Audio Obscura have thrown some of Amsterdam's most ground breaking parties. But who are the promoters behind this mysterious crew with the keys to some of the city’s best venues?
It’s eight thirty in the evening on the Friday night of this year's ADE and a very confused cyclist is arguing with security outside the city’s Rijksmuseum. The historic art museum is home to the works of Dutch masters like Rembrandt and is one of the city’s most treasured buildings. It’s also one of the best loved shortcuts through the city for cyclists who tear through its huge cavernous bicycle passage each night on their way home from work. Tonight however, much to this cyclist’s annoyance, there is no getting through, as the sounds of Underworld playing live reverberates through the hallowed walls.
Inside, as a packed crowd erupts to the sounds of Born Slippy, Amsterdam locals, from teenagers to fifty something year olds, can be identified by a facial expression that’s somewhere between amazement and joy. A few years ago the idea of raving in one of the city’s classic buildings would be unheard of. Tonight, it’s actually the second time dance music has filled the corners of this building. It’s all thanks to Audio Obscura, a promoting team with a knack for somehow persuading art museums and classical music halls to host dance music parties.
Audio Obscura are Jeroen Fontein and Naut Donders. Fontein has a background in artist management and music syncing and founded Audio Obscura in 2013. Donders worked at much loved former Amsterdam club Studio 80 and became agent and artist manager at Jeroen’s artist management agency before becoming a co-owner of Audio Obscura. In a short space of time, they have created some of the city’s most memorable parties, many of which were several years in the making.
Ibiza Voice: How did Audio Obscura begin?
After many years of experiencing the international electronic music scene before becoming promoters, we felt there was something missing from the experience. Ancient, historical music buildings like ‘Het Concertgebouw’ in Amsterdam were once built to give progressive artists or composers from that era a stage to perform. Over the years the musical genre sort of stuck to classical music. We see the current DJs and producers as modern [day] composers, so we started working on a plan to let them perform in venues like that.
Why do you focus on venues like the Rijksmuseum, Concertgebouw and the Muziekgebouw?
We wanted to go beyond the regular spaces people club in. We are providing a historic or non-conventional venue, where the artist creatively builds an experience for themselves, which translates into a special experience for our audience.
Placing dance music in these contexts elevates the scene and is a very positive sign of how far the genre has come from the days of illegal raves. Is that an important ideal for you?
Absolutely. We know where the music and movement is coming from and enjoyed many events in the past ourselves: from illegal raves to clubs and from festivals to boat parties.
Pushing boundaries by letting artists play in these extraordinary venues is a goal in itself for us. We felt the time was ripe to start the conversation with these kinds of venues and are very proud to add something different over the years.
Audio Obscura's 2016 show at the Rijksmuseum.
What events have inspired your parties?
Over the years [from] clubs in Ibiza to open-air events in Mexico, we have experienced moments where the music and the environment created magic. Visiting classical music concerts in buildings like het Concertgebouw triggered the idea of trying to combine the two worlds.
How hard is it to persuade these venues to buy into your vision?
It takes us years to convince them. For instance, for het Concertgebouw: before we started Audio Obscura, we were bookers for a concept in Amsterdam. The audience were intellectual working people between 25 to 40 years old. Het Concertgebouw was willing to host an event with such an audience. We started working together and slowly we were able to do more with them. When we started Audio Obscura in 2013 and told them we wanted to do a night time event with Sven Väth, they were willing to try it out.
What defines your parties?
The Audio Obscura events are not just events in ancient halls. We connect younger and different audiences to these venues and inspire them to visit the concert halls or museums on another occasion - which is interesting for those venues because otherwise it would have been harder for them to connect with our audience.
How did you pull of the Rijksmuseum?
We started the conversation six years ago. At the time the museum was under renovation and the bike tunnel that connects the South side of the City with the Center was closed for many years. This was quite a thing and every couple of months the media was discussing this issue. Back then the idea popped up to do a rave in the tunnel. We approached the Museum with the idea and they thought it was total madness. Every year we came back with our idea and slowly people from the inside started to believe in it as well.
In 2016 Taco Dibbits became the general director of the Rijksmuseum and when he heard about our idea he immediately shared our vision. The last step was to get the sponsors from the Rijksmuseum involved and it resulted in the first event during Amsterdam Dance Event in 2016 with Maceo Plex and a four hour live performance by Underworld during this year’s ADE.
Underworld at the Rijksmuseum.
The city of Amsterdam has a very progressive attitude to nightlife. Why is this?
When electronic music spread through The Netherlands in the late 80s it became a big part of our culture. People currently working in our scene are second generation clubbers: when we grew up, our parents were already listening to electronic music. This means it has become second nature for those who embraced the music and scene.
Also, over the years the scene has been professionalized. As a promoter you need to step up your game to attract an audience and create a world where they feel comfortable.
Our previous mayor Eberhard van der Laan, who unfortunately recently passed away, was very open for this conversation. He started with an experiment to shift the closing times of clubs in Amsterdam. Due to a conversation started with the night mayor, this resulted in some 24 hours opening licenses being given to clubs and this [change in attitude] helped get the license for the Rijksmuseum event.
What have you got planned for future Audio Obscura parties?
We are planning to go abroad with Audio Obscura. With our experience in combining these worlds and bringing in high-end production for events, we would like to expand and let more people experience Audio Obscura events.
Audio Obscura's Spectrum party with Joris Voorn and Kölsch at the Muiskgebouw.
How do you see dance music events changing over the next 20 years?
Some artists already embrace [changes in technology] in their shows, for example, the Isam performance by Amon Tobin and more recent the Epic shows by Eric Prydz. There are currently new movements with Dolby Atmos where artists have the power to control where certain sounds are sent across a space. They're still in the early stages but it will be very interesting to see where this goes.
What events do you go to, to get inspired?
We get the inspiration from a vibe an artist is trying to express in combination with how the crowds picks this up and how the promoter tries to create the environment where this is experienced best. This could be Bonobo in a club environment, Guns n' Roses in Stade France or James Newton Howard with an orchestra in a concert hall. Visiting other dance music related festivals are also inspiring.
If you could travel back in time to experience a legendary dancefloor which one would you choose and why?
A night in the legendary RoXY in Amsterdam with Dimitri behind the decks. Unfortunately, we never visited this club and it burned down in 1999. Resident DJ and booker Eddy de Clerq had a hard time in the beginning but really believed in house music [even when] the audience wasn't ready for it yet.
He consistently kept playing and booking DJs until it was totally embraced. The club was also known for crazy changing decors, extraordinary dancers and a random door selection. It was a very important club and the start of Dutch electronic music culture.
Follow Audio Obscura, here.