Nestled between a quaint, historic residential neighborhood, high-rise apartments, and the busiest port in Europe, Modular Festival 2017 shipped in some of Europe’s greatest electronic music exports. Make no mistake: this was very precious cargo.
With three stages to fill and an unpredictable weather forecast, Modular Festival tented two of their stages and left the Mainstage open. At the smaller Circle Stage, dancers gathered early to take in the spacey, retro-disco grooves of local hero David Vunk, who’s energy brought swarms of faithful Rotterdam ravers. Vunk is a deep crate digger, and has mastered the art of mood manipulation with quick transitions that span from classic ’70s disco, ’90s acid house, ’80s electro-pop, to contemporary techno. I arrived to the festival early to see his set after having listened to his Dekmantel Selectors Podcast last month, and it it was well worth it.
Continuing the electic electro dance vibes at Circle Stage were Mall Grab and The Love Triangle – the trio of Dutch selectors Elias Mazian, Job Jobse, and Luc Mast, who closed the night to a full tent of happy dancers.
Rotterdam is undeniably a techno city, as evidenced by the legions of ravers who descended upon the Square Stage, where heavyweights like Sandrien, ROD, and DVS1 rocked from start to finish. The long, dark, red-tented stage was saturated with fog, cheering whistles and pulsing techno, reminiscent of a well-constructed club basement rave.
At the Mainstage (Hexagon), Philou Louzolo warmed up the crowd nicely with smooth, bouncey afro-house before the heavy-hitters took over. The sound was crisp, with speakers stacked what seemed to be 4 meters high on either side of the DJ booth. At five o’clock, the volume went up when the Bicep lads took control of the decks and treated dancers to two hours of certifiable dancefloor crushers. A Bicep set is very unique in that one knows “their” sound, but is often a struggle to define. It’s usually a nice mix of Italo-disco, rolling, bass-heavy kick drums, and ethereal, synthy crescendos that build and wash over the crowd with a wave of satisfaction. Their appearance at Modular was no different, dropping original, unreleased smashers (Raad de Plaat anyone?), battle-tested remixes, and showed support for their friend, label-mate, and aptly named Hammer.
As Bicep played their last tune of early evening, the sun pushed its way out from behind the clouds, and the entire festival was now bathed in well-deserved sunlight. John Talabot mixed in a beautiful, if not epic, eleven-minute opening track (see below) that fit perfectly with the vibe of the moment. The Mainstage dancers, slightly worn down from hours of dancing and now looking for respite, collectively slowed and basked in the warmth of the sun. Talabot played off this, using calm, layered vocals, a slow-building, tempo-driving kick drum, and the melodic sound of a ship’s horn arriving at port, playing over and over – a siren call to those ready for two more hours of outstanding, well-mixed dance music from the Spanish production wizard.
After a few songs at this stage, I walked the rest of the festival grounds to take it all in. Folks were using up the large grassy area next to the Square Stage to soak in the remainder of daylight, catch up with friends, sip on special beers, and enjoy a freshly cooked pizza from the nearby food and drink tents. Festival partners Operator and Clone Music were broadcasting live all day, playing a small area in the center of the grounds. Even with three big stages, ravers found their way here to dance and keep the party going.
As Talabot finished his tribal-techno-jungle-house-heavy set, man of the hour and Mainstage headliner Mister Dixon took over just as dusk settled in. As expected, Dixon delivered the fist-pumping, “Oh WOW!” moments like only he can, playing unreleased summer festival killers from Innervisions, Keinemusik, and These Eyes, as well as personal edits. (Shazam is a waste of battery life at this point.) The well-timed lighting effects that accompanied his set added to the grandeur of each moment, creating a three-dimensional sonic experience. Dixon is the rare DJ who possesses a lethal combination of unparalleled access to musical libraries, impeccable selection, and flawless mixing ability, which has earned him the lead role of a headling, dancefloor assassin. On the banks of the Nieuwe Maas River late Saturday evening, Dixon closed his set with an a capella version of Depeche Mode’s “Cover Me,” and a pitched-up version of Grandbrothers’ “Bloodflow,” giving just the right amount of that Dixon “touch” to end the journey on the terms he saw fit, and that we deserved.
Modular Festival continues to raise the bar by merging the best in homegrown talent with international superstar artists, staying true to their underground techno roots, building the community with local partners, and never compromising on quality, sound, or production.
Words by Tyler Besse