Saturday 15th April
Julian Barnes has recently said that ‘Music escapes from words: that is its purpose, and its majesty’. To this I can say one thing only- that I can try, in the hope that the burnish and glitter of the music showcased on that overcast Easter day may leave a spark that will burn you from the inside until you book a ticket for the following year.
I spent last Saturday at the NDSM Dockland, Amsterdam. At 2.30pm I rolled into a corridor of warehouses, with a thousand colours growing over their facades in the form of graffiti. The sky however, was grey and perpetually threatened rain. This is to be expected in the Spring in Amsterdam. What has also grown to be expected, is that every Easter weekend since 2012, DGTL festival offers the finest in house, electronica, techno and as of 2017 – disco.
The abandoned industrial landscape was injected with life- as teaming hordes of Dutch men and women made their way to the entrance. It was at this bottleneck in the crowd movement that wristbands were given out and locked upon the wrists of the mostly skinny black-jeaned attendees. Security gave no pause for concern, with smiles and a helpful demeanour. The crowds were beaming, albeit for a few that went a bit hard the night before.
Lockers were reasonable and abundant, which contrasts with London festivals such as Lovebox, where you will look to pay upwards of £15 and queue for hours to retrieve what is yours. But, this was Amsterdam, there were no roadmen waiting at the exit with knives, dodgy pills on sale or brawls on the dance floor. There was something that started and only increased throughout my time at DGTL, this was a welcoming sense of positivity.
There is a staircase that reaches across the graffiti corridor. Made of naked steel, it stood as a separation between the two halves of DGTL. As I crossed it, I felt the first hint of music that day. Directly in the middle of the festival, I was hit by a clash of distant vibrations. As I reached the floor I sauntered toward the first warehouse. The name of this was ‘Modular’, one of many stages at this condensed electronic event. Despite being 3pm, De Sleuwe Vos was stuck straight into an acid groove. Techno with an acid tinge was the first orders of the day, which set the industrial surroundings perfectly. With sweeping lasers and a piercing sound system, I had been transported to a world within a world.
Crossing over the steel skeleton, I entered a space known as The Village. The next warehouse (Amp by Mosaic) beckoned, with blue lights leaking out of the large plastic flaps that hung from its entrance. This was home to the music of Lord of the Isles, whose deep melodies and sharp house drums had the Dutch crowd moving in full force. A collection of revolving lights moved across the dance floor. The walls of the venue had morphed into an LED screen that shifted through an ocean of blues. The result was a mesmerising sound and light show, that was led further into intensity by the next act. Henrik Schwarz took up the baton, playing a live show that took on a wide range of sounds. It was certainly more laid back to the other side, with high quality, vocal heavy electronica that permeated the sound system and invited the room to dance.
Such a range of music is one of the strengths of DGTL, which offers a diverse range of quality electronic music. With the sun making a rare appearance, I had made it to the next venue, just a stones throw away. This was Frequency, which was more like a large plastic greenhouse. A mixture of firm plastic exterior, plants and containers made for an eclectic venue. The first act I witnessed was Moscoman, who played an amazing live show complete with a band. In the light, you can see everyone- and they were thrilled! There was a tropical feeling inside, with plants and exotic house music and the charm of acoustic instruments. The sound system made the entire room shake, as jackets were quickly peeled off and dashed in the nearest available corner.
To add to this, you could buy ice-lollies in the middle of the party- it was as though summer had come early- for an hour.
It was now 6.30pm. Time was spent on a true exploration of the venue. I saw many stages, not one sight of aggravation and more and more live music. You are even pressed to see phones in the air during acts, as the Dutch seem caught in the moment. Jamie Jones commanded the biggest crowd of the event. Such was the case you couldn’t move. Loud tech-house was provided in hefty doses. In search for something more harmonious, I made it into The Village and entered a large black orb. Inside was another realm, one of swaying bodies, indiscriminate lights and a circular flowing crowd. In the middle, the DJ played live. The venue was Gain by Resident Advisor, hosted by A Made Up Sound. The most intimate of the festival, the gigs that took place here had a real Boiler Room feeling. Seeing the passion of the artist contrasted with Jones. There was less to lose here, and such circumstances allow an artist to push boundaries. The experimental and drawn out tracks rang in my ears as I peeled back the curtain and stepped into the last throws of sunlight.
The true stand out act came next. This was the haunting live set from
Weval. Now, I say haunting as it remains with me still. Such deep, thick synthesisers and staggered, hazy vocals lulled the crowd into another state of consciousness. The freedom of the live set allowed for a looser style of playing, where Weval were able to gauge the crowd, bringing crashing crescendos and rhythmic melodies that gripped each and everyone present. Anybody familiar with Weval’s sound know that it is a pleasant, soft web of sound. Hearing this on your earphones is one thing- hearing this on full blast at a top audio-festival is another. There were levels to each sound, and as the sun set behind the old containers, pink lights made out the faces of the smiling. It was hard to pull myself away, but Bodzin was next.
Now was the big moment. Across the steel skeleton of stairs, in the dark reaches of Modular, came the mighty Stephan Bodzin. As the clock turned 9, so the room descended into a lightless state. Bodzin readied and delivered exactly what was expected. Yet, no Bodzin show is the same. The techno extraordinaire leaves his stamp on every set- playing live, loud and with total passion. There are mild discrepancies in each track, as Bodzin unleashes his untamed, unbridled sea of high synths. Every time I hear a track from his Powers of Ten album, there is mild twist, a new stamp. Yet, the style is clear, individualistic and still totally raw. Yes, Bodzin, the nascent and mad professor of techno. My entire being vibrated through staunch techno drum, as a thousand sharp lights shot out and cut the dance floor into broken glass-like pieces. The journey that Bodzin provides is at times teasing and others overwhelming. It is such that no filming could provide the experience
– it would merely remain a clip out of context. Bodzin takes you to another planet, but I took the ferry home. Silently it cut through the waves of the night as Central Station appeared on the horizon.