Ten years after throwing their first party in the Dutch capital, the Dekmantel team returned to Croatia for the second edition of Selectors, an extended weekend of DJs throwing down rare, sought after music gems, that verged from the tropically obscure, to minimal wave, techno, and more. Looking back at the festival that took place in the now much-regarded Garden resort, XLR8R looks at what made the festival so special.
Throughout the latest edition of Dekmantel’s Adriatic jaunt, a tall, mildly disheveled and sweaty Italian guy was running around with his phone high in the air—with the flashing blue calling signal of Shazam scanning the sound waves, fruitlessly seeking answers. On the rare occasion it would detect a track, our blazon hunter of songs would scream in joy, high-fiving with his smartly dressed rave-companions. It was definitely one of those festivals, where each record would raise an eyebrow—and if it had a beat- then some hips would move. Music fans were kept on the back foot, forever asking what the music was that they were listening to. The DJs kept digging deep.
This is the premise of Selectors. The Dutch label’s little foray into beachside eclecticism. Only the finest—and weirdest—tastemakers were called upon, playing collector's items and records worth their weight in gold on Discogs. Queue Rabih Beaini, Lena Willikens, and of course Young Marco. The artists worked to create differing narratives per each set, pleasing the crowd not with anthems, but surprises. Everyone was given full creative reign, and perhaps even ordered to go beyond their normal remit.
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Set at The Garden on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, Selectors shares the same location as many other well-established festivals, including Love International, Suncébeat, Soundwave as well as others. The music is split amongst several stages: a restaurant DJ booth; The Voodoo stage set out in a small olive grove; two beach stages, and Barbarellas, a DC-10-like nightspot a few kilometres down the coast. Days are spent on the pebbled beach, listening to the sun-kissed grooves and calypso vibes from the beach bar. While jaunting between the crystal-clear, turquoise blue waters, and the surrounding patch of hammocks, Selectors often gives the feeling of being a holiday camp for record nerds. As if Rush Hour were to give free holidays to those who spend over EUR 500 on their online record shop.
The crowd are decked out in the Dekmantel uniform. Sporty, branded caps. An open-collared shirt with exotic colors, usually with an African, tribal motif. Short shorts, trainers, with socks around the ankles, and a waste bag hung over the shoulder. Girls and guys alike covered in various nautical tattoos.
The Balearic mix of music—disco, wave, bossa nova, and more—along with the beachside backdrop, and with some finely dressed, great looking people, made me wonder if this is what Ibiza was like in its heyday. With its openness to expression and mild hedonism, could it be that people will refer to this community and scene as Adriatic—as people now refer to the Balearic? Support for this case could easily be made with Dekmantel Soundsystem, who in this case was being represented by label figurehead Casper Tielrooij. Playing on Friday afternoon, alongside Bert Bert, and Palms Trax cruising along the coast on board the festival’s party-boat, Casper and co. treated the Balearic buccaneer dancers to a finely, crafted mix of disco, soul, classic house, and Brazilian treats. It was a finely prepared, five-course meal, with stand out tracks James Pants' "We're Through," Baiana Tahira's edit of Gilberto Gil's "Toda Menina"(a Dekmantel classic), and Kerri Chandler’s "You’re in my System" as the set closer.
What Selectors does a lot better than anyone else, is choosing local Dutch talent with certain penchants for new sounds, and creative niches. A lot of new artists were added to my Soundcloud subscription feed after this extended weekend, including DJ Arif, whose selection of Eastern, ambient and jazz provided a perfect soundtrack to the hot afternoon; Sassy J who is always on point as a fine selector of great music; Calypso Steve who pulled no punches as a leader in good time, tropical tunes, and Max Abysmal, one of the Netherland’s up-and-coming talents, who warmed up for Young Marco with a somewhat deep, and trancey set (finished with aplomb thanks to well-timed disco edit of The Clash). Also noted was Mark Knekelhuis, owner of the imprint that specializes in lost Dutch wave records; Rush Hour’s Robert Bergman who played a selection of tracks that are unclassifiable, and frankly almost impossible to describe. Let's just say they were incredible and weird at the same time. One of the most memorable moments of the festival was Phuong Dan, the diminutive DJ with the big ideas. More than a DJ, Phuong Dan crafted a little, wave- odyssey. His set was filled with little pauses to break up the chapters, and was sometimes interjected with moments that attempted to connect scenes—sounds of Russian broadcast services, and East European wave music played at different tempos. His music fits somewhere in between kraut-wave-psych-beat that leaves you asking, "Where do you even buy records like that?"
Other moments of joyous discovery happened on the beach. Music from Memory's Jamie Tiller and Red Light Radio's Orpheu the Wizard formed the ultimate dream time, delighting everyone with sublime sunshine house and disco, culminating in the classic "African Soul Power." Jon K punished the revelers with a storming set of highly-charged electro-breaks, featuring De Ambassade's "Verloren" as a soulful set-closer. Stingray nailed it with a set of tight-electro, closing out with R&B-like trap to add some tenderness to his ardent sounds. But the real festival highlight was watching Objekt, an artist of unparalleled genius, who manages to match the music and selection to the setting without a care. Headlining the Voodoo Stage after Lena Wilikens, Objekt made sure to keep the characteristic, oddball electro-charm in full flow, while ensuring that a progressive kick flowed through the tracks to keep the dancefloor going. With a varied, yet composed selection of tracks, the crowd were treated to the likes of Aphex Twin, DJ Assault, and Robert Hood all within the three-hour set time. An artist with an attention to detail, and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of records. That's the kind of DJ who makes a fine selector. No anthems, just great records.
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All photos: Kasia Zacharko