There’s something about large-scale dance events that brings out the camaraderie in us. Perhaps it’s thousands of bodies moving in tandem to omnipresent rhythms. Maybe it’s DJs and promoters embracing rave elements for gargantuan rooms, taking us back to old school mindsets. Whatever the truth, it explains why an Irish-born, Manchester-based randomer is back at our base camp sleeping off his troubles. And he has plenty to sleep off, emerging from tonight’s party at 6am without coat, keys or phone. We’d like to say offering strangers beds is standard practice, but such gestures only really happen when you’ve been in an atmosphere of tangible excitement, handshakes, hugs and unified debauchery.
It’s just the second time Holland’s Awakenings has touched down in the UK, and the crew has arrived with real intent. With a line-up comprising countless techno heroes and fast-rising stars of the emergent underground, the main room at tonight’s venue is Manchester’s monolithic Victoria Warehouse. It’s a former industrial site now broken into a multitude of areas connected by dark passageways, and it represents exactly what we expect from this Dutch organisation.
The lighting rig makes you wonder if there’s any electricity left for the city’s residents — pyrotechnics elevate the production well above your average British mega-sesh. If there can be any complaints then it’s the sound in the largest arena — although crisp and clear, it fails to fill the place properly. Then again, previous experiences at this address have been similar — say, The Warehouse Project’s two-year stint (2011-2013) — suggesting local noise restrictions, coupled with the fact you could land a decent-sized plane in here, will always mean that those who want kick-drums to kick the shit out of them must get front and centre.
Which isn’t a problem. Very few tickets are left on the door, but marauding from rig to rig is hassle-free, with plenty of space to manoeuvre, even as we approach the middle of a busy dancefloor in the throes of a typically juggernaut sensory assault from The Baron himself, Dave Clarke. One enthused character starts scaling the walls — Bjarki’s 'I Wanna Go Bang' sets the tone.
With a good proportion of the crowd Europeans (primarily Italian, Spanish and Dutch) keen to fly in and pay homage to one of club culture’s most enduring brands as it sets up temporary shop in a country at the core of the global scene, the result is a multi-national soiree with plenty of conversations (rather hysterically) lost in translation, and a festival-like vibe. And that’s no reference to throwaway sets, either. As expected, the decade-spanning men of the scene are all stepping up — Chris Liebing, Speedy J and co — but ultimately it falls to the smaller soundsystems, and the artists in charge, to deliver selections we’ll still be talking about this time next year.
Room Y, one of the more intimate, is the crowning glory — boasting four hours until close, and best described as delightfully disorientating. Clouds’ hammering, industrial edginess is packed with more energy than a Duracell bunny embracing an amphetamine habit, not to mention curve-ball arrangements — all clanging metal percussion and b-lines built for 21st century ears. The set is finished with a remix of Stone Roses 'Fools Gold', which could be a cliche given where we are, but thanks to the foreign contingency it’s not met with heard-it-before expressions you’d usually get when partying in Manchester to the sound of probably the region’s most famous band.
Giving way to AnD, the local duo show everyone why they remain one of northern England’s most essential techno experiences. Heads down, no-nonsense fare, the relentless Berlin-esque rollers offer a fitting finish, giving overseas visitors an insight into this town’s current rude musical health.
Words: MARTIN GUTTRIDGE HEWITT