The Four Waves of Dutch Dance

November 22, 2018

Nothing says “Dutch heritage” the way tulips, cheese, and wooden clogs do. In the late 20th century, however, there arose a new export product as popular as all the Dutch cheese in the world: Dutch Dance music. With over thirty years of history filled with peaks and drops, high-hats and low-pass filters, and fans jumping up or grooving down, it’s time to look back at its development, conveniently divided into its four major waves.


The first wave of electronic dance music to wash up on the Dutch shore was in 1988. Club RoXY’s resident DJs Eddy de Clercq and Joost van Bellen introduced the Dutch crowd to the sounds of Chicago house with a hint of Manchester’s acid-infused techno. The four-to-the-floor beat soon caught on with a broader Dutch audience in various forms, such as the Rotterdam gabber scene or the internationally successful sugar-coated dance pop by 2 Unlimited. What is more, in the early and mid-1990s the first dance festivals popped up, with some of them still taking place today (e.g. Awakenings and Mystery Land). 


     [ 2 Unlimited - No Limit, 1993 ]


Just as this first wave started to lose magnitude around the turn of the century, a handful of trance DJs brought about a sound that would take the world (of music) by storm. Tiësto and Armin van Buuren became the first ever “DJ-rockstars” to play in front of crowds of well into the thousands. Two milestones defined the significance of this second wave: first Tiësto’s GelreDome stadium-concert, with over 25.000 attendees; and later his performance at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he played for over 2 hours with over 2 billion people watching his set from all corners of the world.


      [ Tiësto @ GelreDome, 2004 ]


Wave number three, which impacted like a tsunami, swelled from Tiësto’s hometown of Breda, but was in fact a collaborative effort of about a dozen DJs from all over the Netherlands. The electro-house wave - supervised by Tiësto and Armin van Buuren yet headed by Hardwell, Martin Garrix, Afrojack, and Nicky Romero - peaked around 2013, after which the market saturated due to the abundance of DJs. Characteristic of this era is the development of these DJs themselves; many started out f*cking around with Ableton or Logic Pro in the cozy comfort of their bedroom, and moved through SoundCloud to a position as ghost-producer before opening for the aforementioned DJ superstars in some of the world’s biggest stadiums.


     [ Hardwell @ Tomorrowland, 2014 ]


When the popularity of the third wave’s bombastic “steroid house” collapsed as quickly as it emerged, a new generation of Dutch DJs took it to the dance floor. This time, most of those originated from the Netherland’s metropolitan area (the Randstad) just like the relatively miniature clubs where they perform their music. Overall this wave is centred around house and techno, but allows itself to draw in outside influences from, for example, Afro-beat or disco. Many names reside under the radar yet play all around the world in similarly sized venues. Like the first wave, this one relies more on its institutions than its DJs per se, with for instance Red Light Radio, Rush Hour, and Dekmantel as pivotal forces in its network.


     [ TITIA @ Boiler Room during Amsterdam Dance Event 2018 ]


Needless to say, rushing through thirty years of musical development and dividing it into four facets obscures much of the talent that resides at its outer edges. Genres such as dubstep and drum ’n bass or hardhouse, -style, and -core have been left untouched, while they deserve due respect. Then again, history is a game of victors, and the names mentioned above are the ones that truly stood out over the last three decades. Now, with the ever-growing possibilities of producer equipment we patiently await the next wave of rave.


[ Want to know more about the history of Dutch Dance? Check out Mark van Bergen's latest book: ]

[ Dutch Dance 1988-2018: How the Netherlands took the lead in Electronic Music Culture ]

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