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Harold Heath on the world's biggest dance music conference

2017 Nov 08     
2 Bit Thugs

Amsterdam Dance Event attracts a mix of industry professionals and hardcore party people. Harold did his best to rep both camps...

The first thing that you have to understand about the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), dance music’s biggest conference, exhibition and festival, is that it’s a brilliant blend of all three. If you go to a normal festival, you might fall into a conversation with an amusing stranger, or meet a bunch of like-minded hedonists and hang out for a bit. Well, ADE is a week-long festival, but a festival in a really cool city with ATMs, showers, and decent restaurants, rather than in a great big muddy field with trench-foot and Skrillex. Alternatively, if you went to a conference, you might end up doing some decent networking, or learn some new business strategies, but it might also make you want to saw your head off with your lanyard out of sheer boredom. The conference at ADE however, is packed full of some of the most interesting and charismatic people in dance music, chatting with insight and passion about things everyone in the room feels strongly about. So you get it, ADE is fun and interesting.

The second thing you have to understand about ADE is that there is a lot of it. There were close to 400,000 visitors this year, who could choose from some 2,500 live performances, over 600 speakers, and just under a gazillion DJs. So you can’t get to hear/see/attend it all. Many attempt to go to meetings and conference sessions during the day, then have a nice sit-down and a cup of tea before heading off and partying all night. It’s definitely do-able - after all, if ever there were diems to be carpe'd it’s at ADE - but for an entire week, it can be a challenge and you’ll likely end up as part of the annual post-event disco-flu epidemic.

There were many high-quality performances, films, artworks, presentations, seminars, and of course DJs and parties that I missed, and yet I still was busy or engaged in low-level dance floor hedonism for every minute. I met some folk who hadn't been to one conference session and who were just there to party, some who were safely back in their hotels by 11 every night ready for work the next day, and many who were somewhere in-between. Me, I attempted to do both and consequently by the end of the week had lost my voice, my credit card and my ability to see clearly out of both eyes at the same time.

The best-laid plans...
The event is spread out across the entire city centre, and if you don’t plan then inevitably you’ll spend at least some of your precious time wandering aimlessly through the (admittedly charming) streets of Amsterdam, not to mention standing quietly swearing at your phone: "I thought we’d been through this already, Google Maps: I need to be able to get in the door of the building, not see the door from the other side of a fucking canal". Big shout going out to the black-clad, lost massive: clumps of bemused, snapback-clad lostees in brand new trainers, one looking at a phone, one looking around as though he’s going to recognise some kind of natural landmark in this place he’s never been before, and one looking off into the middle distance muttering something about how they should’ve taken the Uber he’d suggested 20 minutes ago. (My advice: Don’t take an Uber, they have awful business practices. Take the tram: it's ace, you get to see all the panels and such, and the bleep that it makes as you log in and out with your travelcard sounds like the start of Bug Kann & the Plastic Jam’s Made In Two Minutes, so it’s a double win.)

We arrived in town late on Wednesday evening, and immediately, accidentally wandered into a massive highly excited street party with Richie Hawtin on the decks, before we’d found our accommodation. Despite then getting thoroughly lost, we managed to fit in a couple of hours of Kerri Chandler playing all night at the innocently named Claire, a quality two-room venue that was predictably jammed to the gills and overflowing with first night excitement. With Mr Chandler jamming along on his keys and dropping a few Madhouse tunes, it was a great start to the week.


This is one of the joys of ADE - If this was any other situation, you’d be a fool not to stay all night, but there is such an embarrassment of musical riches on offer that you can literally pop into exceptionally cool gigs and grab a drink for an hour or two before moving on. We had meetings and business to attend to the next day so we bid a fond farewell and were tucked up in bed before sunrise.

Hardcore conferencing
The next couple of days were taken up with seminar sessions, talks, checking out new studio gear, interviews and the like, and despite the fact that at times it looked like a conference for bald men on their phones, with side-sessions aimed at serious young men in leather jackets, the panels and seminars hadn’t forgotten about half of the population, and women were well represented.

Conference highlights for me included Rebekah, Lady Starlight and Kevin Saunderson talking about their musical and DJing influences; a number of different discussions on the role of the DJ in the ever-changing scene; Phillip Glass refusing to play the piano because he was too tired, and just answering questions from the audience; and Dave Clarke chatting to Gary Numan, during which both of them went completely accidental Partridge by veering away from techno talk and into the micro-detail of applying for a private pilots’ licence.

I’ve done a few music conferences in my time, but the weird eye contact thing engendered by everyone wearing lanyards never fails to amuse me. There’s no mistaking if you’ve been ‘exhibition-visioned’: the eyes flicker over your face oh-so-briefly before dropping to your badge to see if you’re famous/useful/interesting or not. I cunningly altered my badge to say ‘Hardwell’ and then spent the week signing autographs for people who were whispering “Jesus, Hardwell has really let himself go lately” and “He doesn’t smell as good as I hoped he would.” The conference was busy all week, although obviously, we all stopped for a minutes’ respectful silence when we heard that Martin Garrix had passed his A-levels or whatever it was.

Weekend warriors
The weekend signals the end of the conference: indeed, some party patrons only turn up for the Saturday and Sunday, and if you wanted a high-quality clubbing weekender with more choice than any festival I can think of, then this is a superb ADE option.

Friday was a monster evening - the conference had pretty much wound down so sleep became pleasingly superfluous to needs. First off was Troxler and Villalobos at the Warehouse Elementenstraat, which was RAMMED OH MY DAYS THERE’S JUST NO ROOM TO I CAN’T EVEN. Then a trip across the river IJ to the Dystopian party in a warehouse far from the coffee shops and bars of tourist Amsterdam. It was pure future techno carnage, in a really good way, and by about 5am it smelt exactly like that Spiral Tribe rave I went to in 92. There were other similarities too - wild abandon, over-powering sound, genuine love for the music, friendly crowd - obviously the scene has changed and developed over the years, but in some ways, and at some parties, things are pretty much the same as they ever were. Just with more phones.

In a week packed full of some of the world’s finest DJs, the Detroit all-dayer at the Sugar Factory on the Sunday was just ridiculously good. We turned up around 6am, worried it was going to be winding down, to find a packed room full of hollering and whooping dancers, worshipping at the altar of Detroit tech-soul. Stacey Pullen killed it, followed by Kenny Larkin, who provided one of many high points when he dropped a Marvin Gaye acapella over some irresistible Detroit stabs (sorry, I don’t know which Detroit stabs, Shazam was having none of it). Perfectly riding between tech and soul, from cold Detroit pads to swirling disco strings, this was my personal favourite party of the week.

To the complainers, to those who worry about phones in clubs or the kids not understanding what raving should be: seriously, it was all right there in that dark room. Everything you’ve ever wanted from clubbing still exists: just book a decent DJ or two, a dark room with a system and a few lights and watch the magic unfurl before you. Admittedly, in addition to Pullen and Larkin, this particular line-up also featured Kevin Saunderson and Moodymann B2B with Carl Craig but still, my point stands.


Later that day we spent a couple of hours at elrow at the cavernous De Kromhouthal, catching some of Eats Everything’s tasty big room business. It’s a huge venue, absolutely rammed, and decked out like some kind of neon and UV cathedral of decadence. The air was full of streamers and confetti, and other big, bright, loud things that I didn’t understand. Everyone there seemed to be having a terribly good time, although as we left a girl dressed as a rabbit was being sick into an orange plastic bowler hat, whilst being supported by two bare-chested, well-toned bros, each wearing ridiculously oversized straw hats. There might be some kind of lesson there, but I can’t establish exactly what it is.

We decided to end our ADE2017 by lurching from the ridiculous to the sublime and our last destination was to try to catch Hunnee at Brighter Days. But perhaps inevitably, at this point things fell apart. From phone photos, texts, and credit card transactions, we later pieced together what had happened. We were nowhere near Hunnee and his silky DJing skills, which explains the difficulty we had on the door trying to get in to see him, in a place that was neither a club nor had a DJ playing, Hunnee or otherwise.

ADE is a brilliant mixture of networking and learning in the day, and hedonistic debauchery and joyful carnage in the evenings. You really can, if you wish, party for an entire week and judging by some of the conversations I had, some people did exactly that. Also, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that some of them were smoking cannabis too.

The Monday morning after it had all ended was grey and rainy, and everyone kept missing all their trams, buses, taxis and planes. I said a slightly over-tired goodbye to Amsterdam and strode off confidently in the wrong direction, turned round, walked out in front of a moving tram, then got my shit together and went home. See you next year.

Words: Harold Heath Pics: Mark Richter/ADE






Tags: ADE, Richie Hawtin, Kerri Chandler, Dave Clarke, Gary Numan, Stacey Pullen, Kenny Larkin, Kevin Saunderson, Eats Everything, Moodymann, Carl Craig, elrow, Seth Troxler, Ricardo Villalobos, Hardwell, Amsterdam Dance Event, 2017