Dekmantel Naarm breaks into Australia’s sore festival circuit with refreshing energy

May 07, 2024
Dekmantel Naarm breaks into Australia’s sore festival circuit with refreshing energy

Off the back of a difficult summer for the dance festival period, Dutch festival Dekmantel brought its citywide takeover format to Melbourne for an Easter weekend of transcendental music.

Written by Luke Sevior, Photography by Duncographic, Additional Words by Jacob Foschi.

Even from a time before the capability of recorded music, Dutch culture has always been a pioneer for alternative artistic toleration. Whilst much of the Western world developed ideas in utopian industrialisation, Hieronymus Bosch depicted his infamous triptych “Garden Of Earthly Delights,” a disturbing vision into the collapse of man, creature and the natural order. A society constantly ahead of the curb in new ideas of expression, impressionist art and philosophy.

It’s no surprise then that Dutch music culture has also maintained a strong lean into the progressive. The Netherlands has long been a pioneer in genres like EDM, trance, hardstyle and techno, making the nation one of the world’s most visited destinations for music tourism. 

In its 10th season, Amsterdam-based events company and record label Dekmantel celebrated the start of their anniversary year with a special city-wide showcase of the iconic techno festival with Dekmantel Naarm. From São Paulo to Tokyo, they have always maintained their ability to push beyond their home turf at the Bos and unlike their one-off showcase in Caulfield back in 2016, this edition would replicate the original version much closer. The festival ran across the entire Easter weekend at multiple venues in the city.

The timing of the festival arrived during a tumultuous period for the Australian dance and festival scene, which still to this moment stands on a knife edge. The increase in operation costs and changes to buyer behaviour have resulted in the demise of many of the nation’s leading festivals and events. Similarly scaled, inner-city day parties Sun Cycle and the Duke St Block Party have failed to continue operations beyond 2024. Additionally, just a few weeks before Dekmantel was set to take place, Australia’s landmark dance festival, Pitch Music and Arts, was cut midway through operation due to extreme weather conditions and safety concerns. 

The Melbourne scene is a difficult landscape to bring an international festival to. Many punters were undoubtedly curious about how the show would go down. After some diverse sonic offerings at the Melbourne Recital Centre, the Abbotsford Convent, and Sub Club, it was time for Dekmantel Naarm to set its stage at the botanical gardens of Footscray Park.

With gates opening at midday, it was an early start for dancers to converge in front of the speaker stacks. This was not easy with a lack of signposting to the direction of the festival entrance. Once checked in however, it was wonderful to see a minimal design approach make way to reveal many of the park’s natural features. 

The site itself provided a wonderful oasis to roam and enjoy, “resembling that of the Amsterdamse Bos with an Australian twist.” Jacob Foschi is a Naarm-based DJ and co-head of Alora Collective, who attended both Dekmantel Naarm and Dekmantel in Amsterdam in 2023. His perspective on the afternoon was that “Footscray Park was the perfect location to welcome Dekmantel to Naarm”. 

The Nest stage was situated far into the festival site and was a lush green oasis for the early afternoon which allowed people the chance to sit beneath the palms and soak in the gorgeous weather. The DJ booth, embedded into an avenue of foliage, was the home base for Jungle and Drum N Bass rhythms. A 4-point audio layout provided a sound arena for dancers to get down to the multitude of unconventional beat patterns. International groove headliners Gavsborg, Djrum and Batu were notable highlights of the Nest, displaying wizard technical abilities which added an amazing variety to the entire sonic offering.

The largest build on the festival ground was the Loop Stage. A typical scaffold structure enclosed by a multitude of large 24-foot light towers housing dozens of turning heads. An interesting concept, considering three-quarters of the event was run in broad daylight. Dekmantel founder Casper Tiielrooj was able to harness the stage with an excellent blend of unique Dutch grooves followed immaculately by local live performers Sleep D, who, in a consistent fashion, brought their signature thick hypnotic sound. As the sun came down, the stage did indeed emit an incredible energy. The lighting and colours were world-class as global heavyweights Call Super & Palms Trax brought massive progressive house slammers to close out the stage.

The entire festival was a delight. Not a mere mimicry of the real thing but a true and authentic Dekmantel experience. “Production and programming well thought-out, drawing in a vibrant and engaged crowd,” Foschi said. “I was impressed with all stages; however, [The UFO stage] was incredibly difficult to leave – a powerful Sound System, eager punters, and top-tier talent being the lure”. 

Located at the centre of the site, the UFO stage sat beneath a pre-existing sun shelter. Surrounding the stage, Boiler Room-style platforms allowed dancers to view the DJ booth from all angles. A base for the heavier hitting techno performers Claire Morgan, Peter Van Hoeson and Japanese master DJ Nobu, each of whom performed breath-taking sonic journeys into the dark depths of raw techno. Like all stages, UFO had a minimal yet considered approach to lighting, staging and “visible dedication to smoke machines,” which continued to build a wonderful atmosphere as the music became louder.

A moment in time that would become the crescendo of the afternoon was found in the incredible two hours of music delivered by Animalia label head Kia & Canadian producer Priori. As the sun set across Footscray Park, Kia & Priori delivered a hypnotic journey of dubbed break beat IDM and warm yet heavy progressive techno. It was a perfectly curated balance between slow and fast, complimenting the transition from day to night. The pair bounced off each other to provide a performance so impeccable at inducing the crowd to dance, the set itself became a symbol of Naarm’s continued ability to perform alongside the globe’s best.

Watching this set, holding doubt about Melbourne’s ability to cater for the global dance renaissance, it was a proud moment to witness (not only Kia but..) the talented and dedicated underground players that make this club scene so highly sought after. It is not only desirable to international DJs but to entire organisations like Dekmantel. Their visit was not a showcase of their superiority of event curation but was a major opportunity to remind Melbourne’s dancers that this city is and has always been its own melting pot destination of dance music. 

So, as the city slows for the impending winter and mourns the departure of artists like Kia and others to the European circuit, it is warming to see Dekmantel communicating its return to relish in Naarm’s flourishing dance community.

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