There is a universal serendipity around the number five that is hard to ignore. It is the number of days a week, we as humans find acceptable to spend at our occupation, in order to maintain a healthy balance between work and play. It is the number of syllables that are needed to make a Haiku work. In music, it is the interval that shares itself with both the minor and major key, and is known to all as the perfect fifth. There is now another musical association that I will carry with me for some time. 5 Days Off. Hitting Amsterdam at just about the same time as the first signs of spring, the festival featured a series of events over the course of 5days. Taking over Paradiso, Melkweg and De Balie, it showcased some of the most engaging international acts currently working in an electronic aesthetic. The selection was good but also reserved enough to not have to make too many of those difficult choices between acts. The proximity of the venues made travelling between them easy for the full 5-day pass holder, and if you couldn’t manage 5-days off you could settle for one day on over the weekend. The events were put together well, with specific days catering for a specific type of music fan. House and Techno were still the main attractions but it wasn’t the only conduit for music during the events. There was so much going on over the course of the week that it was impossible to put an article together that encapsulated everything, so I opted to highlight the 5 best shows of 5 days off.
The Max at Melkweg lived up to its name for this event. The densely packed venue barely produced standing room as guests clambered over each other, and the furniture, to get anywhere near the enigmatic duo. My last experience with Darkside at the Concertgebouw left me wanton, as their heavily improvised set never quite gave the same impression that their album delivered so perfectly. This was not the case however for this performance. As they took the stage, covered in the cloak of darkness that the minimal stage lighting had to offer, it didn’t take long from the first chords of The Only Shrine I’ve Seen, for the song to manifest itself with a steady pulse and form. This pulse carried on through the crowd standing in the stalls and when the sub frequencies make their first appearance, its greeted with an overwhelming cheer. The live drumming from the album was replaced with big electronic beats, perfectly adapted for the venue. The extemporisation of the album’s material drew out the lengths of the songs for up to 15 minutes, but always demanded focussed attention throughout their development. Aided by the innovative light display that first accompanied the band at their Concertgebouw performance, the show was as visually engaging as the music was sonically. Hardly ever revealing more than Nicholas Jaar or David Harrington’s silhouette, the Children of the Light creation saw a silver disc reflect a beam of light over the group and its audience, as Jaar’s deep voice moaned the first lines of Paper Trails. Harrington’s guitar particularly stands out on this occasion, echoing Dave Gilmour’s steady hand through the melodies in the main riff. Provoking the crowd on the gallery to sway in response to the rhythm. It left my appetite whet for more and I was happy the next morning to be able to listen to Psychic in its entirety again.
Planningtorock’s All Love’s Legal has been a staple in my playlist since its release and I was really looking forward to seeing her perform again. As Jam Roston broke into Public Love a message flashed on the screen: “Public displays of affection is still illegal in 83 countries between people of the same gender.” Clearly still on point with the same message from All Love’s Legal, the serious air of the subject matter didn’t stifle the entertaining aspects of her music and her performance. Dressed in a costume that denied gender classification, Rostron was clearly in a good mood for this performance, and the crowd reciprocated in kind. Her set-up was a stripped down version compared to her W tour and only featured rRoxymore – whose warm up show was the perfect start to the evening – at the controls. Her energy was electric on stage as she delved in to both W and All Love’s Legal, focussing on buoyant tempos. The crowd joining in on tracks like Misogony Drop Dead filled the intimate space of De Balie with their auditory presence. Jam’s trepidation at reaching the high notes during All Love’s Legal, seemed to be unfounded and if it was ever problem the audience didn’t seem to care as some danced on each other’s shoulders for most of it. It was no surprise they wanted more from Planningtorock and as Jam broke into Living It Up for the encore, the track captivated exactly as it did the first time I heard it. Incorporating the lyrics from Smells like Teen Spirit, Jam left us with; “here we are now entertain us” and I wondered how many could actually rival her live show in doing just that.
This show was a breath of fresh air and came at exactly the right time to break the relentless monotony of hard electronic textures, that I’ve had to endure the previous three days. The German was in good humour as he took the stage and encouraged his audience to dance along to a new track that was specifically created for the event. During the course of his appearance, the mixture of electronics combined with live keyboard work from the classical pianist gelled magnificently and complemented Paradiso, which was a church in a previous life, beautifully. His thumb, clearly fully restored after his accident, seemed no hindrance as he jumped between grand-, upright- and electric pianos while sequencing his “little drum machine” and laptop. Even his feet were busy at playing a bass synth intermittently. His playing adapted from a minimalist approach featured textures, which swelled with arpeggios and figured bass motifs on tracks like ‘Says’ and Familiar. Showing off the ferocity of his talent through Alberti Bass lines and quick moving arpeggios, Familiar also featured little hints of Bach intermittently. He employed some very interesting devices too. Using mallets to play the strings and body of the grand or using the sustain pedal to keep a beat, but one of the most captivating effects happened during Said and Done. Hitting middle B repeatedly with varied levels of velocity the resonant frequencies created a phasing effect, changing the fundamental frequency to others in the harmonic range, and giving the listener a sense of a different note playing as time passed. Apart from his technicality, the performance was nothing short of emotive. During You it was hard not to feel an emotional response from his self-proclaimed “lullaby” as confirmed by another attendee, who later described being moved to tears during the performance. It was no surprise he was encouraged by an audience, unwilling to leave, to come out for a second encore. I’d have to concur with Olaf Boswjik, who opened up the proceedings with a DJ set, that this is where the innovations in classical music is currently situated today. But, I would also suggest this is where the innovations in electronic should also be occurring.
The venue hosted a variety of events. From the tranquil set of Nils Frahm to the crowd surfing exploits during Rustie, the atmosphere was always very palpable in the spacious dome of this mid 20th century building. It’s stained glass windows, refracting artificial light into its cavernous space made the venue feel light and airy, and I believe it affected the various audiences and artists attending 5 Days Off. Whenever I looked around the room there was always smiles plastered across various faces. Watching Shlohmo’s set from the gallery at the Paradiso was one of the surprise highlights of the event. His unhurried R&B/Trap set went down well and the quirky producer was entertaining to watch, as he mimed and danced along to the tracks. The packed crowd bobbing up and down in unison with the slow beat was a great scene to witness up from my perch.
Funkineven vs. Metro Area
Probably one of the best things about 5 days off is its line-up and it was reflected when Metro Area and Funkineven squared for a battle… well not quite. Occupying separate rooms at Melkweg the two were never really in contention with each other but it left me with some difficult choices to make. I opted to stay for Metro Area’s disco openers, but soon found myself in the second room enjoying the bass heavy development of Funkineven’s house set. Both rooms kept switching it up constantly and it was hard to stay in one room for a prolonged session. It was especially a great experience to hear Metro Area, playing one of their own. The veterans had an eased demeanour behind the decks that could only come from their collective experience, changing their set up between house, techno and disco. While back in room 2, everything was going acid with Funkineven’s unmistakable signature sound. It was probably the closest my generation will ever get to anything resembling a sound system battle, but both Funkineven and Metro Area were worthy of devoted attention. Later that evening (or morning) I was faced with a similar issue as both Martyn and Dekmantel took to the stage for the same Julio Bashmore night. Martyn’s set was as you’d expect from the Dutch native, bringing in elements of Garage, Bass and House, while the Dekmantel guys filled the vacuous space of the Max with a big Techno sound. Again, testing my reserve and forcing me to be in two places at once.
These were the high 5 of 5 days off but by no means the only highlights from the event. Other significant acts included Will and Ink, Truss, Akka and rRoxymore, all contributing something special to the festival. The crowd were also quite interesting especially on Thursday night when Collab 3000’s more mature audience were mixing it up with the new generation. It was a great way to spend 5 days, but also very tiring. As my ears still ring from the effects of Julio Bashmore’s set and my esteem for Nils Frahm and Darskside grow exponentially I look forward to getting some must needed sleep. That is until next year rolls along and I can do it all over again.