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Too Much Fun and Too Much to Do; 11 Takeaways from 2013's Amsterdam Dance Event

The end of this year's festival season is finally in sight, and while XLR8R is undoubtedly looking forward to a bit of a break as 2013 winds down, there are still a few more quality events on our calendar. Last week, we hopped on a plane to the Netherlands to check out the annual Amsterdam Dance Event, more commonly known as ADE. Having attended ADE last year and the year before, we had a good idea what to expect, but there was really no way to properly prepare ourselves for five days and nights that were absolutely teeming with activity. After perusing the daunting schedule, we braced ourselves, dove in, and did our best to experience the cream of the ADE crop. We didn't see everything—or even come close—but we did see a lot, and jotted down some notes about the bits of ADE that were truly memorable.


Dekmantel party at MC Theater, Friday night
(photo by Eva de Korte)

ADE is still a big, highly commercial event.

ADE is not a festival, at least not in the most commonly understood meaning of the word. There is a festival element to it, but it's honestly more of a music-industry conference. Spearheaded by Dutch mechanical-rights organizations (the people who collect royalties, publishing, etc.), it's best imagined as an Amsterdam-based, electronic-music-focused counterpart to events like SXSW in Austin or Winter Music Conference in Miami. As such, ADE is a place where booking agents, artist managers, festival organizers, event promoters, talent buyers, brand managers, online retailers, distributors, gear developers, journalists, and other people looking to "do business" flock to each year. On the one hand, this makes ADE a very productive locale for those looking to network, and the organizers do program an entire series of lectures, workshops, and panel discussions each year, many of which are interesting for some segment of the attendees.

At the same time, the high concentration of industry people undoubtedly sucks some of the potential fun and spontaneity out of the week. After all, industry types (ourselves included) are notoriously jaded, the sort of people who've been to countless festivals, refer to artists by their first names, and absolutely refuse to wait in line at a club. Given that, audiences at ADE 2013 did lack some of the wide-eyed excitement and enthusiasm we've seen at other festivals this year. Moreover, an event with such a large focus on the "business" of electronic music is bound to skew towards commercial endeavors and mass appeal. As such, big-room house and techno (not to mention the dreaded "EDM") was certainly a big part of the overall equation at ADE. This wasn't a new development, as these commercial sounds have long been a main focus of ADE. Furthermore, this kind of orientation makes sense; who else besides people that are actually making money (or at least are hoping to do so) are going to shell out the cash to travel to Amsterdam and hobnob with like-minded industry folks for days at a time?


Julio Bashmore at Colors party at Trouw, Wednesday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

Seeing everything we wanted to see at ADE was literally impossible. Making hard choices quickly became a part of the daily routine.

For those in search of an event that's purely about the music, especially sounds that are more leftfield or underground, the above description of ADE may seem like a giant red flag and plenty of reason not to attend. We certainly understand the impulse; in truth, there were several years that XLR8R completely passed on attending—or even mentioning—ADE, as we saw the event as an enterprise that was far too commercial to fit in with our editorial focus. Perhaps we weren't the only ones, as the past few years have seen the organizers making a concerted effort to widen the ADE tent, so to speak. Little by little, more credible artists, labels, and promoters have been brought into the mix, and ADE has now reached a point where it's entirely possible to see nothing but stacked line-ups of top-flight acts each and every night. That's not to say that the bland commercial stuff has gone away—it hasn't. On any given night at ADE, there were at least 15 or 20 different events happening throughout the city. Granted, 80% of those were terrible, but that still left multiple quality options—and some incredibly tough decisions to make.


Young Marco at Dekmantel party at MC Theater, Friday night
(photo by Eva de Korte)

In a way, the situation was absurd. For instance, on Friday night, we popped into the Numbers party for a few hours, but ultimately decided to leave—and miss sets from the likes of Rustie, Jackmaster, Martyn, and Benji B—so that we could head across town to the Dekmantel party. While there, we saw Hessle Audio (Ben UFO, Pearson Sound, and Pangaea), Omar-S, Ron Morelli, Steve Summers, and Anthony Naples, but we felt bad because that meant missing the Clone x Delsin x Rush Hour blowout at Trouw, which featured the debut of Tom Trago's new live show, along with about 10 other acts we would have liked to see. These kinds of scenarios were happening all week long; in short, there was an embarrassment of riches on hand at ADE, which ultimately meant that the list of quality acts we didn't manage to see could have easily filled an incredible festival line-up on their own.

In the end though, this abundance of options was ADE's biggest strength. The event has now arrived at a point where it's absolutely massive and extends into many of electronic music's most underground corners. As such, attendees are free to have whatever kind of experience they want to have. Unlike many festivals, which generally present a strict regimen and force those in attendance to follow a certain path (or one of a few paths), ADE offered up an almost infinite menu. To be honest, even after a week in Amsterdam, we managed to essentially avoid all the mainstream dreck. Our nights were spent in excellent clubs with excellent music, and our only real lament was that we couldn't be in multiple places at the same time.


Cinnaman at Colors party at Trouw, Wednesday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

Amsterdam is CUTE.

As with any festival, the host city played a major role at ADE, and Amsterdam was definitely a huge point in the event's favor. Quite frankly, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which someone could visit Amsterdam and not be charmed by their surroundings. The vintage architecture and the canals alone give the city a unique feel; one local described it as "the biggest village in Europe," and it's hard to argue with that notion. Particularly for American visitors (like us), coming to Amsterdam felt very "European," for lack of a better word. (There aren't many places in the US where tourists can be overheard asking, "So, if we bike along the canal, there's an old windmill we can look at?")

Amsterdam may be the capital of the Netherlands and one of Europe's most important cities, but somehow, the place has retained a sort of antique vibe that helped make it an incredibly welcoming host city (even with all the rain, which was essentially a constant threat throughout the week). And while it wasn't exactly sleepy—the streets, particularly around the center, were often stuffed with pedestrians and throngs of people on bicycles—there was something laid-back about the overall atmosphere. As such, the city was almost a perfect antidote to the insanity of ADE's nighttime regimen. After staying out until the wee hours every night, there was something refreshing about cruising around Amsterdam during the daytime; it was clean, it was orderly, people were friendly (and essentially all spoke near-perfect English), and there were countless little side streets to explore, many of them littered with shops and cafes.


Resident Advisor party at Trouw, Saturday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

Trouw is a special place.

In truth, Amsterdam has a lot of clubs, many of which are quite good. There aren't many cities that could handle the sheer volume of events presented by ADE, but Amsterdam seemed to bear the load with ease, and it was rare that we walked into a club and were put off by the venue, the sound, the crowd, or really anything. Granted, we were being selective with our choices, but Amsterdam should be commended for its commitment to quality clubbing experiences.

At the same time, of all the clubs that we visited throughout the week, Trouw stood head and shoulders above the rest. Simply put, it's one of the best clubs on the planet, and it's astounding that its reputation hasn't yet reached a level of acclaim that's on par with some of the club's counterparts in Berlin and London. Club founder Olaf Boswijk—who handles the bookings and also DJs on occasion—has built something truly special, which is why we found ourselves returning to Trouw night after night; even when we didn't go, we wished that we had. (One Trow-related event that we missed was particularly notable; on Friday, the club programmed an evening at Concertgbouw, which is generally regarded as one of the finest concert halls in the world. The place is usually home to classical performances, but on Friday, it played host to Nicolas Jaar's Darkside project, Henrik Schwarz—who played with an orchestra—and one of Trouw's residents, Patrice Baumel.)


Resident Advisor party at Trouw, Saturday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes a club great, but Trouw is one of those venues that was clearly designed with both the DJ and the music lover in mind. Situated in a former newspaper printing facility, the club has a raw, industrial feel, particularly in its gritty lower level. (A side room on that level also contained a special audio-visual installation by Mark Fell.) The club's soundsystems are absolutely ace, especially upstairs in the main room, a place that's also notable for the location of its DJ booth, which is on the floor and always winds up surrounded by dancers; there's actually a stage behind the booth, which allows for partygoers to dance the night away while facing the enormous room. While we were there, the atmosphere was relaxed (but fun), the crowd was knowledgeable, and Trouw's resident DJs were often just as good as the headliners. Names like Sandrien, Cinnaman, Job Jobse, and Nuno Dos Santos may not carry as far as some of the week's headliners, but they all delivered top-notch sets to an appreciative crowd.

Beyond that, Trouw's strength is in its curation. It's not a huge place, but it is big (the capacity is around 1200 people); nevertheless, it's not programmed like a giant room. Throughout ADE, Trouw rolled out one quality night after another, from Colors presenting Julio Bashmore, Kowton, and Funkineven to the aforementioned Clone x Delsin x Rush Hour blowout. On Saturday night, there was a Resident Advisor event with DJ Sprinkles, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Peter Van Hoesen, and others; even better, the party didn't end on Sunday morning. Trouw has a 24-hour license, and elected to stay open all the way until Monday, bringing in the likes of John Talabot, Mano Le Tough, DVS1, Hunee, San Soda, and others to close out its final day at ADE. Given that, we had a hard time staying away.


Âme at Innervisions party at Trouw, Thursday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

Amsterdam's late-night food scene is, well, pretty much nonexistent.

Admittedly, we're running the risk of sounding like gluttonous Americans here (especially since we also mentioned this last year), but it was basically impossible to eat—or do anything, really—in Amsterdam late at night. As much as we enjoyed the city's small-town charms, that enjoyment did not extend to the fact that almost nothing was open after midnight or so. If we had been operating on a normal schedule, this wouldn't have been as much of an issue, but during ADE, we were generally leaving the club around five or six in the morning. Perhaps things are different in Holland, but we're generally accustomed to the long-standing tradition of eating some food—even terrible food—after a long night of partying. But apart from some frightening automat options in the most touristy part of the center, Amsterdam was closed for business once we hit the streets in the early-morning hours. Restaurants, cafes, and even small mom-and-pop markets were all shuttered. The Dutch clearly love to party, but it felt like they were missing this one ingredient. That said, we also couldn't help but notice that obesity didn't appear to be much of an issue amongst the Amsterdam populace… perhaps they're on to something.


Ron Morelli at Dekmantel party at MC Theater, Friday night
(photo by Rene Passet via DJ Broadcast)

Dekmantel continues to be on a roll.

It was less than two months ago that XLR8R attended the inaugural Dekmantel Festival, which we pretty much loved. (Our review has all the details as to why.) Apparently, the aftermath of throwing a festival has done nothing to slow down this Amsterdam-based crew, as Dekmantel hosted four separate nights at ADE, all of which boasted quality line-ups. And though we didn't the love cavernous MC Theater (or the adjacent North Sea Jazz Club) where the Dekmantel parties went down, the crew undoubtedly did its best to dress up the relatively drab space with lights, lazers, and installations. We actually only made it to Dekmantel on Friday night, and although the venue was seriously stuffed with people—particularly in the main room, which also had soggy indoor/outdoor carpeting on the floor—there was no arguing with the quality of the music.

We caught Joy Orbison and the Hessle Audio guys in the main room, and they were all quite good, but the real vibes were happening in the other spaces. The MC Theater's second room is where Steve Summers (who performed live) and Ron Morelli represented L.I.E.S. for much of the night. (They were originally scheduled to be joined by Delory Edwards, but he cancelled and was replace by Amsterdam's own Young Marco. In truth, the room was a bit oddly located, to the point where many partygoers didn't even realize it was there, but those who found it were treated to excellent sound, along with innovative—and often raw—house music from Summers and Morelli. Similarly good was the North Sea Jazz Club, where Omar-S served up his deliciously soulful brand of house and techno for more than three hours before Anthony Naples stepped in with a percussion-heavy mix of off-kilter house rhythms. From the instant we arrived to the moment we left, good music was in abundance at Dekmantel, and based on the caliber of the line-ups the crew presented throughout the week, it seems like that was the norm. There are very few promoters at work these days who have such a keen ear for music and a willingness/ability to assemble such high concentrations of talent; Dekmantel is on to something, and ADE only affirmed that this is a crew that's worth keeping an eye on in the months and years ahead.


Funkineven at Colors party at Trouw, Wednesday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

We need to see Funkineven again.

UK producer Funkineven played a lengthy set while opening up the main room at Trouw on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, we were only able to catch the last 45 minutes or so. Still, even within that limited timeframe, it became clear that he was doing something unique. Pulling together bits of electro, techno, and house while employing a whole lot of acid, there was something delightfully odd, even unhinged, about the music he presented. Funkineven's production work is certainly something that exists on an island of its own—especially within the context of the current UK landscape—so it wasn't entirely surprising that his DJ stylings would follow a similarly individual path. By the time he wrapped up around 1 a.m., we still weren't sure exactly what it was about Funkineven that was so compelling, but we were certain of one thing—we wanted more of it.


Omar-S at Dekmantel party at North Sea Jazz Club, Friday night
(photo by Eva de Korte)

Spencer is severely underrated.

Even amongst regular XLR8R readers, we're guessing that Spencer isn't necessarily a familiar name. That's not for a lack of activity on his part; he's one of the founders of the Numbers label, co-hosts the crew's radio show on Rinse FM, and is a staple of the European DJ circuit. Perhaps it's simply that he hasn't released any music that he doesn't get as much attention as many of his label compatriots, or that most people can only process one Numbers guy—Jackmaster—who "only" DJs. Regardless of the reasons why, we're convinced that Spencer deserves a lot more accolades, especially after seeing his set at the Numbers party on Friday night at ADE.

The party was at Paradiso, and Spencer was tasked with spinning for a main room that was taking its time to fill up. (Side note: he was also playing at the same time as Swamp81's Mickey Pearce, who was smashing it upstairs with a distinctly dark and drummy mix of tunes.) Staring down a big, half-full room is a daunting task for any DJ, but Spencer is one of those artists who can easily adapt his set to any situation. That's not to say that he doesn't follow his own vision—his sets (including his session at ADE) invariably include some combination of disco, house, techno, and boogie—but his first instinct is to play in service of the party, and he did an excellent job both warming up the floor and building things to a crescendo (the dancefloor was packed by the end of his set) before Rustie took over the proceedings. It's interesting that Jackmaster is the Numbers DJ often hailed as most capable of "rocking a party," usually with some reference to his predilection for mixing in pop hits with more underground electronic fare. Based on our observations, Spencer is just as likely to create a celebratory vibe, only he does it without employing songs that someone's mom might know. That's not meant as a critique of Jackmaster, who's clearly a massively talented DJ. We just feel like it's time to shine the light a bit brighter on Spencer's particular skill set.


Dixon at Innervisions party at Trouw, Thursday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

Innervisions likes power ballads.

On Thursday night, Trouw was taken over by Germany's Innervisions crew, who assembled an impressive line-up in both rooms. Downstairs, we watched a special techno set from Running Back boss Gerd Janson, a surprisingly trancey—albeit enjoyable—live set from Recondite, and another special techno set by Âme. Upstairs, Culoe De Song's polished, melody-infused take on South African house was lots of fun and absolutely lit up the dancefloor.

On the other hand, many of the selections from Dixon, who closed out the night and was eventually joined in the booth by Âme, generally sound like, well, power ballads. That may seem ridiculous, but the description is an apt one. Over time, Dixon's and Âme's sets seem to have increasingly veered toward a highly melodic, vocal-driven brand of dance music that veers dangerously close to commercial trance. These guys may come from a celebrated techno lineage, but on Thursday night, big breakdowns, catchy melodies, and formulaic arrangements seemed to dominate the proceedings, along with a whole lot of very questionable vocals. Normally, we have no problem with vocals, but the Innervisions heads pulled out tune after tune with the sort of smooth, overproduced, and overwrought voices that one might hear in a plaintively saccharine, adult-contemporary radio ballad. In short, the music was full of grand gestures, but it ultimately didn't have much in the way of soul. It may have all been well presented and the crowd undeniably ate it up, but to our ears, the cheese factor was fully in the red.


Culoe De Song at Innervisions party at Trouw, Thursday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

Motor City Drum Ensemble and DJ Sprinkles put on a clinic on Saturday night.

We already mentioned that Resident Advisor teamed up with Trouw for an ADE party on Saturday night, and while the entire evening was filled with stellar sounds—including nice techno sets upstairs from Sandrien and Peter Van Hoesen—we had a very hard time pulling ourselves away from the downstairs room once Motor City Drum Ensemble took over the decks around 1 a.m. The German artist's DJ sets have been a bit up and down over the years, but his ADE appearance found him completely comfortable and totally in control. The guy is clearly a digger, and relied upon his deep crates to string together rich and soulful bits of disco and house in a notably compelling fashion. The room's dancefloor definitely reached its peak on his watch, and it was interesting to see Motor City Drum Ensemble occasionally slip in some banging house cuts and ratchet up the energy level before returning to deeper tunes. His set rolled along in waves, rising and falling naturally behind his on-point mixing and intuitive track selection.

In truth, Motor City Drum Ensemble might have been the best thing we saw all week—if he wasn't immediately followed by DJ Sprinkles, who was absolutely masterful. Although Sprinkles inherited a very lively dancefloor from MCDE, he (we're going to refer to Sprinkles as "he," although it could go either way) only bothered to maintain that energy level for a few tracks before delving into his signature deep-house sounds. Knowing that there were three hours to experiment with, he spent most of the first two hours thoroughly cooling out the room, unfurling deep, dubby, and subtly melodic tunes that were both drenched in soul and enticingly rhythmic enough to keep the floor moving. Most of the tunes were rather lengthy, yet Sprinkles kept things interesting by using some sort of filter device, which sounded great and allowed him to essentially warp and transform the songs at will. Hearing him work in this fashion felt totally refreshing, and we would have been happy to continue blissfully melting right along with him, but Sprinkles suddenly changed course around 5 a.m. During his final hour, he indulged in some fiery bits of diva and vogue house, which brought up the drums—and the energy level—in a hurry and provided a triumphant sort of climax before he chilled things out one last time. It's very rare that three hours of a single DJ doesn't feel like enough, but Sprinkles was just insanely good at ADE; when we think about this year's event, there's little question that his set will be the one we remember most.


DJ Sprinkles at Resident Advisor party at Trouw, Saturday night
(photo by de fotomeisjes)

Trouw's closing party ended the week on the highest on high notes.

Even after spending a whole lot of time at Trouw throughout ADE, we couldn't keep ourselves from one last go-round on Sunday night. And though we had spent a solid portion of Sunday recuperating from our revelry with Motor City Drum Ensemble and DJ Sprinkles, once we returned to Trouw around 9 p.m., it didn't take long to remember that the party had never actually stopped from the night before. As such, the club was in full swing when we walked through the doors, and one of our favorites, John Talabot, had just begun his set. Quite frankly, we're running out of ways to describe how much we love Talabot, so perhaps it's enough to simply say that he was excellent. The man is a total pro behind the decks, and his mastery of tunes that are both sonically deep and totally appropriate for a big-room setting was once again a sight to behold. It certainly helped that there was a palatable positive vibe in the air; even after a long week of ADE partying, the crowd was absolutely rapturous, and even broke into wild cheers when a sudden power outage cut the music for a couple of minutes in the middle of Talabot's set.

The booth was handed over to Trouw resident Job Jobse around midnight, who capably maintained the vibe—and drew plenty of cheers—while serving up a steady stream of soaring, melody-driven house cuts. The main room's final guest was Mano Le Tough, who elected to dive extra deep and stitch together a series of spacey, synth-heavy cuts and mellow out the floor for awhile. Around 4 a.m., he began to pick up the pace and appeared to be working toward an eventual peak, but an early flight back to the US beckoned and we had to take our leave. Still, we walked outside with little doubt that Trouw's crowded dancefloors would soldier on without us and bring ADE to a close in the best way possible.

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