With over 190,000 visitors a year, Awakenings has become an integral part of the techno community. With appearances from Adam Bayer, Sven Väth, Carl Cox, Len Faki, Joris Voorn, and Joseph Capriati, it is the largest outdoor techno festival globally. Each year, 80,000 ravers flock to the two-day event to watch sets from over 100 of the most established DJs in the industry.
The Gashouder, a goliath warehouse in northwest Amsterdam, is the site of Awakenings indoor events. A temple of techno for dedicated fans worldwide, it boasts a dizzying array of lasers, fireworks, and intelligent lighting. Awakenings hosts events annually during Easter, ADE (October), and New Year's Eve.
At the heart of this masterpiece is Awakenings founder Rocco Veenboer. An undisputed legend in the history of techno. Veenboer grew Awakenings out of a desire to give the genre its own dedicated spaces and events.
Veenboer first came up with the idea for Awakenings soon after moving to Amsterdam in 1988. At the time, he was 20 years old and hooked on the local rave scene. It wasn’t long before Veenboer felt compelled to organize events himself.
“In 1991, I organized my first party in a smaller location (600 people), and in 1993 I’d already started in Gashouder.”
Veenboer was one of the first to rent the Gashouder, a colossal chamber in northwest Amsterdam that had once operated as a gas storage facility. In 1995, Veenboer booked The Prodigy to perform at the Gashouder, which filled the venue to capacity for the first time. The band’s lethal beats and extreme volume paired perfectly with the venue’s brutal iron roof and industrial aesthetic.
By the late ‘90s, techno was rising in popularity across Holland. “I was happy to see that techno was coming up as it had that rave sound in it from the old house parties,” Veenboer explains. But despite this, techno events in Amsterdam were few and far between. Local raves had become dominated by hardcore, and clubs were focussing on house. With Awakenings, Veenboer sought to fill the gap.
After over three organizing events, Veenboer launched the first Awakenings night at the Gashouder in 1997. The event sold out with an all-techno lineup featuring Derrick Mary and Billy Nasty. Nevertheless, success didn’t come easily for Veenboer.
“Everything was challenging in the beginning. Building up an empty warehouse is hard.” Despite the challenges, he pressed on and a few months later, a second edition arrived with a marathon set from Sven Väth.
For Veenboer, Awakenings would never have happened without the support of his friends and family. “They were involved from the start and supported in every way they could.” In the early days, he handpicked lineups for Awakenings based on his trips to Amsterdam record stores. After researching the best-selling techno artists, he discovered greats like Jeff Mills, Dave Clarke, Adam Beyer, and Richie Hawtin. Before the turn of the century, all of these artists had not only performed at Awakenings, but had become Awakenings residents. Veenboer would structure lineups to ensure that intensity, and BPM, increased over time.
The Awakenings Festival arrived in 2001. It was the first outdoor festival in Holland to have an exclusively techno lineup.
“Holland already had some big festivals by the end of the 90’s so when we did the first only techno outdoor festival in 2001 that was not a strange move.” However, Veenboer’s shift initially provoked some criticism. For some, techno was dark, underground, and nocturnal. Not something to enjoy in green, sunny fields.
Despite the naysayers, the event was a huge success. The weather was perfect, and 10,000 people attended across four stages. The first Awakenings Festival stands out as being one of Veenboer’s favorite memories. Summer temperatures got so high that the local fire department sprayed people down with water as they danced under the sun.
Awakenings expanded dramatically in subsequent years. In 2004, 20,000 people visited the festival, which had swelled to include a fifth stage. In 2006, the number grew to 25,000 attendants across six stages, and in 2009, 35,000 tickets were sold. Although he never looks on other festivals as competition, Veenboer has always aimed for visitors to leave Awakenings feeling that it was the best festival of the season.
For Veenboer, Jasper Schimmel—the Awakenings “production wizard”—has helped him the most in getting the festival to where it is today.
“He is in charge of the visuals but also logistically he put it all in place with his team.” The festival production, especially its moving stages, is absolutely mind-blowing, and comes thanks to an array of brilliant minds.
“Shows become bigger when the crowd gets bigger but we managed to work closely with a lot of creative people since day one.”
Today, Veenboer tells us that the event’s excellent lineups are largely crafted by two talented booking agents. “Our bookers Michiel and Mino make the right choices always!” Of all the Awakenings regulars, Veenboer has developed an especially strong friendship with Adam Beyer. In total, Beyer has played over 100 shows at Awakenings events, making him an Awakenings record holder.
This summer, Awakenings Summer Festival will feature nine stages to allow even more sub-genres to be represented.
“Good music keeps coming and I’m happy about that. I’m not a techno-purist, but a party-kid from the early raves at the end of the 80’s, so I’m pretty much open to every sub-genre.”
The festival will also have on-site camping for the first time, which Veenboer believes will enhance the festival experience for attendees.
“Going on a short festival holiday is the best, so the new festival site for the end of July is chosen because it has a camping license, and we can also dance a few more hours in the dark at night. It has been a dream for me to do this and it wasn’t possible at the old site.”
What Veenboer finds most rewarding about organizing Awakenings is seeing an ocean of smiling faces at the events each year.
“Seeing the people loving it so much and having a great time is rewarding! The Awakenings team wants to be the best in what they do and they succeed in that. We can be proud."
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