For some years now, Dekmantel has established itself not only as one of the pre-eminent electronic music festivals in Europe, but also as an institution noted for its dedication to both quality and variety. Arguably the best reflection of this commitment is the Selector’s Stage at Dekmantel’s original home in Amsterdam Bos, which has celebrated the artistry behind DJing with bookings resistant to conformity. Its decision to expand this concept into a festival of its own was certainly bold. Once again it exemplified the organisation’s reluctance to conform to an increasingly homogenised festival scene, rife with repetitive and unimaginative bookings.
If Selectors 2016 was one of the most anticipated events of the summer, our early arrival at the Garden Resort in Tisno, Croatia, was refreshingly anticlimactic. The seasoned festival site was half-empty some 24 hours before the week’s festivities kicked off, with small teams of workers still hoisting up wooden panels and logs that were to form the contours of the four main dancefloors. An air of informality prevailed even as the beach filled out in the afternoon. There, one of members of the Dekmantel team admitted:
"This is basically a holiday for us. We wanted to throw a party for ourselves and our friends, and ended up inviting 1500 people to come along too", he said before diving into the Adriatic to the sound of Santana’s 'Aqua Marine'.
Music had started playing late that afternoon on the smaller of the two beach stages. Tako, Young Marco and other members of the extended Red Light family took the unofficial warm-up party into the evening, moving in and out of dubbed out classics and energising island cuts. This apparent lack of ceremony continued into the first day - and indeed the whole week - but seldom at the expense of quality.
I was pleasantly impressed by the opening set of the festival, undertaken by journalist and friend of Dekmantel, Eelco Couvreur. As people lounged on the beach, he played both entertaining and more challenging records from the pier stage, setting a standard largely unmatched by other DJs playing the early slot in the next days.
A stone’s throw from the beach was the festival’s real gem, its third ‘Voodoo’ stage. Low-lying olive trees encircled an area of white gravel, at the head of which was an ingeniously crafted stage made from local logs and tree branches. The stage, floor and trees formed a particularly attractive contrast in the waning evening light.
Powerful displays from Christian S and Lena Willikens ensured that the space filled out as the second night progressed, with the crowd fully warmed up by the time Jon K stepped up. One of the highlights of the festival, the Manchester selector navigated his way through his seemingly endless archives with precision and flair, culminating in DJ Sotofett’s 'Breaking Set of the Jungle Fantasy', sending the crowd into 'taps-aff' delirium.
One could carry on at length, listing the many moments that will no doubt shape people’s memories of the week; Gilb’r releasing his crowd from hypnosis by dropping (and pulling up) Michael Palmer’s 'She’s Sexy' mid-set, Trevor Jackson’s purposeful and intense display at Barbarella’s, Jonny Nash’s beautiful impromptu sunrise set on the beach or Andy Votel’s anthology of Turkish female singers peppered with Italian punk records and other oddities.
As an organisation that has continued to distinguish itself with high-calibre line-ups, it’s hardly surprising that Selectors fulfilled its expectations as a showcase of excellent music. What was truly singular was the uncompromising ease with which this translated to an entirely new setting, rendered all the more enjoyable by a crowd which was largely knowledgeable, friendly and respectful.
Rather than basing itself on networks of promoters, Selectors relied on the routinely impressive community of DJs and music people that Dekmantel has fostered and provided a platform for since its inception. True to its organisers’ words, it really did feel like a (very well soundtracked) holiday hosted by friends, for friends. Whether this was a unique outcome of the festival’s first edition will only be revealed with the passing of time, but the years to come certainly feel auspicious for Dekmantel’s future projects.
Words by Francesco Anselmetti.
Photo credit: Desire Van Den Berg