The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Live Reviews

The Element Of Surprise: Dekmantel 2022 Reviewed
Christian Eede , August 11th, 2022 07:30

Following the return of Amsterdam's Dekmantel festival for its eighth edition this past weekend, Christian Eede looks over standout moments from the likes of Kampire, Eris Drew and Batu

Photo by Stef van Oosterhout

It's hard to argue with the view that often the best moments at a festival are those that catch you completely by surprise, a set perhaps that completely locks you into its grasp out of nowhere. Seeing Kampala-based, Nyege Nyege-affiliated DJ Kampire for the first time provided me with one such moment at this past weekend's Dekmantel festival in Amsterdam.

Playing on the Saturday night of the event at the festival's Greenhouse stage, located inside a structure that speaks for itself, her set offered a fierce, high-energy blend of East African club music that was loaded with thrilling percussive twists and turns and a knockout finale of high-tempo kuduro, baile funk, juke and much else. Sadly, I can't tell you what any of the tracks were, and I would do anything to relive the set if I could in the hope that I might find just some of them.

This year's edition of Dekmantel felt perfectly designed to create those kind of head-spinning surprise moments for the 10,000 or so punters that gathered all the way across its main Amsterdamse Bos site located in the woods just outside Amsterdam, as well as for the preceding Aan 't IJ programme of live concerts. Returning mercifully for the first time since 2019, following two COVID-19-enforced cancellations – one of those cruelly just weeks before the intended event date last summer due to a change in restrictions in The Netherlands – Dekmantel 2022 boasted the festival's most musically diverse lineup in its eight-year history. It was often difficult to choose where to head at any given moment such was the fear of missing out on something great elsewhere, a good conundrum for any festival to present you with. So strong was the bill in fact, that I could have quite easily done the entire weekend all over again seeing an entirely different set of acts and had just as good a time.

Officially kicking off on Wednesday, a number of venues around Amsterdam's IJ river were the focus of the first part of this year's festival, with the Aan 't IJ programme boasting a lineup every bit as good as the weekend to follow. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the city to attend Wednesday night's opening concert at the Muziekgebouw concert hall, which featured live sets from upsammy, Gaussian Curve, and Mary Lattimore with Neil Halstead, but I was reliably informed that it was a corker. The following night, the programme was split across four additional venues, all within reasonably close proximation of each other.

Early in the evening, Perila brought her hazy, drone-led ambient sound to Muziekgebouw's small room. Sat unassumingly in front of a laptop, microphone and various effects pedals, she ad-libbed typically soothing, frequently wordless vocals over the kind of meditative loops on which she has built her name. With the focus shifted away from her on-stage set-up, many of those in the room chose to sit or lay on the floor, eyes closed and enveloped in her sound. Over at Parallel, a more typical mid-level concert venue than Muziekgebouw's small room, Erika de Casier showcased the '90s and '00s R&B-indebted sound that she's honed on two excellent albums to date, 2019's Essentials and 2021's Sensational. Backed by a full live band, her patient Sade-esque sound was sadly blocked out at times, though, by a particularly chatty crowd.

keiyaA, photo by Dennis de Groot

No such disrespect was forced on keiyaA when she played the same venue shortly after to a slightly smaller, more locked-in audience. Presenting tracks from 2020 record Forever, Ya Girl, she proved an expert multi-tasker as she flitted between messing with various gear on stage and delivering pitch-perfect, jaw-dropping vocals, the set culminating in a spine-tingling acapella rendition of 'Negus Poem 1&2'. Tirzah at the same venue was another highlight, offering a stripped-back staging of her usual live show that saw her perform alongside frequent collaborator Coby Sey.

The night came to a head in storming fashion with a little taster of what would follow over the next three days at Amsterdamse Bos. Azu Tiwaline's live set at Shelter, a club set in a bunker underneath the streets above, was filled with knotty percussion and the woozy sub-bass sounds that have seen her turn heads in recent years via releases with Livity Sound and IOT Records. Not quite pummelling you with bass and kicks, this was a set designed for swaying late into the night.

Eris Drew, meanwhile, was back over at Parallel to debut her first live show, and rounded off the night in ecstatic fashion. Earlier that day, during a panel hosted by Resident Advisor which focused on crafting a live set, Drew spoke of the natural nervous energy that she was feeling ahead of presenting the show to an audience for the first time. On stage though, she exuded the kind of rapturous zeal that those who've been lucky enough to see her DJ before will be familiar with already, chopping in various live turntable effects and breaks while being backed by a live visual artist. The crowd responded in kind to her joy, with one reveller near me gifting bubble solution and wands to various people around him. Drew also took to the main stage at Amsterdamse Bos to close out Saturday night, DJing with partner and fellow T4T LUV NRG founder Octo Octa, and played undoubtedly one of the sets of the weekend at Boiler Room. It was there particularly that she proved why she's one of the world's best DJs, tearing through speed garage and a fair share of prog house classics with precision mixing and the trademark vinyl scratching, cuts and drops that can be heard across her recorded mixes. It was a masterclass in how to control a dance floor.

Greenhouse, photo by Pierre Zylstra

Naturally, a number of regulars returned to play sets across Amsterdamse Bos, with organisers finding a new way to showcase them following their turns at past editions – take Palms Trax following previous slots on the festival's main stage with a four-hour opening set at the more intimate Selectors stage, and Helena Hauff, fresh from closing the main stage in 2018, returning to play an early Sunday afternoon set at the site's vast techno cavern, UFO I. Dotted all around the bill though were a number of fresh faces to the event, giving many younger festivalgoers a chance to discover their new favourite DJ.

One of those was the New York-based DJ Akua, who stepped up for an early UFO I slot before a later set at the Boiler Room stage, which saw her masterfully showcase her spiky, raw brand of loopy US techno to a packed-out crowd fully on her side. Sangre Nueva – the new dembow supergroup of DJ Python, Florentino and Kelman Duran – were one of the first acts I caught on Friday, when they played at the Greenhouse. An early weekend highlight, the three traded smiles as they whipped the gradually swelling crowd through a frenzied, body-shaking blend of reggaeton, dembow, dancehall, footwork and various Latin club music flavours. It was there that I first heard what would become the weekend's unofficial festival anthem: Pearson Sound's recently released remix of 'Xtasis', a track by Miami producer Nick León and Venezuelan 'Raptor house' pioneer DJ Babatr. The cut would also go on to crop up in sets by Joy Orbison, Hessle Audio Trio (Ben UFO, Pangaea and Pearson Sound), Parris and rRoxymore, and I'm sure elsewhere across the site too.

Also debuting at the festival were Cashu and BADSISTA, who flew the flag for São Paulo's underground electronic music scene with their Sunday afternoon back-to-back set at UFO II, the more intimate, tunnel-based sister to UFO I. Together, they whirled through a heady mix of playful techno and Brazilian club sounds that provided a much-needed energy boost after the days that had come before. UFO II was the site of Dutch DJ mad miran's first Dekmantel set too (she's previously played sister event Dekmantel Selectors), where she served up a typically intense journey through hard techno, breakbeats and acid on Saturday evening.

The Nest, photo by Stef van Oosterhout

Many other Dekmantel debuts happened at a brand new stage introduced for 2022, The Nest. Slotted into one corner of the site, just past both UFO stages, it offered the best music programming of the weekend to my taste, and exactly the kind of finely-tuned sound and gunfinger vibe that such programming deserved. Perhaps the best term to summarise the lineup at The Nest was 'sound system music', with slots across the weekend for SHERELLE, Jossy Mitsu, gqom king DJ LAG, Simo Cell and DJ EZ, among many others. The latter closed out Saturday night to a huge crowd that hung on to every bit of rhythmic CDJ cue point trickery as he chopped up various acapellas and loops, and sent the place into raptures with the dropping of a different familiar '90s or '00s UK garage cut every 30 seconds or so.

Playing on Saturday afternoon, Darwin, the DJ behind Berlin party REEF, eased into her set with a number of Latin-flavoured club cuts sitting close to the 100 BPM mark. As she subtly pushed the tempo with every blend – a wise approach you would say with many in the crowd likely having overdone it on the previous first night of Amsterdamse Bos action – I watched the area within and around the stage fill over the course of her two-hour set. Tempos increased as the set hit one of many peaks at the drop of Toasty's Hotflush-released dubstep classic 'The Knowledge', among Jersey club, ghettotech, electro and a conclusory smattering of snarling drum & bass. With the crowd voicing their appreciation for every new track, it was easy to see why a smile barely left her face throughout the set.

Further highlights at The Nest were provided by the likes of Felix Hall (opening up Sunday's proceedings with the kind of dancehall and reggaeton that you can often hear him playing during his NTS shows), Hessle Audio Trio (a huge crowd gathered to watch them run through a characteristically deft blend of bass-centred club music that often had you wondering how we got from A to B), UNiiQU3 (bringing her booty-shaking Jersey club music to a geed up mass of people and doling out encouragement from a microphone throughout), and AceMoMa (also taking to a mic to check in with the crowd as they rolled first through smooth US house, onto more pumping techno, and finally through to various summery jungle cuts by themselves and producers like Coco Bryce).

Batu, photo by Bart Heemskerk

It's become a tradition for Dekmantel to give a step up to a DJ in the ascendancy within their respective scene by handing them the duties of closing out the main stage on the festival's final night. As mentioned above, that honour previously fell to Helena Hauff in 2018 and Palms Trax in 2019. This year, it was bestowed upon Batu, who took the opportunity with both hands to show people why he's such a respected DJ – as you might expect when it's a set that has been three years in the making having originally been booked in for 2020's event.

I've seen the Timedance label boss play a number of times now – from measured, skilful all night sets to barnstorming 90-minute occasions at festivals – and this slot was apparently handed to him on the strength of a three-hour closing set he played at the Greenhouse in 2019. Stepping up to a considerably vaster setting this year, he compromised little of what makes him one of the world's best DJs and the set was all the better for it, resulting in a whirlwind of speed garage, shuffling UK techno, drum tracks, breakbeats, and Central/South American percussive club music that pushed 160 BPM towards the set's conclusion with Detroit electro masters Drexciya's 1999 classic 'Lost Vessel'. The booking was a triumph and a perfect way to see the throng of wide-eyed ravers off into the Amsterdam night for another year.