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Dancing in the rain: Biblical weather was no threat to Dekmantel's flawless 2023 edition

With a tried-and-tested formula and a reputation as one of dance music's biggest events, Niamh Ingram heads to Amsterdam Bos for Dekmantel's ninth edition

  • 19 August 2023

It’s barely 6:PM, and Dekmantel’s Greenhouse Stage is bathed in the dreamy South American soundscapes of TraTraTrax’s showcase featuring Bitter Babe, Nick León and Verraco. Bringing warmth to the rainy surroundings of Amsterdam Bos, the trio meander through three hours of breaks, dembow and propulsive bass, with hips in the crowd swaying in response to the syncopated rhythms. “I experienced a feeling of accomplishment after our set finished because it has been a lot of hard work to get there, mixed with nostalgia, because it was over,” Bitter Babe recalls after the set. “I’m grateful to be able to do this with my friends and surrounded by so many others.”

“The second we finished, seeing the Greenhouse stage bursting in the midst of an electrifying atmosphere, with the energy of the crowd at its peak, made us realise that what we are doing is being celebrated even more outside of our homeland,” adds Verraco. “It feels a bit crazy and ironic – but it is what it is.”

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It’s the second day of Dekmantel’s yearly return to Amsterdam Bos, now on its ninth edition, things kicked off on the Wednesday night with three concerts at the festival’s counterpart Aan ’t IJ site, Jeff Mills’ Tomorrow Comes The Harvest musical performance of particular note. Sticking at Aan ’t IJ on Thursday, attendees could explore workshops and panels focused on production, DJing and journalism, the day rounded off with a stacked performance programme including names such as Hudson Mohawke, Lucrecia Dalt and BSS.

Festival punters attending the Friday-through-Sunday portion of Dekmantel most typically look forward to the Boiler Room stage, which is a striking absence this year, switching up the festival’s dynamic. In its place is the scaffolding-clad Hör Berlin Radar stage, which - if you’re willing to queue for an hour - keeps energy flowing regardless of the weather, and receives overwhelming praise throughout the weekend. We transcend from a long-awaited b2b between Gabrielle Kwarteng and ISAbella to a dreamy hour from Mama Snake; then immerse ourselves into a power session of garage from Interplanetary Criminal. Even in the pouring rain on Sunday - undoubtedly the muddiest day of festival season so far - livwutang adopts a percussive-first route, whilst Octo Octa channels nostalgic rave, each greatly to the delight of dancers opting to spend their afternoon on the three-story metal structure.

Elsewhere, things remain firmly business as usual. Whilst many stages across the weekend boast techno-esque soundscapes, UFO I continues to lead in its portrayal of the sound with its woozy accompanying light displays. There's the option to float between sets from Aurora Halal and DJ Nobu, Planetary Assault Systems live or DJ Stingray 313, or opt for a closing with Freddy K b2b D.Dan, Donato Dozzy or Nene H b2b Hyperaktivist. Of particular note, though, is Salome’s set early on Friday. She sends the stage’s very structure bouncing with her infectious, cutting-edge selections, leaving many questioning her placement of 5:PM.

UFO II, the younger sibling to the hefty UFO I, also offers heavier club cuts – albeit in different ways. What with DjRUM’s body and soul-refreshing hour to finish Saturday, contrasted to The DJ Producer’s hardcore closing on Sunday - and appearances from Yazzus, ¥ØU$UK€ ¥UK1MAT$U, Skee Mask and Stranger (who was welcomed back to performing with open arms) and a plethora more - the phrase small but mighty has never felt more applicable to a stage. With a stellar soundsystem to boot, it cements its status as a real gem.

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It isn’t all intense though, and across Dekmantel’s eight stages, there is something for everyone. Ambient sounds can be heard from the wooden structure of Connects - which, it should be noted, it located conveniently close to the social safety tent, ran by the always-visible Sexmatters team - or return merely an hour later to immerse yourself in some off-kilter pop from Bby Eco, perhaps then indulging in a helping of smooth R&B, old school house and disco from Charmaine. Meanwhile, at The Nest, returning for its second year, groove-centred sounds hold down the fort. Tash LC gets the crowd up for it instantly upon gracing the stage, with The Bug and Flowdan following for a hefty Friday finish. The Greenhouse stage is perhaps the most varied in its soundscapes, programming Gary Numan - who receives a raucous response - amongst Shygirl, Cymande and FLOHIO, giving punters complete freedom in curating their ideal festival experience HRH. Helena Hauff returns on Saturday to the very stage that she first played at Dekmantel back in 2015, with a meticulous curation of vinyl flavours, and Ben UFO of Hessle Audio sends those opting to close their festival experience with him on Sunday into a trance.

As per previous years of Dekmantel, it becomes clear that there is simply not enough time in the day to catch every performer as originally planned. Redoing the entire festival over again the following week would likely result in opting to see a totally different line-up, yet still result in a day full of dancing and joy. And alas, with two other stages - both outdoors, therefore on paper, less favourable given the torrential rain although in reality consistently full to the brim — there is little choice besides making some heartbreaking decisions about who to miss out on catching.

For those opting to sacrifice some undercover stage action for some outdoor business, the Selectors and renowned Loop stages overflow with special moments. Gop Tun DJs, Kia and Rey Colino b2b Roza Terenzi each bring their signature flavours, the latter to a crowd which had fashioned its own makeshift ceiling of umbrellas. Shanti Celeste delivers a dreamy three hour closing set, sending Saturday’s dancers off into Amsterdam with an emotive spring in their step, primed for the festival’s night programme across Lofi and iso.

The Loop is a staple of Dekmantel, back again this year sans-iconic disc. Enjoyed in both sun and rain, Friday’s brighter affair is closed by Omar S who delivers a sultry slice of Detroit following Dekmantel favourite Carista, plus livwutang and Moritz von Oswald. In the days that follow, many a dancer bounces around the circular space in poncho-clad - which, conveniently, were handed out for free from the plentiful bars on site - beneath onslaughts of rain. VTSS soundtracks this on Saturday evening, finishing the day’s affairs with her no-prisoners approach to club music: think pummelling techno, bouncing basslines and tongue-in-cheek curveballs. It falls to Young Marco to finish the weekend on the festival’s mainstage. Navigating through two hours of bumping house and techno, the crowd quite literally bursts into euphoria when he drops his viral ‘What You Say?’ cut. And with that, I mentally conclude, regardless of where you roam this festival season, an edit will always find you.

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In each and every corner of Dekmantel 2023, something special exists. There is an embodied sense of togetherness, all who step foot into the festival grounds bound by a love for music. Its tried-and-tested formula of creating an experience for the mind, body and soul is unlikely to budge – and by ensuring the same happens next year for its 10th edition celebration, it’ll certainly remain a must-attend for the summer festival calendar.

Niamh Ingram is Mixmag's Weekend Editor, follow her on Twitter

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