Hard dance Mecca: inthemix goes to Defqon.1 Holland
The Defqon.1 Festival experience is one that will already be familiar to many Australian party-goers. When Q-dance first brought their iconic event to Penrith’s International Regatta Centre on the outskirts of Sydney in 2009, it made for one of my own pivotal clubbing moments. My first taste for club music developed out of a love for the utter abrasiveness of hardcore techno in the mid ‘90s, which led to a regular attendance at Sydney’s raves a few years later, so the assortment of hard dance on the line-up still made sense many years later.
What was witnessed on that mid-September afternoon was something altogether different and unexpected though; running from end to end across the grassy island was fun enough in itself, though it’s the mystique and wonder of the mainstage once the sun goes down that really takes the wind out of you. The iconic Defqon.1 logo, constructed entirely from garbage and metal scraps, looked pretty cool during the afternoon, but the sun going down somehow caused it to increase exponentially in stature, looking like a sinister skyscraper towering over the crowd. Spewing fire and smoke into the air, and shooting spectacular lasers over the people, it took on the grandeur of a wicked Mayan Temple that tens of thousands of mesmerised ravers worshipped at the foot of.
It came, it conquered, it kicked our asses. It was the first time Australia has witnessed that kind of spectacle, and everyone lucky enough to be in attendance left shaking their heads in disbelief for weeks afterwards over what they’d seen. After that, your average meat-and-potatoes Australian festival didn’t quite seem the same; and of course, the opportunity to experience the Defqon.1 Festival in its heartland of Holland is not one you’d pass up.
A dash of Dutch courage
For the first eight years it was staged in Holland, Defqon.1 was held on a beachside location in Almere outside of Amsterdam, one of the iconic aspects of the party that inspired the choice of the Regatta Centre island in Sydney, though it eventually grew well beyond what that location could cater for. This led to a relocation last year to the sprawling green fields of an event site in the village of Biddinghuizen, again around an hour outside Amsterdam.
To some degree you’d assume this would be trading some of what made Defqon.1 so unique, though fortunately, the site in Biddinghuizen brings a rural charm all of its own. The Defqon.1 Festival has evolved over the years into something of a three-day hard dance commune, with most of the main festival action taking place on Saturday, but with the camping and music stretching as far back as Thursday afternoon. It really does offer it a genuine community feel, with the camping aspect offering the party a somewhat similar feel to what you get when you pack up the car and trek out to Melbourne’s Rainbow Serpent or Sydney’s Subsonic Festival for the weekend. Except, the music has been ramped up an extra 20 to 100 BPMs.
Capacity wise, you’d estimate it to be around the size of a sold-out Big Day Out in Australia, definitely well upwards of 50,000 punters. The festival grounds are split into two main areas, with the first upon entry hosting the assortment of smaller stages, as well as all the selection of particularly tasty food options and extensive merchandise for the Q-dance obsessives. Walk through a thoroughfare on the north-eastern side of the grounds, and you reach the stupendous Red mainstage, with a set-up so sprawling that it doesn’t even fit in the feeble frame of your camera phone. However, these areas only really represent the centre of what is a much larger three-day festival; just take a peek at one of those aerial shots to get an idea of just how far the party stretches over the Biddinghuizen grounds, and how elaborate the event’s set-up is.
Though our travels saw us arriving in Amsterdam in time for the main party on Saturday, it wasn’t hard to get a sense of the bigger picture of the Defqon.1 Festival experience. Entering with some fairly high expectations to begin with, in the end these were all somehow exceeded, and in plenty of ways you wouldn’t expect either. Firstly there’s the observation of just how consistent it is with the Australian event that it’s inspired, and beyond that, while the blockbuster spectacle of the mainstage might be what the party is known for, in the end it only accounts for a small part of what makes the Defqon.1 Festival such an A-class event.