Dekmantel Festival 2019: Five key performances

  • Another magical weekend of stellar electronic music from across the spectrum.
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  • For years, I've bought their records, listened to their podcasts and seen hundreds if not thousands of videos of their stages in my social media feeds. But this summer, the festival's seventh, was my first Dekmantel. How would the real thing compare? Dekmantel, for the most part, is as beautiful and smartly designed as Instagram suggests. The Mainstage video screens are filled with awe-inducing motion design. The plant-adorned Greenhouse stage appeals to our succulent-obsessed generation. And yes, wearing an orange bucket hat with zebra pants is totally acceptable because the crowd is young, on-trend and raring to go. On the first day of the festival, a young guy walked up to me and asked, "Is the music on this stage going to be good?" I told him it depended on what he liked: stay here for funk and boogie (Nu Guinea's live band debut) or head across the site for techno (Freddy K). He turned to his friends and repeated my answer. I'm not sure what happened to those kids in the end, but they can't have gone wrong. As always, every act at Dekmantel this weekend was either world class or on its way there. Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
    Sunn O))) Dekmantel held a series of opening concerts on Wednesday and Thursday before the festival proper. These shows, taking place at Amsterdam's classical concert hall Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ and other venues across the city, featured mature musical offerings, such as free jazz by Pharoah Sanders Quartet, John T. Gast's jungle experiments and elevated synth music from Suzanne Ciani. But perhaps the most special show came from the Seattle experimental band Sunn O))), who filled Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ's grand concert hall with satanic walls of drone. Sunn O)))'s live show was a physical experience of sound. Equipped with giant amps and bass cabinets that ringed the stage like Stonehenge, each heavily distorted guitar chord carried enough weight to make the whole room rattle. The band worked through subtly different compositions, sometimes easing off the textural roar to make space for haunting keys, a lonely trombone or guttural hymns from the vocalist. But the performance was most thrilling when they were on the climb. The bass pressure in the room would slowly rise, along with the presence of some twisted and omnipresent power. Near the end, only a third of the original crowd endured, which left plenty of space for people to lay down at the back and go completely comatose. That's the curious thing about Sunn O))). As dark and demonic as their music may be, it also induces a state of tranquility.
    Nosedrip On the first day of Dekmantel, I was very late to see Nosedrip's set at the Selectors stage. A torrential downpour left many of us stuck under trees at the edges of Amsterdamse Bos, checking Buienalarm, the Dutch rain app, for down-to-the-minute details of when the weather would pass. Soon the dirt around us became mud. When I finally arrived at Selectors, I was happy to discover an installed wooden dance floor. Past a thick crowd, I could see Nosedrip bobbing in the distance. The Belgian artist zipped through oddball house and danceable dub records, amounting to something more upbeat than his popular NTS show, but with equal personality. A few hours later, he played a second set at the Red Light Radio stage, a tiny dance floor tucked into the food area. (Weirdly, this quirky setting had the festival's punchiest sound.) Plenty of people had turned out to see him deliver a silly, one-of-a-kind house party, an eccentric mix of '80s dream pop, starry-eyed synth music and funky proto-techno pumped through the fat yellow speaker stacks. "What is this music?" Someone pondered out loud. "It sounds like it should be on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack." Right then, a surf rock-style drum fill shot off.
    SPFDJ The festival's energy was best in UFO, a giant warehouse-style stage that houses non-stop heavy techno, acts like Marcel Dettmann, The Empire Line and Surgeon. The tent is completely enclosed, meaning it stays dark and full of dramatic light shows at all hours. A lot of people probably come to Dekmantel for its laidback outdoor setting, but for hardcore ravers, UFO provides a space to get lost in. The stage was comfortably full when SPFDJ played at 4 PM on Friday. The Berlin-based artist has a way of getting crowds rowdy. Some techno DJs build intensity by locking in on a repetitive groove and drilling deeper. SPFDJ's style is more like a Richter scale, starting off ruthless and ramping up harder, with several explosive peaks across the set. Her bombs have more flair than your typical four-on-the-floor techno, whether it's a huge acid melody, a sawing industrial synth or the '90s-style rave stabs on Falhaber's "Rock The Beat," which closed the set. Whistles and screams erupted every time SPFDJ cut the bass and then ferociously ripped it back in. It only took about five tracks for someone in the crowd to climb atop a pair of shoulders.
    Octo Octa & Eris Drew There were a few big back-to-backs over the course of the weekend. Ben UFO and Blawan closed UFO on Friday, and Solar and Cinnaman were scheduled in UFO II on Saturday afternoon. Both performances promised an exciting unpredictability because of the contrasts between the artists. Octo Octa and Eris Drew, on the other hand, played a killer set because of the cosmic way they connect. The two artists, who are also lovers, collaborators and label co-owners, played Mainstage early on Saturday evening. They switched every four or five tracks during their two-and-a-half-hour set, one getting wild on the turntables, the other dancing exuberantly behind. Their selections were equally charged, but their styles differed by a few degrees—Drew played more funky '90s breakbeat techno, Octo Octa more deep and slamming house. Both lent towards tracks with uplifting vocals, spreading messages about love, "the beat" and revelation to an ecstatic crowd. The daytime slot also meant you could get to the very front and see the two women in action. This was a positive vibe in itself. At the end of one track, Drew pulled a white vinyl straight off the turntable to fan herself in a moment of passion. At the start of another, Octo Octa saw what record her partner was about to play and turned to her excitedly to say something equivalent to "banger alert!" I left the set feeling hopeful about dance music and much, much more.
    Batu During the day, the sunlight-flooded Greenhouse stage hosted funk bands and live acts, but come the evening, the programming switched to edgier electronic music. Batu's three-hour closing set, from 8 through 11 PM, took full advantage of its sunset setting, turning into one of the wildest and most interesting moments of the weekend. While there was still light, he toyed with strange iterations of dancehall and reggaeton. After sundown, he dialled the intensity up a notch. Slamming club music from Cocktail Party Effect and Sinjin Hawke got mashed up with kind of the industrial drum tracks found on Latinx labels like NAAFI and Májia. The hard and broken grooves already had the crowd screaming, so when he dropped some nasty baile funk with vocals, they went totally bonkers. For the final stretch, Batu ramped up the tempo past 160 BPM. Footwork, jungle and freakish kuduro had everyone jumping. On stage, he looked zen and smiley, playing banger after banger among the palm fronds. We've compiled YouTube and Spotify playlists with some of our favourite tracks from Dekmantel Festival 2019. Check them out here. Resident Advisor hosted two panels and a live Exchange as part of this year's Dekmantel conference. Keep an ear out for the recordings.
    Photo credits / Tim Buiting - Lead, Sun O))), UFO Bart Heemskerk - Nosedrip, SPFDJ, Batu, Water, Cybotron, Nitzer Ebb, Jeff Mills Kenneth Vos - Octo Octa & Eris Drew Yannick van de Wijngaert - Deckchairs