An expertly programmed selection of electronic flavours in the Dutch city...

Around 40,000 effortlessly cool Europeans descended on the industrial grounds of NDSM Docklands over the Easter bank holiday for the sixth edition of DGTL Amsterdam - and CLASH was there to see why it’s hailed as one of the biggest house and techno festivals in the world.

Held between graffiti-covered factories, abandoned warehouses and with huge metal crates used innovatively as stages, DGTL’s aesthetic at its home edition is raw and minimalistic with each of the six temporary venues creating contrasting atmospheres whilst offering varying styles of dance music. By contrasting the more jubilant sounds of house and disco with stomping techno, the 2018 line-up covers all genres and tastes.

And the fashionable audience - aviator sunglasses and black leather jackets seem the most popular outfit choices – are free to get lost as they explore the vast industrial site which seems to stretch for miles and boasts a picturesque rivers view at the opposite end. They might be a trendy bunch, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get stuck in. Expertly programmed, the DGTL team - which has expanded out of the Netherlands to put on festivals in Santiago (May 4th), São Paulo (May 5th) and Barcelona (August 10-11th) - ensures each DJ and live performer plays the space their best suited to.

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Generator, a long, wide, dark warehouse space with massive speakers, provides the perfect surrounding for floor-rattling techno slammers courtesy of Blawan, Dax J and the tirelessly energetic Amelie Lens whose otherworldly acidic sounds encourage one guy on the front row to hold up a teddy bear and another a flag as the Antwerp producer blasts out lasers from another planet while red strobes flood the packed crowd.

Over at Gain - CLASH’s favourite stage of the weekend - the vibe couldn’t be more different. A cube-like oversized shack with a circular DJ booth in the centre, it offers an intimate experience where the crowd is within touching distance of the DJ. As an alternative to the heads-down techno elsewhere, Chicago’s Honey Dijon provides uplifting shelter from the rain in the form of joyous, funky, vocal-led house - sporting her shades indoors of course. Crammed right to the back with people - some even climb the concrete to get a better view - it’s a welcome antidote to the grey skies outside as Honey’s effortlessly euphoric selections induce a sea of arms to rise every few minutes. There’s nothing but love and screams of adoration for her.

The up-close, high-energy vibe works perfectly for equally expressive disco, funk and house selectors CC: Disco! and Man Power too, who deliver standout sets alongside Honey with CLASH getting front and centre. CC, sporting a Moschino bag across her shoulder, takes charge with funky saxophone-led tracks like Kojo Antwi’s ‘Hini Me’ and Yothu Yindi’s warm and infectious ‘DJapana (Sunset Dreaming)’: it’s her expertly picked yet obscure selections that makes her set the most memorable of the entire weekend; that and the fact she’s got some clearly devoted fans; three songs in and there’s a guy hanging over the decks, swinging his jumper overhead while a girl in fur reaches over to shake CC’s hand and another guy passes over his sunglasses for her to wear.

It’s all happiness and good vibes as she dishes out undeniable party starters, effortlessly reading the crowd.

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Meanwhile, Amp - a giant, greenhouse-shaped dome structure overlooking the river - is a great fit for big-room techno sets from three of the genre’s biggest names: Ida Engberg - looking elegant but rave-ready in all black - ensures the energy is high early on before Eats Everything and Hot Since 82 fill the stage as thin, long rectangular strobe lights pulse overhead in time to the pumping beats. Over the weekend, the Frequency stage - a smaller version of Amp, essentially - hosts the more eccentric, experimental artists on the diverse line-up; Holland’s Satori pairs live violin instrumentals with wall-shaking techno, while Damian Lazarus’ tribal-flavoured productions prove hypnotic as the sky darkens…

Contrastingly, the low ceilings, exposed brickwork and spiralling strobes within Filter - from the outside it looks like a rusty green shipping container – makes for an ideal space for a trio of newer, fast-rising DJs and producers on the scene. Derry-born Or:la veers between house, afro-rhythms, electro and acid with SDL’s slammer ‘Windows’ creating the atmosphere of a 4am rave at mid-afternoon. Glasgow’s Denis Sulta, sporting a white sports jacket, black rolled up joggers, sunglasses indoors and leopard print socks, is received like a hero as he veers between breakbeats, techno and even plays a handful of his own anthems including ‘L.A Ruffgarden’ and the screamer ‘Time 4 Prayer’.

There’s also the upbeat selections of long-haired tattooed Australian producer Mall Grab, who gets the party going with floorfillers like Redlight’s ’City Jams’ and Switch’s instantly recognisable ‘A Bit Patchy’ alongside some of his own lo-fi house bangers.

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Away from the music, the team behind DGTL seem to have thought about every little detail that can make a festival that bit more memorable: there’s a ‘pee to tea’ lab, campfire-like circles dotted around the site encouraging a community of music lovers to make new friends and not just remain passing faces in a crowd, chairs and tables made from up-cycled wood, innovative art installations, a party ferry complete with neon strobes and a DJ taking festival-goers to and from the festival, a Vegan-friendly food court and, most importantly, a major emphasis on recycling and reusing.

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It’s impressive to see a festival taking sustainability and what it means to be ‘eco-friendly’ seriously; as well as offering a diverse electronic line-up, the DGTL team is leading the way in the hope of becoming the first fully ‘circular’ festival by 2020 - and others will, hopefully, follow suit.

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Words: Ben Jolley

DGTL Amsterdam returns in 2019. For tickets to the Sao Paolo edition visit https://sao.dgtl.nl/en, Santiago via https://scl.dgtl.nl/en and DGTL Barcelona at https://bcn.dgtl.nl/en

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