AIR Amsterdam is one of the leading clubs in the city, if not Europe, and that is saying something, because there is fierce competition. The place, which is now celebrating five years in action, is best known for hosting underground house and techno nights with great light, sound, atmospheres and crowds and brands like Defected. It's equipped with a Void Acoustics sound system and features walls lined with lights and a video projection screen. The nightclub also features the unique Air Card, which is used for payment for drinks at the bar and responsible for all this is a man named Tom. Here we speak to him about when he took over, the trials and tribulations running a club and what he sees as the most important things to get right on a week to week basis.
Besides all these technical highlights there were some clear visions about what kind of club we wanted to be. Diversity was, and is, key...How and when did you take over the club, what state was it in, what was your vision?
Exactly five years ago, we opened the doors of our club. It was the only and first club in Amsterdam built with the sole purpose of functioning as a nightclub. We made sure it was as modern as it could be. Sound wise, we built it as a box in a box, with proper sound isolation. We were honored being the first using the fully digital Void Audio sound system. Up to date, we still are the only cashless club in Amsterdam. The AIRcard lets you pay at the bar, but also functions as a key-card that grants unlimited access to your locker.
Besides all these technical highlights there were some clear visions about what kind of club we wanted to be. Diversity was, and is, key. Lots of clubs in Amsterdam focus on a specific genre or crowd. We wanted to make a difference; we wanted to be a chameleon-like venue that could take different forms and shapes; welcoming different types of events and crowds; but, always with the same service, sound and hospitality.
What expression and skills did you have when you took it over? Did you have to learn on the job?
When we started the club we started with a group of people with various backgrounds in electronic music. Some with a festival organizing background, others with several years of experience in the club scene. Seniors and juniors. But nobody actually ran an entire nightclub before. Exciting times. However, it turned out to be a good combination as we had a very ‘fresh’ perspective on things. Some of us had been on dance floors for years, so we knew what we had to do to serve the crowd to what they wanted – plus, we had a lot of ideas how to do it in an original way. With trial and error, of course!
Those visiting our club need to have a smile on their face from the moment they queue up outside until the moment they leave. You go out to have fun... What were the key things you wanted to get right, what’s important to you asa a club owner? Sound or music or crowd or what?
Everything just has to be ‘on point’. It’s a combination of so many ingredients that makes a crowd a happy crowd. Of course, the actual sound of the club is most important. Good music on a crap system is still crap. A venue of this size needs a finely tuned sound system, plus some top-notch isolation as well. Luckily, I think this is one of our strongholds. Hospitality is key as well. Those visiting our club need to have a smile on their face from the moment they queue up outside until the moment they leave. You go out to have fun. Having a fun and enthusiastic staff is viable to a good club atmosphere. We try to pay attention even to the smallest details and things that are often overlooked by our visitors. Take lighting for instance, if the lights in the club are out of sync with the energy of the music or the energy on the dance floor, it doesn’t work in favor of a night. Door-hosts are also a valuable part of our team. Even though we have a policy that aims for diversity on our dance floors, we try to find a right balance. We feel a visitor has to add something to the party by having the right attitude.
What have been the best and worst things, the hardest challenges about getting it right?
Finding a balance – keeping everybody happy; as we cater to so many sub-genres, every night has something different to offer. But we must be careful to still be accessible for everyone who’s looking to have a good time, despite their musical preferences. That isn’t always easy and it takes a lot of creativity. We’re constantly fine-tuning our program.
We’ve altered the interior of the club a couple of times over the years, constantly adapting to the needs of our crowd. For instance, we’ve doubled the capacity of the dance floor. Clubbers come to dance, and we wanted the crowd to have as much space as possible. Besides that, we’ve added a third room – to be able to offer even more musical diversity.
Competition is fierce, and there’s healthy rivalry between promotors as well. This keeps us awake and it results in better events, and better venues in Amsterdam...How much has the Amsterdam scene changed in that time? Is competition healthy between promoters and clubs or is there rivalry?
The Amsterdam scene is constantly changing. The landscape of electronic music changes almost daily. As a whole, it’s very dynamic. The number of good quality parties every weekend is constantly growing. Amsterdam offers so much well-balanced line-ups and amazing venues, it’s hard to keep track of. This puts us in a position where we can ‘never sleep’, we have to stay creative to keep up and inspire the crowd. Competition is fierce, and there’s healthy rivalry between promoters as well. This keeps us awake and it results in better events, and better venues in Amsterdam. Good for all of those involved – nonetheless, hard work.
What have been the best events over the years, and do any sets really stand out as great?
DJ EZ @ Fat Kids Cake -18 Oct, 2014
The energy that EZ brings to the stage whenever he performs is insane. His set at last year’s ADE Festival was so energetic the crowd instantly formed a huge mosh-pit and kept cheering him on to go faster and faster. At some points we literally held on to the DJ-booth because the dance floor was so hyped.
Global Communication - Oct 21, 2010
A highlight of our very first ADE week ever: Dubfire hosting a Sci+Tec night and inviting Global Communication. It was the reunion performance for Global Communication, after a period of absence of over 10 years. Memories of that show are precious to us: an enchanting night for music lovers. Some people were sitting on the dance floor listening in a complete trance.
Royal Concert Orchestra Club Night - April 3, 2015
Recently, the Dutch Royal Concert Orchestra performed in AIR. Hearing live classical music in the club, together with the massive turn-up has strengthened our belief that a nightclub can be ‘more’ than a nightclub.
Tell us why you decided to go into the festival market? What made you want to do it and what will you offer?
The festival-genres are widespread in the AIR Amsterdam team. Most of us had already organized a festival before we started the club. In a matter of time, we came up with the idea for Amsterdam Open Air; a festival that offers the best of the Amsterdam nightlife – in daytime. In the years after, other festivals such as Milkshake Festival and Valhalla followed. Each of those festivals has its very own flavor and crowd. Right now, we’re involved in 5 of the most influential festivals in Amsterdam. All of them live and breathe their very own atmosphere. These festivals are also a non-stop source of inspiration for the club.
The Dutch have always been ahead of the game when it comes to organizing electronic music events, both daytime and night-time. There’s more than 20 years of experience in the business...There are already so many festivals in Amsterdam, why is that do you think, why are they so popular there? Is that how people like to get their music in the Netherlands?
The Dutch have always been ahead of the game when it comes to organizing electronic music events, both daytime and night-time. There’s more than 20 years of experience in the business. That’s why we have very high quality standards when it comes to facilities, safety and music. The Dutch love to travel, and we used to visit festivals in the UK, Germany and the rest of Europe on a regular basis. Now, we see a different trend. Crowds from those countries are taking trips to Holland, and usually combine a festival visit with a stay in Amsterdam. As we’re such a central location, and tourist-friendly, we’re an attractive city. Amsterdam offers quality line-ups and a widespread diversity of events every weekend. Besides that, the Dutch really love to party. It’s almost like it’s in our genes as part of a social lifestyle.
What have you got coming up there over the next few months?
As always we present a variety of music. We’re really looking forward to our 5 Year anniversary weekend with The Martinez Brothers, Damian Lazarus, Claptone, Oliver Heldens, Jaymo & Andy George, Tom Trago, Ben Pearce, Thomas Jack, Sam Feldt, Cakes da Killa, Theo Kottis, Juan Sanchez, Prunk and Cleavage to name a few. But we also have a Defected night coming up with Hector Couto, Sam Divine and Simon Dunmore. Tchami and Jazzy Jeff are others in our listing for the next months.
What do you make of ADE? Is it a proper conference where people get real work done? Is it good for networking and stuff?
It’s the best and most serious electronic music conference in the world if you ask me. Influencers of electronic music from all over the world fly to Amsterdam, plus anybody who’s aspiring to be ‘somebody’ in the music industry somewhere down the line. They network, they do business and they party
The cool thing is; it’s not limited to one genre. It’s not dominated by one single genre. And visiting numbers are still growing every year. I’d say ADE is a very special event, and is highly valuable for the future of electronic music.