Do you want to work here because you want to party, or do you want to work here so that other people can party?
It’s approaching 4am on the Friday of ADE, and the scene resembles a bouncy castle at a child’s party. Leon Vynehall – the birthday boy (although 26, not 6) – has long since abandoned any restraint, peppering Robbie Tronco‘s vocals into his own Willi Ninja-sampling “It’s Just (House Of Dupree)” and actively encouraging the pockets of spirited voguing that break out all around him. Bowing out on “LFO” as a timely tribute to the late Mark Bell, he gathers up gifts of merlot and upmarket cheese from friends, and heads upstairs to join the Hessle Audio gang for an impromptu round-robin set. I stay a little while longer, before finally bottoming out. The feeling is bittersweet; neither of us will likely set foot in the venue again.
Trouw is Amsterdam’s crown jewel, broadly regarded as one of the finest clubs in the world. It has merely five weeks left. The upcoming run reads like a dream – Lil’ Louis, Pépé Bradock, an all-nighter from Laurent Garnier and Motor City Drum Ensemble here; a residents-only Boiler Room broadcast there – although the final 30hr blowout will remain secret to all but three or four people, a decision founder and proprietor Olaf Boswijk describes as “special and right”. Initially tasked with handing over keys in mid-December, the new owners granted a stay of execution, thankfully nudging Trouw’s closing marathon back into the first weekend of the new year.
“It feels like we have to dock this really big ship,” sighs general manager Kim Tuin. “We pushed the brakes a year ago, but it takes a long time before we finally stop…it’s very bizarre.” The month ahead will prove an emotionally intense time for performers, punters and the 100-odd staff alike—an overriding feeling of celebration pockmarked by the reality of imminent closure. On weekdays, builders and dazed punters are likely to rub shoulders in the cold morning light—something Boswijk grins as “not the ideal.” At least the lineage as a space for endurance machines will maintain: the club, formerly a printing factory, is due to be terraformed into student housing.
Trouw is blessed with rare fortune, having seemingly cherry-picked all the requisite elements needed to achieve fan favourite status. The bills are stacked with top-tier talent, but no real barriers divide the audience from their heroes. As former club manager Ernst Mertens puts it, crowds “are free to touch the DJ, or even turn off the mixer, but they know that were we to put a fence up, the atmosphere would be instantly transformed. So they never do.” The vast dimensions and bare-brick aesthetic should point toward a typically foreboding warehouse, yet the dancefloor positively glows with the communal warmth of an intimate loft space.
I think we’re all looking for something different; something we can call home.
Yuri Boselie – aka Cinnaman, promoter of the longstanding Colors night – ruminates on the point. “It’s like a block party: you have the steps on the side so everybody is around the booth and as a result, it feels really cosy. The rooms are isolated for heavy machinery, which keeps the sound really rounded. There’s a lot of headroom, so you have more space to breathe. If the music is slammed in your face all the time, it’s very different.”
Fellow resident Patrice Bäumel, who physically carried the soundsystem out of Club 11, where Boswijk deputised his older brother as programmer, and into the empty space back in 2009, agrees. “The feng shui [upstairs] felt really good from the beginning.” Initially, only the main room was to be utilised for music. Amusingly, the duel potential was only realised when significant sound bleed from Kode9’s subs into the surrounding residential area forced a rapid relocation downstairs. According to Bäumel, the sonic profile of the basement – which still to this day lacks a fixed booth, getting de- and re-constructed regularly – is “a bit more industrial, a bit rougher, but potentially even more powerful than upstairs. Definitely adequate.”
Trouw amalgamates what Dekmantel founder Casper Tielrooji cites as “different disciplines”, all bound by a similarly right-minded ethos. Paired with the city’s Stedelijk Museum, the building acts as a conducive space for Amsterdam’s burgeoning art talent—albeit not an especially natural one. “The acoustics are weird and there’s big pillars within,” says Tuin, but “the challenge is a welcome one.”
An installation during ADE bringing avant-garde old hand Anthony McCall’s projections together with a Young Marco soundscape is emblematic of the harmonious overlap. Tuin’s reasoning for bringing high-art to Trouw is succinct: “People experience art in a totally different way when they are together with friends, listening to music, drink in hand. It’s a totally different approach from the usual “let’s go to so-and-so museum and see artist so-and-so”. The experience of walking in and just finding something is one they’ll remember.”
Food is another example of the totality of the approach. Despite initially haemorrhaging money so heavily that it almost forced Trouw’s permanent closure in the first nine months of operation, the in-house restaurant has undergone a full 180˚ shift. Travel plans for international bookings factor in a customary meal of locally-sourced produce before the night kicks off; during my hourlong interview with Boswijk, both Mike Servito and Recondite drop in for quick bites and to say hello. Boswijk, it should be noted, is the man washing glasses and pulling pints for his guests.
Though he would be the first to propagate that Trouw operates from the ground up in an egalitarian fashion, at heart it is Boswijk’s values that trickle from the top down through the entire business. An affable character, his upbringing was split between an English mother and a Dutch father, leading to a lot of travelling back and forth, and consequently “always having to fight for things…I can only truly relax when everything else is running smoothly, and everyone else is having fun.”
He is a man who seems to actively enjoy battling upstream against the type of constraints that would fatigue most club proprietors. Having gradually learnt to delegate financial responsibilities to others, the invisible hand of Olaf still appears to rest most everywhere within Trouw. That mentality carries through to a question posited to all new applicants: “Do you want to work here because you want to party, or do you want to work here so that other people can party?”
This unswerving dedication to service undergirds Trouw’s appeal to the raft of DJs coming in and out of Schiphol every week. For David Kennedy (Pearson Sound), pretty much as close to resident status as a Brit can be, the extra effort doesn’t go amiss. “All the staff are really friendly. As soon as you arrive at the airport, you feel as if you’re being welcomed. It can so often be an anonymous process, so it’s always nice to build that connection with a place you’re playing regularly.”
A bashful smile breaks out across Boswijk’s face at the mention. Just as when doting upon Job Jobse quite literally learning to mix records in Trouw’s toilets, the occasions when Boswijk steps back to admire the greater picture is to catch glimpses of true pride. “You hear people talk about Larry Levan being an amazing DJ, or Robert-Johnson having the best soundsystem, but what binds all the great clubs in history is that when they’re gone, there’s some kind of feeling of having belonged to something bigger. That’s the family feeling; that’s the community. You can try and create or simulate it, but I don’t believe there’s a formula.”
He breaks off mid-stream, mulling his words carefully. “I don’t wish to be so psuedo-Freudish, but a lot of the guys playing here come from divorced parents, or had tricky childhoods. I think we’re all looking for something different; something we can call home. That’s my little theory.”
A grounding first in audio engineering, then radio and written journalism, before cutting teeth in promotion within Club 11, has allowed Boswijk to bank the connections and develop the skills needed to succeed. It has also given him a conscientious eye for the wider implications of his profession. “Honestly, I’m worried about the future of club culture,” he exhales, shifting in his seat. He recants a story about approaching a legendary New Yorker to helm an all-nighter, only to be knocked back by the artist’s agent to the tune of €35,000.
For Boswijk these skyrocketing fees, and the glut of generic festivals more than willing to accede, compound the broader lack of philosophy and vision across the board. Even an over-emphasis on what will follow Trouw grates: “It’s simply not going to be interesting if you copy what Trouw has done. I have a responsibility to spread as much knowledge and experience as I can – but it’s about looking around and going, “I feel the need for this in my city.””
His city, though, is in fine fettle. One might be tempted to chalk it up to the ADE buzz, but there is a more general infectious positivity about the place that is rare—perhaps even unique. When pressed, the question of just why Amsterdam swings so carefree trips people up, although a few explanations fill the echo chamber. For one, the erosion of musical boundaries over the past decade has benefited Amsterdam just the same as anywhere else. “There’s definitely a symbiosis between those making minimal house or Detroit stuff, and the hip-hop guys,” notes Tom Trago, a pertinent beneficiary of these folding divisions. “There’s no way you can seclude yourself – they all appreciate each other now!”
Additionally, with centuries of economic stability and enviable standards of living, there has been no demonstrable change to the lay of the land. The postwar cycles of deindustrialisation and development that have given your Londons and New Yorks creative shots in the arm simply never occurred. The city is a fraction of the size of most capitals. Even at ambling pace, the building encompassing Vintage Voudou plus both Red Light Rs (Radio and Records) and Rush Hour HQ are no more than seven or eight minutes apart, and Trouw – relatively far from the central Grachtengordel – is only an extra half hour on foot. This goes some distance to negating the toxic promoter politics lurking within dense metropolitan sprawls. “We’re all fishing in the same pool,” reasons Mertens.
Not to say that the scene is a hermetically sealed gang of friends, mind. Bäumel is adamant that, even set against his global travels, “there are few places in the world with a similar density of club-interested people: we’re not even a million in population yet there’s 20,000 people going out, filling 6 or 7 core clubs to capacity every weekend.” Location (as ever) plays a key role too. Boselie and Boswijk alike touch upon a subtle shift within the ‘EasyJet set’, choosing to bypass dominant spots like Paris and Berlin, which offer proliferation of choice but are overly familiar, and instead cultivate new stomping grounds. Dekmantel Festival drew approximately 60% of ticket sales from abroad this August: a highly impressive tally considering 2013 was the inaugural bow. That ease of access works as a two-way street, according to Kennedy. “I know a lot of American DJs who will secure a show in Amsterdam on the Friday, giving them a little base to do something else in Europe on Saturday before flying back over. It’s a massively important gateway hub.”
In January 2013 Trouw became the first – and to this date only – venue in the city to receive a long-coveted round-the-clock operating license, and while the effect of 24hr culture are still yet to wash over fully, the ripples are felt nonetheless. Beyond having to navigate a few choppy issues necessitated by the change – not least motivating his bar staff without defined last orders – the boss has welcomed this extension.
Boswijk chuckles when recanting Dixon’s first Trouw all-nighter back in 2009 running from 11-3am, “which really is nothing nowadays.” The lack of curfew instead nudges Trouw closer to the kind of epic Berlin parties that cannibalise entire days. “In the UK,” contrasts Kennedy, “you’re very used to someone coming up to you at 3.55am and shining a torch in your face while fading out your last tune, instead of letting nights finish when they naturally do.”
It makes more of an impact if you do something really well for a short period of time; it’s exciting when a club only exists for a few years.
The Berghain-Panorama Bar complex is a frequently trotted-out comparison, perhaps because of a similarly imposing stature – both physically and symbolically – or the consistently first-rate lineups hosted within. Much in the same vein to the Berlin techno mecca, “Trouw is a reminder of what a club truly needs to be: a dark place for people to forget their troubles and experience new music,” says Trago. But an important distinction between the two behemoths is required, reckons Bäumel, a P-Bar regular from back when Club 11 was still active.
“Berghain is the only space that deserves the name ‘club’. As in: a crew of people that are not like the outside world. You have to have some sort of strict vision, a very consistent execution of door policy, and a certain history. Berghain has all of these selective qualities, plus of course a deep entrenchment in the gay community.” He pauses awhile. “Trouw has never tried to be that sort of place—it is more democratic. We sought to be a place that delivered quality for Amsterdam; for everybody.”
It’s that refreshing lack of hierarchy that marks Amsterdam down as so wholly worth celebrating. Berlin rightly prides itself on freedom of expression, but equally thrives due to its reputation for possessing a self-serious ‘cool’ that people enviably look to buy into, whether musically and aesthetically. It’s why girdering, blackhearted techno is so frequently the jump-off point for those of a certain age and disposition. Amsterdam culture can be seen as what happens next: a mellowing of airs and graces, finding more comfort in ones own skin; a gentle morning drift.
Over the past half-decade, Amsterdam’s global standing has risen considerably. The new breed of promoters, DJs, producers and labels has attracted émigrés such as Motor City Drum Ensemble and Ben Westbeech, further strengthening this likeminded latticework. Boselie concurs: “You’re allowed to let yourself go and be more creative. In the last few years, people have been really supportive when someone makes a good record, throws a great night and so on. There’s a sense of people enjoying each other’s success.” This lightness of being is reflected everywhere. You can see it in the pillowy-soft tracks released by Young Marco, in Red Light Radio’s spirited open-deck sessions and, of course, soaked into the walls of Trouw. The rising tide has lifted all boats.
Just like our project here, I hope that it opens doors – just by giving people the idea that it’s doable.
Let’s not pussyfoot about: Trouw is truly special. There is something intangible about the space that fosters an advanced connection, crouching on haunches somewhere deep down inside, even for those with only a handful of visits under their belt. It almost feels as if people need reminding that the city’s main venue will be gone in just over a month, such is the pervading optimism. Watching close friends grapple with 285 Kent, Glasslands, Public Assembly all crumbling in quick succession—and with it the last flicker of Brooklyn’s DIY spirit extinguished—provides some context, but the lone contrast I can draw from personal experience is what happened in London circa 2007-9, where a spate of longstanding spots called it a day.
But for The End, Turnmills, and the Canvass-Cross-Key complex, it felt like a necessary and accepted reshuffle, a clearout of ‘heritage’ clutter. One man directly affected by the UK’s changing of the guard at the time was David Kennedy. “You see it everywhere, clubs growing tired when they’re open for too long. It makes more of an impact if you do something really well for a short period of time; it’s exciting when a club only exists for a few years.” In Trouw’s case, a full stop was partially inked from day one, heavily cushioning the eventual impact.
But awareness of transience can’t be the sole explanation for why music heads in the city are so strangely sanguine about what comes next. “It means opportunity,” reasons Bäumel. “People are already looking feverishly for new spaces and thinking about new concepts. There’s a mass being squeezed that has to go someplace else. No, I’m not worried.” The balloon effect has already caught Trago’s eye. “I saw so many different flyers during ADE for venues that I hadn’t been to, even though I’ve lived here my whole life. Trouw started this movement, but now everybody knows a standard has been set. All these great forces keep on raising the bar.” Many regard the advent of Dekmantel as a shining example of the spread talent. Tielrooji certainly seems buoyant, alluding to fresh plans in 2015 that will counterweight the larger-scale events and festivals they run.
Within the Trouw family, precious little mourning is taking place. Time is of the essence, and the list of goals to tick off remains vast. By Tuin’s reckoning, they have only recently gained enough clout to attract international art institutions like Paris’ Palais de Tokyo and New York’s New Museum as partners. “I don’t know where it would have gone if we had more time,” she laments. “What I sincerely hope is that it is possible for other young artists and organisations to find institutions and have proposals accepted, so they can continue to collaborate and extend their reach. Just like our project here, I hope that it opens doors – just by giving them the idea that it’s doable.”
Boswijk offers similar sentiments, encouraging people to capitalise on this purple patch, and let their intuition act as a guide. For a plethora of reasons, few other cities offer such fertile ground. Boswijk mentions one burning desire to disguise himself and walk around the club unnoticed – “perhaps go in a Damian Lazarus techno cloak or something” – but seems largely at peace with being “able to steer my life in a different way if I want to. I can be Olaf the person again, instead of Olaf-The-Boss-Of-Trouw.” He bats away a series of questions, playing coy about who will get to man the final set, what he hopes the last track ringing out might be, and whether he is already plotting a new challenge.
“Everybody is talking about who will fill the gap after Trouw, but I don’t think anybody will. And not because I think Trouw is the greatest thing ever, and I’m an arrogant bastard, but that’s not how it works. After the RoXY burnt down, there was not a new RoXY; if Berghain closes down, there will never be a new Berghain. There will just be something else – something I hope is worthwhile.”
It’s going to be super difficult, even heartbreaking, to close this place. But it’s got to happen. There’s more to life.
Head here to watch all sets from the Trouw Residents Takeover session in full.
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