There is no doubt that European festivals are spoken highly of by Aussies returning from their overseas travels.
There’s the well-known commercial festivals with hundreds of thousands of people, impressive stages and the odd dickhead.
And then there’s the smaller, niche festivals where attendees are not only there for the party, but also due to a genuine love for the music on offer.
It’s these festivals that appeal to a particular crowd and guarantee a brilliant experience, and it’s safe to say that Amsterdam’s Dekmantel Festival produced on all levels.
On first impressions, the setting at Amsterdam Bos had a similar feel to Melbourne’s Let Them Eat Cake – in a beautiful forest with an abundance of trees and space to move.
But it wasn’t only the setting which reminded me of Cake, but also the crowd – super loose with no-one overdoing it and everyone there for a good time.
From the beginning until the end, Dekmantel seemed to adhere to a no dickhead policy that has become synonymous with quality events.
Combine the mature crowd with a smorgasbord of electronic music talent and you quickly realise why Dekmantel quickly sold out when tickets were released earlier this year.
Following the opening concert and club events on Wednesday and Thursday, festival goers transcended on Amsterdam Bos for three magical days.
Popular Russian DJ Nina Kraviz opened the intimate Selectors stage on day one.
Set amongst the trees, Dekmantel promised to throw well-known DJs out of their comfort zone with extended sets on the smaller stage.
Kraviz showed her versatility as festival-goers poured in, but although the tunes were exceptional, the experience of the set was compromised by average mixing.
At first I thought it was the sound playing up, but the regular mess-ups which resembled a CD skipping impacted on the flow of the set and became a talking point throughout the festival.
Our first venture to the aesthetically-pleasing main stage did not disappoint with Detroit master Omar-S providing groovy house on the delicious sound system.
The main stage was like no other I had seen before.
Decked out with bright LED screens splashing a variety of patterns, it was simple yet effective and was a pleasant change from the usual lasers and light shows.
The dome-shaped canopy provided great shade for the daytime sessions and added to the visual display at night.
Midland and Job Jobse continued the increasing vibes on the main stage, and it was during this set that it dawned on me how friendly the Dekmantel crowd was.
After admiring Scottish 35 year-old Ryan’s ‘Speed Dealer’ Oakley sunglasses and explaining the speed dealer concept, he told me that he hated dance music and was only at the festival for a stag do.
Despite his dislike for electronic music, Ryan seemed to be enjoying himself with a couple of dozen Grolsh’s under his belt and continued to shout to me, “I fucken love you Aussie c@&%$.”
As day turned to night, Belfast duo Bicep was providing Ryan with an education in electronic music, delivering one hour of power on the main stage.
Bicep’s exquisite live show was a standout of the festival, with fans of the producers particularly impressed by the combo of their original ‘Just’, mixed perfectly into their remix of ‘Higher Level’ by Isaac Tichauer – two tracks frequently dropped by Autosea DJs back in Melbourne.
Bicep was the perfect transition to heavier music and was a tasty entrée for the closing hybrid set by minimal Detroit Techno pioneer Robert Hood.
Hood’s high-energy techno brought the rave to the main stage and his transition to his Floorplan-style tracks was an ideal finish to a big first day.
Festivals are made by the crew you party with and I was fortunate enough to have a perfect group of Melbourne party lovers beside me for much of the festival.
Most of us had met for the first time at Dekmantel and were introduced through friends, but by day two the typical Melbourne meeting spot of front left was the place to be.
Berlin techno lord Marcel Dettman kicked off proceedings at 12pm on the Selectors stage, with under 10 punters making it for the start of the set.
Those who were present saw him tinker with records he normally wouldn’t play and it didn’t take long for punters to shake off the hangover and join us.
Dettman’s marathon four-hour set built nicely and showed Kraviz how it was done.
After reacquainting myself with the main stage, Israel pair Red Axes set the tone for my afternoon before I settled into Amsterdam local Tom Trago’s live set.
I’d witnessed the magic of Trago’s groovy DJ sets on two occasions back in Australia and was looking forward to seeing what his live show had to offer.
And he did not disappoint, displaying his eclectic range of musical talents to the endearing crowd, highlighted by his original ‘Hidden Heart of Gold’, which took punters on a fabulous journey.
Floating Points continued the feel-good vibes on the main stage with funky disco, as storm clouds appeared and rain eventually drenched the festival site.
In a kind touch, Dekmantel’s bartenders gave out free ponchos to unprepared festival goers, and as the rain settled, the Greenhouse stage was the place to be.
In my first and only visit to the Greenhouse for the weekend, Joy Orbison and Jon K created an electric vibe with funky tech house that hit the spot.
It was now time to be taken to outer space, as Ben UFO closed the main stage to a packed-out crowd.
His upbeat techno was the perfect end to a ripper second day, with Nathan Fake – Degreelessness (Overmono Remix) sending the dancefloor into a frenzy.
Following two brilliant days at Amsterdam Bos, the timetabling on the final day was spot on, with funky tunes pulled out left right and centre.
Motor City Drum Ensemble opened the Selectors stage to a small crowd, but it quickly built and the maestro behind the turntables swiftly cured any sore heads.
He started the set with groovy disco and midway through he picked up the tempo with Suzy Can’t Give You More – Persnickety All Stars (DJ Bang Chitown Re-Edit), and then moved on to up-tempo bass-driven house.
Sunday was a day for crowd pleasers and it kicked off with Palm Trax dropping Sugar Hill’s classic, My Feelings For You, followed by the delightful Ditongo – Longo.
Montego Bay – Everything (S Tone mix) also got a great reaction from the crowd as the sun shined brightly.
The feel-good vibes continued at the main stage with Masters At Work dropping house banger after banger.
George Morell’s Let’s Groove had punters cutting shapes and Melbourne anthem I Get Deeper by Late Nite Tuff Guy reminded us of home.
With little knowledge of Larry Heard apart from a few strong recommendations from friends, I went into his set with no expectations.
And in another nod to Dekmantel’s sublime timetabling, the stalwart produced a timely set with his smooth vocals topping off the funky tunes on sunset.
Antal and Hunee were given the keys to close the main stage.
They began with feel-good disco and gradually built to upbeat techno and the rave was on.
The pair changed the tempo throughout the set and mixed things up, with Dollar Bill – Ben Sims bringing the disco back before Touch Me In the Morning – Marlena Shaw (Disco Mix) closed a magnificent three days of tunes, bevs and friends.
I asked a few of my new friends to sum up Dekmantel.
Melbourne partygoer Stephen described the experience as a “Doof without the doof sticks”, while Wollongong expat Ella said, “There’s not even enough words in the dictionary to describe it. Someone needs to come up with better words.”
As you can tell they had a great time, and by the end of three days I’d stopped comparing the festival to others back home and realised that Dekmantel is unique in itself and you should experience it at least once in your life.