Dekmantel days 1 + 2 (festival review by Paul S.)

Last week I flew to Amsterdam for the first Dekmantel festival since 2019. I planned to go last year, but the festival was cancelled due to COVID. I flew to Amsterdam anyway, and it was probably the best vacation I've ever taken. But actually going to the festival this year was amazing and overwhelming, especially since it's a sprawling monster which takes place over several locations throughout Amsterdam and the nearby Amstelveen. The first two days all took place at a handful of venues on the river banks. Wednesday's opening concert was just three sets in the main room of the Muziekgebouw concert hall, as well as DJs in the lobby. Upsammy started the evening, with visuals by Sjoerd Martens. Much different than Upsammy's beat-driven tracks, this was a collage-like audio-visual feast that could've gone on way longer than it did. Next was Gaussian Curve, the trio of pianist Gigi Masin, guitarist Jonny Nash, and DJ/producer Young Marco. They were a surprisingly big draw, the venue seemed packed during their set, and it was a remarkably skilled hour of smooth, occasionally beat-driven ambience. Last was harp goddess Mary Lattimore, who I've been a fan of for years and somehow never managed to see live. Her music has a sublime way of transcending time, and it's easy to just get lost in her delay pedal-enhanced rhapsodies. She shared the stories behind songs like the NASA-approved "For Scott Kelly, Returned To Earth", and generally seemed extremely grateful to be performing. Later in the set, she was joined on guitar by Neil Halstead of Slowdive, her collaborator on the 2020 breakthrough album Silver Ladders, who added an extra layer of space-rock bliss, enhancing an already magical performance.

The Thursday portion of the festival included films, workshops, radio sets and interviews, and performances by more than two dozen artists. Some of them were at Muziekgebouw and the connected Bimhuis, and others were across the river at the Parallel club and the nearby underground venue Shelter. I mostly stayed at Shelter, which kicked off with Sky H1 and Mika Oki, who did an installation-like performance behind a cylindrical sheet which hung from the ceiling, and had light projections. A pretty good slow-burning type of experimental techno set. After that was Loraine James, easily one of the top five artists I was most excited to see at the festival. She's been forging her own brand of glitchy hybrid techno laced with drill and R&B influences, and this was a really intense, in-the-moment live version of that. She played "Glitch Bitch" (from the astounding For You and I) for what seemed like 10 minutes, constantly adding and subtracting sounds and rhythms from the song's sample. Just an amazing display of energy for the whole set. After that, Michigan's John Beltran presented a performance of his 1996 classic Ten Days of Blue, and it was a stunning set of brightly melodic ambient techno, which was full of motion even when it lacked proper kick drums for several minutes. He also went surprisingly hard with a version of 808 State's "Pacific". After that, I walked over to Parallel to see KeiyaA. I was already a fan of her album Forever, Ya Girl, but her performance was on another world entirely. Using a sampler and effects, she twisted sounds and rhythms into haunted frequencies, and her voice similarly stretched words and phrases far past their written form; at one point she repeated an entirely a cappella verse a few times, uncomfortably forcing the chatting audience members to shut up and listen. She also performed her cover of one my favorite lesser-known early Prince songs ("Do Yourself a Favor", aka "If You See Me" by 94 East), which made an already otherworldly set even better. Last, I took a shuttle over to Muziekgebouw to catch a late-night set by Squarepusher. I had already seen him earlier this year at Bangface, performing easily the craziest, noisiest, raviest set I've ever seen him play. This set was close to that level, starting out with some acid techno along with warped bass guitar, and then escalating to complex, multiverse-like jungle matched with a multi-tiered lighting display. Simply unbeatable. And these two nights were just the beginning, as the rest of the festival continued for three mind-bending days in the Amsterdamse Bos forest (review to come soon).

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