November 3, 2021
Historically, Amsterdam is one of the most important cities in the world for techno, and Awakening is one of the most important techno parties in Amsterdam.
As a brand, Awakenings takes on numerous forms. From the legendary festival in the National Park Spaarnwoude, that attracts over 80,000 people every year to their renowned marathon of parties during the annual dance music conference, Amsterdam Dance Event, Awakenings is the place to go for throbbing four-on-the-floor beats from the world’s best selectors.
Event promoter Monumental Productions BV hosted the first Awakenings nearly 25 years ago in 1997 at Amsterdam’s most famous club, Gashouder. Consisting of a former storage tank with a 2500 square meter interior, this venue epitomizes the gritty and grimy techno aesthetic. It was only fitting that one of the DJs to play their first party was one of the inventors of the genre: Detroit’s Derrick May.
Gashouder has remained the foundation of the Awakenings experience, an experience replete with one-of-a-kind sets and the elated microphone work of the party’s founder, Rocco Veenboer, who serves as master of ceremonies at many Awakenings events around the world.
Veenboer has every reason to be proud of what he’s built. Over 20 years later, his brand is one of the most sought-after identities in techno, bringing the authentic atmosphere of the genre to places like Rotterdam, Eindhoven, New York, Sao Paulo, and India.
But the heart and soul of Awakenings remains in Amsterdam. Every year for ADE, Awakenings releases a calendar of events, many of which take place at Gashouder, but the parties frequently land in other venues around the city as well.
In 2019, there were 11 Awakenings events at ADE. Five happened at Gashouder, featuring epic sets from the likes of live techno composer Stephan Bodzin and the rising superstar Charlotte De Witte.
The other six events happened at Elementenstraat, a warehouse space that was formerly illegal but is now another staple of Amsterdam’s techno community. This is where Awakenings hosted their 24-hour party, a collaboration with Amelie Lens’ party brand, EXHALE, that included an eight-hour set from Lens herself as well as a huge lineup with sets from fellow techno valkyries Nastia and Rebekah.
Even in the face of COVID-19, Awakenings pressed on for ADE 2021 as they are indispensable within the Amsterdam techno community. Restrictions from the Dutch government prevented parties from running past midnight but Awakenings still delivered five shows at Gashouder and three at Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam’s indoor arena with a capacity of 13,000.
In terms of programming for ADE 2021, Awakenings hosted everything from a ten-hour live set from Reinier Zonneveld at Ziggo Dome to a night of Drumcode at Gashouder with favorites of the label like Ida Engberg, Layton Giordani, and boss Adam Beyer.
Unfortunately, Awakenings Festival had to be canceled in both 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, which was a huge blow to the worldwide techno community as the festival is one most anticipated of the year, but the festival will return in 2022 to celebrate 25 years. Awakenings Festival was started in 2001 and now welcomes over 100 DJs across two days.
Looking back across lineups and schedules for Awakenings Festival is comparable to perusing a text depicting the evolution in the careers of various artists. In 2017, Amelie Lens played the second slot of the day at 1:45 pm. In 2019, just two years later, she closed out the entire event Sunday night. Other artists playing the closing slot that year included MPC master Jeff Mills and Berghain Resident, Ben Klock.
Unlike many dance music festivals where the opening slots are relegated to local acts and relatively unknown artists, headline-level artists are playing the minute Awakenings opens its doors.
Also in 2019, the impressive melodic duo Artbat opened a stage right at noon, while the heavy techno temptress, ANNA, played at 1:30 pm. Artbat headlines shows in populated markets like Los Angeles all the time, and ANNA closed out a stage at San Diego’s CRSSD Festival in September of 2021.
With nine stages and top-caliber artists performing from the start, Awakenings is a festival where you show up as early as possible and stay all the way to the end, a clear allusion to how Awakenings has curated events since the beginning.
Looking back through the archive of previous events (which Awakenings keeps readily available on their website) these parties have always been about the long haul. Back in 2005 none other than Ricardo Villalobos played a warm-up slot at Gashouder rather than closing the evening.
This idea of coming just for the “headliner” isn’t relevant to Awakenings. These parties are about supporting the culture from the moment the first kick hits until the last song. They were there when it started and they will certainly persist until the house lights come up on the last techno party in Amsterdam.
Words by: Harry Levin Follow him on Twitter