Not only organizing ambitious raves but also opening them with a self made DJ-set and being able to pay the rent that way seems like a dream from naive school days. When Thomas Martojo and Casper Tielrooji started their own promotion agency Dekmantel in early 2007 they had no idea it would soon not only fulfill their own dreams. Starting out with small club nights of about 150 people, they quickly grew tenfold to 1500 visitors in ever larger venues. »We really liked to party, but everyone in Amsterdam was putting on this minimal click-house type of thing«, Martojo remembers. »We just really never were able to get into that music. So we figured, if no one else is doing it, maybe we should do it ourselves«. Rather atypical for Amsterdam in those days, there was quite an eclectic sound dominant at these events, ranging from acid and deep house to Detroit techno and disco, but also experimental sets, all happening in an abandoned shipyard on the northern banks of the IJ, the city’s waterfront. Confident in taste questions, a label began to emerge since 2009 which established itself very quickly as a safe bank for fresh releases which in style and execution became ever more unpredictable, but still adhered to the self-defined quality standards.
So in 2013 the first Dekmantel Festival was held over two days in the Amsterdamse Bos, a huge park in the southern part of the city. For the roughly 5,000 visitors each day, the crew booked a line-up that still feels unreal: Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Juan Atkins, Moritz von Oswald, Levon Vincent, Jamie XX, Ron Morelli, John Talabot, Joy Orbison were names you couldn’t find together on any given event. »We felt like we were organizing landmark event after landmark event«, Martojo raves. »They were very formative years. Very exciting years I’d say. Also if you consider the first parties we threw it was very much about booking your heroes and seeing them DJ for the first time«. In that sense, Dekmantel’s curation became the name of the game right from the get-go, for label and festival alike. The formula? Just as obvious as it is hard to implement: Bringing together legendary icons with unknown talents from around the world as well as local DJs, but also thinking outside the box of electronic music, reaching beyond genre boundaries. »The most important thing for us is to stay close to ourselves and program music that we actually like. This sounds really straight-forward or cheesy and maybe it is, but this is something we have been doing since the beginning«, Melisa Cenik confirms, head of marketing and communications at Dekmantel and curator of the weekly Dekmantel radio show at Red Light Radio.
»The most important thing for us is to stay close to ourselves and program music that we actually like. This sounds really straight-forward or cheesy and maybe it is, but this is something we have been doing since the beginning.«
Presumably this honest and in fact least commercial approach was and still is the reason for the organic growth of Dekmantel as label as well as a festival without taking any bigger setbacks. After a series of initial releases by producers –which for the most part are also friends– such as Juju & Jordash, Vedomir, Joey Anderson or Palms Trax, the principle begins to work on a growing scale. Especially the Dekmantel podcast establishes connections to the front runners of contemporary electronic music from 2015 onwards: Autechre and Four Tet, Huerco S. and Roman Flügel, Marcel Dettmann and Rrose make the label and the brand Dekmantel cherished on an international level. Praise and love from some of the most well-respected publications of the industry like DJMag FACT, Resident Advisor, Pitchfork or Quietus included. The party lust of some rave buddies in their early 20s became a vision for throwing their own events which in turn evolved to be one of the most important and well-curated festivals in The Netherlands or even central Europe as a whole. Without an elaborate business plan or a strictly regulated release schedule. Hard to believe, considering the sheer amount of pleasantly atmospheric and wild EPs as well as albums that were released in the past two years alone, month after month – like a never ending summer vacation. The spectrum spans the lush textured cuddle house of Tom Trago as well as the nostalgic Center Parcs vaporwave of Betonkust & Palmbomen II or the acidic breakbeat electro of Freedom Engine, Stump Valley’s sunbathed shower music and the recent works of Bufiman, Floating Points or Thessa Torsing aka upsammy which could be the next proof of Dekmantel’s impeccable curation, standing exemplary for the selection process.
»I got upsammy’s first record on Nous Klaer from label owner Sjoerd Oberman when I was record shopping at Clone«, festival director Bert de Rooij throws in. »I heard about her, even saw her play a bit – but since then I dove into her music and DJ-sets as it was quite clear she had a very own sound, which as an A&R (Artists & Repertoire) is always something you look for. I got in touch with her and it took a while to get her on board as she’s very considerate about the choices she makes as an artist. From then on I got bombarded with demos and we started a year long process to get the album together from 50-60 tracks but also explore her wider artistic output such as photography, text and video«. Although the tastemaker image has become a somewhat intrinsic premise of label and festival, the Dekmantel crew behind it remains down to earth and true to its philosophy: Staying connected to the zeitgeist but also daring to challenge him in unexpected ways. This is reflected precisely in the mix the Dekmantel crew has crafted for us, finds Melisa: »The output on our label has been quite diverse, ranging from ambient to Chicago house, Detroit techno, wave, IDM and funk, and has developed greatly in the 10 years we’ve been running it. To boil all of that down to a coherent mix is challenging but a great way to capture the essence of what we do with the label, and perhaps as Dekmantel in the broader sense. We think the result is a mix with artists whose work hasn’t been put together in a DJ mix before, putting pioneers like Robert Hood and Terrence Parker next to the new kids whose refreshing work started turning heads only recently, similar to what we aspire with our festivals.«