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Amsterdam Dance Event 2012: This is just the beginning for dance music

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I sat down at a table in the Dylan Hotel in Amsterdam and ordered a coffee. All around me, clusters of people were gathered at other tables and bars, talking business and listening to new music. The vibe was as exciting as it was professional — and despite my lack of sleep on the overnight flight, I was energized and ready to go. (A double shot of espresso in my hotel beforehand didn’t hurt either.)

Amsterdam Dance Event is a five-day music conference and festival that takes place in the Netherlands in October. The conference, ADE Pro, is a global gathering of ‘delegates’ — over 3,800 in total — and official events take place nightly along with countless other parties thrown by the agencies, record labels, or simply the artists themselves. It’s a showcase for dance music from all over the world, and it serves as a gigantic meetup for the people who care most passionately about the scene.

During the day, attendees travel between the various conference locations, primarily taking meetings and listening to panels in the two main hotels, the Dylan and the Felix Meritis. Just up the street, the Smirnoff ‘Cube’ housed ADE Next and ADE University, offshoots of the Pro conference that focus on panels for educating newcomers to the space. More ADE events are scattered throughout the city.

There were too many panels to count — and definitely too many to attend — so I did my homework beforehand. I wanted to listen to the people who have become successful and persevered through the cycles of this scene, and I wanted to learn about how we got here and what they think the future holds. Below are recaps from the three panels I found most interesting.

The full ADE Conference program can be found here.

Panels:

  1. The Game Changers
  2. The United States of EDM
  3. Entrepreneurship
  4. (Conclusion)

1. The Game Changers

A panel with the likes of Pasquale Rotella of Insomniac, Duncan Stutterheim of Sensation, Jason Strauss of the Tao Group, and Matthew Adell of Beatport, I was very excited to attend ‘The Game Changers.’ The packed eighth floor panel room in the Felix Meritis signaled that I was not alone.

The conversation started off by discussing whether or not the current state of things was a “radical change,” and Jason Strauss was first to say that “we’re just starting to see it explode.” Pasquale Rotella couldn’t determine whether it has “plateaued or peaked yet,” but said he has “never seen it in the States on this scale.” Duncan Stutterheim, the Dutch CEO of Sensation, said that “the new generation will experience something they have never seen before,” and he believes that it is the job of the event organizers “to sustain the quality of the events so people will return.”

The panelists talked about their backgrounds, and Pasquale described his journey from breakdancing on the Venice Beach boardwalk to getting into hip-hop. Jason Strauss told the audience how he was a football player in high school and that the first party he threw was for homecoming, convincing a local pub owner that he was 25 (though he was still in high school). From then on, he was “blown away by the experience,” and decided to pursue an occupation in hospitality. Duncan Sutterheim said that “the name Sensation means a lot,” but he revealed that they lost €1 million on the first show. Still, they believed in the concept and kept at it, and the next time shows went on sale, they sold out completely.

Soon enough, the topic of conversation turned to money and ticket prices, and though Pasquale revealed that EDC costs up to $50 million to organize, he recognizes that “it’s hard for [the fans] to make sense” of the prices. More than money, however, the issue is one of politics. “I fought many battles to be where I am,” Pasquale said. “Dance music has a stigma,” but “EDC has been used a lot to get attention for certain people,” and that’s why they made the move to Vegas. “Los Angeles is a lot tougher,” he said.

Government intervention is always a lingering thought for anyone in this field, and it reminded me of the RAVE Act mentioned on the United States of EDM panel from the day before. (The Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act was a bill proposed by Joe Biden in 2002, but was not passed. The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act was, however, passed in 2003.) Pasquale Rotella reasoned that things are different now: “with LiveNation and AEG jumping into the mix… Robert Sillerman… There are a lot of heavyweights jumping into the business and they have a lot of political clout, their own lobbyists, their own connections…,” hinting that the game has truly changed.

Jason Strauss said that Tao Group is “very attuned to our competitors,” and mentioned that “it’s a critical information source for your success because you have to elevate on what’s going on down the street.” He continued that no matter where you are, it’s “pretty easy to see what everyone’s doing.” Pasquale interjected that “Vegas is crazy” due to all the competition, and said that “it’s a lot of work” as a result of such intense pressures among the clubs.

As the conversation wrapped up, those on the panel discussed their hopes for the future and why they do what they do. “For me, I couldn’t stay away… I loved it so much,” said Rotella. “I’m a little different from these other guys on the panel,” Strauss admits, describing how working his way up in the hospitality industry has given him a unique outlook. Duncan said that “I always want to help and support guys who create something new… The guys who find a new path — life is about new experiences, new people, new energy, and I’m always looking for the new thing.”

It was an engaging conversation among some of the most important people in the scene right now, and like the other panels I attended, was very upbeat about the future. I tended to relate more to the event side of things, but hearing the various game-changers talk about their experiences was quite interesting to say the least.

2. The United States of EDM

The next panel I found particularly interesting was the tantalizingly-titled, ‘United States of EDM.’ The enigmatic Tommie Sunshine served as moderator (decked out in baggy jeans and mega-reflective sunglasses), joined by the likes of Donnie Estinopal (Disco Donnie Presents), Lee Anderson (AM Only), Mikhail LaPushner (OneBeat), Todd Sims of Fla.vor.us, Nicolas Matar (owner of Cielo), and others. The conversation was drawn out, but the message was simple: “This is just the beginning,” and “we have to figure out how to take it to the next level without fucking it up and compromising the integrity of the music,” as Tommie put it at the very end.

Things like social media and the Internet were credited for “fueling the growth,” but there were constant mentions of the need to “preserve the quality and integrity” of live events — and of the music itself. Nicolas Matar of Cielo made an unequivocal statement about “EDM” being vastly different from the “music I have championed for the past decade — house and techno,” and pointed to the “burgeoning underground party culture in Brooklyn” as a positive outlook for the future. “Over time, if only 10% of them listen to more refined types of sounds, that will have a positive affect on the culture as a whole,” he said.

The overall message was that veteran fans and organizers have a duty to avoid the same mistakes this time around. The panelists recognized that the culture is being re-written by the kids right now, and that “it’s the cool new thing to do.” The one thing they could all agree on was that since there are so many kinds of music and such a wide range of possibilities, “there is plenty of pie to go around.”

“We all have the best jobs in the fucking world,” Tommie said during his closing words. “And anyone else who likes this music is on the best side of culture, because we all know how to have a good time.”

3. Entrepreneurship with Claude Zdanow

Thursday and Friday consisted of back-to-back meetings for me, but I made a conscious effort to attend an entrepreneurship panel part of ADE University hosted by Claude Zdanow, founder of StadiumRed, a New York-based entertainment company. In the giant white inflated Smirnoff cube, he discussed the risks he took to leave business school “to try and become a rockstar” before changing paths and opening a studio in the city. He told the younger attendees that making music isn’t just a skill, but “it is a mindset,” and reminded people that it is okay to not know everything — and it’s even okay to fail. His overall message was a positive one, however, and his closing comment that “Age is just a number, and experience is what matters” resonated with me particularly.

I had planned to stay in the cube for the following session with Duncan Stutterheim, but I cut my losses when I learned that he would be speaking in Dutch. I was able to secure an interview with him later in the day, so I decided to take a break and get the best fast food on the planet — Wok to Walk — just around the corner.

Wrap-up

More than just a conference or show, Amsterdam Dance Event got me truly excited about the future of dance music. I got to meet a variety of interesting people — from artists and managers to club owners and promoters — and it was great to have conversations with people, exchanging perspectives and sharing insights in a place where you don’t have to scream over loud music. The global nature of ADE is what gives it such a meaningful impact, since it truly attracts every legitimate dance music organization from around the globe. Over 200,000 people attended the various festival events scattered across a staggering 75 venues, and over 1,700 artists performed in total. When you think about how small of a city Amsterdam is to start off with, and how the event went on for just five days, you recognize how quickly it becomes a hotbed for new music, inspiration, and relationships

The entire city was buzzing with the spirit of dance music for the weekend, and it was an incredible experience on both a personal and a professional level. I can’t wait to return for next year’s festivities — if the growth of the scene continues as it has been, I predict it will be even bigger than this year.

Big thanks to Buma Cultuur and Global Publicity for running such a great event and for making our job as easy as possible!

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