Amsterdam Dance Event Dips Into Caribbean Waters With Second Electric Festival

Some 16,000 attended ADE's sister event in Aruba
Richard Zijlma

The longest running and arguably most venerable global business conference for electronic music professionals, Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), is branching out. For the second consecutive year, the confab dipped its toes in the proverbial warm waters off Aruba with a smaller sister event, and the water is getting warmer for delegates and fans alike.

“If all the factors work out well, it can grow to an interesting meeting point for the industry,” said ADE General Manager/Director Richard Zijlma from Aruba’s capital, Oranjestad, over the weekend.

The Dutchman is bullish on the future of the still developing Electric Festival, a conference and electronic music festival featuring three days' worth of speakers (everyone from electronic music producers to a Harvard University professor speaking on the ‘Dutch Caribbean Roots of Modern Day Club Music’), and five nights of DJs (headliners this year included DJ Chuckie, Carnage and Knife Party) at a main festival site and tangentially related sets popping up at smaller clubs on the Caribbean island.

“It started with DJ Chuckie,” said Zijima of the initial idea for ADE to lend its brand to a site outside of Amsterdam, where it has been holding its successful annual event for nearly two decades. “He moved out to the island and wanted to contribute things from the local scene…the idea was to just start small.”

And modestly the happening began in 2013, the first year for Electric Festival, where around 15,000 fans took in the main show over multiple nights (around 16,000 attended this year, organizers say, including club events) and just “a couple of hundred” paid delegates attended the fest conceived by Chuckie and his brother, Ryan Narain. But this year, the numbers were up to “around three hundred,” Zijlma said (paid delegates were just for the conference and does not include the thousands of fans who came to Aruba the 1st weekend of September from all over South and North America just to see name DJs inside the main venue set up on Nikki Beach).

This in contrast to the 5,000 delegates that gather at ADE in Amsterdam every October, which has sold out every year since 2008 and will sell out again this year, says Zijlma. Amsterdam Dance Event’s legendary club lineups at night in the city now attract more than 250,000 visitors annually.

But Zijlma notes that when he and colleges started ADE in Amsterdam in 1995, they also had only around three hundred paid delegates at the inception.

According to the general manager who works for ADE’s parent Buma Cultuur, which is a division of PRO Buma/Stemra that supports and promotes Dutch music in both The Netherlands and export markets, “[Electric Festival] is not about making a copy of ADE, because of the area and infrastructure constraints.” “For us, Electric Festival is more about to see if we can connect more with the South American market,” Zijlma adds.

And that market is growing, rapidly. Situated just 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba’s Electric Festival seems geographically poised to capture the intensity of the ascendant South American market for electronic music, where fans from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and beyond are hungry for not just more festivals, but access to and information about this business of EDM. “It’s hard to predict how big it can get,” mused Zijlma.

For now, however, the director is focused on the main event, set to take place next month in Holland, ADE.

“It is the strongest business conference for the dance world,” Zijima said of the flagship conference in Amsterdam where over 1500 artists have been announced so far, and 85 venues in Holland are taking part.

“We are talking to cities,” says Zijlma of the possibility of other Amsterdam Dance Event branded events taking place in the future outside of Holland. He stressed that nothing is confirmed, however, except that multiple cities have approached ADE with interest in hosting future events, and that for now he and his team are focused on the programming in Amsterdam for this year, and next year, which will mark the 20th anniversary of ADE.

In general, Zijlma, sees electronic music conferences developing much like the fashion industry’s multiple “must attend” events across several continents in the future. “You can compare it to major fashion weeks all over the world,” he said. “This scene will also develop a bit like this way. The great thing about electronic music is that you can connect with all other genres. … It won’t disappear.”

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