Amsterdam's 5 Days Off festival got it's start in 2001 as a spin-off of the annual 10 Days Off festival in Ghent, Belgium; becoming the first multiple day indoor EDM event in Holland. The festival is centered around the Leidesplein - the entertainment district of the city, where lauded festival venues the Melkweg and Paradiso are both located.
Deviating from standard last minute protocol, Mala announced back in December that the DMZ crew would be a part of this year's festival and bringing a full lineup with them to the Melkweg on Friday night March 4th. The advanced heads up gave bass junkies a chance to make the necessary arrangements for a whirlwind 24 hours in Amsterdam, before returning to London for the crew's 6th Birthday Bash the following night at Mass nightclub.
The night's lineup consisted of Mala & Coki, Loefah, Kode9, James Blake, Goth-Trad, Kode9 & Spaceape (live), Darkstar (live), Juha, as well as a couple unannounced sets from VIVEK. And of course, no DMZ would be complete without the ineffable Sgt. Pokes hosting on the mic throughout the course of the evening.
After arriving into Amsterdam Centraal station by train from Schiphol airport, the first order of business was to make the necessary stops at coffee shops Dampkring, Greenhouse, and Barney's to unwind. Many sustained deep breaths later, I headed over to the Distortion Records shop for some crate-digging and casual loitering. Rifling through the well-stocked Drum & Bass section, I happened upon a stellar re-issue of Tom & Jerry 'Maximum Style', some timeless jungle from 1994.
A trip to Amsterdam wouldn't be complete without satisfying those relentless munchies with a funnel of the famed vlaamse frites (Flemish fries). Chipsy King is regarded as one of the prime locations and while a heap of mayonaisse might not seem the most appetizing condiment, it's a far cry from the Hellman's spread we've all grown accustomed to.
After a quick disco nap and the obligatory pint (or 5) of Grolsch, cruised by the Melkweg which was already teeming with anxious festival-goers before the venue's doors had even opened.
Arrived into the main room to find VIVEK playing an impromptu DJ set before his gig at the Radical party down the road later that night. He started things on a deep and hypnotic eyes down vibe, an ideal start to the marathon night ahead. Playing an opening set is never an easy task, but it's always impressive seeing a DJ who can show that kind of versatility and knows what his role is during that time slot.
James Blake, whose recent LP could be seen plastered in record shop windows everywhere in Europe, took the stage next. He played out an array of synth-drenched R&B, even giving the nod to D'Angelo and Beyonce before playing 'Unluck' off of his heralded debut album as well as a few unreleased solo productions.
Kode9 then stepped up for the first of his two sets on the evening, this one a DJ set heavy on material from Hyperdub signees Ill Blu, Funkystepz, and Terror Danjah. Kode also tipped his cap to the DMZ gang, mixing 'Bury Da Bwoy' out of Girl Unit's 'Wut'.
Loefah's set featured many of the squelching TB-303 stabs and unmistakeable 808 drums from Swamp81 labelmates Boddika and Addison Groove respectiveley. If you're showing up to Loefah gigs expecting to hear 'Goat Stare' or his earlier trademark halfstep sound, you are going to walk away disappointed. For those with an open mind and unfailing love of bass regardless of tempo, his sets have been a welcomed breath of fresh air. Boddika tunes 'Rubba' and 'Soul What' (both forthcoming on Swamp81) as well as Addison Groove's 'Make Um Bounce' were among the many highlights. The set also included a throwback to 1989 with Tyree Cooper's anthemic 'Turn Up The Bass', as well the untitled Sicko Cell tune that seems inescapable right now. "Too Much, Too Much, Too Much" indeed.
A minute into their apropos intro of Barrington Levy 'The Vibes Is Right' and Digital Mystikz had the undivided attention of the sold-out crowd with raised lighters flickering throughout the venue. The blend of 'Goblin' into the 'Eyez VIP' was in the words of Pokes, “A Violation!!!” 'Return II Space' and 'Livin' Different' off of Mala's 'Return II Space' LP also got the rinse during their headlining set. Coki selections were heavy on the dancehall and reggae vocals with longtime staples 'Burnin' (Richie Spice) and 'Gangster 4 Life' (Mavado) as well as unreleased tunes 'Emergency' (Vybz Kartel) and 'Badman Place' (Busy Signal & Mavado) resonating heavily throughout the peng-fueled audience.
Their unwavering devotion to vinyl and dubplate culture is something that can't be understated. As it becomes increasingly more convenient for a traveling DJ to tote a laptop or CD wallet then a record bag, coupled with the amount of clubs that have let their turntables go by the wayside; there is still something to be said about the sound integrity of vinyl when played over a punishing soundsystem. No matter how many countless radio rips and Youtube clips of Mala and Coki's unreleased music that we've all listened to, there is nothing like the physicality of experiencing them live on freshly cut dubs with Pokes hosting on the mic. It's the way the DMZ sound was meant to be experienced.
Skream was up next and delivered a set that featured crowd-pleasing Magnetic Man tunes, various skreamixes, and assorted bangers; while VIVEK yet again returned to the Melkweg to play an additional 2-hour DJ set in Room 2 for those that craved more of the meditational bassweight.
Goth-Trad, “the beast from the East”, took the stage at 4am to close out the night in the main room. For anyone that may have their doubts about the future and current state of dubstep, seeing Goth-Trad live should set you straight. His extremely refreshing set was evidence that there are still producers keeping it real at 140bpm and pushing things forward into new and uncharted territory at that tempo. Look out for his forthcoming EP release on Deep Medi that's set to drop later this year. 'Air Breaker', which will hopefully see release as well, completely decimated the dance in the early morning hours.
Pro-Tip: When in Amsterdam, set your alarm before partaking in the “coffee.” Learned this one the hard way...