Monday, September 10, 2012

Magneet Festival

            I went to the Magneet Festival on very limited information. I knew that it was an arts and music event, but was not expecting the space to be the lovechild of San Francisco and Amsterdam, conveniently located an hour away from downtown Amsterdam, and easily reached by the tram. Walking towards the festival, I had a good feeling about the event; there were giant fields of grass all around, and tall grain sills reminiscent of an agrarian countryside, which was a refreshing change from the cityscape. Nearing the entrance, the ground turned from concrete to sand, and the crowd turned from the average stoic bicyclists to barefoot youngsters with blonde dreadlocks and tie-dye tank tops. An entire bus covered in graffiti and psychedelic motifs had been turned into the ticket station, where I bought a ticket for ten euros.
            The festival felt almost ethereal. The field was completely covered in sand, walled in by dunes that can be climbed over. From the dunes, I watched the classic arched bridges of Amsterdam grow brilliantly bright in the dusk. The crowd was just large enough to occupy the field and energize the event, and largely consisted of Dutch youth with alternative lifestyles, though my presence made it evident that there were also tourists amongst the native crowd. While the people gave the place beautiful sounds and soulful songs, it was the art that elevated the festival to an incomparable level of entertainment. Everywhere, slanted and sinuous signposts served not only to give directions, but also to amuse. Events and concerts were held in elevated cabins, gigantic circus tents, a replica of a ship interior, and even out in the open air.
            I was first drawn to an elevated cabin that advertised live chocolate-making. I was led in and sat through a culinary demonstration followed by sampling of the finished product. While the demonstration and recipes were in Dutch, the attractive performer kept the non-native crowd from complaining too much with her mannerisms, and the chunky chocolate samples at the end did the same for the gluttonous. The demonstration itself was quite formulaic: everything had been prepared before, and was simply combined in front of the audience. In the end, I found the samples to be cocoa-powder heavy and almost grainy in certain bites. Unfortunately, the walk up to the cabin built up an expectation that the demonstration ultimately failed to live up to.
            At sunset, the pointy tents, fabric installation sculptures, poi ball performances, incongruent streams of music and lights, and scantily clad crowd transformed the sand-covered parking lot into a playground that gained a life of its own. There was no conspicuous order to how the various venues were arranged in the space, which created a sense of disorientation that was welcoming because just walking around the space was a complete sensory experience of its own. Moreover, the constant sound of laughter urged me to not care about anything but the perceptual feast of the present moment. I visited all the music and arts venues, all of which had their own personality based on the type of music being played, the decorations, and the crowd. One outdoor dance venue contained the half-naked, energetic crowd grooving to electronic music whereas another one featured slow classic rock for the older crowd. The latter was held under bright blue lighting in a large circus tent, and attracted a large audience. The line-up was a good mix between comedic acts in Dutch, and American classic rock and jazz music. The addition of the performances in Dutch made me very conscious of how remarkable it was that I was experiencing something so reminiscent of the Bay Area, where I call my home, on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
Due to the small size of these venues, I never felt trapped or helpless, regardless of how crazy the dancing and the singing-along got. Moreover, the festival exit was easily accessible from anywhere in the festival space and quelled any fear of getting lost even when day turned into night, and the music grew exponentially louder.
            The experience I had at the Magneet Festival was definitely the best in Amsterdam thus far. The Dutch crowd was friendly and open to conversations of both body and mind, on the dance floor or in the tall striped red-and-orange tents. The space felt other-worldly, mysterious, and exciting. There were no agendas or goals, only dances that had to be danced, silence that had to be dwelled upon, light shows that had to be felt, and joy that had to be expressed.

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