My Festival Summer: Part One - An honest opinion on Dekmantel’s small sibling Lente Kabinet.
Coinciding with a period of partial unemployment and low finances, this summer I wisely decided to give zero fucks and indulge in more festival experiences than a judicious, closer to his 30s than 20s person would normally have had. Hurra for me!
In light of the fact that I most likely will not be able to do it again next year, I also decided it would be nice to give my two cents and divulge my not so professional or sober opinion about them to the world.
Here’s a short disclaimer on the way these articles were conceived and a possible interpretation key.
I will not try to faithfully and objectively describe these festivals with a “best-gigs” or “best organisation and sound system” approach. Honestly, there’s already far too many of them. Also, seriously, who gives a fuck about a stranger’s opinion on what this or that DJ played? How can I possibly make a list of the best acts for a festival counting FIVE continuously running stages? I think it’s a lack of respect to rank maybe 5 artists (I might haven’t even been able to hear from start to finish) when there were more than FIFTY acts on the bill. No thanks. Rather, I will provide some personal considerations of three festivals that are somehow comparable, at least from a size perspective, based on my subjective impressions and some deep 6am discussions with some good friends. Take this as an occasion to read someone’s quite informed perspective on what the festival is about and how it compares to others he attended. On the other side, I will try to be as clear and objective as to provide a basis for those of you who do not know so much about them, then you can decide if and which one of them is more for you. Just like a good friend would do.
Disclaimer provided, I think we can start with festival #1: Amsterdam’s finest Lente Kabinet !
Lente Kabinet, also known as Het Kabinet, is nothing less than Dekmantel festival’s little sibling. It’s held north of Amsterdam since 2012, between the last weekend of May and the first of June (this year, 25-26th of May).
In light of the geographical scope and diversification of the Dutch super-power in the last years (they also held a winter edition in Brazil for a couple of years, not to mention their yearly Croatian adventure for Selectors, now at its 4th edition) it would be logical to assume that Lente Kabinet was an attempt to create an emergency option to maintain that intimate atmosphere and maniacally detail-oriented organisation that made Dekmantel so famous recently - should things get out of hand and the big brother’s identity watered out with time and fame. However the first edition of Lente Kabinet was actually held in 2012, thus paving the way to the first edition of the better known Dekmantel, which would only take place in August 2013.
Having followed the Dekmantel rise since the beginning, I must admit I felt quite prepared for what to expect: an early-in-the-season festival with an up to date lineup mixing the usual local talents with the most in vogue names of the season. The signature attention to detail, from logistic to in-site organisation and aesthetic curation passing through partners selection. On top of this, the aim to prioritise to a local rather than international crowd. This could be observed in the past years by scarcer promotion compared to the main festival and label activity. No unique merchandising in collaboration with Patta, no dedicated podcast series, not much activity on SoMe in general preceding the big day, unless some necessary information in the weeks right before the event.
In this sense, this year I had at least a feeling that something was changing. During the weeks and even months preceding the event, I noticed a more widespread coverage on the now massive SoMe channels, raising international awareness and giving a clear identity to the so far minor festival, uncovering it from the shadow of its bigger brother. Please consider I do not have any actual data to sustain my claim, it’s just a feeling - so take it for what it is. It would be nice to see if this were actually the case, but hey... I’m not paid enough for that!
My suspicion materialised as soon as I landed in Schipool two days before the event. With hordes of mostly British party-goers everywhere, it was definitely more packed than I would have expected from the first early hours. Yes, I am not a big fan of crowded places, be them indoor or outdoor. This however didn’t cause me real troubles, apart from the main stage being a bit too crowded during bigger acts and a pretty furious rush to the lockers once the last notes came out of the PA, especially on Saturday.
“Just suck it up, dude”, y’all rightly say...
The festival site itself was outstanding. Het Twiske is a big park (apparently a natural reserve) about 10/15 km north of the capital with green pastures filled with goats, sheeps, horses and whatever else all around. The typical canals crossing these pastures give the whole place a slightly more intricate look compared to Dekmantel’s “Amsterdamse Bos”, located instead south of Amsterdam. The portion of Het Twiske where the festival takes place feels big enough for everyone to find their spot whilst being contorted enough for little 10 minutes explorations when in need of a break (shoutout to the lake view and stroboscopic forest!). All the stages are easily reachable within 5 minutes walk but the names in Dutch together with the small forests and canals separating them require a little time to memorise the optimal routes between them. Especially if you are not exactly sober. First world problems, anyway, for real.
Despite the quality of the location, the logistical aspect of the festival did not live up to the expectations. There is a 5 euro one way (if I remember correctly) shuttle service from the brand new Amsterdam Noord station to Het Twiske. It’s a nice 10/15 minute ride in the green and blue Dutch countryside. Yet the return trip feels nothing short of a trap. The metro service from Amsterdam Noord to the city centre (a good 15 minutes ride which felt quite far) closes at 12, even on weekends. This means it’s virtually impossible to make it in time for the last ride unless you leave the festival early. Just entering the shuttle on the way back is a mission on its own.
Once you managed to reach Amsterdam Noord station you will have two options: either a bus, or an UBER ride. Unfortunately the second one is not really an option: either you pay an unlicensed driver 80+ euros for a ride that would normally cost you 15 or you can wait more than 1 hour to get your third assigned driver pick you up.
The cheapest option is not optimal either: the bus transits every 30 minutes or even more and the temporary stop is quite inaccessible due to work in progress in the area (you have to walk right next to a highly trafficked roads for a good 150 meters). Imagine if let’s say, 1000 people wanted to go for this option. It took us between 3 and 4 hours to go back home on Sunday night from Het Twiske to the South-West corner of the city. During a summer storm. With wind and water and cold, you know. This is more like 2nd world problem in that moment.
Anyway, did I tell you about what a trip the trip was ?
I meant the program.
Lente is a 2 day festival, Saturday and Sunday, ending quite early with no real afterparties of sorts (although come on, you’re in Amsterdam, it won’t be hard to find something for your taste). This means it’s meant for anyone with a Monday to Friday job within 1500kms of the Netherlands to go and enjoy a nice weekend in a place that knows how to do it right. For this particular occasion the locals adventured in mass for the first sunny and pleasantly warm day, while wisely refraining to do so on Sunday when a summer storm was forecasted. The storm eventually came, with an impressive thunderstorm strong winds and a steep drop in temperatures few were ready for. The attendance was sensibly impaired by it but the fun wasn’t. Perhaps the greatest performances came on Sunday, with the artists willing to deliver something special for the brave ones who decided to stay and dance under the rain.
The biggest surprise for me and my team was indeed Dusseldorf’s Salon Des Amateurs resident Philipp Jondo, who came in last minute to substitute Gatto Fritto on the always on point Red Light Stage (to me, the real fulcrum of dance experimentation and by far the best crowd throughout the weekend). I never heard of the guy before, but he’s definitely one to look out for, with an impeccable selection from slow highly percussive tracks transcending genres boundaries to bouncy, 140+ bass heavy rave cuts. His set under pouring rain was magic: powerful and evocative, with incredibly natural complex rhythmical transitions, like striving to be louder than the thunderstorm in the background. He definitely managed to cut through, and the crowd of dedicated kids had some incredible energy on the muddy floor throughout the two hours he played.
You can listen to the recording of his set here.
I know I promised I would not go into details with single performances so on to some extra considerations about the overall program!
Having attended several Dekmantel events in the past years, I feel like a fair share of the big names on the bill were not as appealing to me as it was to many of my friends and the average attendee. Throughout its existence, Dekmantel has confirmed it’s position as one of the biggest players in the industry. You can call it a gatekeeper, if you like. Part of this success is intrinsically linked to the special relationship Dekmantel has developed with some artists in the label roster (but not only) that stretches along years of mutually beneficial collaboration. Think of Peggy Gou, Jayda G, Palms Trax, Call Super, Job Jobse, Antal… These are undoubtedly great artists and incredible professionals that rarely fail to deliver one hell of a party. Looking at the past years editions of all of Dekmantel events you can clearly notice some of these names recurring on the lineup. In this sense, Lente behaves quite the same. This is something Dekmantel has been, and still is, extremely good at: attaching its name to promising and talented artists at the beginning of a fertile period, maybe backed by a resurgence of a specific genre, and amplifying their sound through several channels: radio show, label, showcases and of course, the festival. From an outsider’s perspective, I feel there’s something quite genuine in the way these relationships with these now giants of the scene were built, partly for a desire to promote talents that were previously unheard of in the industry, partly for sincere appreciation for these artists work by the organisers. It is beautiful to see these artists are given the recognition they deserve, having built this magic machine together, and not forgotten in the name of an unstoppable rush for novelty.
However, from a quick-informal-drunk survey held on the premises, I have the feeling that the same presence of these artists constitutes the main reason for a big chuck of the festival audience to attend the event. Also here, perfectly fine, it is not written anywhere that you shouldn’t book artists from previous editions and that proved their value in the booth by providing repeated high level performances and gifted party goers an amazing good time. In the end, this is the single marketing strategy that contributes the most to any company success: stick with what works and go for incremental changes to give a sense of freshness and novelty to your offer.
However, what does this tell us about Dekmantel’s future role in the industry? Where is this going? Most importantly, how does Lente Kabinet place itself in the now huge organisation?
Well, given the premises I have put down, some would say Dekmantel is in a process of mainstreamification, with already affirmed artists rather than semi-unknown novelties driving its following. This for a festival means higher interest paid by prospect attendees to “headliners” rather than to new prospects on the lineup. I tend to agree to this view, but only to a certain extent.
Why to an extent ? Well, because despite these big acts driving the bulk of attention by a more casual and somehow less informed share of party goers, there is MUCH more going on than this. New names and international and local underground DJs and live acts (a lot of live acts, including rare ones such as Ross From Friends) with a much lower resonance are maniacally selected each year. On top of that, new international discoveries, old glories, young locals and big names are put inside the lineup is nothing short of perfect, sign that these guys know exactly who they are booking and how to fit them in the 2 days program. Yes, the main stage might be a bit boring for me, but there were 3 other stages with super sound systems plus a smaller one filled with excellent music at any given time. Also, despite the bulk of the program focusing on classic house and techno, the call from new interesting blends and styles that is changing the hierarchies in the last couple of years did not remained unanswered. You could listen to a greater than ever selection of D&B, Hardcore, Footwork, slow-burning EBM and World music and a representation of countries and scenes very varied.
So, what does Lente Kabinet stand for against the wider Dekmantel universe?
I did not perceive a strong conceptual difference between Lente Kabinet and its bigger sibling Dekmantel. In other words, Lente Kabinet offers a very similar experience as that of Dekmantel, with no major differences in terms of acts booked, genres representation or audience targeted. It would be nice to see something more on the conceptual level that put some distance between the identity of the two festivals, rather than only the time of the year these happen.
Dekmantel was never meant to be a cultural experience, made of cutting edge and experimental acts only. It wasn’t when I started attending it, when I was a newcomer to the electronic music scene, and it probably never will. However, I believe the success of Dekmantel, trickling down on Lente Kabinet, is also largely due to place these more “intellectual” and niche acts into a larger picture, while keeping a friendly and welcoming tone far from the elitist and underground approach taken by many others.
The resulting feeling is that of a festival that is pleasant, relaxed, open to anyone, not taking itself too seriously while paying attention not to fall short of the expectations of the more informed share of the scene. What will be of Lente Kabinet in the next years, only time will tell. My guess is an intimate festival with a strong international relevance strategically positioned in a time of the year where competition is far less fierce.
It’s all for this rather long but far from exhaustive opinion on Lente, stay tuned if you’d like to read more on the subject. Next one for the series “my festival summer” is the Italian gem Terraforma Festival.
See you there?