“Tickets Sold Out,” declared the Dekmantel website, several weeks prior to this year’s edition. Although a glaring reminder of Dekmantel’s growing popularity, this is not really a good sign. In an age where the basic festival formula is to load an outdoor space with as many people as permitted by law, such an announcement normally equates to the fact that you’ll be squashed into a crowded venue where the only light relief is to queue for hours at the bar to buy an overpriced refreshment. But that's a normal festival—and Dekmantel is different. Dekmantel gets it right. As a result, Dekmantel is quite possibly the finest house and techno festival in Europe.
Ignoring, for now, the astonishing array of music that is on offer through the course of the three days, the atmosphere at Dekmantel must first be noted. Those in attendance are always fun and amiable, and the day venue, a beautiful woodland/camping area called Amsterdamse Bos, is perfect for a festival of this size—small and intimate enough that you don't feel lost or disconnected, but also large enough that you never feel trapped or confined. And in a testament to the organizers, this space is anything but overly exploited. Queues at the bars are always manageable, if existent at all, and there seems always to be space in which to walk around or dance, even for the most popular acts; sheltered and non-sheltered chill out zones are available, and the food areas are prudently located away from the main music area for those who want to just gather breath.
Scattered across this space are five stages, each offering an entirely different vibe to the next. Artists, logically and very successfully, are matched to the stage that will best present their output and—while the quality of acts never fails to impress—the variety of venues works only to enhance the all-round festival experience. Wandering from the dark ferocity of Rødhåd or Nina Kraviz on the UFO Stage to Donato Dozzy or Solar in the beautiful sheltered woodland of the Selector Stage is like visiting an entirely different world. Noted, too, must be the Lab, a partially open-air greenhouse-cum-arena that played the perfect host to acts like Veronica Vasika and Helena Hauff’s wonderful acid-tech talents, while the stunning Main Arena provides solid sound quality while striking a rare compromise between intimacy and enormity. Finally, nestled in one corner of the site is the Boiler Room stage, a hotspot of intensity and excitement that sees some of the best DJs in the world perform live on camera.
Of great importance to Dekmantel’s success is the scheduling, something that must be very carefully managed when there is such a plethora of talents on offer. Barring a limited number of frustrating, and perhaps avoidable, clashes, this year’s festival was a showcase in impeccable programming. One example that springs to mind is Midland’s early-afternoon Sunday slot, the summer sun complimenting his upbeat output to provide a welcome pick-me-up following two days of late night merrymaking. Marcel Dettmann’s Friday closing slot was equally well-timed, as was sprinkling some Villalobos and Zip magic as people were still coming through the gates on the opening day. However, particular credit must go to the organizers for finishing Sunday with a stunning Tama Sumo Boiler Room, a brilliant move that formed the perfect close and resulted in one of the most memorable moments of the entire weekend.
Inevitably, there are things that could probably be improved (queuing to enter the site can be unnecessarily tedious, for example) - but these are minor annoyances. The festival has already doubled it’s original 5,000 capacity, and the consequential rise in demand that will result from the fest's many positive reviews will likely increase the pressure on co-founders Thomas Martojo and Casper Tielrooij to expand, with either a new site or by increasing numbers. At what cost remains to be seen, but for now it is hard to find any fault with this current model—at Dekmantel by Day, at least.
While Dekmantel by Day is perfectly curated and easygoing, Dekmantel by Night is a writhing monster hosted in the dark expanse of the Melkwag multi-purpose events center. This side of the event was significantly larger than in previous years, and while the line-up was typically exemplary, with performances from Omar S, Derrick May and Answer Code Request (playing live) of particular note, the scene and setting was neither remarkable or especially memorable. It’s an arguably necessary side of the event, and is perfectly reasonable for those who have both the desire and stamina to take the night further, but it still feels like little more than a murky after-party to the festival’s outstanding focal point.
On this evidence, Dekmantel 2016 is a must-do—even if you don’t necessarily do the night.