Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Encore Festival: Amsterdam's Hip Hop Music Festival Scene

Encore Music Festival, a one day hip hop/rap festival located across the IJ canal from Amsterdam's centrum in the NDSM Werf, encompassed a long line up of rap artists, interactive activities, food, drink, merchandise and more. In addition to promoting the central musical shows, as the festival mainly targeted listeners passionate for and familiar with the hip hop genre, Encore emphasized the extent of their concession stand capacity and additional activities throughout the event to highlight the diverse experience the festival had to offer. Music festivals have become increasingly popular, and while they still primarily revolve around the musical acts that are playing, these events have enhanced the surrounding attractions and experiences in an artistic and stimulating way.
Held in a vacant shipyard, the decorations and layout of Encore Festival effectively spruced up the venue, allowing for the large dock space to not feel so cold and vacant. The two sizeable striped circus canopies covering the two main stages provided a pop of color to the otherwise drab industrial surroundings, and differed from the generic plain white stage tents typically used at concerts. An exquisite light show illuminated the interior, as well as leaked out of, the vaulted tents, changing color, shape and tempo according to different songs and performers. Across from the stage areas, food and beverage concessions were set up appealingly in intricately detailed booths, lined with decorative lights and neatly written signs. Specialty cocktail and beer vendors were located in vacated merry-go-rounds and artisan stands, all adorned with evident precision and planning. While the circus theme located in such an industrial setting at times felt like a perverse carnival nightmare, the brilliant lights, upbeat crowd and strong music vibes made the surroundings an extremely positive experience.

Beneath the festival tents, artists began playing as early as one o’clock in the afternoon, the lineup becoming increasingly well known as the day progressed. The artists that performed at the festival occupy a smaller following of the hip hop/rap genre, many having only one, if any, popular song known to listeners outside of the genre’s inner community. Being one of those listeners, I found myself largely lost in the music and not recognizing many numbers. While I identified myself outside of the intended audience, I was still able to relish the environment, and experience a new music setting for the first time.
Because I was unfamiliar with and therefore somewhat less interested in many of the rappers at Encore Festival, I focused on the atmosphere, crowd dynamics and overall experience with a fresh perspective. Many acts introduced themselves by either speaking directly toward either the male or female population, or by commenting on Amsterdam’s tolerance of soft drugs. Comparatively to music festivals in the United States, the predominantly Dutch crowd responded only slightly to these introductions, perhaps due to language barriers or a cultural misunderstanding of ‘Ladies, put your hands in the air’ as a way to represent all of the women near the stage. But what the foreign crowd may have lacked in direct understanding was made up in their succinct ability to sing along with many of the obscure, lesser-known songs performed by relatively smaller name rappers in the United States. I took note several times of Dutch men and women deliberately mouthing lyrics of songs that I not only was unfamiliar with, but also could not discern myself. It was unclear whether or not they fully understood the meaning behind the words, or simply had memorized the sounds that they heard in the English rap songs, but it was impressive to witness such a loyal following from listeners in another country. The energy and thrill I gathered from the Dutch crowd made the festival that much more intriguing and valuable, especially from my American music festival perspective.
As a visitor in Amsterdam, Encore Festival was a treat to attend. Not only was it a gateway to observing a subculture of Dutch hip hop enthusiasts, but also illustrated an insightful depiction of music festivals in other countries. While the format was largely the same as a similar event in the United States, the minor variances in the layout, style and crowd gave an intriguing perspective on the cultural aspects present in a Dutch music festival.

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