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Exclusive: Duncan Stutterheim, CEO of Sensation, on coming to America, ‘being different,’ and the future

“We want to be different,” says Duncan Stutterheim, CEO of Sensation, as he sips a glass of jasmine tea in a cafe near Amsterdam’s Central Station. “Sensation is always looking for music from now and tomorrow.”

One of the most lucrative and recognizable brands to grace dance music, Sensation embodies a mentality that reaches far beyond the traditional festival or rave. More than large arrays of LEDs and lasers, ID&T, the event’s organizers, are in the business of creating an experience that is unlike anything else on the planet. A week ahead of Sensation’s first trip across the pond to the United States, I got to sit down with the company’s CEO Duncan Stutterheim to talk about how Sensation is different, things fans should expect, and what the long-term goals are for not only Sensation, but all of ID&Ts other events as they prepare to take the United States by storm.

The move to bring Sensation to America was not a simple decision, and Duncan says that his team approached countless potential partners to bring the event stateside. “Until three years ago, no one cared.” It wasn’t until LiveNation New York President Jason Miller attended one of the events and saw its potential that the wheels were set in motion. “He came to our event and he was flabbergasted. He was able to change my life and he said ‘I want to do this.’” Duncan holds no qualms about the situation: “LiveNation took the risk… it’s because of him that we are there.”

Despite LiveNation’s involvement, Duncan insists that ID&T has full creative control over everything that goes into the show, and planning has been going on for over two years. For Duncan, the most important part of the experience is the music, as it “defines the atmosphere, the feeling, the energy.” He says that “our job is to get a good flow of energy with the music, and the production comes on top of it to make a beautiful experience.”

The lineup has been a widely discussed topic for Sensation America, since the company has foregone “those big pop star DJs” in favor of doing something that they wanted to do. “We had long talks about it, and Sensation started this new direction of music three years ago with Joris Voorn, 2000andOne… We think Sensation is an evening, where you can have a look. It’s a spectacle, it’s a dance event, you can have fun — and not only focus on the DJ.”

“We think Sensation is an evening, where you can have a look. It’s a spectacle, it’s a dance event, you can have fun — and not only focus on the DJ.”

Despite the largely underground selections for the first American shows, Duncan concedes that “If we don’t bring those other [progressive house] sounds, people don’t get it… people walk away.” Fedde Le Grand serves as the “big carrier of the flag of Sensation,” and the rest of the music follows suit. “We don’t want to be the same that has been there for the last five years. We think the energy span is a story for us; with Sensation, we want to make it a bit longer.”

Brooklyn’s Barclays Center will play host to the inaugural six-hour event, a venue that Duncan describes as “special.” He said that Madison Square Garden “is still a bit old,” and adds that “I think Brooklyn also fits Sensation.” The resurgence of underground parties in Brooklyn backs up this feeling, but that’s not to say Sensation won’t expand across the country — because it will. Duncan hinted that it will not become a massive touring spectacular like some of the other tours making the rounds, but that it will continue to embody the same trends. “We are looking into those big cities… We are looking for the best periods and the best times,” he admits. “We are a company and we want to keep it special… We aren’t just going to bang them out.” You can rule out one state in particular, however: “We’re not going to be in Oklahoma,” he told me with a chuckle.

“We are a company and we want to keep it special… We aren’t just going to bang them out.”

The truth with ID&T, however, is that Sensation is just one of the many events they throw. Duncan revealed that the company plans to bring Mysteryland to the US hopefully by 2014, but jokingly admits that they won’t be doing the same with Tomorrowland — “because Disney owns that in the states.” He also shared plans to bring Sensation’s latest production, the Source of Light, to the US “next year,” and says that he “definitely” wants to bring the Ocean of White as well — “one of the most spectacular shows around.”

Despite these lofty ambitions, Duncan is passionate about building something to last and preserving the integrity of the various brands ID&T promotes — both in Europe and the US. “We want to be a boutique company: a small, quality-wise company that will protect our brands.” Sensation is the first step, but after that ID&T will be setting up offices on both coasts and at that point, “our US has started.”

Sensation America is the first of a long-term engagement for a company that has come to define the festival scene in Europe much like Insomniac has in the United States. “[Sensation] is really the first foot, the first flag we posted — and I hope we can deliver. I hope people will be positive about it, and from then on, we’re there.”

As for how he wants you to feel when you leave the Barclays Center next week, it can be summed up in one word: “Wow.”

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