For one week a year in the Dutch capital, the Wednesday evening takes precedence over the Saturday. King’s day is a massive celebration, where crowds of revellers take to the streets to celebrate the birth of King Willem (or, at least to some extent, use it as an excuse to drown in Heineken and sport the colour orange in a socially-acceptable manner.) Kings night happens before this, on the eve of the 27th, so most consider the following weekend to be a write-off – unless you’re aiming to attract foreign punters, who have shelled out for a stay in a 2* hostel for the most inflated rate of the year and have definitely donned the orange attire earlier in the week with the intentions of carrying on a solid four day bender.
Claire itself lies on the corner of Rembrantplein, one of the busiest squares in the city of Amsterdam, equipped with street urinals, horrendously overpriced bars, and an influx of stoned tourists when the clocks chime midnight. The booking potential was strong this evening – and for artists that would usually be confined to the basement of an English nightclub, we began our mission searching for the delightfully named ‘Claire’ down side streets – to no avail. It later revealed itself that the venue wasn’t the hidden gem we expected backing onto the neon-lit, central Amsterdam Plaza – instead it was rubbing shoulders with Escape (one of the biggest, smart-attire, 100-euro-for-a-table establishments in Amsterdam) and a number of sports bars with queues so long you’d miss your connecting flight if you aimed for a second pint. None the less, we headed through the grand opening of Claire, continued to be frisked down by a bouncer wearing a suit likely worth as much as a two bedroom central Amsterdam apartment, and made our way under the faux-stone arches into the main room.
The layout of Claire was an absolute nightmare. I’m still not sure whether this is due to the entrance to room two being situated adjacent to the stage – turning every aim to get to the smoking area or to hear the other set becoming a complete free-for-all, or the raised platform in the middle of the dancefloor that led to you constantly being more fearful of falling from height than actually being able to focus on the music. Nonetheless, the Beesmunt Soundsystem boys opened to a filled room – racing through their signature sound of exotic-techno that really elevated the small room and brought those arriving up to speed by setting the tone. Energetic disco edits, cutting techno rollers and lo-fi house grooves cut through the Claire sound system – and although the Bozak rotary mixer in the booth got a seeing to, the system wasn’t as powerful as expected for a set of that proportion. The Amsterdam contingent of the crowd responded well to the local lads set however, which left the foreign boys (Dark Sky) at a bit of a loose end as they switched up proceedings and took to the stage to carry on the evening.
When the pair of Matt Benyayer and Thomas Edwards managed the switch, it was evident from the start that things were going to progress to being much darker and harder than the Amsterdam duo had set the tone for – and as a result the crowd began to slowly drift through to room two to catch the closing set of some more locals – but despite this, Dark Sky weren’t going to take things easy. Running through half-time selection, contrasting their sound of breakbeat style techno with afro-beat disco edits (the K&F edit of Ah Ndiya ringing nicely through the system and forming a break before more dense percussion kicked back in through the subs inside Claire) – the set sounded good despite that lacking intensity from the speakers – but the dutch crowd didn’t seem to fully lock-in. The art of DJing is as much about selection as it is about smooth transitions, and it kind of felt that Dark Sky were playing solely what they wanted, instead of judging the crowd atmosphere. Not that any of us there for the set cared – they did exactly what a punter would want to hear – but playing to the Rembrandtplein crowd was never going to be an easy task as soon as breaks were involved. From a long standing supporters view however, the set rung true – manipulating the percussive tones through the rotary mixer with ease, and even dropping Carbonated by Mount Kimbie – with it’s staccato percussion and eery synth pad lines – as if it was carved into the previous song and floated with harmony in the mix.
It was never going to be an easy night for The Brits, but instead of succumbing to the pressures of the Dutch club with is tourist aesthetic and hotel-esque interior vibes – they came on and smashed the set for the designated few that had shrugged off the post-kings day hangover and made the trip to Claire. Although the sound wasn’t spot on (and this is certainly something the club needs to address – being a central location for a lot of festival afterparties) from a supporters perspective the Dark Sky lads did exactly what was expected of them, played a set with a great variation of timbres and a solid amount of their already impressive back catalog.
The night can be summarised by the one guy who stood in the smoking area, drunkenly swaying around, who’s prerogative was to find someone all night who would bet him on an arm wrestle.
Although I’m pretty sure he didn’t leave the smoking area all night – when the clock hit 12am I asked him
“Are you here to see Dark Sky tonight mate?”
All he replied with was
“If I wanted to look at the sky tonight, I’d have stayed outside”
Sometimes, no matter how good your set is, you just can’t win.