors. He began doing this in 1998, when his MPC 60 shut off at 4 AM at a heaving warehouse rave. Rudiman was mostly a Midwest underground figure until 2017's Timespan LP, a compilation of nearly two decades of work. "There are some guys who are as crazy as me," Rudiman said in a 2013 interview. "Juju & Jordash for example, they just show up and make up everything live." Juju & Jordash invited Rudiman to set up his gear when they played the Pittsburgh party Hot Mass, and that's how they ended up facing down a few thousand people at Dekmantel. The trio's 50-plus combined years of experience paid off. Rudiman pumped out tight basslines and raspy hats while Czamanski locked in some wonky arps. Juju & Jordash and Shawn Rudiman and Young Marco, who all played improv-heavy live sets at Mainstage, seemed to bear out a cardinal rule of impromptu jamming: "When the going's not great, arpeggiate." Czamanski leaned on the arpeggiator on his Roland SH-101 during transitional periods while Rudiman cooked up dubby stabs or jacking 909 snare patterns. At their best, Rudiman's Detroit-rooted futurism combined with Czamanski and Aner's knack for synth psychedelia for an effect greater than the sum of its parts. Late in the set, Rudiman triggered a rapid-fire vocal sample—"freak, freak, freak"—after which Czamanski, the group's most natural keyboard player, took a scorching solo. The crowd danced as though the impromptu track was a studio-sculpted techno bomb.
    Source Direct & Special Request One of the rowdiest sections of Special Request and Source Direct's back-to-back at Greenhouse also had lots of comedic potential. Daphni was deep into his set at Selectors, playing Armand Van Helden's "Flowerz." A stray punter wandering over from there to Greenhouse may have recoiled at the contrast: just then, the duo had dropped the mind-shredding VIP remix of DJ Trace & Nico's "Monkeys." ("High-intensity face-melters only," is how Special Request, AKA Paul Woolford, advertised the gig.) The duo drew largely from the sort of late '90s drum & bass dystopia that, with few hooks or melodies, would likely turn off anyone ambling over from a summery session of house and disco. It was austere, uncompromising and undeniably fun. The DJs, like the crowd, were having the time of their lives. Woolford and Source Direct, AKA Jim Baker, played like a pair of 15-year-old best mates in a dimly lit bedroom. Baker pulled out the gunfingers whenever he mixed into a whomping, cliff-edge drop. Woolford chopped the air approvingly. At some point, I noticed a tall-ish guy with shades and a close-cropped head enter the fray, visibly enjoying himself. His black T-shirt read, "Special Extended Disco Edition." We've compiled YouTube and Spotify playlists with some of our favourite tracks from Dekmantel 2018. Check them out here.
    Photo credit / Bart Heemskerk - Lead, Elena Colombi, Orbital, Source Direct & Special Request, Crowd, Dâm-Funk, Greenhouse, Goldie & Randall, The Bug & Miss Red, Jamie xx, Helena Hauff Niels Cornelis Meijer - Dekmantel Soundsystem, Watchtower