After ten years of dance parties in The Concertgebouw and under the Rijksmuseum, Jeroen Fontein (42) and Naut Donders (35) of Audio Obscura now want to explore the world further with the audiovisual light art installation Sora. “We’ve made a lot of attempts to book Daft Punk.”
“We challenge artists at unique locations to do things a little differently than usual,” says Fontein about Audio Obscura’s house and techno parties, the first of which took place in 2013 in Het Concertgebouw. Together with Donders, he wanted to organize parties where the DJ would get more space and attention and at locations where this had never been done before. Fontein: “With that in mind, we organized our first event in The Concertgebouw, where we put the DJ in the place of the conductor.”
In the past ten years, in addition to The Concertgebouw and the bicycle tunnel under the Rijksmuseum, there have also been parties in Central Station, the head office of clothing brand G-Star along the A10 in Southeast, the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ and in the Loft at the top of the A’ Dam Tower.
Each and every one of them also locations that entail additional challenges, says Donders. “We have to take into account things that other organizers don’t even have to think about. Acoustically, our locations are often far from optimal and a lot of extra work is also involved in terms of walking routes. For us, every new location is a kind of empty shell and then we look at what we can do there.”
Ornament was about to come loose
That also sometimes goes wrong. In 2017, a party with DJs Dixon and Job Jobse in Het Concertgebouw had to be stopped in the middle of the evening. An ornament that had been incorrectly attached to the ceiling threatened to come loose. In retrospect, something the organization could have done little about. “But at the moment it’s just a different story,” says Fontein. “We had to live with the image that we had sent the public away in the middle of the evening and that was read everywhere. And when the research is completed, it will be on page 8 a few weeks later. That is a hard lesson.”
Donders says that it has given them a very thick skin and has become ‘somewhat more risk-averse’. “But we still have the bravura and guts we started with.”
Underworld in 2017 for Audio Obscura in the bicycle tunnel under the Rijksmuseum.
Because of that bravura and guts, we managed to throw a party twice in the bicycle tunnel under the Rijks during Amsterdam Dance Event in 2016 and 2017. For both the most beautiful location where they have given a party so far, they say. Donders: “We started there with a firm no and a few years later it worked. It felt like the impossible place to organize something and in the end it worked, with a full production with all the trimmings. And the second year with Underworld, one of our dream acts. When I cycle there, those images still flash before me.”
That one act that didn’t want to work
For Fontein, Underworld was therefore the most beautiful act they managed to book. “They lean more towards artists. They measured the echo in the tunnel to incorporate it into their music for the performance. Then you already know that it is going to be very special.”
In addition to Underworld, almost all the big names from the house and techno scene have now performed at an Audio Obscura party. Peggy Gou, Maceo Plex, Joris Voorn, Kölsch, Solomun, Adriatique; they all turned.
Yet there was always that one act that did not want to succeed. Donders: “We have made many attempts to book Daft Punk. We sent gold envelopes with handwritten letters. I would do anything for it, it was really my dream.”
Daft Punk has since stopped, but Donders would now like to book Fred Again and Jamie XX. “I am very much looking forward to that and I think it will happen. At Fred Again I can say that there is mutual interest.” Fontein would like to see Rüfüs Du Sol at one of his parties. “I think there are still too few electronic dance acts, but if there are, I like to embrace them. And they are also super fat.”
Joris Voorn in 2016 for Audio Obscura in the Concertgebouw.
Although all their parties are almost always sold out, Fontein and Donders also look further ahead. Just before corona, they brought the audiovisual art installation Skalar to the Gashouder and this month they are doing so with Sora by the artist duo Nonotak, consisting of Noemi Schipfer and Takami Nakamoto, who have previously exhibited in Miami, New York and Taipei. At Sora, light and sound are constantly combined.
For the exhibition, Fontein and Donders have set up a new company, Unfold.art, in order not to cause confusion with Audio Obscura among the public. The intention is that Sora will also be seen abroad soon. “We want to go to Istanbul, London and Barcelona within three years. And to Seoul, Tokyo and Singapore,” says Fontein. Donders: “We are already in talks with many of those cities, so we think these are reasonably achievable goals.”
Yet Sora is not without a dance party either. On January 28, in combination with the audiovisual light installation, there will be a party at night in the Gashouder, where Adriatique and Henrik Schwarz will play, among others. And Audio Obscura is not sitting still this year. Fontein: “We have some surprises for our 10th anniversary and hope they all continue.”