Reaching my third trip to the exquisite festival of Dekmantel, yet still to encounter Warehouse Elementenstraat, I left a Saturday of excellent music in the Amsterdamse Bos to finally gaze upon the annual industrial ritual that is Katharsis. Both conceptually and functionally focused, it had amassed quite a reputation after its prior edition. If good things come to those who wait, then the Gods had chosen to reward this patience with a line up more packed than even 2015.
The reputation was confirmed with the least evidence. When queueing outside at the early hour of 00:40, 140BPM cannon fire could be heard reverberating from the residents’ area. For anyone accustomed to partying elsewhere, even in certain capitals, the severity of this pace can be totally unexpected. It can either invigorate or petrify. It was clear Reaktor’s modus operandi was to do both – in authentic Ancient Greek style, its name (and execution) are lifted from the philosophical concept of Katharsis, defined as purging the human soul of excessive passions by witnessing tragic and imposing art. Katharsis was designed (in homage to the feelings evoked by the likes of Euripides) to push dancers to their mental and physical limits. It should be worth warning, then, that this isn’t for the faint of heart; I heard of many leaving early, overwhelmed by the temperature and ambience, scorching and intense respectively. Set and setting are words that spring to mind here – but with a full day of joyous, sunny dancing behind me I was prepared to confront the maelstrom that beckoned free of reservation. Such high minded conceptual basis was met with equally high quality production (although as a caveat I later heard that D.A.S. D.A. lost power half an hour into their set, which was a regrettable failure by Reaktor for whomever ended their night in Room 2). The sound was exceptional throughout, and the strobes and projections were thoroughly powerful. To complete the ritual were the very best bookings in industrial techno; the sum of all these parts was supermassive, the galactic core of the scene.
Once inside (albeit after passing security who, while nice enough to me, were apparently a bit too keen elsewhere) it was straight into Room 1 for SNTS, where blistering, distorted drones could be heard over frenetic drums, dragged out and sinking as strobes ruthlessly circled. The cavernous main room would remain at this tempo throughout; every frequency packed with menace and force, never dropping below a gallop. It couldn’t be faulted for energy, although for some people sustained bouts in there were akin to manning the frontlines of a warzone – gruelling, unforgiving and the far frontier of endurance. Room 2 took a slightly different direction, and was arguably where the event horizon was most clearly visible. It was here – in what appeared to be a sweltering industrial shower – where some of the more varied live sets were held, and after SNTS I caught Adam X presenting Traversable Wormhole. It was deep and minimal, recognisably of the alias, and although it initially seemed a step back from Room 1, it was actually (on cathartic reflection) this kind of more contemplative darkness that would impress the most. By the time the wormhole had fully opened and the crowd was tunnelling to other dimensions, we arrived at Room 1 for the end of Sigha and beginning of Stanislav Tolkachev. The propulsive pace resumed, as Sigha cut into the crowd with razor sharp, icey sonics, haunting as scenes of carnage flashed on the front projection. Although Tolkachev seemed a little off at times, the jarring sounds deployed worked well enough, as the churning chaos and discordancy had the required aggression to overcome any less than perfect mixing.
From here on a crescendo was reached. Returning to Room 2, Vatican Shadow played a set that combined danceable rhythmic intricacy with numinous samples and deep ambience. The essence of Katharsis seems to closely parallel the paranoid meditations on modern war that Dominick Fernow produces; one could imagine a rubble strewn dancefloor cascading with the mist of overcrowding. Sensing now just how good the music was, I was surprised to see Tommy Four Seven take things further still as he hurtled into peak time in Room 1, seemingly unsatisfied with the force already unleashed, adamant to find more before half time. Industrial pounders changed direction unexpectedly, irregular beat patterns meandering in serpentine coils. Hearing tracks from Black Rain’s Dark Pool galvanised matters further, providing some key breaks from the clatter of drums. With each forceful transition, the lights rippled to life too, creating a thoroughly disorientating experience. Doubling back to Room 2 again, and the last moments of Kerridge’s visually imposing Fatal Light Attraction segued into another astonishing live set; Ancient Methods, in near total dark, playing both classic and unreleased material grandiloquently. Wollenhaupt’s recognisable aesthetic was at its peak here, every transition and chapter in the narrative as cohesive as the last, intricate evil with penitent delivery. Clearly all were at the top of their game. Searching for air and starting to think of extraction from this warzone, Paula Temple in Room 1 was the final destination of the morning; her no holds barred hybrid set still somehow managing to impress even after the last hours of overkill. Dropping the Rrose remix of Sunday Blues seemed apt enough for what was now, with its last embers, a party of veterans stubbornly burning into Sunday.
Whether you attend for morbid curiosity, to pay reverence to the underworld Gods with modern libation, to purge the passions or survey the ruins for inner peace, Katharsis has every contingency covered. It is a must for fans of intricate, foreboding and powerful electronics. The calibre of bookings and production quality are monolithic enough that the pilgrimage should certainly be made, whether brighter festivals like Dekmantel entice you to Amsterdam or not.