Festivals

The US is Finally Awake: A Review of Awakenings NYC



February 25th, 2016

by

Awakening TF

Not too long ago, I wrote about the New York techno environment and its continuous rise to the top of electronic significance in the U.S. The last few years in particular have been especially meaningful for techno; NYC has received global recognition by the likes of the best DJs in the world, as well as the stamp of approval from foreign promotional companies. Space Ibiza’s New York opening, Time Warp’s events the last two years, the shift to warehouse parties – all of these moves tell the same story: that New York City is officially another home for the dark beats. The latest endorsement? The Awakenings Festival, which held their inaugural feature event on US soil this past Valentine’s Day.

 

 

This may sound misleading. Awakenings, which is widely known as “THE techno organization in Holland,” first stepped foot on American soil in September, where they had their own curated stage at (of all places) New York’s Electric Zoo Festival. For two days, Awakenings unloaded unapologetic techno and tech-house at the faces of North Americans for the first time since the organization’s beginnings in 1997. I spent nearly that entire Saturday at that Awakenings tent, where acts like Kolsch, Henrik Schwarz, Paco Osuna, and Get Real put together what I believed (at the time) to be the best party that Electric Zoo had ever thrown. And I had meant it; New York was finally being exposed to what the rest of the world had known for nearly 20 years.
Shortly after Electric Zoo, Awakenings announced that they would be bringing a stand-alone event back to the states. They would hold it in New York City, on Valentine’s Day, and it would feature one day of a full-scale Awakenings Experience. The iconic Hammerstein Ballroom, with its mural-painted ceiling and multi-level viewing areas, would host the night. This was a can’t-miss event.

awakenings nyc 2016 hammerstein

The announced lineup and set times brought both good news and bad news. The bad news was that the event would only be eight hours long. Many had set high expectations due to their annual, multi-stage festival held in Holland. Hearing that there would only be one stage with four sets was a let-down; many New Yorkers – including myself – felt as though the organization wasn’t giving the city the respect it had earned. The good news, however, was that we would be getting four 2-hour sets, including three unreal back-to-back sets. Russian DJ Julia Govor would spin side by side with Kamran Sadeghi, a New York producer with psychedelic influences. Pan-Pot, the hypnotic tech duo out of Germany, would follow up. Following them would be a B2B by two long-time friends and veterans of New York nightlife, Nicole Moudaber and Victor Calderone. Closing out the night would be a 4 am sermon from the power couple of the universe, Drumcode label boss Adam Beyer, and the yin to his yang, Ida Engberg. A fitting closing act for a Valentine’s Day if there ever was one.
I arrived at Hammerstein around 11 PM, an hour into Julia Govor and Kamran Sadeghi’s set. The venue was still filling up at the time, but Govor and Sadeghi were well warmed up by the time I hit the floor. As Sadeghi is a live performer and Govor is a DJ, the combination on stage was an interesting choice; leading up to the show, Govor had spoken about how she and Sadeghi had spent some time together preparing their set. This showed, as Sadeghi set up songs for Govor to toy with like soft-toss batting practice, lobbing fresh material for her to manipulate. They kept the energy somewhat low, especially as you could hear the master volume wasn’t turned all the way up. Regardless, their set was frighteningly dark and haunting, which is characteristic of the brand of Govor’s techno. With a massive screen behind them focused on the decks, we watched them attentively execute a near-flawless opening set, switching off and getting the crowd moving.
As the two hugged in celebration of a great set, Pan-Pot stepped up to join them. Out of all of the acts on the billing, Pan-Pot was the only act I had never seen live before and was my most anticipated set of the evening. The volume rose, and Pan-Pot dropped bomb after bomb of fire tech-house goodness. It was during this set that the production crew began using their arsenal of visual tools. Five circles were positioned above and to the sides of the stage, each with screens attached, which would sporadically light on and off at different times.

 

 

Pan-Pot’s set seamlessly flowed from heavy techno with deep, forceful, rib-rattling bass to lighter, tech-house tracks that pulled us from the grave. They switched their levels up, making sure to keep the crowd’s attention, and repeatedly sent us into a tizzy with throwback original tracks and modern remixes. By the end of the set, they owned my soul. It was a set well worth the wait.
 awakenings nyc 2016 pan pot
Because of how much I enjoyed Pan-Pot’s set, I had trouble being impressed by Nicole Moudaber and Victor Calderone’s B2B set. That said, the two are masters of their craft and it showed; the hot sauce they splashed on each track added bits of excitement, and their levels were balanced throughout their set. Since Pan-Pot had really delivered, I found parts of Moudaber and Calderone’s set repetitive and would have preferred if they had really unload everything they’re capable of. I found a lack of variety in their builds and breaks; the breaks all seemed to last the same length, and the power of the comeback didn’t seem to change much with each changing track.

awakenings 2016 moudaber calderone

The pair does deserve credit for their obvious comfort both with their craft and with each other. In some B2B sets, artists spend the duration of the set standing next to each other, switching off and watching their counterpart cue up songs and switching off at seemingly set times. This B2B set was entirely different – Moudaber and Calderone are so talented and know each other so well that they didn’t do that. Calderone would playing a track and Moudaber would run off and start dancing; when it was “time” to switch, she would slide in and take over, adding her own characteristics. Their set was entirely improvised in a way that is rarely seen in electronic music, and they have my utmost respect for that. Still, their set wasn’t enough for me to unseat Pan-Pot as the night’s standout.

awakenings 2016 ida adam beyer

Adam Beyer and Ida Engberg closed out the night. They were announced by the MC of the night, who got the crowd cheering, and the techno team of the century took off – only to get cut out by technical difficulties within five seconds of starting. After a few minutes, the sound came back on and things were seemingly back on track. After one or two songs, they dropped the volume back down to just barely audible levels, and an announcement was made letting the crowd know there were technical difficulties.
Once the technical issues were resolved, Beyer brought the sound up – so slowly, it felt almost creepy. One hand on the decks and one hand on his headphones, Beyer inched the crowd closer and closer towards a drop. Projected on the screen behind him, Beyer’s face had a look of clear determination, as if he were going to seriously redeem the missed time. From that point on, Beyer and Engberg put together one of the best B2B sets I have ever seen.
If someone had told me that Beyer and Engberg were one person with four hands, I would have believed them. Their set was beautiful to watch, and the massive screen behind the duo let the crowd do just that. When Engberg’s hands were doing one thing, Beyer would snake his arm between hers to reach a control at the precise moment. He would hold it, slide his other hand to another controller; they stood intertwined and prepped for what was about to happen, and moments before the climax hit, both would simultaneously jerk their mixers and let go as if their minds were set to the same frequency. The two hours they played were nothing short of magic. Their chemistry was tangible and their love for each other flowed out of the speakers and into our ears. By the time 6 AM hit, the crowd was released into the streets as the original version of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” played. As I exited onto the street, I knew Awakenings had done it – they had conquered New York City.

 

 

 



Matt Reynolds is a music enthusiast on a mission to share his musical knowledge with the masses. Born and raised on the hard streets of suburban North Jersey, Matt was diagnosed with an irreversible addiction to electronic music in 2009. Since then, he’s pledged to discover and share his experiences with clubs, festivals, and the world of electronic music. Situated minutes from NYC, Matt has traveled from Massachusetts to Miami and everywhere between chasing music and making memories. When he isn’t writing for MASS EDMC, he’s either reading, writing fiction, or (most likely) booty-shaking on the dance floor.