The NDSM experience of ADE 2020

The 25th anniversary edition of Amsterdam Dance Event started on Wednesday. This year, many festivities have had to adjust to the corona regulations either by cancelling the event or moving it into online space. Teus Hagen reflects on what is still happening at and around the NDSM-wharf and discusses the things that make ADE 2020 a unique experience nonetheless, such as the virtual music program by NDSM Music and a new artwork on the wharf.

The NDSM-wharf is usually a vibrant stage of everyday life, where all kinds of activities – from work to residency and leisure – cross paths. But others see NDSM as an alternative world, mostly when there are festivals taking place. And for many, the perfect time to enter this world is during ADE. To this day, it is unclear to me precisely which components of the ADE formula make it such an extraordinary recipe. Maybe it’s the immense offer of events continuing for five days straight, maybe it’s the buzz resulting from the coming together of countless international artists and visitors alike, or maybe it’s just the way ADE assures you, as Fall is setting in, that even though Summer is over, the parties are not. Whatever it is, NDSM for me feels inextricably linked to this special experience that is ADE. And taking the ferry across the IJ is an integral part of this experience, as some sort of gateway transition: as soon as you set foot on the terrain, you know the party has begun. 

Obviously, everything is different in 2020. From the start of the pandemic, we knew that the warehouses couldn’t be filled with people, lights and soundwaves like they used to. But during this 25th-anniversary edition of ADE, the recently intensified restrictions have left a particularly gaping hole in Amsterdam’s nightlife landscape. This makes itself felt especially strongly at the NDSM-wharf. Over many years, the terrain has matured as a host of sizable festivals, which makes the widespread and beautifully rough terrain feel particularly empty this year.

This is the main reason why the NDSM Foundation decided to commission art at the wharf during ADE, in order to pay a tribute to all the things party-goers are missing this year. For the project called ‘Because the Night’, artists Boris Acket (1988) and Vladimir Grafov (1964) created two light installations which were officially established at the NDSM-wharf on Wednesday. Boris Acket’s work, ‘BAKEN’, unfortunately couldn’t be displayed anymore for the rest of the weekend, due to a few hindrances with the surounding water traffic. Although lasting shortly, it did create some surreal impressions: it resembled a lighthouse and shined a light that moved to the rhythm and the sound of a heartbeat. This heartbeat, visible from all over the wharf and around the IJ river, like a dot on the horizon, was meant to support nightlife culture with a sense of hope. Luckily, there’s still Vladimir Grafov’s work, which shines laser lights onto the Y-ramp, reviving the visuals, energy and atmosphere that usually bring to life the NDSM and all of Amsterdam. Herewith Vladimir plays with elements like smoke and wind to bring the laser beams to life like coloured shadows in the night. 

But while these artworks keep alive the ADE spirit by adding something tangible to the physical, public space of the NDSM, this year the wharf is also a place for virtual festivities. From their monumental studio, our neighbors at NDSM-Music organize NDSM Music Digital x ADE 2020 during all of ADE. Each day, ‘visitors’ can enjoy, dance and party along to countless live-streamed sets by upcoming artists in the house and techno scene, from the comfort of their living room. This unique concept takes place in three cities simultaneously and enables ‘visitors’ to do virtual city-hopping from Amsterdam to Berlin, Madrid and back again.

Last Thursday, I was alone at the NDSM-Foundation office: COVID-19 demands that we keep the number of people present at the office at a bare minimum. In other words: I didn’t feel much of a party mood. But as I was getting ready to leave the office, I noticed Boris Acket’s artwork shining across the IJ river, and heard and felt the bass of its heartbeat (yes, the installation has sound as well created by drum computers normally used for dance music!). This made me realize: I shouldn’t let ADE go by uncelebrated this year. So I decided that, as soon as I got home, I would turn on the NDSM Music live stream, and fill my night with music. Since lots of other facets of everyday life have now moved into virtual chatrooms, I figured I might as well access ADE through my computer screen and curate my own living room party. 

My brother and a friend came over for dinner, we cracked open a few beers and started watching the live stream. We are entering the stream halfway into a set by DJ Tom Zeta, who at that moment has just introduced an afrobeat song that fills the room with a volume and energy it doesn’t experience often. Obviously, we immediately notice a few things that are simply not the same: there is no crowd, no smoke or lightshow, and we’re basically hanging out on the couch – even though a few more drinks definitely led to some dancing steps. But most of all, we’re just happy to see that yellow square – the famous image of the ADE logo – in our direct surroundings. This time not at the far end of a clubbing space – high up and next to the DJ-booth, covering a room full of dancers under its yellow haze – but in the corner of my computer screen. But the most important thing is that it’s still there as a reference point: we haven’t forgotten about ADE; we haven’t forgotten the value of music and social gatherings; and we haven’t forgotten how to dance. For me, that’s the message of ADE 2020: it’s up to us to welcome nightlife as it is temporarily moving into our living room, and to keep the spirit alive until it’s ready to return to our beloved clubs and festivals.

Come and experience ADE with NDSM by tuning into NDSM Music X ADE. All weekend long, you can enjoy their live streams and countless hours of DJ sets. Have a drink and do some dancing, so that next year, when maybe we can get together at a festival again, you can say “Remember last year? It wasn’t the same, but still, we celebrated well”.

Also, don’t forget to check out Vladimir Grafov’s work ‘Invincible Sun’, which brings an ode to festival culture and nightlife. The lightwork is on display on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from 19:00h until 23.00h.

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