"Every time we just take it as it is, there's no real master plan or lengthy release schedule," says Martojo. "We like to take it slow, just do something when we really want to do it."
"We're not businessmen, you know?"
You'll have to take that last one with a grain of salt. As laid-back as they may be, Dekmantel is looking more and more like a business every day: they've got an office in the Red Light District, a cast of freelancers on the payroll and a dizzying number of projects on the boil. At the moment these include an album from Joey Anderson, EPs from Marcel Dettmann and Italian duo Ksoul and Muteoscillator, and a sixth anniversary compilation comprising a half dozen releases. "We're talking to a lot of artists for that one—around ten or 15 of them," Martojo says. "It looks like it's going to be quite a big project." The events front is even more packed, with a string of parties leading up to their biggest outing ever: the first Dekmantel Festival in August.
Still, it's easy to understand Dekmantel's down-to-earth view of themselves. Their roots could hardly be more casual. Martojo and Tielrooij grew up together in The Hague and began to DJ in high school. Eventually they started going to parties with a group of friends that would later form most of the Dekmantel family, including Guy Blanken, AKA Makam, and Jan van Kampen, one third of the Dekmantel Soundsystem DJ team. Unaware of the great music in their own city ("we were too young, it was too underground"), they made a habit of riding the train to Amsterdam for raves.
"The illegal parties that Dimi Angélis and Steve Rachmad used to put on back in the day, they were some of our main inspirations," says Tielrooij. "It might be just two or three hundred people under a bridge, Steve playing three decks, everything from Rob Hood to Aphex Twin to Jeff Mills. It was Steve at his best, and it was amazing."
Sooner or later everyone graduated and moved to Amsterdam. Within weeks they had a foothold in the scene there, thanks in no small part to Rush Hour. Though only slightly larger than a walk-in closet, the label and distributor's flagship record shop is, for many, the beating heart of Amsterdam's DJ scene. It was here that Martojo and Tielrooij learned about disco and Detroit house—Theo Parrish, Moodymann, et al—and met future Dekmantel stalwarts like Tom Trago and San Proper.
There was only one thing missing from this otherwise perfect picture: good parties. "We really liked to party, but everyone in Amsterdam was putting on this minimal click-house type of thing," says Martojo. "We just really never were able to get into that music. So we figured, if no one else is doing it, maybe we should do it ourselves."
San Proper was impressed right off the bat. "I remember thinking to myself, 'Look at these cheeky youngsters with their exquisite taste, throwing parties in my town the way a party oughta be thrown, representing deep house music in an authentic fashion with a solid posse of support. They made me feel proud for some reason and they got me involved from the get-go if I remember correctly."
The events began inauspiciously—small parties, mostly filled with friends, at an illegal spot in the northern part of the city called Bunker. They also threw occasional beach bashes back in The Hague. It was in booking one of these that they first met Dekmantel's core producers, Juju & Jordash.
"We discovered through MySpace that they were actually living here in Amsterdam, which we weren't aware of," Martojo says. "We were completely surprised—it's a very small scene and we had no idea these guys were living here." Juju & Jordash played the party in The Hague, then sent Martojo and Tielrooij a CD full of unreleased music. It blew them away. "We just couldn't imagine that no one else wanted to release this. So we thought, 'maybe we should release it.' That's actually when we first thought of doing a label."
Dekmantel's first release was a bold one: Juju & Jordash's debut album, a jazzy, experimental vision of house music that gave us the offbeat club hit "Deep Blue Meanies." Without any chosen artistic direction, the label seemed to stay on this left-of-center course, first with more 12-inches from Juju & Jordash, and then with releases by San Proper and Vakula. By 2011, Dekmantel had established itself as an outlet for bold, unconventional house, most of it club-friendly, all of it unpretentious.
Just as it had been with the parties, the approach to the label was as natural as possible. In sourcing music for new releases, Tielrooij and Martojo rarely looked beyond their own group of friends, or the artists they'd booked for their parties. Often the music just fell in their lap.
"And they know music," says Gal Aner, AKA Juju. "They're both good DJs. Maybe I should say three of them because they play with Jan. They form kind of a trio of DJs. So it's not like they're business people. They really love the music."
The label really hit its stride last year, when Dekmantel released five EPs in quick succession to celebrate its fifth anniversary. The cast of included artists shows how open-ended their sound had become: Morphosis, Lone, Skudge, Hunee, Redshape, Fudge Fingas, the Dutch artist Awanto 3, a collaboration by Felix Bergleiter and Danilo Plessow called Hundred20, and of course San Proper, Makam and Juju & Jordash. The only common thread in this list is the curators' tastes, untainted by any predetermined concept or aesthetic. This is part of what makes Dekmantel such a strong brand: when you see one of their records in a shop, you can anticipate a level of quality, but you definitely don't know what it will sound like.
The same goes for their events. These days the Dekmantel name is so trusted in Amsterdam that their parties are packed no matter who's playing. "A few weeks ago they sold out a 1,200-person venue with just Dekmantel Soundsystem playing," says Juju. "So they definitely have that following of people that know Dekmantel means good music."
2013 will be a game-changing year, thanks mostly to Dekmantel Festival. The lineup so far includes everyone from Underground Resistance to Ron Morelli to the Hessle Audio crew. With an expected crowd of 5,000 people, it's by far the biggest thing they've ever put together. It's also a marker of how far they've come, something they still find baffling at times.
"After six years, all of a sudden we're running a serious business," says Tielrooj. "You're not really aware of it. Still, I'm not. You're just having fun and doing the things you really like, and working with the musicians, the DJs and producers you really like, who are also your friends."
Does it feel strange that everything worked out this way?
"Yes, sometimes. You know, people will come to you and they'll say, 'everybody's talking about Dekmantel, you guys are doing really good,' and it's weird. You kind of think 'huh, yeah, I guess we are.'"
Download: RA Label of the Month 1303 Mix: Dekmantel
(right click + save target as)
Filesize: 180 MB
01 - Fudge Fingas - Light In My Life
02 - Juju & Jordash - Jazzy Trance
03 - Vakula - Johnny
04 - Vakula - Picture Of You
05 - Juju & Jordash - Looset Goosey
06 - Ksoul & Muteoscillator - Soul Hell (UNRELEASED)
07 - Terrence Parker presents Polartronics - In The Deep
08 - Lone - Risottowe
09 - Hundred20 - Mink Whale Congregation
10 - Makam - What Ya Doin (Funkineven Remix)
11 - Vedomir - Loop Minusovka
12 - Vedomir - Music Suprematism (Marcel Dettmann Remix) (UNRELEASED)
13 - Morphosis - Impulse
14 - Juju & Jordash - Deep Blue Meanies
15 - Juju & Jordash - African Flower
16 - San Proper - Sex Drive Rhythm