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Going Places: Exploring Amsterdam's underground

Going Places: Exploring Amsterdam's underground

Having already explored the history behind two cities pivotal in the growth of underground electronic music, Detroit and Berlin, we now turn our attention to one of Europe’s hot spots for innovation - both social and technological. Amsterdam’s reputation for inspiring the arts has never been in question - it’s open minded attitude to night life has allowed the city to become home to one the most thriving club scenes throughout the world. To understand Amsterdam’s emergence as a clubbing capital, Josh Plews puts the city under the microscope to uncover what steps were taken to inspire such a forward thinking club scene.

A populare international destination as a result of its buzzing artistic qualities, pioneering music events, festivals and unique attractions including over 100km of canals, its infamous red light district and cannabis coffee shops, Amsterdam is by far a pioneering light in todays cultural world and its history with electronic music is one that’s blossomed over the past decade.

Amsterdam has a long line of nightclubs, music institutions and promoters who have changed the face of the city to one that is almost perfection for music lovers and partygoers alike. However, what is most unique about the city today is its innovative attitude and laws toward the places and people which are dedicated to keeping up its reputation, and doing it in a way that keeps people safe. 

The RoXY

Outside the Roxy in Amsterdam

(The Roxy - Photo: Ellesdee)

Although the history of dance music in Amsterdam doesn’t go as far back as say Chicago, Detroit or Berlin, the late 1980s were when the city first resonated with house and techno, with one venue being the leading light in the new movement. Although where the legendary RoXY Club opened its doors is now a clothing store, the history of the location is one that’s well known and widely celebrated, with the year prior to 1988’s Summer Of Love bringing with it the opening of this to-be house music utopia, which was situated in an old cinema on the Singel.

In September 1988 things began to change, thanks to party goers returning from the white isle after the summer that saw its biggest impact on international club culture. The genre instantly blew up in Amsterdam.

This newfound feeling of togetherness inspired the growth of the scene in Amsterdam at the end of the 80s, just like it did in Ibiza, the US and all the other locations that saw a sudden influx of ecstasy and electronic music. It changed people’s attitudes to each other and it changed how people partied.

As was the norm all over Europe at this time, the media had a lot of impact. One particular article  in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant titled “Acid” and news of the sudden upscale of ecstasy use in Amsterdam, which at that time was not illegal, helped the party scene to flourish. By the winter of 1988 house music was all over Amsterdam and only spread further around the country in the following years. Within the city, this rise in popularity would give way to new clubs that opened and explored new areas of the electronic spectrum. The iT club on Amstelstraat was another one of the earliest places in Amsterdam to resonate with electronic music. In another cinema not far from The RoXY, the iT Club was a gayer disco, with DJ Jean and DJ Marcello becoming as well known as their RoXY counterparts, through their performances here.

In a sad state of affairs, The RoXY club burned down in 1999 caused by indoor fireworks, fortunately killing no one, but ending an era of clubbing in Amsterdam which struggled to gain momentum again during the following years. This didn’t stop nightclubs across the capital from attempting to recreate what could be found at RoXY, with Studio 80 and Club 11 being two of the more notable spots that opened during the first few years after the new millennium took hold.


Inside Trouw Amsterdam

(Main room within Trouw - Photo: Trouw)

Club 11 was located on the top floor of a high-rise next to the river IJ and was for a time the best place to see the cutting edge in house and techno. Having had resident DJs of the ilk of Bart Skils, Patrice Baumel and Lauhaus, not to mention hosting the likes of Francois K, Trentemoller and Innervisions during their later days. Having already paved a way into the international DJ circuit through its guests, the demolishing of the building left a gap, only for the same team behind Club 11 to fill it with what would become one of the greatest clubs in the world.

Trouw opened at the site of a former newspaper printing plant in Wibautstraat in March 2009 and was always meant to be a temporary venue. The club eventually closed its doors in 2015. During those seven years, Trouw put Amsterdam on the map internationally and brought in DJs and clubbers from all over the world. Like Club 11, it was both a restaurant and club, this time named after a local newspaper that was manufactured at the former print works. The eatery served small Mediterranean tapas in one of the most contemporary spaces in the city and the music policy was unrivalled throughout the entire country.

The concept Trouw’s organisers crafted, as well as Club 11 and their most recent spot, is one that inspires excitement and stimulates its staff to work together and make their dreams come true, especially as the club will not be open forever. When word got out about Trouw, the club began to welcome two thousand plus clubbers every week, many making the journey out of excitement for going to a club that would be to this generation what The Haçienda and The Paradise Garage were to those before.

The main room was distinguished by its long narrow shape and hanging light strips. Add in the downstairs basement that reflected an illegal warehouse, a Funktion One Soundsystem, acoustic sound absorption and resident DJs that included San Proper, Tom Trago, Nuno Dos Santos and Joris Voorn, and you have the ingredients of what contributed towards Trouw’s unparalleled quality.

Catch Joris Voorn at Parklife, Hideout and Lovebox this summer.

Catch Nuno Dos Santos at We Concur x So Ha So June 25th at Corsica Studios, London

Catch Tom Trago at Lovebox, Tramlines, The Social and Boundary Brighton.

Although the club was meant to close earlier, the tenancy was extended so that it finally closed its doors on the 20th January 2015, however the story didn’t end here. Like moving on from Club 11 to Trouw, the organisers have opted for the same approach and recently opened the brand new venue De School. Located at the other side of Amsterdam, to the west of the city centre, De School employs the same concept as its world famous predecessor; a forward thinking nightclub and a tasty restaurant serving high quality eats. Despite this new venue opening however, De School is considerably smaller than Trouw, meaning the 2000+ people who flocked to Trouw each week now spread their wings further around the city.

In a similar feat to how fast the RoXY took off in ’88, the inclusive way that Trouw functioned as a club was key to its growth, especially in the age of VIP clubs. Having everyone in one room, DJs in the centre of the crowd, well treated staff and everything aforementioned, it was the perfect recipe for success and was always destined for great things.

Dreams And Night Mayors

Mirik Milan, Amsterdam's night Mayor

(Mirik Milan, Amsterdam's Night Mayor - Photo: Mirik Milan)

Before its closing, Trouw was one of the most recent clubs in Amsterdam to be granted a 24-hour license, a product of the city's positive actions towards clubbing culture and nightlife.

In 2003, plans for a Night Mayor began, with the position having now existed since 2014. Mirik Malin, a former club promoter from the city was chosen to be the capitals Night Mayor and is still working at the position today, liaising with clubs and night time businesses to make the city a safer place for everyone out enjoying the vast amount of exciting places to go around Amsterdam after dark. Mirik thinks that there “should be a 24-hour area in the city” and has already improved relations between the city's residents, the city hall and the establishments in question.

Amsterdam has pioneered this role, with the position having now been appointed in Paris, Zurich and Toulouse, not to mention both Berlin and London, who are also considering implementing the position. It has paved the way for 24-hour licences to help keep streets clear, whilst also furthering the reputation of the music spaces as after hours venues, which a large amount of party goers create a genuine market for that the city benefits greatly from.

Beyond the Night Mayor position, there have been several forward thinking ideas introduced to the city, which acknowledge club culture as wholly important and attempt to work with it, rather than against it. Public drug testing has been introduced, reducing harm by giving clubbers the opportunity to test their pills for dangerous toxins. There was even a temporary ruling last year that said police would tolerate people carrying a maximum of five ecstasy pills.

Controversial to some and hugely appreciative to others, regulations and services like this cannot be found anywhere else in the world and help clubbers and the authorities work better together, contributing to the city's ability to hose some of the biggest music events in Europe.

The Elite In Amsterdam Today

Dekmantel Festival Outdoor Arena

(Photo: Dekmantel Festival)

Taking over Amsterdam every October is The Amsterdam Dance Event, or ADE as it’s more commonly called. Both a music festival and conference for all things concerning electronic music, ADE has been dubbed as “the flagship event for worldwide dance music”, and sees the city play host to over 450 events, 350 thousand visitors and 2 thousand artists during five days in autumn. Thanks to positions like the Night Mayor working with the organisers of ADE, the festival is now a highlight of the global clubbing calendar, with a strong and positive presence around the entire city.

Again bringing music venues, artistic landmarks, local music figures and clubbers from all over the world together, ADE provides a platform for new artists to get exposure, for party people to do what they love and for those in technology to showcase their products, not to mention seek inspiration from the experience. The ADE parties take place at all of Amsterdam’s best venues as well as secret locations and everyday places. 

Another one of Amsterdam’s most renowned music events is Dekmantel Festival, which begun as a record label a few years ago and now boasts a four day festival in August. Dekmantel is a prime example of a small group of like-minded individuals, encouraged by Amsterdam’s policies and history (it’s the same organisation who put together ADE), which have started out as small businesses to grow into something bigger. This is mirrored in several other music institutions around the city including the world famous Rush Hour Records, which started life as a record shop, now being one of the most successful independent record labels and distribution companies in Europe. Also there is Red Light Radio, the radio station set up in the heart of the red light district, formed when a number of prostitution windows began being sold off to fashion labels and musicians. These are primes examples of local businesses thriving in the bubbling music scene and going on to becoming recognised internationally.

Influencing Others

It cannot be ignored that Amsterdam is one of the most innovative cities in the world thanks to its forward thinking and unique ideas towards citywide culture, particularly with music and clubbing. From The RoXY to Trouw to ADE; working together, inclusive clubbing and leaving your prejudices at the door seem to be the key to success.

In the worldwide effort to create buzzing cultural hubs in an effective way, Amsterdam is a city that is getting it right, creating an environment where dance music can flourish in a safe way.

Words by Josh Plews
Main photo courtesy of Licklist

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Going Places: Exploring Amsterdam's underground

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