It would be an understatement to refer to Awakenings Summer Festival as simply a music event as the brand celebrates its 25th anniversary, taking over a space that usually operates as a safari park in The Netherlands. Contrasting to the sleepy surroundings of Hilvarenbeek, Awakenings' first ever three-day camping weekender offers various shades of techno all day and night, offering a packed daytime schedule of music followed by lively afterparties until 5:AM for campers, plus a jam-packed roster of beach activities, a spa and even a 24-hour cinema.
Across its sprawling program, you can drift from a racing set by Rebekah, Ellen Allien or FJAAK at a warehouse-style stage with fireworks flying directly over your head to an illegal rave-like area surrounded by dense forest crafted by local platform Future Intel, or take a break from the music by immersing yourself in a wellness activity such as techno yoga or lake swimming. You can make it, as Awakenings emphasises, your own adventure.
“We want to provide our visitors the best experience possible,” explains Awakenings founder Rocco Veenboer. “To be able to finally host a campsite is fantastic, but we figured; why stop there? We see that our audience likes to stay fit and appreciates relaxing times as well, so why not provide them with activities so they can relax between - or after - partying? We also had a DJ and percussion workshop, a makeover booth, a vintage morning market where you could shop your new outfit, an arcade where you could challenge your friends in a game or two and various art installations. We wanted to give our visitors the feeling as if they are on a mini techno holiday, not ‘just’ a festival.”
Catering to the scale of its first ever summer festival, the decision was taken to move the event away from Amsterdam to a southern region close to the Belgian border – a risky decision for sure, however one that allowed camping for the first time in Awakenings history and the expansion to 13 stages of various capacities. There were some on water, others styled into a pit-like shape, and more secluded affairs tucked away from the masses to curate a more intimate atmosphere even during the busiest hours of the day.
While the rural location might’ve been viewed as an inconvenience for those travelling from the capital (and those who disliked wasps - the event coincided with an unfortunate infestation in The Netherlands), it welcomed more than 100,000 people across the three days, many of whom took the decision to camp and explore whether the festival fulfilled its immense promises. Despite these numbers, issues with crowding were avoided both at the stages and around merchandising and food stalls due to the smooth organisation. There were plenty of outlets to visit which resulted in minimal queueing and the covered stages were open at three sides with areas for any potential spill over of heads to enjoy the music in a comfortable, as opposed to crushing, manner.
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The line-up for the event was a sight to behold for techno heads, and whilst there was an unfortunate last minute cancellation from Sama’ Abdulhadi on day one due to unavoidable logistical issues, things ran smoothly with the programming securing a variety of names both large and small across the various stages. You could’ve opted to see ‘Mr Awakenings’ himself Adam Beyer after a heavy couple hours of Joseph Capriati, dance away to techno megastars Reiner Zonneveld, Charlotte de Witte and Richie Hawtin, or explore the stomping, fresh European sounds of Wallis’ live set, IMOGEN or Tigerhead. One notable absence is Nastia, who pulled out of playing in June after refusing to share a “line-up with Russians who are tolerant to war in Ukraine”, to which Awakenings affirmed its support for Ukraine and said “we respect her decision”.
A standout set from the weekend is Cera Khin, who packed the distant Area A stage and embodied the sounds of Berghain some 415 miles away. The drop which landed after she’d traversed the crowd through the dreamy soundscapes of an old school Schranz edit of ‘Loneliness’ was quite something, with the wooden floorboards of the stage bouncing almost uncontrollably as the crowd danced along to her closing track.
KiNK impresses too, with a live set on the outrageous spaceship-esque Area W, getting the audience on his side from the word go with his interactive nature and gratefully gesturing his thanks for their enthusiasm.
“The sound on stage was fantastic, and I felt in good contact with the crowd, despite the size of the stage, which is important for me,” he explains after his set. “I always feel a little bit of pressure right before I start my sets at the festival, because it's such an influential organisation and you want to deliver the best set possible, which can bring tension. There was rain and also my computer caused the music to stop for almost a minute, but that didn't scare most of the ravers and I truly enjoyed playing my own music for an iconic organisation, in front of a very musical crowd.”
Correct in his observations of the enthusiastic crowd, the small uncontrollable hiccups were far from off-putting for them. As the Dutch heavens opened, some ravers fashioned rain protection from whatever they could while others embraced the weather and were dancing with strangers, handing out sweets to one another to boost morale. Fortunately the poor weather during KiNK’s set was a rare downpour across a weekend mostly blessed by wall-to-wall sunshine, and it still didn’t interrupt any party for the festivalgoers who’d been eagerly waiting for the Bulgarian.
It wasn’t uncommon to speak to a fellow festivalgoer and end up tagging along with them to see a set, with that swiftly becoming one of your favourite couple hours of the weekend. The eagerness to share and discover music among attendees was a truly beautiful thing to witness, and a refreshing experience in the first year of Awakenings since the pandemic.
Of course, the pioneers of techno were also on the bill, with Robert Hood holding two slots. Day two saw him play as Floorplan with his daughter Lyric Hood at the mighty Area C stage, which resembled a pit on the border of the forest. The stage is already three quarters full as Call Super enters the final strait of his previous slot, and as Floorplan’s closing set looms closer it rapidly fills up with heads excited to see the duo bring the 12-hour day to an end, before Robert returns on day three to the mighty Area U.
The same stage is graced with Jeff Mills to close the weekend. As expected, he treats the crowd to a stellar two hours, despite the dancefloor not being as full as anticipated for someone of his stature. This might be explained by the huge variety of names closing out the weekend, and the difficult decisions that array of choice forced punters into making. Alongside Mills, closing acts include Amelie Lens, Tale Of Us on the trademark Awakenings Area V stage, plus heavy stalwarts Hector Oaks and I Hate Models amongst several more. Those who opt to end their weekend with the Detroit legend, however, are left with a mesmerising set to mark a weekend to remember.
Shifting to each night-time, for those who opt to camp, afterparties kick off at 1:AM and remain at full swing 'til 5. The ability to launch a night programme to entertain the event’s first ever campers, Rocco tells me, has been a “long-cherished dream” with carefully curated line-ups in an intimate setting. Notable names such as Joris Voorn, François X and Bart Skils are on the early hours schedule, with eager ravers filling the compact tent having amassed over a day’s worth of dancing by this point.
Aside from the afters, the campsites offers attendees various options to suit their needs, depending on how much sleep you plan on getting: you can bring your own tent, opt for a pre-setup affair (some of which come with electricity and beds), or embrace luxury and stay in a lodge, normally used by families who visit the safari park for a holiday when not being used to host the world’s largest techno festival.
Attendees not as keen to party hard until the AM can explore various art installations dotted throughout the extensive grounds, many of which came alive as night-time draws in at a more modest 9:PM. Alongside participatory works on offer by the Drawakenings Collective, walking through the site exposes you to the fascinating (and oftentimes psychedelic) fountain projectors by visual poets Beeldjutters, with a notable display morphing faces into obscure objects, drawing crowds of passers-by to observe the art’s evolution. There are also installations in the secluded forest exploring the interplay of colour and light by Studio Den Haan, sending rainbow reflections through the darkened areas away from the chaos of the main stages, and immersive multi-sensory shows by media artist Jeroen Alexander Meijer allowing people to take a short break from the booming soundsystems.
An impressive note to draw upon across the weekend is the effective operations behind the festival, helped by the pandemic-induced pause and two years the organisers have been given to plan down to the finest details. “It’s my sixth time at Awakenings, my first at this summer festival,” said VNTM before he takes to the stage for his live set on Saturday afternoon. “The crew and production are always on top level.” KiNK echoes this sentiment, explaining that the knowledge things will go off without a hitch, combined with the crowd, is always a confidence booster.
Careful attention has also been paid to the environmental impact of the festival, at a time when the climate crisis cannot be ignored. “We’d love to dance together on our beautiful planet for many more years,” Rocco says on the sustainability drive behind Awakenings. “We are well aware of our environmental impact, and we intend to make our festivals as sustainable as possible. We welcomed more than 300,000 visitors this year [across all Awakenings events], coming from more than 80 different countries. We are reaching a young and diverse audience who we hope to inspire to make conscious choices.”
There is a cup recycling system in place for those buying drinks, where all attendees receive a token upon entry to exchange for one. Upon buying another drink, it is encouraged that you swap in your empty cup or can for a new one to avoid paying a small fee for a new cup on top of your drink cost. The move clearly works, as on the final day of the festival litter is virtually non-existent: partially thanks to this scheme and the ‘Awakenings Green Team’ walking around the festival and campsites maintaining the area’s appearance.
Besides the recycling scheme, the festival implemented a 100% vegetarian menu and offered pocket ashtrays upon entry - free for all - to dispose of their cigarette butts rather than throwing them onto the ground, which could then be properly binned later. The environmental consciousness coupled with the ‘Are You Okay?’ scheme in which individuals walked around the site with placards showing this tagline illustrated the thought behind this event, and how it stretched further than simply the music. There was consideration not only for the banging programme, but the festivalgoers and the location itself.
By effectively intertwining its renowned high-scale production values with more intimate touches, Awakenings’ summer festival instantly establishes itself as a force in The Netherlands’ summertime calendar. Proving the value of shifting out of one’s comfort zone - even after a phenomenal 25 years - by expanding into an all-dancing, all-camping, all-encompassing experience, the event has been left in great stead for the future. The question which lies now, however, is how this summer festival can be topped further. We can't wait to find out.
Niamh Ingram is Mixmag's Weekend Editor, follow her on Twitter