What is Awakenings? Only one of the best techno events in Europe! Well, so I’ve heard. Combine my love of travel and live music? Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse.
Like Paris, this was not the first time I’ve been to Amsterdam. It was another stop during my 2001 tour. However, I barely remember anything from the first go around. It was all the wine tasting I tell you! This post is from my 2017 trip, a couple of years before I started blogging. So here comes the highlights…
Right out of the Schipol airport, we’re greeted with grey overcast skies and a slight chill in air. (Sigh) missing the sunny hot days of Paris at that moment. Well, better make the most of this, right?
First photo op was the I Amsterdam display (in case there was any doubt of where you have landed).
Then hopped on a shuttle that took us to our hotel -Tulip Inn- that was only a few minutes away.
It was still kind of early in the day, so we hopped back on the bus back to downtown for a little exploration. The surrounding streets constantly alive with moving bodies — trams crisscrossing with people on mopeds, bicycles and small cars.
Amsterdam Centraal building almost reminiscent of New York’s Grand Central only in name– a red brick structure with two clock towers, adorning the front entrance – along with scaffolding on the right side –comprising downtown’s transit hub.
Of course, we had to check out one of the coffee shops – for *ahem* coffee. As we walked (trying not to act all paranoid), saw more small shops and restaurants, old red brick buildings. We didn’t really have any plans of what to see downtown. The walk was uneventful. It just didn’t hold the same excitement that Paris did for me. Honestly, after planning the days in Paris, my attitude towards Amsterdam was, ” I’m just here for the music.”
Journey to Techno
Truth be told, it was only a few years ago that the only music I listened to were from the radio / pop culture. I grew up loving 80s music, Michael Jackson, then into hip-hop in my 20s, with a sprinkle of rock, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Coldplay. I knew little of the techno genre or the appeal of beats with no lyrics. And like many people, what I thought was techno was actually not techno at all. For example, artists like Aoki and Avicii are considered EDM (electronic dance music). What’s the difference? Magnetic Magazine breaks it down nicely in this article.
A couple years into our relationship, my significant other started taking me to shows. I was resistant at first, then slowly but surely my eyes were opened to the beats that just make you move, take you on a musical journey towards the build up of the all satisfying drop.
It’s Not Mainstream
Currently, this type of music is not mainstream and I think its followers want to keep it that way. There’s a unique culture that comes with this genre – almost like a belief system – music is one of those things that is open to all, regardless of gender, societal class, ethnicity. I suppose it’s true for most fans of a particular music genre. Same is true here in the techno scene. However I find when attending these events – people generally leave their ego at the door. No one’s there to impress one another really. We’re all there for the music. Fights that ensue are usually alcohol-driven (but there was none at the festival that I know of). More and more there are pervasive themes/messages in the music itself promoting new age / metaphysical concepts like reality being an illusion, being connected to each other and everything.
Ok, so the trek to the Awakenings festival in Spaarnwoude was longer than I thought. From the hotel, it was a half hour bus ride to Sloterdijk where another bus would take us another 10 minutes to the festival location in the park. Then we had to walk another 20 minutes to the main entrance. Whew! On this cloudy, chilly day, we were walking an awful lot to the middle of nowhere. This had better be worth it!
The annoyance soon faded away as we approached the gate – with the overhead sign Awakenings Festival 2017. I could feel my whole body tingle with excitement. I’ve heard European festivals being phenomenal, they have a reputation for holding some of the best techno events in the world. And this was our first one. Let the awesomeness begin!
Awakenings Day 1
As we came upon the first stage, the answer dawned on me why all the walking. The massive speakers! And there were 6 or 8 different stages with similar setups, some under huge tents, others out in the open. Of course this event had to be far enough so as to not disturb the nearby residential areas with booming bass beats and large enough to accommodate the thousands of festival-goers.
Not long after arriving there, the rain started. Thankfully, the thoughtful staffers provided some schnazzy red ponchos. The festival did not disappoint. To complement the rhythms coming from the massive speakers were synchronous geometric light designs and laser displays. Great vibe from the crowds. Drinks in hand, whiffs of cigarettes and weed, random laughter. It felt like the Paris street party for a bit. Everyone was there for the same purpose – have a good time with good music and chill (Netflix be damned). The dancing would make us forget about the weather.
We wandered around to different stages, listening to sets by Matador, Maceo Plex, Joris Voorn, Chris Leibing, Pan Pot…all great artists in their own right. But we found ourselves sticking to the DrumCode stage more. The rhythmic bass beats, with overlaying melodies – so infectious, you can’t help but sway with the crowds. To close out the night, Adam Beyer was playing in a tented stage. The lighting setup, complete with lasers, smoke machines and whistling fireworks (if you can believe), huge beach balls and heavy beats made for an awesome time.
Only downside – toward the end, the hype man on the mic got a little annoying – I mean, those familiar with this scene know that Adam Beyer does not need a hype man. Shut up hype man! Let us hear the music!
Getting back to the hotel – there was a line of Uber taxis, making the most of this popular event. Little did I know how far we were from the hotel. It didn’t seem so on the map. And I also made the mistake of back seat driving – telling our driver not to go a certain way that he recommended. My worry wort mentality took us about 20 minutes the wrong way. The driver was nice about it, but it costed us almost 80 Euros. I’m sure he was happy about the extra cash.
Awakenings – Day 2
The second day went off without a hitch. It was still cold and intermittently rainy. With red ponchos at the ready, we headed to the stage where Layton would be playing.
A little background — my boyfriend Jose Betances, who fell in love with techno so much so that he has become an aspiring techno producer. However, he learned right away that production is not an easy process as some would think. And so has taken some production courses a few years ago given by Layton before he was signed to Drumcode. They’ve become friends and since this was Layton’s first time playing at Awakenings, it was another good reason to come to Amsterdam in support.
We mostly stuck to the DrumCode stage because that’s where the best techno was playing. It seemed too much trouble to wander the other stages. Anyways, savoring every moment of the mix master Adam Beyer has put together. Took another Uber taxi back to the hotel, which I think cost around 50-60 Euros, without my backseat driving. Note to self: book a hotel closer to the venue, not the airport.
Experiencing live music is one of my favorite things to do besides travel. I don’t know if I can explain it. Live music has a vibration, not only pleasing to the ears, but to my entire being. From Broadway to Red Hot Chili Peppers to Coldplay to orchestral shows playing Star Wars and Lord of the Rings themes, I must say the Awakenings festival is right up there. It’s set a pretty high bar for music festivals, which left me thinking why we didn’t do this sooner.
Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to explore the country more but that I’m not mad about it. It just means we’ll have to come back another day.