Probably I would not have wondered that had I not come to live to the Netherlands. Because here the dance music and DJ phenomenon is huge. Just take a look at some of the facts. According to DJ Mag Top 100, this is the graph of how the nationalities of the top DJs were distributed in 2013:
Of course, the first 2 positions are Dutch as well; after a five-years rule of Armin Van Buuren, Hardwell was named no 1.
So what happened in these 45 years? What happened between one of the biggest rock festivals of all times, where the message was as important as the music and songs rang with anti-war protests and civil rights awareness – and now, where electronic music has almost no lyrics? Between the times when nearly half a million people showed up to see 32 bands and now, when people gather up to see a DJ, a single man behind a turntable? And why does Netherlands hold such an iconic culture for the DJs?
The house music stared in the US in the ’80, originated from disco and in my opinion was born out of 3 reasons:
- Need of more simplicity. As the era of consumerism emerged, people were less inclined and had less time to listen to complex music, follow the lyrics and understand the context of a song. So the electronic and minimalistic, repetitive rhythm of house began to be more important than the song itself.
- Need of unwinding. In a time where the clubs were booming and society pressure when up, people felt more and more the need to release the stress. They just wanted to dance. So music more for the body, less for the mind was created. It was like electronic music carried a subliminal message of nonstop dancing.
- Electronic revolution. The story of how DJs started mixing records for clubs is actually not so much about which DJ deserves the most credit, but about the development of new technology and how it played into the evolution of electronic dance music. Technology like synthesizers, samplers, computers and drum machines.
As to the question why is it so popular in the Netherlands, as far as I’ve learnt, I think it is both a question of circumstantial reasons, but it’s also related to the Dutch spirit.
The circumstantial reasons go back in 1987 to RoXY, the legendary club that brought house music to Amsterdam and to Eddy de Clercq, one of the pioneers of the new music, the first Amsterdam club DJ to understand the power of house. Originally from Belgium, when he came to the Netherlands in 1976, he “[…] was so disappointed in Amsterdam’s nightlife that I started organizing parties myself’. In the first years RoXY was a financial disaster, as the new music was less understood and was even called De terreur van het niets (The terror of nothingness) by the Dutch media. But one year later, success started to be massive. For sure it is not by chance that the house explosion coincided with the emergence of a new mind-altering drug on the club scene. Ecstasy gave people the energy to dance all night and at the time was not yet illegal in the Netherlands (this happened in November 1988).
27 years later and after the club burnt down, why is dance music and DJs still so popular in the Netherlands? As all the reasons today come in sets of 3, this explanation also holds 3 points of view:
- Tolerance. This type of music is somehow similar to the Dutch culture, allowing manifestation of all individuals, no matter how they behave or what they believe in. As DJ Joost van Bellen from RoXy remembers: “It was also a safe haven for people who felt different, transsexuals, transvestites, rebel artists, exhibitionists, freaks.”
- Accessibility. It’s a genre that crossed the boundaries of race, gender (as opposed to rap and reggae) and class. Quoting Joost van Bellen again: “All those people together made for such an amazing atmosphere. The local supermarket cashier would be dancing with a bank manager and next to them stood Jean Paul Gaultier and a transvestite from Purmerend, who was actually a lorry driver, but on the weekends he donned a wig and came to the RoXY”.
- Simplicity. I have to state simplicity again. Dutch reality adds another layer to the modern world’s need for simplicity. Because I do believe that the Dutch life is simple. And by simple, I don’t mean simplistic and less complex, but rather a steady, predictable, less drama life than in other countries. The last generation of Dutch people was by no definition rebel, but normal, happy people. They did not have major mentality gaps between them and their parents and were not born in a society that was not ready to accept them or answer to their needs. They did not have to face corruption, war, mistreatment. So how could they possible search soul soothing in a rock ballade or social justice in a punk song? They just go for songs that make them dance.
Ironically enough, I could never dance on house music; I guess I’m coming from a mentality where if the mind is not touched, the body does not react.
Even more ironically and an undisputed proof that that God has indeed become a DJ, is the fact that the first festival to come back to the grounds of Woodstock was Mysteryland, the biggest electronic music event in the world. This year in May, Mysteryland was inaugurated in US on the grounds where Woodstock took place. And one of the organizers was Duncan Stutterheim, no other than the Dutch man behind the (White) Sensation events.
I wonder, 45 years from now, what will the music scene look like? After bands and DJs, it will only be logical that robots will play music. Let’s all meet in Robocop land in 2059!