Is the Netherlands still ‘the Silicon Valley of dance’?

This week Amsterdam is all about beats and business during Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE). In dark clubs, techno DJs such as KI/KI and Charlotte de Witte will let the music rage hard: now that the dance floor is open again, louder and faster seems to be the motto. The bpm (beats per minute) goes up and the fists are in the air. Trance – the melodic genre with which Tiësto caused a furore in the 1990s and which was then considered uncool for years – is now making a comeback. At his own Trance Party, English DJ Evian Christ will introduce a new generation of clubbers to trance pioneers Klubbheads, and young artists like Himera will showcase their new, harder, uninhibited vision of trance.

ADE is a festival, business conference and networking event in one: it consists of more than a thousand parties, panels, speeches and workshops, spread over about two hundred locations in the city, with 2500 artists and speakers. The organization expects about 450,000 visitors this year.

It is no coincidence that one of the largest business events of the dance industry takes place in the Netherlands worldwide. The Netherlands has been a leading country in the genre for years. Buma Cultuur, the foundation involved in the international promotion of Dutch music and co-organizer of ADE, reports that dance music accounted for 154 million euros in export value in 2019. The Netherlands also scores well in the DJ Mag Top 100, a British list of the most popular DJs in the world: last year half of the top ten consisted of Dutch artists.

Nevertheless, in the years before corona there was a small contraction in the Dutch market share of the dance industry worldwide, according to research by RTL News, which compared the Dutch export figures of Buma Cultuur with industry reports from International Music Summit (IMS), a dance conference in Ibiza. In the years 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Dutch market share increased according to the calculation of RTL News from 10 to 9 to 8.5 percent.

You now see that more suppliers are emerging in other countries. They keep getting better and are often cheaper.

According to Frank Helmink, director of Buma Cultuur, this does not necessarily mean that the Dutch dance business is declining: “I do not have the figures for 2021 yet, I cannot say much about them yet, but you can see that the dance market globally is not yet at its peak. The Dutch share may be smaller, but below the bottom line it may not be that bad.” The overall market is growing: according to the IMS Business Report, sales and streaming of electronic music increased by 32 percent in 2021. The Dutch market may just not grow at the same rate.

Local artists

Helmink does see trends that can weigh in on that shrinking market share: “You see that everyone has started to focus on local artists during corona time. This applies to the Netherlands, but also to America and China, for example. Wherever events could still be organized, local acts were booked more often. The question is how much effect that will have on the Dutch figures abroad.”

Allan Hardenberg, who has been internationally active in the dance industry for more than ten years as director of concert promoter ALDA, sees the position of the Netherlands also changing: “Five years ago I called the Netherlands the Silicon Valley of dance. Everything came from here: the DJs, but also the stage builders, the marketers, the lighting technicians. You now see that more suppliers are emerging in other countries. They are getting better and better and are often cheaper.” ADE director Meindert Kennis also notices that a shift has taken place at the Dutch suppliers: “Many people have started doing different work during the corona period, they do not just come back.”

Yet his co-director Jan-Willem van de Ven also sees a positive remnant from the corona period: “During corona there was an enormous need to come together again, a need for self-expression and self-discovery. That’s what night culture does. Everyone is more aware of that now.”

This week, during Amsterdam Dance Event, hundreds of thousands of visitors will again gather in clubs and on festival grounds in the city. They come to party, to network, and to discover new trends. This year, for example, the rise of artificial intelligence is striking; for example, Don Diablo (number seven in the DJ Mag Top 100 of 2021) talks to an AI-generated version of himself. Van de Ven: “Bar Borisov also has an artificial intelligence showcase, where a DJ will remix himself using AI.”

There is also a lot of attention for African music and in particular for amapiano, a house genre from South Africa. According to the IMS Business Report, amapiano is one of the fastest growing genres of the past year, and this is reflected in ADE’s program with DJs such as Philou Louzoulo and Charisse C.

Export value

What can the Netherlands do to safeguard its strong international position in dance? A position that, emphasizes Helmink, also has financial advantages: “Dance is not only of cultural importance, it is also an industry that generates money. In recent years, about three quarters of the export value of Dutch music has always consisted of dance.”

According to Van de Ven, care is needed to maintain this value: “We have to be careful with our maternity rooms. This is about stimulating both small clubs and large venues, but also providing subsidies and training new people.”

Helmink also mentions the importance of innovation: „I can make a direct comparison with the musical corner where I come from, the metal: the headliners have been the same for years. Metallica, Slayer and Iron Maiden are all from the last century.” Dutch dance superstars Tiësto and Armin van Buuren have been successful since the 1990s. “The new growth must be stimulated.”

“Dance is in our DNA,” says Hardenberg. “For more than twenty-five years, we are one of the first in the world to do something with dance in the Netherlands. Now a new generation of twenty-somethings has to stand up and be innovative. We have to make room for that.”

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