Steadily, with minimal fuss and no brash talk, the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) has built itself up into the premier global conference destination for dance music. Miami may have the sunshine, but has become all about the parties — at ADE the motto seems to be ‘work hard, play hard’, as in the (ahem) EDM song. So most delegates have umpteen business meetings during the day, yet still attend the parties at night with full force.
Amsterdam is such a lovely, picturesque, historically rich city. The UNESCO heritage inner part — shaped like a horseshoe — retains that post-hippy creative vibe, and its location at the heart of Europe makes it ideally positioned for an event such as ADE. Plus, Holland is running tings in DJ culture at the moment — a factor perhaps not totally unconnected to the state-supported ADE.
DJ Mag has held the Top 100 DJs party during ADE for the past three years, a development which has seen the event grow tenfold. This year the Top 100 party forms the centrepiece to the Amsterdam Music Festival (AMF), an enormous three-room 25,000-people rave at the RAI Centre on the outskirts of town that closes ADE on the Saturday night — a bit like Ultra does with Miami. It’s an exciting development that’s arisen out of a hook-up with big events companies Alda and ID&T, and some of the DJ Mag team arrive early in the week in Amsterdam to help prepare the show.
Your hack, however, is stuck back in London until Thursday night helping to finish the Top 100 DJs issue of the magazine. After perilously little sleep, what was supposed to be an early flight lands mid-morning at Schiphol having been delayed by fog.
A quick, inexpensive train ride to Amsterdam Central Station and then it’s a 15-minute canal-side stroll up to the daytime destination for ADE — the Felix Meritis on Keizersgracht that used to be the old Communist Party HQ in Amsterdam, and before that an arts/cultural centre. We go to register in the foyer, and the first familiar face we see is Hardwell — just hanging out like a normal club-kid. Little do most other people in the foyer know that tomorrow night, he’ll be crowned king of the DJ world!
It’s Hardwell’s girlfriend Janneka who registers us — she works for Buma, the Dutch version of PRS/PPL who help fund ADE — and DJ Mag accompanies the happy couple to a panel in which Hardwell is facilitating a Q&A with his mentor Tiësto. At ease in the interview situation, Tiësto fields questions from the floor about subjects such as drinking, mentoring, and why the Dutch are running tings at the moment.
Tiësto has been voted the DJ Legend as part of the Top 100 DJs poll’s 20th birthday celebrations, and your hack then has to go round the corner to the Andaz Hotel to film an interview with the 2002-4 Top 100 winner. Outside the Andaz we bump into DJ Sneak smoking a blunt by the canal, something he can do freely here without fear of sanction.
Tijs has a gig in Israel on the Saturday night, a commitment he couldn’t get out of by the time the Legend votes were counted, so we film him accepting the Legend award — sponsored by Dutch airline KLM — from Hardwell for broadcast on Saturday night at the awards show. Then DJ Mag interviews him (see website), and after the cameras stop rolling remind him, perversely, that he accepted his Top 100 DJs award 10 years ago in London from the now-disgraced paedophile DJ Jimmy Savile! He looks as non-plussed by this news as he was a decade ago at Turnmills when he received the award from this strange and creepy old man.
After all this hob-nobbing with superstars, and managing to miss all our early afternoon meets, we head back to the Felix — and the other ADE daytime centre, the Dylan Hotel, a few doors down — and see some familiar faces (Yousef, Deekline, Simon Dunmore from Defected). Indeed, that stretch of Keizersgracht — lined with yellow ADE flags — has turned into unofficial industry speed dating, 1001 (mainly) blokes in black puffa jackets and (invariably) bald heads smoking, exchanging business cards and CDs and generally networking to their heart’s content.
Beth the DJ Mag photographer grabs us to look in on the ‘Cook-Off’, an annual ADE tradition that sees DJs battling to create the best dishes in the Keizer Culinair restaurant between Dylan and Felix. We blag some iPhone charge and meet Luke Solomon from the Classic Music Company for the first time and lay into the complementary wine. The next few hours is a whirlwind of meets and drinks, text messages allowing for an impromptu rendezvous around the corner in the Doffer pub, in cafes or outside Dylan.
Arriving back at the apartment at 1am to dump bags and get ready for the night out, your hack is torn between the Visionquest party at Amsterdam Roest and Dave Clarke’s annual techno shindig at the Melkweg. Perhaps a quick disco nap is in order first…
Awaking at 11am on the Saturday morning, having missed all the cool parties, we start walking towards Felix/Dylan to make an early start. Having been to Amsterdam 12 or 15 times over the years, your hack thinks he knows the city well and starts walking alongside the Amstel canal in the glorious sunshine — feeling great. After a while we see street signs for the RAI Centre, the venue for tonight’s Top 100 party — about four kilometres in the other direction out of town from the apartment. Doh! Luckily we spy a tram going back into town, and hop aboard.
Down at Felix we bump into more friendly faces, and then look in on a panel featuring the ubiquitous Nile Rodgers from Chic. Nile is telling a protracted story about losing his trusted old guitar on a train, a yarn that thankfully has a happy ending as he then picks up his Stratocaster again — a guitar that’s played on $2billion-worth of music, apparently — and plays the riff from ‘Get Lucky’. He then shows how he’s also effectively playing two guitar parts on Chic disco classic ‘Le Freak’, and talks about his collaborations with Disclosure, Avicii, Chase & Status, Guetta and Tensnake — as well as Daft Punk — since he was given the all-clear from cancer a couple of years ago.
We hang around chatting with industry peeps all afternoon, ending up at Amsterdam resident Dave Clarke’s Demolition panel featuring Riva Starr, Chris Liebing and Todd Terry before heading out to the RAI Centre and the enormous Top 100 DJs party. The RAI Centre is huge, like the Birmingham NEC and Wembley Arena combined. Walking along lengthy corridors, some of the crew have bikes to get around it. People run into the main arena as soon as the doors open at 10pm, and enthusiastic clubbers make a beeline for the front where Dutch newcomer Dyro begins warming up proceedings.
Backstage, Hardwell arrives early and immediately does photo-calls with assorted assembled media — the result is under embargo until midnight, after the awards show reveal. Soon Armin van Buuren arrives too, and disco legend Giorgio Moroder, and Armin tells Giorgio that he’s honoured to meet him — and that his mentor Ben Liebrand would love to meet him sometime too.
We chat to Armin for a bit about babies, and mention how Hardwell’s Top 100 DJs-winning trajectory exactly mirrored Tiësto’s (in at No.24, up to No.6 the next year, winning it the next). “I was more like a diesel,” says Armin, observing that he’s hovered in the top three for the past decade. Armin says he doesn’t mind at all being knocked off the No.1 spot, and jokes with Hardwell as they both hang around waiting for the ceremony amid a rash of paparazzi and TV crews.
Out in the arena, Belgian duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike — big climbers in the poll this year — are rocking their rapid EDM cut & paste show. They inexplicably blend ‘Knights of the Jaguar’ into Avicii’s country house hoedown ‘Wake Me Up’, yet somehow it works — as do mash-ups of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ — purpose-built for big arenas — and assorted EDM biggies. Dimitri — or is it Mike? — jumps on the mic and gets thousands of people to take their tops off and wave them around. The blokes, mainly.
Awards time. In front of huge graphics, Dyro picks up the Highest New Entry gong, the film of Tiësto receiving his Legend award is played, and finally Giorgio Moroder comes onstage to introduce the new No.1. Hardwell receives the award from a gracious Armin, and takes to the decks for his special winner’s set. DJ Mag gives Giorgio his jacket back (we’d been holding it while he did his MC duties) and then we do a fascinating interview backstage with the disco legend (see Game Changer, page 16).
By the time we’ve finished, Armin is spinning and Hardwell is on his way to London in the private jet to play the other Top 100 party at the Electric in Brixton.
As he did with Guetta in 2011, Armin plays a storming hard-hitting trance set devoid of EDM-style squeaks and bleeps, as if to show that — despite being deposed — he’s still got what it takes. Alesso takes over, and we hit the free bar in the guest area on the top deck…
From an editorial feature in the mag to the biggest dance music awards in the world, the Top 100 DJs poll has come a long way in the last 20 years. For much of October and at ADE, it kinda subsumes a lot of DJ Mag’s time, but the rest of the year we’re back to promoting the sharpest new underground shit as best we can. Stay tuned, folks.