The central part of ADE takes place along the Keizersgracht canal, and is easy to spot by the lanyard-strewn crowd milling around out front all week. When I first arrived on Wednesday afternoon, I had the odd sensation of being at a red carpet event; within minutes I saw Carl Craig posing for a photo, Jonty Skrufff nursing a drink by the fireplace and Richie Hawtin fiddling with his iPhone as he leaned against a marble wall. Waiters moved through the scene with trays of champagne flutes, and everywhere people were eagerly hobnobbing, saying things like "Great to finally meet you" and "He's the guy to talk to in Brazil." Meanwhile, panels took place in the rooms around us, with titles ranging from "Disintegrating Genres" to "Putting the A in Authenticity," most of which featured celebrity talking heads (Dubfire spoke at the former, Dave Clarke at the latter). Having come to ADE with the task of writing a "one man odyssey" account of the week, my own daytime schedule was mercifully light—mostly all I had to do was skulk around and take in the scene, and make it to as many parties as I could.
The conference's official opening party was D25 at Melkweg, the Amsterdam stop on an international tour celebrating 25 years of Detroit techno. My plan was to grab a leisurely dinner and show up early, but the higher-ups at RA had other ideas: soon I was roped into attending The Golden Gnome Awards, a tongue-in-cheek ceremony for clubbing industry professionals. Proceedings took place at Paradiso, a converted Church that's one of Amsterdam's most popular venues.
The atmosphere inside was deliberately hard to take seriously. Instead of conventional theater seats, the audience sat at long picnic tables while guys in skimpy maiden outfits fed us cheese and mustard. I saw some people wearing gigantic eyeball masks, and never figured out if they were part of the show or not. The ceremony kicked off with a Star Wars-style intro video, complete with the familiar theme song and lines of golden text floating off into space. RA won the media award, which was an honor, of sorts. We stuck around to see a few more: Most Loveable Booking Agent, Noisy Gnome Award (i.e. best sound system), Best Dressed DJ, etc. For some reason there was a lot of buzz around the award for DJ with the Worst Haircut, which Dixon was rumored to have in the bag, but ended up going to David Guetta.
After a quick bite at a weird Moroccan restaurant, I finally set out for D25 at Melkweg. The queue was long and the club was packed, despite it being a Wednesday night. Carl Craig had already finished by 12:00, so I walked into a set by Al Ester, another second-generation Detroit DJ and C2's current touring companion. Right away I noticed the crowd getting fired up in a way that's pretty rare for Berlin, London or New York—a bit more like the fist-pumping energy of a rock concert. Ester's style was upbeat and a cappella heavy, and the eager crowd ate it up. He was followed by house music's favorite wunderkind, DJ and producer Kyle Hall. This was my first time seeing Hall, and he definitely surpassed my expectations. I'd heard a lot about his shaky mixing skills, and while I wouldn't call him slick, his track selection more than made up for his awkward transitions: mostly warm and punchy house with the occasional deep techno bit, all of which fit the sound system like a glove. Somewhere near the end he played "God Made Me Funky," which seemed especially fitting coming from him. About this time Juan Atkins appeared and busted out a MacBook Pro. Looking gentle and bald behind the decks, he slipped through a medley of dark and lean techno, which followed nicely from Hall's house set. I only stuck around for a bit before checking out Stacey Pullen, who easily handled the massive main room, sounding a bit like Carl Craig but with more of a house groove.
D25 - Kyle Hall, Melkweg, Stacey Pullen
After a few tracks I slipped out of Melkweg, hopped in a bicycle cab and headed for Amsterdam's newest club, AiR. This is one of those places that goes for a disco-from-the-future vibe: slick lights, lots of mirrors and a Jetsons-era sound system (which, for some reason, beat fabric and Berghain in the Golden Gnome Awards). Ovum and Drumcode were on the bill that night, and I walked in to find Josh Wink thumping through a tech house set with mathematical precision. Ida Engberg was in the smaller room playing tougher party techno, looking very serious despite her oversized glasses. I milled around for a while, slipping between the two dance floors until travel fatigue caught up with me. After a pointless search for an open coffee shop, I slowly found my way back to my hotel.
The next afternoon I had some business to tend to—namely, an interview with Dave Clarke. I spent the morning reading up on Clarke at a cafe near my hotel, then headed to the panel he was moderating at the conference: The Do's and Don'ts of Digital Promo. It was funny to see Clarke, a former punk, teenage runaway and generally anti-establishment character, getting worked up over such a dry industry topic. He looked like a natural too, clarifying jargon for the audience, cracking witty little jokes and making sure to direct each question to whomever hadn't spoken in a while. I'd had a similar sensation watching Richie Hawtin lead a press conference about a production tool called Burn Studios; though it may sound naive, there's something odd about seeing underground artists act like savvy industry figures.
After parting ways with Clarke, I took a stroll across the canals to buy some records at Rush Hour. Despite being about the size of a meat freezer, the shop has great atmosphere and a fantastic selection, not to mention laid back clerks who pass the afternoon mixing records with an E&S DJR-400 (i.e. a $3,000 rotary mixer). While I sat there previewing my vinyl, Kyle Hall and Space Dimension Controller rolled in looking like a pair of natural sidekicks—the former with his baseball cap and braces, the latter wearing a gold chain and a leopard-print jumper, both under 21. They went straight to the counter where Hall asked, out of breath, "Do you have the new Space Dimension Controller on R&S?" As soon as the clerk handed it to him he slid out the record to look at the colored vinyl. "Aww, that is dope, man, that is sick..." I should have asked him why his buddy couldn't just give him a copy for free. Instead I made useless small talk about what he was up to for the rest of the week (Unsound Festival in Poland, Insomnia Festival in Norway).
That night ended up being the most chaotic chapter of the weekend. My plan had been to check out the Kompakt party at Sugar Factory, then head straight to Paradiso for one of my favorite lineups of the conference: The Dekmantel night featuring Jeff Mills, with San Proper in the small room and Juju & Jordash in the basement. Unfortunately, things didn't pan out that way. I started out at the ADE networking bash, which I had stupidly pictured to be a posh and intimate cocktail party, possibly with excellent hor d'oeuvres. Instead it was something more akin to the club scene in Basic Instinct, but without all the titillating grittiness. The venue was a massive church, with a DJ playing Art Department on an Emulator. There was an open bar, but it only served mojitos, and there was a horrible scramble to get these leafy concoctions (when I asked someone if the drinks were free, he replied rather ominously "you have to be selected.") For some reason, Dave Carke appeared on video screens around the room, looming over the crowd. The whole party felt like some twisted sequel to The Golden Gnome Awards, but without all the wacky charm. After one mojito, the decision to leave came easily.
Robag at Sugar Factory
After a quick detour to a little bar that served artsy, forward-thinking cocktails, I made my way to Sugar Factory. Robag Wurhme was playing a pretty forgettable set when I walked in, and soon Matias Aguayo took over for a live act that involved, among other things, cowbell. The club itself felt uninspired—pretty much just a big room with lights (a complaint that could be leveled at Melkweg as well, though for some reason it didn't bother me there).
After a half hour or so I hopped in another cab (motorized this time) and made my way to Trouw. A massive venue with lots of personality, Trouw is a strong contender for Amsterdam's best club, but tonight it was barely half full. It's hard not to think of Berghain when you first walk into the place: both clubs are lightly renovated industrial spaces (Berghain was a power station, Trouw a printing press), and both have daunting main rooms with high ceilings. The first thing I saw when I got inside was a rock band playing techno songs. A friend leaned over to me and said "Elektro Guzzi. Great band, horrible name." Joris Voorn took over from there and dug into some pumping tech house tracks, which felt a bit much in such a dark and empty space. I decided to take a break downstairs, where I found a somber group of people that included Craig Richards and Matthew Styles. They had been scheduled to play that night, but the club had been too empty, so now they sat and passed the time in this small and quiet back room. The mood was pretty glum, so I took off before it got too late.
My plan was to head straight for Paradiso, but first I made a quick stop at Studio 80 for the Moon Harbour / Secretsundaze party. Once inside I made a beeline for the second room, where Patrice Scott and Keith Worthy were playing exactly the kind of ethereal deep house I'd been hoping for—namely, Fred P's "It Is What It Is" and lots of similar records. Things go a little fuzzy after that—the innovative cocktails had long since caught up with me—but what I can say for sure is that I left too late, because the Dekmantel party was ending by the time I got there. After a fruitless argument with the door man, I sat on the steps and chatted with total strangers for a while, then begrudgingly made my way home.
If Thursday was too mobile for comfort, Friday and Saturday were just the opposite: I spent the entirety of both nights at Trouw. This was actually a little embarrassing as I had someone fly in to meet me on Friday night, and aside from one drizzly walk around town, all she saw of Amsterdam that weekend was the interior of a single nightclub. But ultimately you have to go where the lineups are the strongest, and Trouw undoubtedly won on this front (at least to my tastes). Friday was hosted by Resident Advisor, and the bill was stacked from 10:00 PM until well past dawn. Hercules and Love Affair came on first, so the place filled up early. I had never seen them live before and I was pleasantly surprised—a perfect blend of new wave, post-punk and disco played with irresistible panache. Even their banter was entertaining.
Resident Advisor at Trouw
Radio Slave, Steve Bug and Trouw resident Melon took care of the main room for the rest of the night, but I decided to bide my time downstairs, where the ceiling and the tempo were both much lower. Hunee loosened up the crowd with warm and party-friendly house records, then handed the reins over to Space Dimension Controller, who was still wearing the same outfit I'd seen him in the day before (as pictured in this week's podcast photo). He was the night's replacement for Tensnake, RA's big name headliner who cancelled at the last minute due to an emergency wisdom tooth removal operation. The young Irishman only played for about 45 minutes, but what I heard followed on Hunee's tip nicely. Soul Clap took over after him and delivered what was by many accounts the best part of the night. Deftly mixing up funky, disco-tinted house records, the Boston duo kept the crowd locked in straight through to the end.
At 5:00 AM, a couple hundred of us filed into the not-so-secret afterparty, which took place in a never-before-used locker room deep in the bowels of Trouw. Down at the end of a musty concrete hallway, resident DJs Patrice Baumell and Nuno de Santos were getting things started with some sleek minimal records. Red lights played off the white-tiled walls to lurid effect, and by now the party had taken on a rather gritty feel. That said, it was also very comfortable, thanks to an odd jumble of platforms that let you sit and chat right in the middle of the dance floor. Craig Richards hit the decks for a while, partly to make up for his canceled gig the night before. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was the smoothest DJ I saw that night: each track slotted neatly into the one before it, always nailing the delicate afterhours vibe. Soul Clap hopped on next and broke into some spaced out, slo-mo house. I liked where they were headed, but I knew I had to leave if I wanted to make it out again on Saturday. After one final pear juice and vodka (the only drink available at the makeshift bar), I sauntered out to find a cab in the foggy late morning.
Craig Richards plays the afterparty
On Saturday I woke up sometime past nightfall. My only non-clubbing activity consisted of a rainy walk down the canals to a little place called The Pancake Corner, where I filled up on bacon, syrup and coffee in preparation for my final party back at Trouw. To my tastes, this was a pretty exceptional lineup: some of the best residents from Berlin's Berghain / Panorama Bar, plus a smattering of Dutch acts from Delsin, one of techno's most esteemed underground imprints. Unfortunately it seemed like I wasn't the only one running on fumes: Amsterdam's clubbing hordes had lost a lot of their energy by now, which didn't jive well with the night's more understated acts. Ostgut Ton manager Nick Hoppner was playing a great house set downstairs, but hardly anyone was there to hear it. Upstairs, Quince played a measured dub techno set to a semi-receptive audience. I only caught the end of Newworldaquarium, but what I heard was very upbeat—surprising given the slow and swampy sound of his records. This set the stage nicely for Prosumer, who hit the nail on the head with bright and hook-heavy set, exactly what the crowd was looking for.
Redshape took the energy up a notch with a fast and dynamic live set, full of tunes from his excellent Red Pack on Delsin. Some may deride the campiness of his red mask, but I thought he had a great stage presence, rocking around behind controls in a dapper button-down shirt. Techno heavyweight Marcel Dettmann came on next, and though his set was pretty good, it didn't hold a candle to some of his recent gigs at Berghain. This is admittedly a subjective complaint, but it points to something that I find is true of the Berghain / Panorama Bar residents in general: they're rarely as strong abroad as they are at home.
While Dettmann blasted through his headlining set, Delta Funktionen played some of the best music I heard all weekend. As with the other Delsin acts I saw that night, I was impressed at how he handled peak time without compromising his trademark sound—the set was just as dark and dusty as his records, but with enough funky rhythms, strong basslines and eerie vocal hooks to meet the needs of the party. It should have perfectly set the stage for Steffi, who's probably my favorite Panorama Bar resident, but for whatever reason she wasn't in her usual form. The tracks were cool, but had an overly epic tone that rang hollow. I took this as my cue to head home and catch 45 minutes of sleep before my train back to Berlin.
As tired as I was, I would have liked to stick around for longer: Trouw was having an after party with Dixon, Prosumer and a crew of Dutch artists, and Zip was playing on the other side of town at Studio K, but Monday and the normal work week loomed. This aspect of ADE made itself clear early on: no matter how much you push yourself, there's too much happening to catch everything you'd like to see. On the other hand, where else can you waltz into virtually any club on any night and catch a famous DJ behind the decks? This is why ADE is so popular for punters as well as professionals. In any industry, people party when they go to a conference, but in electronic music the conference is about the parties, which makes for some of the most loaded club weekends you'll find anywhere.