Turn­ing the ta­bles

Dutch dJs rule the dance mu­sic. but back in hol­land, an even more vi­brant un­der­ground scene is pi­o­neer­ing a whole new sound.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - By Ben Beau­mont-thomas

IF at some point this sum­mer you danced in a field sur­rounded by peo­ple in UV paint point­ing ec­stat­i­cally at screen­saver vi­su­als, chances are the DJ on stage was Dutch. Tiesto, Afro­jack, Hard­well, Ar­min van Buuren – these DJs and pro­duc­ers are the back­bone of the global EDM in­dus­try, com­mand­ing crowds of thou­sands by blend­ing the twin­kling trance they pi­o­neered a decade ago with the thrilling asym­me­try of dub­step.

Away from this flu­o­res­cent kitsch, how­ever, lurks an un­der­ground Dutch scene that is even stronger than ever, with as many as eight dance mu­sic fes­ti­vals in a sin­gle week­end in Am­s­ter­dam. The one I visit is Dek­man­tel, held in a giant wood­land clear­ing on the city’s bor­der, and there’s a bold shaft of day­light be­tween the mu­sic be­ing played here (sub­tle shifts of mood, a strong nar­ra­tive thread pump­ing through it) and Tiesto’s blandly utopian oeu­vre of pre­dictable builds and drops.

Tom Trago’s af­ter­noon disco set is floozily fab­u­lous, the Am­s­ter­dam na­tive chuck­ing on crowd­pleasers such as Eve­lyn “Cham­pagne” King while wear­ing a child’s party hat on his bald head. Less than eight hours pre­vi­ously he had been be­hind the decks of Trouw, a club at the heart of the scene (Am­s­ter­dam’s mayor spun the first record at its re­cent re­open­ing).

“There’s a tsunami of new peo­ple com­ing up,” he says ex­cit­edly af­ter he comes off­stage. “There’s a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment go­ing on in young kids, and their con­scious­ness about what is good or not. Kids are punky – at 17, 18, 19, they say no, I’m not go­ing to just do what this other guy is do­ing.”

His Voy­age Di­rect se­ries of re­leases champions this new gen­er­a­tion, fea­tur­ing lo­cal pro­duc­ers such as Awanto 3, Maxi Mill and Dex­ter who make melodic, prob­ing house mu­sic.

These, as well as his own tracks – in­clud­ing the ones on new al­bum The Light Fan­tas­tic – show the treer­ing growth out­ward from the core of Chicago house and Detroit techno that ar­rived at Am­s­ter­dam clubs such as The Roxy in the early 1990s.

“Back then, it was much more like a typ­i­cal har­bour,” says an­other lo­cal pro­ducer, San Proper.

“Peo­ple had the in­for­ma­tion, but they didn’t re­ally own it.” In other words, they aped the im­ports of the Amer­i­can and Bri­tish scenes, with la­bels such as Bunker and Out­land driv­ing the first wave of Dutch un­der­ground dance.

“Maybe the 909s were re­ally cheap,” won­ders Trago as to its pop­u­lar­ity. “The ec­stasy was good too. But that was all be­fore we were born, of course!” he laughs.

The ar­rival of Rush Hour, a la­bel, shop and party pro­moter team, co­hered the scene fur­ther.

“House, Detroit techno, disco – we re­ally got into that as a re­sult of Rush Hour,” says Thomas Mar­tojo, one of the three founders of Dek­man­tel, which has grown from club nights for 100 friends to fes- tivals for thou­sands, plus a record la­bel of their own. “Rush Hour has a mas­sive in­flu­ence on the peo­ple who are buy­ing records.”

It was also im­por­tant for Juju and Jor­dash, the Is­raeli duo Gal Aner and Jordan Cza­man­ski, who make jazz-in­flected techno and moved to Am­s­ter­dam seven years ago.

“It def­i­nitely played a role,” says Cza­man­ski. “All the par­ties when we moved here were Rush Hour stuff.”

The city seemed im­pos­si­bly fer­tile for the pair, com­ing from techno-starved Tel Aviv and Haifa where, as Aner drily notes in a nod to his part­ner, “Jordan was the scene”.

“Am­s­ter­dam is the com­plete op­po­site of Tel Aviv – life doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean strug­gle here,” con­tin­ues Cza­man­ski.

“Tel Aviv is a hap­pen­ing city, but po­lit­i­cally it’s very tense and stress­ful. There were one or two clubs that brought DJs we were into, and that was ev­ery few months, un­less it was can­celled be­cause there was a bomb on a bus. And then mov­ing to a place like Am­s­ter­dam where ev­ery week there was some­thing dif­fer­ent go­ing on, it influenced our mu­sic.”

The dif­fer­ence be­tween now and the past is that, as San Proper says, “there’s an iden­tity to it now – peo­ple are claim­ing some­thing. Peo­ple are say­ing there is a Dutch sound. Me, I can’t dis­tin­guish it at all.”

“There is no Dutch sound!” Trago ex­plodes in agree­ment. “There’s too much sh** go­ing on to give one iden­tity to it.”

Their work­ing meth­ods are var­ied too – whereas Trago pri­mar­ily uses one piece of equip­ment, the Akai MPC2000XL sam­pler and drum ma­chine, Juju and Jor­dash use ana­logue synths and jam for 40 min­utes at a time to gen­er­ate a sin­gle idea. When per­form­ing live, they fre­quently im­pro­vise.

Fall­ing be­tween the two are Le­gow­elt and Xosar, lovers and col­lab­o­ra­tors who each work on their own cos­mic takes on house. Where Xosar (US ex­pat Sheela Rah­man) mostly uses Korg’s Elec­tribe unit to make tracks, Le­gow­elt (The Hague res­i­dent Danny Wolfers) has a love af­fair with vin­tage synths that has got mas­sively out of hand.

“It’s dis­gust­ing, it’s per­verse – he’s ad­dicted to syn­the­sis­ers like a crack­head,” says Rah­man. “They’re ooz­ing out of clos­ets – any drawer you open up you find drum ma­chines.”

“The kitchen and the bath­room, those are the only rooms that don’t have syn­the­sis­ers in,” ad­mits Wolfers.

“In our house we can make mu­sic any­where we want – I can at­tach a syn­the­siser in the gar­den.”

Their tracks are tran­scen­dent pil­grim­ages through elec­tronic sound, “try­ing to sub­lim­i­nally re­lay the mes­sage of our in­ten­tion to help hu­man­ity raise its con­scious­ness lev­els,” as Rah­man says. “For ad­vance­ment of the hu­man pop­u­la­tion, (to re­mind them) to not be pedes­trian,” con­tin­ues Wolfers. “And to just be freaky.”

For them, too, this is a scene that is ab­so­lutely not na­tion­al­is­tic, thanks to the global vil­lage on­line.

“It’s cy­ber­punk, in­for­ma­tion over­load, but we can pick the good things out of it,” says Wolfers of the new dance plu­ral­ism.

“In the 1990s in The Hague you had the scene around (pro­ducer and DJ) I-F: raw elec­tro and raw acid that went into techno, and it was very, very lo­cal. Even Utrecht had their own house scene. But nowa­days it’s in­ter­na­tional.”

Rah­man chimes in: “When I was liv­ing in Los An­ge­les, it was more to do with a scene as op­posed to the ac­tual mu­sic, that jugu­lar feel­ing of en­ergy and power. But there’s a lot more em­pha­sis placed on those feel­ings here.” Look­ing out on the crowd at Dek­man­tel, iden­ti­cal in pon­chos and cut­ting shapes through the dry ice and rain, you can see what she means. – Guardian News & Me­dia

Deeper un­der­ground: dutch dee­jay/pro­ducer Tom Trago reck­ons that de­spite the global suc­cess of Tiesto, afro­jack, hard­well and ar­min van buuren, there is too much mu­sic go­ing on in the dutch dance scene to merely give one iden­tity to it.

Jazz mu­si­cians Gal aner (right) and Jordan cza­man­ski met in their na­tive Is­rael, bond­ing over a mu­tual fas­ci­na­tion with un­der­ground house and techno, and even­tu­ally moved to am­s­ter­dam to pur­sue their noc­tur­nal hobby in earnest.

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