Now in its eighth year, Holland's WiSH Outdoor festival has come on leaps and bounds since its humble 1500-capacity beginnings. Situated on the outskirts of Eindhoven, the festival currently caters for around 20 times that number and boasts an impressive eight acts from the DJ Mag Top 100 list.
Given this dramatic expansion, coupled with the renowned eccentricity of the Dutch, DJ Mag is braced for a certain amount of bizarre experiences throughout the weekend; however, no amount of festival after-movies or YouTube hardstyle dance tutorials can prepare us for the oddities in store.
Kicking off Friday evening with a single stage, WiSH's intense American narrator (a disembodied voice taken straight from an action movie trailer) introduces us to the likes of Firebeatz, MakJ and R3hab, all of whom share a magical ability to be utterly musically indistinguishable from each other.
The order of the day is EDM, which in this case constitutes taking 30 seconds of any song that may have been played at a school disco in the past 20 years (including Eurythmics, Kernkraft 400, Dr Dre and even Red Hot Chili Peppers), and dropping it into a mass of obtuse horns and electronic fuzz.
With the amount of criticism EDM receives in the music media, it feels almost unfair to join in. However, the performances we witness make it all too easy. The cookie-cutter production and lazy mixing leaves us sceptical about where the weekend is headed.
Some relief is provided by Crunk-King-turned-superstar-DJ Lil' Jon, who throws in his classic collaborations with Usher and the Ying-Yang Twins alongside his gruff crowd-hyping, before the don dada of Dutch hardstyle, Headhunterz, pounds the night away.
Although WiSH may be lacking in audible integrity, the organisers have at least provided genuinely outstanding visual accompaniments. Two huge stages, designed by regular collaborators StageKings, push Wish's 'Wonderland' aesthetic further than ever before. Friday's stage takes on a nautical theme, complete with sky-high lighthouse, sunken submarine and what appears to be a giant diving helmet — fans of the Bioshock games will feel right at home.
Elsewhere, on Saturday, the Devoted main stage depicts the WiSH jungle, with huge stone faces embedded in a vertical labyrinth of wooden walkways; above the stage, a floral centrepiece of twisting, animated vines.
It is within this Amazonian arena that we find Saturday's superstars lining up for the masses. Dyro, the youngest ever Highest New Entry in DJ Mag's Top 100 poll, makes way for yet another captain of the modern Dutch dance industry — Chuckie — who, despite the hype, fails to improve on the previous day's events.
The first real highlight of the festival comes over at the Duikboot tent, where hot young duo Detroit Swindle are offering up a much more manageable array of house and techno, such as Moderat's shuffling 'Bad Kingdom'.
Meanwhile, back at the main stage, the biggest crowd of the weekend gathers, yet neither DJs or music are anywhere to be found. The reason? Netherlands versus Costa Rica, the World Cup Quarter Finals. DJ Mag would be silly to miss the Dutch win, and even more so the crowd's reaction, so we join the Oranje sea as it erupts and is instantly treated to one of the biggest names to come out of the local scene — Sander van Doorn. Although the atmosphere is ecstatic, we leave the Dutch to their revelries, returning to the safety of Duikboot, where De Sluwe Vos leads us to the finish with a healthy serving of techno and acid house.
It is on Sunday that WiSH Outdoor really gets weird. The family-friendly day, the entire festival becomes populated with over-50s and under-15s. After the confusing placement of Nielson, a full band whose performance includes Dutch covers of Rudimental, we find Ronnie Flex promoting Holland's hip-hop side, complete with the obligatory infusion of trap, dubstep and general EDM.
It's difficult to comprehend just how WiSH can survive, being a fast-growing festival with such a limited variety of music. Co-founder Tim Klomp Bueters explains that removal of almost all drum & bass and dubstep from the line-up this year is in fact the reason the festival is so successful; the genres simply aren't particularly popular in the Netherlands at the moment. It is here that the crux of our issue with WiSH festival arises: there is a direct culture clash in effect — WiSH is unrelentingly Dutch.
Granted, in some ways this has a positive result — the fantastic handmade scenery is a factor often overlooked in British dance events. However, surely the point of a music festival is to focus on the music. WiSH instead provides an EDM experience; an audio-visual induction into a manic world of loud noises and short attention spans.
Our feelings are only reenforced as the heavens open. Hordes of teenagers pour past us into the tent; are they here for the trap-y stylings of Major Lazer's Jillionaire? Given the disinterested look on the majority of faces, we doubt it. Every minuscule amount of cover across the festival ground is packed to the brim with punters, as if they'd all melt in the rain. If music wasn't already of secondary importance, it certainly is now.
The rest of the day is given to that Dutch favourite — hardstyle. Both Lny Tnz and The Opposites shake the foundations of their respective arenas with volatile beats that receive an expectedly erratic response. Intercut with this are the Wish Allstars, a small collective of DJs, emcees and dancers, who bring back that strange school disco sound with a vengeance. The oddest part of all: Andrea Bocelli's 'Con Te Partirò' (yes, that is the operatic belter Will Ferrell sings at the end of Stepbrothers) dropped into that festival favourite, 'Tsunami' by DVBBS & Borgeous.
As the weekend comes to a close, our American narrator reels off an inspiring speech, depicting our “adventure” through the WiSH wonderland. Our own experience doesn't quite match up to the grandeur of the story being told, although perhaps this is our own fault, for simply not being Dutch. WiSH feels like a local festival for local people; sure the bill is covered in internationally successful DJs, but for most of them, this is still their home.
The crowds here want their drums the hardest and the fastest, they want their bass in obnoxious, electronic jolts, and they want their retinas burnt out by more lasers than all six Star Wars films combined. The Dutch are crazy, and we love them for it, but personally, we'd happily sacrifice all the theatrics and in-your-face energy for a little more variety, a little more feeling, and a little more good quality music.
Words: Ben Hindle
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