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A dutch hideaway for underground electronic dance and house music /\ Outsiders Festival

With the festival circuit continuing to expand in Europe, smaller towns and even villages are playing host to some of the most innovative festivals across all genres. Some are attended by a global audience; people traveling from far out parts of the globe, chasing the music and atmosphere that best sums up their own individual experience with music. Festivals turn this experience into a communal one, and allow diverse pools of musicians and creators to meet.

Outsiders Festival in Alkmaar presents a slight divergence from this theme. It’s a city in its own right, located just 30 minutes north of Amsterdam, but feels far out of sight of any major attention. It’s serene, and lined with quiet canals and wooden boats. Known particularly for its traditional cheese market, it is also home to a small bunch of electronic and house music enthusiasts. The scene that’s been growing in Amsterdam has flooded out onto the streets, and in 2014 Outsiders Festival was born. What started off as some club nights turned into a gathering of 1,000 + attendees wishing to take part in a collective  underground experience.

Attendees for this year numbered around the 5,000 mark, but it didn’t detract away from its beauty. Located beside the city pool, a half acre plot of greenery acted as a home for 2 stages. In between lay an outdoor bouldering and climbing park, with a natural lagoon situated right in the middle of the festival.

Set to see the fruits of their labor, I first headed to the set times board. A man, no older than 25, stood at me and grinned. “Yep, there isn’t really a better time for this,” he said positively. Considering that I was actually a stranger to the electronic and house music culture, I asked him a few informal, journalist-fueled questions about his connection to the festival. It didn’t take long for me to understand that this was a festival for the people of Alkmaar. Dutch was flowing all around, with my presence standing out like dog’s balls for anyone who spoke to me. But the man, who went by the name of Robin, welcomed me with open arms and then set about introducing me to everyone he knew.

“This is the place for enthusiasts of underground dance music in Holland. Everyone here at Outsiders today is brought together by that one feeling. That’s really what it’s all about.”

I asked him which type of dance music he preferred. In front of me I could see the smaller stage, which boasted more funky, soul oriented groove music. The other was letting out a three-hour set of trance with heavy beats. “I like anything I can dance on,” he said, “it’s all about the feeling and movement for me – I shouldn’t have to force it.”

Upon meeting his coterie of Dutch buddies, I was swept up into the local fever. Among them weren’t really any extreme oldies or youngsters, just a bunch of residents of Alkmaar that were so pumped to be at something of interest so close to home. By the sounds of things, Amsterdam has crowned itself as the primary hub for all sub genres of house, electronic, trance and dance music. Those wishing to explore new music and go to festivals have to leave their home and travel elsewhere. But on this sunny Saturday in Alkmaar, the party had come to them.

The lineup wasn’t expansive, but what you had in each of the 1.5-2 hour sets was diverse and evocative. The unique artists and their music are at the core of the festival – Derrick May, Awesome Tapes From Africa, DJ Sprinkles, Oscar Mulero and San Soda to name but a few acts that performed at this years Outsiders.

Sansoda, taking to stage two at 5:00pm, busted out some classic house and techno beats infused with afro and disco. This Belgium born, Berlin based talent, lets his careful selections do the talking. He was predictably unpredictable, and delivered vinyl mixes made up of carefully chosen gems unearthed from years of searching. Those 80s slapping bass lines were heavy, which made room for a real soul groove mood.

Meanwhile, Sandrien was making noise with some hard-hitting but danceable techno. She has been classed as one of Amsterdam’s finest DJs and is in her fourth year of a residency at TrouwAmsterdam – an icon for the city’s nightlife. A big crowd gathered, dispersed, mingled and incomprehensible, but swaying and dancing joyfully. The sun was blasting by this point, so intermittently I was drawn to shadier areas of the festival. It was here I met Iris who worked for a local newspaper. Funnily enough, she actually began by interviewing me. We both agreed that this wouldn’t be our first choice of festival, but in itself it was a great experience. But a few beers down I had loosened up.

Anthony Parasol was another international artist to perform. Coming out of the New York deep house scene, his beats were much heavier – throbbing even, but still grooving. It conjured up great imagery as the sun beamed down and the mist gun fired at us.

From around 7pm Oscar Mulero and DJ Sprinkles manned the stages. Mulero has already had over a 30 year career in the electronic dance scene in Spain, and Sprinkles (the deep house DJ persona of Terre Thaemlitz) received an ‘underground grammy’ for Best DJ of 1991 during his residency at the notorious New York transsexual sex worker club Sally’s II (among other awards). However, he’s known to be pretty off the radar most the time, which makes sense when you consider some of the minor and “underground” electronic music featured in his sets.

Derek May closed the main stage as the sun was in that stage of shining purple and blue all over the sky. He’s regarded in the techno world as one of the kings of the ‘detroit sound’.

“Derrick May is one of the founding fathers of Detroit techno, a precursor of its many variants and particularly of acid house. His eastethic, skeletal, melancholy style gained him the nickname of “the Miles Davis of techno”. He introduced both a psychological element and a futuristic vision in dance music.” –  Outsiders Festival

His set, whilst ethereal in its own right, was made much better by the atmosphere. By this point I was chilling with a pack of young Dutch festival-goers, dancing and chatting a bit over the music. Without knowing it, I had stepped into another world of music. It was lively, feel-good and loveable.

This was the electronic scene I had somewhat imagined (and desired), but never really experienced. Particularly due to never finding the sounds I connected with, house, techno and all things electronic was simply just a category of music that I rarely delved into. Sometimes, through the guidance of a friend, I have encountered some of it that I really dig. Like the new kid on the block, I sniffed around and asked questions, only to find out that the scene was expansive. But all I knew was that if the atmosphere was right, and the music could be ‘danced on’ (as Robin said), then it was alright in my book. It was different to my love of instruments and band arrangements, but shared similarities in groove and feeling that can be found in many musical styles, no matter how different.


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