As a city, Amsterdam is an almost overwhelming convergence of the old and the new, the familiar and the foreign. Pristine modern architecture and rustic brick buildings occupy virtually the same space amongst Amsterdam's cobblestone streets, where a flurry of international pedestrians, scooters, bikers, and motorists somehow manage to shuffle their way through the city day in and day out. In this spirit, the 2011 Amsterdam Dance Event (also known simply as ADE) lineup is completely appropriate, even with its jaw-dropping numbers—boasting over 700 DJs and producers from around the world performing at over 200 events in well above 50 different venues. Truthfully, ADE is not a 100% XLR8R-friendly event, but even a smaller percentage of the aforementioned "700 DJs and producers" proved to be plenty to take in.
Pangaea and Ben UFO
Despite there being a number of kick-off events and "official" ADE opening parties to get things in motion for the first night of the annual gathering (now in its 16th year), anyone hungry for forward-thinking bass was bound to find themselves circling around Melkweg for the Planet-E 20th Anniversary showcase. Boasting a lineup that was as strong as it was far-reaching, the three young lads behind the Hessle Audio imprint—Pangaea, Ben UFO, and Pearson Sound—started the night off strong with over two and a half hours of UK-leaning sounds. Armed with two laptops and some combination of turntables and CDJs (the stage was quite high off the ground, making it hard to see exactly what they were using), the trio of tastemakers pushed and pulled on each other's styles, but never lost momentum. Ben UFO supplied the more dance-worthy/house-leaning tracks, Pangaea kept things dark and gritty, and Pearson Sound brought his noted penchant for maddeningly propulsive tracks that would push the audience over the edge from "dance party" into altogether "freak the fuck out" mode.
Meanwhile, in just the other room, Motor City Drum Ensemble was putting together a set of soulful offerings, beginning with some retro-tinged funk and disco tunes before eventually moving into deeper, Detroit-indebted territory. The German DJ/producer took his time moving from one track to another, mixing his selections with patience and control and making the transitions between tracks almost indistinguishable if you weren't paying attention or found yourself lost in the warm sounds emanating from the speakers.
Motor City Drum Ensemble
Following MCDE on the very same decks was like-minded producer/DJ Kyle Hall, who unraveled a set of percussive, synth-heavy tunes, which were a little more forceful than what I've come to expect from the face of new Detroit. Perhaps because MCDE had set the tone, Hall quickly jumped into his heavy set of Midwest-approved house and techno, allowing the occasional piano riff and R&B-indebted vocal track to peak above the brooding mix, only to sink back into the heavy, undulating low-end below, which, of course, we couldn't resist.
Fellow Detroit resident Kenny Larkin had just begun his live PA set when I made my way to Melkweg's bigger dance hall. Sitting behind a laptop and a few choice pieces of equipment, Larkin proved he deserved the reputation that comes with his legendary status, presenting fresh interpretations of his productions (both new and old) to the delight of the completely packed dancefloor. In classic Detroit-veteran fashion, Larkin made excellent use of frequency control, coyly taking the bass out of tracks so that you didn't notice how far it was gone until it came crashing back in, compelling the audience to dance even harder to keep up. And as a special treat for the younger folk in the crowd (of which there were a lot, myself included), Larkin reworked his seminal "You Are" tune, a track which I'm sure many of us had never heard before coming direct from the man who crafted it.
Martin von Oswald, Carl Craig, and Francesco Tristano
Although the original bill in the ADE program featured only the name Carl Craig, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the likes of Moritz von Oswald and Francesco Tristano were to accompany the Planet-E boss on stage. Moritz von Oswald commanded the most space on stage, floating between a Moog Voyager on his left and a grand piano on his right (both of which ran through some spacey processors), while Craig and Tristano used a combination of laptops and hardware to sculpt their sonic contributions. The trio took the crowd through what seemed to be an entirely improvised set, going back and forth between meandering fields of abstraction and thumping, intelligent techno.
I finished my night with a final DJ set by Canadian producer Dan Snaith (a.k.a. Caribou), and although I should have known not to worry, I wasn't exactly sure how the multi-instrumentalist was going to be able to translate his penchant for dense—at times psychedelic—productions to the late-night club atmosphere. But after only a few minutes behind the decks, which Snaith used to filter and tweak through a manic edit of his own tune "Sun," it was clear that the man was more than capable of cultivating the proper vibes for his time slot. While the room began to fill with a never-ending supply of fog, Snaith dropped edit after edit of his own material (from both Caribou's and Daphne's catalogs), and even managed to sneak in a few appropriate tracks, most notably bringing in Joy Oribson's "Elipsis" from a wall of textured noise so that you weren't quite sure what you were hearing until the first "We just used to like..."
Thursday night found me stretching my legs a bit more in an attempt to navigate through the many showcases ADE had in store, but I began again at Melkweg, this time upstairs in the beautifully designed Rabozaal Hall where the Kompakt showcase would be taking place all night. When I arrived, our most recent podcast contributor, Rebolledo, was warming up the crowd with a DJ set of slippery techno, with touches of funk, Latin rhythms, and brief moments of intriguing weirdness wedged between its steady kick drums.
Kompakt staple Matias Aguayo was next on the bill, and the native Chilean delivered an invigorating performance that found the producer/DJ utilizing a laptop, CDJs, and more gear to effortlessly build a collection of rhythmically irresistible beats. With microphone in hand and a beaming smile on his face, Aguayo directed and lured the crowd with a generous helping of his own voice, as he sang, shouted, and even whistled into the mic.
I shuffled out of the showcase (with plans to return later on), and headed to the once-orante theater-turned-techno club Paradiso to catch French techno veteran Laurent Garnier's newest collaborative performance project, LBS. Joined by frequent collaborators Benjamin Rippert and Scan X, LBS moved the absolutely packed, two-story venue with elongated pieces of anthemic, improvised techno. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. It seemed that every time the trio pulled back the four-on-the-floor kick drum for the occasional moment of mounting anticipation, the droves of techno heads would explode with elation when the performers finally brought back the thumping, rolling techno in full force.
But as much as Garnier and company's colossal set tried to keep me (not to mention the impossibility of making my way through a crowd that large), there was yet another Midwest legened in town for ADE who I had to see, Frankie Knuckles. The surroundings were much cozier than the Paradiso, with a dancefloor that could maybe hold 50 or 60 people (although my guess is there were considerably more than that), giving Knuckles' set a focused, intimate feel. The Chicago native represented the homeland of proper house behind two CDJs, dropping some of the funkiest, feel-good tracks that I've heard at the festival so far, and the crowd reacted exactly as they should have—smiling, clapping along, and dancing their asses off.
I finally returned to the Kompakt showcase (after a failed attempt to see Maya Jane Coles, whose showcase had reached capacity long before my arrival—I think it's safe to say it was probably great) just in time to catch the last half of a live PA performance from Los Angeles producer/DJ John Tejada. The recent Kompakt signee sculpted pieces of bouncing, melodic techno behind his chosen array of gear, from which no shortage of gliding bass, popping bells, and detailed micro-sounds kept the crowd moving.
Michael Mayer and Tobias Thomas
For the last endeavor of my night, I stuck around to see a back-to-back set between Kompakt label head Michael Mayer and long-time DJ/occasional producer Tobias Thomas. The pair's all-vinyl set began with a bit of a slow start, with both DJs taking some time to gauge the audience and get comfortable behind the decks, but once they locked in, it was worth the wait. There's a reason Mayer's label has garnered such a solid reputation. The man (along with his co-label heads) has great taste, and his selections throughout the night only solidified this fact, as he and Thomas dropped track after track of lush, sophisticated techno, most of which I had never before heard. But what better place to have two of Cologne's finest share the bounty of their musical explorations than a modern, European-designed performance space with a cold Heineken in hand?
Check back on Monday for Part 2 of our Amsterdam Dance Event wrap-up.