Straf_Werk is a boutique festival with a unique selling point, the whole event is staged on a beach east of Amsterdam. Yes, Amsterdam has a beach! Loosely translated from Dutch, Blijberg Aan Zee means ‘Happy Mountain by the Sea‘, which while innocently ironic given much of Amsterdam is actually under sea level – as much as 2 meters in some parts – it is rather suited to this lovely sandy beach reclaimed from the depths of the North Sea a few years before. Equally good was that unlike many of the festivals I’ve visited this year, Straf_Werk are an events brand who are still taking some chances on the lineup, so rather than the almost obligatory Techno/Tech House only artists, this festival chose to pepper the stages with the deeper sounds of House music highlighted by some nifty bookings including Dutch favourite Joris Voorn, Jamie Jones, Hot Since 82 and surprise find, Kevin Over. Clearly, a great deal of thought has been put into this event because the setting was perfect and as the sun shone brightly, the ‘happy mountain’ was filled with happy people!
We headed out pretty late – around 2pm. The train got us into Amsterdam quickly and we jumped straight on the number 26 tram and went pretty much as far as it would go. Packed with hip young things excitedly talking and getting ready for a great day out, the tram hummed along with the efficiency we’ve come to expect from the Dutch. A mere 20 minutes later and we were at the seaside. Cool, off-the-beaten track and utterly bohemian, Blijberg has been one of those secrets the Dutch kept to themselves, and until recently, it was something of a summer-only location. But now, with newly built offices, shops, and homes, in the way Brighton is considered London’s playground, this could be Amsterdam’s.
A long procession of those hip young things snaked toward the beach. The local Police were there, but as with every festival I’ve been to in the Netherlands, there was no trouble or any sign of problems and in fact, the cops were in a rather jovial mood, joking with people and taking pictures for their Instagram accounts and excited tweets. We headed into the festival via the press entrance and were greeted by a low hum of bass as Route 94 on the Green stage got into their set.
I was keen to catch a DJ I’ve known since the late 90s – Eats Everything – as I hadn’t seen him play since his gargantuan Essential Mix performance in his hometown Bristol a few years ago. Preferring to stay in the crowd and soak up the ambience, I was greeted by a good pal who was working with Be-At.TV, “We’re recording the crowds as well,” she tells me, dressed elegantly as ever. I instantly feel old, un-hip and terribly untrendy, so slink off to the sides. Time for a beer, or three.
Buying drinks at a festival can be a massive annoyance, and as a Brit, I’m well-versed in queuing up, but this festival had a new drinks system I hadn’t seen before and on reflection, and indeed in practice, it worked amazingly well. Essentially, you are given a wristband on entry with a chip attached that you can load up with money via the festival’s own Pay Pal account. Using contactless banking technology you pay for drinks by scanning your wristband via a point of service till rather than have to buy tokens and snap them off each time. Top-ups were the reverse system and equally hassle-free; a huge tick for Straf_Werk.
After a few libations and a good chat, we returned to the music. In the huge Blanc arena, Dusky were settling into their second hour and the crowd were really getting into their sound. We hung around to hear them as I was excited to share the next band (who I’d ‘discovered’ at Awakenings a few weeks previously) with Damion. Mind Against make the kind of tough but deep techno that we both really connect with, and they didn’t disappoint. Rubbery bass lines and squashy rounded kicks collided with powerful melodies and mind altering pads, this was worth the wait. Now it’s a party!
Smiling ear to ear, we stayed to the end, before heading over to the only fixed building at the whole festival to catch Kevin Over, who was marvellous. In conversation with him backstage, we took some time to find out a little about him. It’s safe to say he’s a delight to talk to and will be a big star for the future. With the festival winding down, we rushed over to hear local hero Joris Voorn lay waste to the Blanc arena. Already with the crowd in the palm of his hands, the Dutch superstar deftly flicked between tracks eking emotion from every megabyte of music. I hardly even remembered that Jamie Jones was closing the Green stage, which we were reliably informed he did with gusto! Always the same at festivals, you just wish you could split into 4 or 5 clones and see everything!
Now, as we head into September and the kids go back to school, I look back and reflect on the summer adventures I’ve had. From enormous productions like Awakenings and Mysterland (last weekend) to these fantastic Dutch boutique festivals, the music has been phenominal each time and with the assistance and tolerance of the government, the Netherlands continues to be the bright beckon of hope for Electronic music. I look forward to more adventures at Straf_Werk next year with my new musical family.