As an active member of local nightlife since the late '90s, I've noticed a substantial shift in morals and attitudes over the last decade. At the turn of the century, most of the dance music establishment was blinded by an unhealthy mixture of egotism, bitterness and nostalgia, making them oblivious to young talent and new developments. For novice DJs such as myself it was practically impossible to obtain a proper gig. Unable to play in the regular clubs, we were determined to build a scene of our own—to organize our own nights, to produce our own music, to build our own clubs and to start our own record labels.
This do-it-yourself mentality, combined with a strong sense of openness and togetherness, has brought our scene to staggering heights. Not only has our global village's clublife blossomed over the last five years. It has also regained its leading position in cutting edge dance music. Many Amsterdam-based producers are topping the charts of Beatport, Decks and RA itself these days. Over twenty Dutchies were booked during Barcelona's Sonar 2009. The Amsterdam Dance Event has become one of the world's leading dance music conferences. And our clubs are frequented by more international artists than ever before. Basically, the scene in Amsterdam has never been healthier.
We decided to meet Shinedoe near her house in front of the Gashouder. In the 19th century, this massive round building served as the city's largest gas reserve. But to contemporary clubbers it's more of a sanctuary. In this industrial monolith most of today's ravers were first introduced to techno, thanks to an organization called Awakenings. Their legendary Techno Weekends have been running for 12 years now, drawing over four thousand visitors on average.
Shinedoe was looking her charming self when she arrived by bike. Between the promotion for her second album, No Boundaries, and the preparation of her first live set at Fabric, she's been quite busy over the past month—but looked utterly relaxed. "Funny," she recalls, when I tell her the title of the article will be Clubbing in Amsterdam. "It wasn't so long ago that Dylan [Hermelijn, AKA 2000 And One] and I still considered moving to Berlin. At the time, it felt like the only people who understood our music were living elsewhere." Ironically, the Dutch are usually the last to catch on when a Dutch musician is successful. "I'm glad we decided to stay though," she says. "I really think the best thing you can do as an artist is build up your own scene, instead of going where everyone else is." And that's exactly what they both did. Signing and coaching artists like Polder (AKA Lauhaus and David Labeij), District One (AKA Bart Skils and Anton Pieete), Kabale und Liebe, Julien Chaptal and many more, they laid the foundation for Amsterdam's New School techno/house sound.
23 year-old dance music programmer Hidde Pluymert wants to maintain the same diversity when booking artists for the nighttime: "Melkweg needs to be a place where a wide variety of styles can be heard," he told us, sipping from a Heineken in the dressing room of the Old Hall. "We also want to keep things on the alternative side. So you won't hear trance or hard style here. What you will hear is techno, house, disco, dubstep, electronica and even the occasional breakcore." Melkweg is where Tiefschwarz plays when they come to town, but it's also one of the few places in Holland that stages alternative acts like Luke Vibert, Squarepusher or James T. Cotton.
Tonight, though, belonged to Amsterdam 661. "Six producers, six machines, one mind" is their creed, laptop syncing their game, stripped down techno music their weapon. The group's line-up is quite impressive: Quazar MG (AKA Gert van Veen), Kabale und Liebe, Lauhaus and David Labeij from Polder, Boris Werner and Julien Chaptal. All of them have earned their stripes separately as producers. Every time they're jamming together though—only about twice a year—they come up with something surprising. After Nik Torrens—RA's photographer—and I first entered the Old Hall, both the atmosphere and the music seemed a bit stale, but when we came back from our talk with Hidde backstage, we realised that the first half hour of their live set had merely been foreplay. This stuff was banging! The crowd, consisting mostly of dedicated minimal kids, was ready to rip the dance floor apart. When Daniel "Mumbling" Sanchez finished the night off with a thumping house set, we couldn't prevent a little booty-shaking ourselves.
As we walked up, Cinnaman was enjoying the sun on the bench in front of the shop. When he had first moved to Amsterdam as a teenager, he'd quickly been taken under the wings of Rednose Distrikt, AKA Aardvarck and Steven de Peven. They taught him about production and introduced him to a lot of new music. Working in Rush Hour further broadened his musical knowledge and taste. "With my father being a DJ, I got to hear some great hip-hop and drum & bass growing up," he explained. "But Rush Hour was where I heard my first Moodymann record and thought 'what the fuck is this!?'"
These two influences—breaks on one side, techno and house on the other—can still be heard in Cinnaman's DJ sets and productions. "Compressed Roots" (produced together with Tom Trago under their Yuro & Trago moniker in 2007) was rightfully caned by the likes of Laurent Garnier and Carl Craig. It's a classical yet futuristic homage to Detroit's finest moments. Cinnaman has became more famous, though, for curating Rush Hour's Beat Dimensions series (together with Jay Scarlett). These two compilations brought to light a scattered group of mostly unknown MySpace producers that share an interest in experimenting with breaks and soundscapes; guys like Dimlite, Hudson Mohawke and Morgan Spacek, to name a few. A fresh scene has evolved—with Beat Dimensions as somewhat of a focal point—with an especially loyal following in the States. Cinnaman is pleased at the diversity in this exciting scene. "The media has tried to pinpoint the sound by giving it names like aquacrunk, emotronic or—my least favorite—wonky; but none of those names really stuck. That's why this genre has gotten the chance to develop slowly over the last three years without being overhyped to death."
Cinnaman's interest in hybrid sounds is what inevitably brought him to dubstep. His Viral Radio nights, started in 2007 with DJ Juha, are regarded as the most essential dubstep nights in the country. Groundbreaking acts like Flying Lotus, Moritz von Oswald, Kode 9 and Martyn are all on the Viral wall of fame. "Tonight we'll have Joker performing, from the UK. Most artists are really pleased to come play here, because they sense something special is going on. It's exciting to realise that Holland is the second most important country in the field of dubstep. Acts like Martyn and 2562 have definitely helped in making that known to the rest of the world."
Amsterdam techno anthems
Quazar – Seven Stars (Go Bang, 1990)
A techno classic that still hasn't lost its power after almost 20 years. It will soon be re-released on Remote Area with new remixes.
Shinedoe – Dillema (100 % Pure, 2004)
Pioneering record for the New School Amsterdam sound and a major summer hit.
Microfunk – Pecan (100% Pure, 2006)
As 2000 And One himself would describe it: "A sort of minimal 'Pullover.'" (Not referring to a tiny sweater, but to Speedy J's old school techno anthem.)
Kabale und Liebe & Daniel Sanchez – Mumbling Yeah (Remote Area, 2007)
Voted track of the year 2007 on Resident Advisor, made by two of Amsterdam's youngest and promising stars.
Yuro & Trago – Compressed Roots (Rush Hour, 2007)
Contemporary Detroit techno classic from Amsterdam.
Gert van Veen, whom we've already met as one of the Amsterdam 661 members, but who also runs a club called Studio 80, couldn't agree more. The 55 year-old has been living here as a producer since the late '80s, pioneering Amsterdam house with his live outfit Quazar, and is still on the forefront of electronic music as the director of one of Holland's most important venues for innovative house, techno and minimal. "Amsterdam has always been an attractive place for out-of-town producers," Gert states. "Guys like Derrick May and Alton Miller moved here in the '90s because they wanted to be part of what was going on. And up to this day our town is a popular habitat for many musicians. In fact, just the other week I bumped into Joris Voorn, who told me he had recently moved here from Rotterdam. Go figure."
According to Gert, there's something very special happening in Amsterdam at the moment. "A lot of people are nostalgic for the RoXY days" [Amsterdam's first and foremost haven of house music from 1987 – '99] "when the scene was fresh and exciting. And I must admit, I still have fond memories of that special period in time. But what's happening in Amsterdam right now isn't even comparable with those days. Never in the history of techno and house did such a large group of Amsterdam artists simultaneously have an amount of international success as considerable as today. And never before could you see as many artists from abroad perform in one weekend. When Mr. Fingers used to come and play at RoXY, the whole town would be anticipating it for months. That's a world of difference with the situation of today. This weekend alone, you can choose between Phoenix, Isolée, Joker, Mirko Loco, Rhadoo in three different clubs, to name only a few. And that's just an average weekend in a town of three quarter of a million inhabitants."
As van Veen continued, we couldn't help but peek through the soundproof windows of Studio 80's radio room, which towers over the club's main dance floor. Romanian Circo Loco resident Rhadoo was working his minimalistic voodoo on the young and enthusiastic crowd. Many people had come out to see him and Mirko Loco play at this Cadenza label night. "We're drawing in over 100,000 visitors a year," Gert pointed out. Pretty good for a 600 capacity club that works together with mainly young organizations. The venue has been established by Duncan Stutterheim, and is meant as a fertile ground for new developments. "After dedicating most of his time and effort in building massive events like Sensation and Innercity," Gert explains, "Duncan wanted to invest in the future dance generation, so he set up Studio 80 especially for young promoters. We now work together with over twenty organizations, most of them in their first promoting years. Together we try to book as many exciting artists from Holland and abroad as possible."
The Dutch word Trouw is best translated as loyal, faithful or—better yet—true. True to oneself, true to the music, true to the essence of a nightclub. And that's exactly what co-owner and programmer Olaf Boswijk intends to be in the two years that Trouw can stay open before the municipal council redefines the purpose for the building. "It could take a while longer," he admitted, as he poured me and Nik another red wine. "Initially, 11 wasn't meant to stay open any longer than two years either, and it was prolonged to four. But just to be safe we shouldn't assume that Trouw stays open any longer."
We were dining in what used to be the printing room of an old newspaper building. If New York's Cielo and Berlin's Panoramabar would open up a restaurant together, it would probably be something like this: rugged and industrial, yet classy and cosy at the same time. Across from us, next to Olaf, were the guys from 360 Soundsystem: Patrice Bäumel and Nuno dos Santos. Although both of them have incredibly busy schedules (Patrice has broken through internationally as one of Get Physical's hottest new stars and Nuno as one of the main artists on Compost Black) they dedicate a lot of time to their monthly night at Trouw. Each edition for instance, features a smashing 360 mix—which is podcasted and distributed amongst visitors as CDs. On this particular Saturday night, they'd invited minimal house legend Isolée. I was thoroughly enjoying my Vietnamese Pho-Bo soup, and I could see Nik was rating his Moroccan merguez. The food was much better than it had ever been at 11.
After dinner, as Nik started his round of photographing, Olaf and I moved across the rectangular space to the dance floor. As you'd expect from a place where printing machines used to be roaring 24/7, the whole room is extremely well isolated. This makes the sound a lot better than at 11. "We wanted to bring the club back to its bare essentials," Olaf told me, as I gazed across the stripped concrete ceiling, decorated solely by a couple of beamed projections. "A club that revolves around a great soundsystem and a kick-ass line-up. A place where you can come and hear DJs play long and inspiring sets. A programming that manifests a certain homogeneity, but leaves space for experimenting."
By now, the room was packed. I hadn't been at a 360 night since Modeselektor at 11 last year, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the regulars had found their way to Trouw as well. It's no wonder: Nuno and Patrice know how to address a wide audience in a manner that is far from commonplace. They retain a certain sophistication in their sets, without becoming pretentious. That's because their love for music is heartfelt—or true if you will. With troopers like these, Trouw has everything in store to become one of Europe's best clubs.
A quick guide to Amsterdam
Cycling is by far the fastest and cheapest way to travel across Amsterdam. Rent one at MacBike. It has several offices across town, but HQ is situated right next to Central Station.
The only remedy for a lingering hangover is a big and tasty breakfast. Hein (Berestraat 20) is one of the best kept secrets in the small shopping area called Negen Straatjes, offering anything from delicious French toast to massive club sandwiches.
The whole city used to be specked with record shops. Sadly, only two of them are left. Distortion on the Westerstraat is wonderful. Very diverse, never the usual. And, of course, there's Rush Hour on Spuistraat. It has great backstock and a wonderful second hand section.
The biggest dining problem in Amsterdam is that most good restaurants only serve till ten or eleven. Trouw (club/restaurant) on Wibautstraat serves full meals till midnight and snacks till two on weekends with a great mixture of foods from all continents.
We aren't going to deny marijuana-smoking as one of Amsterdam's most important attractions. For the best quality hash in town, check out Dampkring or De Tweede Kamer. And, for the most beautifully decorated shop in Amsterdam, go to Kashmeer Lounge.
If you're filthy rich, check into the beautiful Dylan. But if you've spent all your money in the red light district or just need to stick to a minimal budget, the Flying Pig Uptown on the Vossiusstraat is your best bet. For the midrange clubber, the De La Haye is recommendable, since it has no particular check out time.
Anyone who loves their Belgian beers in a relaxing atmosphere will have a good time at L&B's. The perfect environment to get over a heavy weekend of partying, or to get in the mood for one.
Or was it? Monday around noon, I suddenly awoke with the alarming premonition that something was wrong. And then it hit me: the epilogue! Ah yes, it was planned all along. I would bring the three programmers—Hidde from Melkweg, Gert from Studio 80 and Olaf from Trouw—together with Nik for a final photo shoot at one of the most beautiful areas of Amsterdam, across the water in the North, by NDSM. Then we were going to have a nice talk about the scene over a coffee. But somehow I had slept through the alarm and missed our appointment at the ferries. I jumped on a bike to catch the next boat, but missed that one as well.
Luckily, Amsterdam's pace is quite relaxed, so there were no sour faces when I walked onto the terrace of the IJ Kantine more than half-an-hour late. Actually, the four of them seemed to be enjoying themselves quite perfectly without me. They were already starting their second round of beer and were having a good laugh about me oversleeping. I don't imagine this type of comradeship to be very common amongst clubowners in other cities. Sitting here grinning, they sure didn't come across as rivals. "Sure, there's competition," Olaf explained. "But only a healthy one. We try to keep each other sharp." Hidde agreed: "But I think we all have our own musical vision, enabling us to each follow our own path when programming." Gert nodded, too: "If you follow your musical heart, you're always best at what you do."
A development they've all noticed, is that the Amsterdam scene has became more self-assured these last years—especially concerning their own artists. "People in the Netherlands used to think international DJs were better than the boys at home," Gert recalls. "But with so many Dutch guys doing so well internationally, they're finally becoming convinced of their own scene's strength." Hidde agrees. "A couple of years ago, it was unthinkable to have a night revolve just around hometown DJs like Amsterdam 661. But because they've played at places like Berlin's Panoramabar, they're popular enough now to fill up the Old Hall."
As Nik and I stood on the ferry back to Central Station—him ready to board a plane back to England, me ready to face a gruesome hangover—I suddenly realised something. Though it had been my intention all along to show Nik and the RA readers a glimpse of Amsterdam's thriving scene, maybe the Dutchman in me had needed this weekend to be reminded again of its beauty and potential.