Five days in Amsterdam: The ADE experience, up close and personal
Featuring 550 speakers, more than 2,200 artists in 140 venues and 1000 events across just five days, Amsterdam Dance Event has earned its stripes as the globe’s leading electronic music conference and festival. In 21 years, ADE has shaped a dance music mecca in a quaint little city that unites electronic music fans and industry folk from all corners of the world (to tune of 375,000 attendees). It’s no wonder that ADE Conference recently celebrated its 10th consecutive year of selling out, as each year, legions of fans and DJ hopefuls yearn for the chance to participate in the largest and most impressive dance music gathering in the world.
Translating our adventure into words is no easy task as the immeasurable amount of ‘hellos,’ ‘goodbyes,’ ‘nice to meet you’s’ and venue hopping across six days and five nights is impossible to document. But if there’s one takeaway from ADE, it’s this: each individuals’ experience is different, and there is no one right or wrong way to live out your story. This is ours.
Photo courtesy of GUAP
Wednesday – Day 1
Arrival in Amsterdam: Shortly after landing at Schiphol, I Uber over to Volkshotel – a quirky, boutique hotel situated in east Amsterdam that was once the headquarters of local newspaper Die Volkskrant. Welcoming yellow and black ADE flags dangle before the hotel, indicating to newcomers that the spot is deemed “official” ADE territory for the next five days. The lobby is overflowing with visitors conversing with one another and gathering their bearings as they prepare to tackle their first day on the ground. Phones charged and business cards in hand, it’s time to head out.
The Dylan and Felix Meritis, aka the ‘main hubs’: I use a combination of the Metro and Tram to get to the Felix Meritis – one of the primary ADE meeting hubs. Hundreds of industry leaders are crowded around The Dylan Hotel and the Felix – both of which reside on the Keizersgracht – to have a quick streetside chat, collect their badges and begin their first of an endless list of meetings. The line to pick up badges is unending, but no matter – the excitement is palpable, people are meeting each other for the first or tenth time, and for the first time in a year, no one is thinking about anything but ADE. Nicole Moudaber is spotted casually walking up and down the Keizersgracht while countenances brighten upon opening ADE backpacks, produced by lifestyle and sports brand Sinner. Packed inside the bag are myriad gifts and mementos, like the ADE Black Book 2016, Sena ear plugs, a ‘Celebrate Safe‘ booklet, an Ultra Music umbrella and, thoughtfully, a can of Red Bull. Some were even lucky enough to receive a pair of limited edition ADE x Urbanears DJ headphones.
*To learn more about Unity’s harm reduction initiatives, go here.
Photo courtesy of Willeke Machiels
A quick pregame session at Bar Huf: While not an official ADE venue, Bar Huf still offers first-timers an authentic Amsterdam experience. Located on a quiet street in the heart of the city, the bar contains a healthy mix of locals and tourists, while passersby migrate to neighboring restaurants and bars. At a table outside, I’m sandwiched between Andy Sherman and Dorothy Sherman, the sibling duo best known as Shermanology, as we discuss our musical interests, the city’s must-sees (like the Redlight District) and upcoming projects. Several Jager shots later, the night is still young.
Nervous Records & Risky Business pres. Kenny Dope, Benny Soto and more at the W Amsterdam: At around 12:30am, Amsterdam is an icebox. The 11 minute walk to the W Amsterdam feels longer than ever, though views of a 55 m (180-ft) ferris wheel illuminating Dam Square make the trek far more bearable. NYC-based promoter Benny Soto and Mike Nervous, President of Nervous Records, are behind the booth at the W Lounge, setting the party’s tone with a variety of tech house tracks.
Photo courtesy of Tom Doms
Thursday – Day 2
Celebrating the grand opening of Shelter: Overlooking Amsterdam’s bustling streets and waterfronts, A’DAM Toren was transformed into a multi-functional office tower that is now home to ID&T, Sony Music, MassiveMusic and more. Industry leaders convene at Amsterdam Tower’s The Loft in celebration of Shelter’s opening Thursday evening, which is located underground on the IJ riverbank. Boasting floor to ceiling windows and breathtaking views of the city, The Loft appeals to guests seeking a palatial experience, while downstairs, Jackmaster, Moodymann and more transform Shelter – a dark, rectangular space – into a slow-burning dance haven solely revolving around the music and its people.
Photo courtesy of Shelter
Awakenings continues its 20-year celebration with five nights of techno: From Len Faki’s Figure Nacht to Adam Beyer’s Drumcode, iconic techno brand Awakenings celebrated its 20th anniversary (which occurred in April) in a big way during this year’s iteration of ADE. Five nights of hard-hitting acts effortlessly sold out the series, which again took place at Amsterdam’s famed Gashouder – a brooding, industrial venue with a capacity of 3,500.
I’m dropped off at the edge of Westerpark and instructed to simply “follow the signs.” Mildly confused, I keep an ear to the ground and, from several hundred feet away, begin to hear thumping basslines in the distance. The music creates an imaginary trail for unsuspecting fans as they snake through the park until reaching the dome’s majestic entrance. Inside, Dense & Pika are making the floors tremble while an array of triangular LEDs assembled into a trapezoid glow a bright blue above the stage. Meanwhile, red lasers burnish the expansive room as the masses patiently await Nicole Moudaber’s arrival.
Afterlife comes to ADE: A concept hailing from Space Ibiza, Afterlife is both a label and a creative club experience tailored to the senses. By far one of the top showcases at this year’s ADE, Afterlife recruited the cream of the crop of electronic music: Dixon, Âme, Mind Against, Rødhåd and Berlin-based wunderkinds Tale of Us, to name a few. Offering cutting-edge production and raw, formidable techno, Mediahaven’s three-room setting served as the perfect fit for a brand as striking as Afterlife.
Following in the footsteps of past Afterlife events, three upside-down male figures composed of wire hang from Mediahaven’s ceiling, making the party experience feel all the more genuine. While most are packed into the main room like sardines, some are found resting in the bar area munching on late-night cheeseburgers or sitting on the alcohol-soaked floor with their friends. I don’t blame them; it’s 5am and I’m also losing steam.
Friday – Day 3
Absolut returns to ADE with Beamlab Bar: In conjunction with ADE Beamlab, which is dedicated to visual technologies and high-end stage design, Absolut returned to ADE to present the Absolut Beamlab Bar at Singel 460. International visual artists including Daniel Popper, Rik Dikhoff and Rik Dikhoff speak about and showcase their work while visitors sip on cocktails courtesy of Absolut.
Maceo Plex presents the Rijksmuseum’s first-ever electronic music event: As is often the case, I’m running late. By the time I arrive at the Rijksmuseum, the bicycle passage is swarming with hundreds of lucky fans who registered and were randomly selected to attend the historic show. Maceo Plex stands tall beneath the passage’s raised arches, separated from the crowd by a barricade extending from one side of the venue to the other, as he delivers a four-hour set adjacent to the prized Dutch national museum.
On our way to Paradise: For the last three years, Hot Creations label head Jamie Jones has brought his Ibiza-based party concept, Paradise, to the frigid city of Amsterdam. As our Uber pulls into NDSM Scheepsbouwloods’ lot, hundreds of green lasers pierce through the windows of the prison-like warehouse for all on the street to marvel at. The music is booming, expectations are set, and inside Deetron is playing Area 1 while wAFF lures a considerable crowd into Area 2. NDSM is only beginning to swell as admirers wait for Jamie to take the decks well into the following morning.
Enter.Experiences prevails as one of the most sought-after ADE events: No ADE would be complete without ENTER. Taking place at Mediahaven, ENTER. presents Experiences affords electronic music fans the raw, dark and unadulterated side of the underground that they crave most when they least expect it. Yes, it’s an inimitable experience that only a man with the genius and artistry of Richie Hawtin could achieve. It’s here that people are invited to let loose and open themselves to the music. Moving is nearly impossible and it’s hard to breathe as droplets of sweat slip down patrons’ foreheads, but we keep dancing to the best of our ability.
Saturday — Day 4
All Day I Dream hosts inaugural party at De Hallen: For All Day I Dream veterans, the launch of All Day I Dream of Amsterdam served as one of the main ADE highlights. Sublime music from Lost Desert, Gorje Hewek & Izhevski and Lee Burridge himself permeated De Hallen – a “Centre for media, cultural, fashion, food and crafts.” Transforming the venue into a never-before-seen landscape for melodic house and techno, De Hallen is exclusive to ADID throughout the duration of ADE – making the occasion all the more intriguing. Despite taking place indoors, a wave of euphoria shimmers over fans. Magic is in the air.
Dockyard Festival returns for its third year: Tucked away deep in the industrial area of Amsterdam and overlooking the Johan van Hasselt Kanaal, NDSM Dockyard is just a short drive (or boat ride) away from the hustle and bustle of the main city. It’s about 50° outside and people (myself included) are shivering as they make their way to the third iteration of Dockyard Festival: a down-and-dirty affair that capitalizes on gritty, hard-hitting techno. Featuring the likes of Art Department, Carlo Lio and a B2B set between Dubfire and Nicole Moudaber, Dockyard is housed within five white, looming tents – each of which create individual festival experiences tailored to nearly all techno fans’ palates. Relive Dubfire and Nicole Moudaber’s set here.
#CraneSessions proves that partying is does not have to be confined to clubs or warehouses: “Are you going to the crane party?”, people begin to whisper at the crack of dawn Saturday morning. That’s right: a party inside of a crane. Crane Hotel Faralda, situated just outside of Dockyard Festival, often plays host to Amsterdam’s covert afterparties while simultaneously acting as a hotel with full amenities. It’s 8pm on Saturday, and Daley Padley, or Hot Since 82, enters The Crane’s main room where he is about to take the decks for his Knee Deep in Sound Showcase. “Does anyone have an earplug?” he asks. In spite of my deepest efforts to protect my hearing, I’m quick to pull an earplug from my left ear and hand it over. Though sounds are more intense on one side of my head than the other, I crack a smile as I get lost in the music among my 99 fellow crane-goers. Little does everyone know that Seth Troxler will make an after-party appearance right here following the conclusion of Circoloco.
Iconic underground brand Circoloco brings a hint of Ibiza to Amsterdam: It’s clear where fans’ loyalty lies, and that special place would be Ibiza. Also born out of Spain, party concept Circoloco found itself surrounded by a knowledgable sold-out crowd. Art Department, David Squillace vs Matthias Tanzmann and Seth Troxler vs The Martinez Brothers magnetized a large chunk of partygoers to Mediahaven’s cavernous warehouse drifting on the city’s edge. Countless lasers and strobes are rampantly shifting about the room, and as I shut my eyes for a split-second, I swear can almost hear the color red.
Sunday – Day 5
Elrow’s after hours party hits capacity within two hours of opening: After hours aren’t a thing of the past quite yet. Fusing entertainment with amusement, Elrow steps up as the first to rise and one of the last to set on the final day of ADE. More or less, the Spanish party concept acts as the festival and conference’s guiding light – one that underscores fun, color, larger-than-life production, inflatable rafts, confetti, tubes and balloons. Truly a spectacle and a stark shift from most underground parties – which often lean dark, grungy and minimal – it might not be too great of a shock that Elrow hit capacity in less than two hours of opening its doors at 9am. The sea of revelers around me can barely contain themselves as they anticipate the beat drop, and when it does, thousands of pieces of confetti slowly sprinkle to the ground like exquisite snowflakes.
De School’s selectivity weeds out the everyday partygoers, making room for true electronic music fans: Amsterdam’s De School boasts quite a story. The technical school-turned-nightclub, concert venue, restaurant and cafe acts as one of the city’s big players as the multi-function venue operates on a 24/7 schedule. “What brings you here tonight?”, a hostess asks point-blank. I’m caught off guard by her question, but silently think of the three men ahead of me who were asked to leave – either due in part to reverse sexism or their lack of knowledge pertaining to tonight’s event.
“Dixon, Âme and Job Jobse,” I reply.
The trio are among the better-known acts of Sunday’s roster, though we’re warmly welcomed into the school’s former bicycle storage area by Amsterdam local Carlos Valdes‘ tech house influence. Reminiscent of a dungeon, the nightclub is dark, the aroma of nicotine pervades the room, and broken shards of glass crunch beneath my shoes. On the upper floor, tired bodies are lounging in De School’s three additional rooms and enchanting outdoor courtyard.
By the time Amsterdam Dance Event’s fifth and final day comes around, the city is unquestionably quiet. The streetside chatter, perpetual tapping of smart phone glass, and tides of black outfits have vanished, leaving Keizersgracht in a bittersweet, yet calming silence. Two exhausted men from production sit on a curb outside of the Felix after having stripped the building of its “ADE Wifi” that served as the literal lifeline for hundreds of thousands just 17 hours ago.
ADE’s signature black and yellow flags are being pulled from their posts while its pop-up Info & Ticket Center slowly disappears from Rembrandtplein, marking the farewell of its 21st temporary empire that is built a bit bigger and brighter each year.
In 21 years, Amsterdam Dance Event has gained the acceptance of its local government, inhabitants and fans across the globe, and there’s no telling what it might achieve in the next 21 as electronic music continues to mature.