Minimal marathon: VBX’s 10th birthday showcased its influential role in Amsterdam’s underground

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Set across the IJ, Amsterdam’s wide waterfront that separates the main body of the city from its neighbourhood of Amsterdam Noord, is one of the city’s most distinctive venues. As thousands of tourists and locals ride or stroll along the riverside, you can’t miss the imposing A’DAM tower. Glance up and a flash of lights in the window gives away The Loft – Amsterdam’s club in the sky.

We’re here for the 10th birthday of VBX, a party that has over the past decade developed into Amsterdam’s premier dance for underground house, techno and minimal. With its long hours and even longer afterparties, its events have become a destination – as I discover after being instantly greeted by someone on the dancefloor who boarded the same flight from London Gatwick to Amsterdam Schipol earlier that day.

The party in its current guise was founded in 2013 by Niels Modderkolk, as an evolution from long-running precursor party Vrijbuiters. Held up by a love for the subtler sides of the dance music spectrum – its growth has been intertwined with the history of dance music in the city. “At the time in Amsterdam [before VBX was founded], you clubbed from 11:PM to 5:AM and that was it,” says Reiss, VBX resident and Amsterdam staple.

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But that would all start to change in that same year of VBX’s genesis. After Mirik Milan was posted as the city’s first ever Night Mayor – an influential move that has been copied with varying levels of success in other cities – he helped to introduce 24-hour licenses for a handful of venues around the city.

“It was super important and changed the whole dynamic for us – throwing a party until 5:AM didn’t make sense,” says Modderkilk. “We need at least 10 hours, 12 hours to tell our story and bring our journey.”

Amsterdam’s nightlife scene has been largely a success story over the past decade, transforming into a 24-hour city each Saturday. VBX has been at the forefront of the shift – being one of the first parties in the city to regularly organise long, extended sessions, while its ADE events have become some of the city weekender’s most important. Having previously hosted the likes of Ricardo Villalobos, Raresh, Margaret Dygas and many more, all of the big hitters in the wider sphere of minimal have played throughout the years.

And to celebrate those 10 years, VBX has organised in fitting fashion a back-to-back-to-back party marathon, with its story beginning just after lunch on the Saturday at the aforementioned Loft, running all the way past 7:PM on Sunday evening at Amsterdam’s favourite cuboid venue in a container BRET, via a Saturday night in the expansive LOFI.

Entering The Loft via a tacky-yet-entertaining elevator fitted with a disco ball and tech-house at 5:PM – only a few hours since the party proceedings had kicked off (and sadly after Malika’s opening set had finished) – the party is already in full swing. With the early Spring sunshine beaming through its floor-to-ceiling windows, gracing the decks is Reiss alongside Praslea, one of Romanian minimal’s leading lights. The duo are spinning warm deep house and minimal, before moving into darker, heftier breakbeats as night time began to move in. With a four-hour set, it’s a special coming together for the DJs and the party, in an important setting for them. “We have a long working relationship with Praslea,” says Modderkilk. “We booked him 14 or 15 years ago for Vrijbuiters. It was Reiss’s idea to bring him [at first], and ever since the two have been staying in contact.”

With its panoramic views over the Netherlands’s biggest city, The Loft is a perfectly Instagrammable spot, and much of the crowd obliged, pulling selfies against windows or hosting their phones in the air. It’s absolutely fun, and despite the dancefloor being almost too packed to move – the crowd were loving it. The music though is let down slightly by the soundsystem, which though loud lacks clarity at points, as some of the subtlety of the tracks feels lost in the woofing bass.

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“We both really enjoyed it,” Reiss says. “We thought it was too short, but it was super nice. The Loft has character – with high ceilings and long windows it’s not acoustically ideal, but it definitely makes up for in charisma.” Bringing proceedings there to a close, London-based DJ, producer and former fabric resident Voigtmann turns the music towards more groove-focused, house music material, before attentions start to turn towards the elevator back to the ground.

LOFI couldn’t be a more different affair. Gone are the windows to the outside world, and instead: a cavernous, dimly-lit warehouse, which at best estimates could fit 2,000 people. Arriving shortly after midnight – with Christian AB playing slow, headsy house and techno replete with spooky vocals and acid squelches to a rapidly filling room – the atmosphere feels anticipatory.

And for good reason, he was warming the floor for Zip. Down the decades Perlon boss and minimal icon has built a reputation for his ability to build and hold a groove, and owing to the rarity of appearances outside of Berlin, seeing him play always feels like an event. “Bringing together 10 years of VBX history was one of the most difficult processes in my life,” Modderkilk says. “[But] we need Zip, because without Zip we wouldn’t be here, he laid the foundation of our scene. He’s the one who brought minimal music, which was once our biggest inspiration.

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“Nowadays, we bring much more than minimal,” he continues. “But his legacy is what inspired us and made us want to be involved in this and to bring our own vibe.” Zip’s set is certainly the highlight of the night – and weekend – as he masterfully blends heads down minimal with gorgeous deep house in an entrancing three-hour set.

Italian maestro Francesco Del Garda then wraps up the night, playing a mix of house, techno and electro oddities, as the crowd refuses to thin. “He’s a continuation for Zip for me,” says Reiss. “When I started DJing, he was playing breaky minimal stuff, and then he became completely addicted to digging and it shows – he’s one of the DJs who nails the digging thing but is a proper DJ as well.”

As the hour hit 7:AM, a small handful of those not quite ready to call it a night make the short, five-minute stroll down the road to BRET – an unsuspectingly excellent venue given its humble red shipping container exterior. With its intimate dancefloor, natural light, perfectly-crisp soundsystem and ample square footage dedicated to chilling – it’s a perfect spot for a Sunday party dripping with afters energy.

On opening duties is local digger and VBX resident Frank Haag classily warming the floor with subtle tech-house and microhouse, before another resident and LEMAIA founder Alexia Glesney ramps up the energy as the room begins to fill with fresh dancers, many of whom have chosen the Sunday as their day for a blowout. After two preceding events at large-scale, characterful spaces, the last leg of the journey feels the most celebratory.

As much as the party’s history is tied up with the history of Amsterdam, so too is its connection with BRET. The venue itself recently celebrated its eight birthday with its own 18 hour Sunday party, having opened in 2015 – which could not have been timed better for VBX. In 2016, its former home of warehouse venue Cruquiusgilde was forced to shut, after noise complaints, leaving VBX’s organisers scrambling to find another venue it belonged. “Cruquiusgilde was really the foundation of it all, but we had to transfer it in the end after it was forced to close,” says Reiss. “But it was a good thing in the end, BRET turned out amazing in the end.”

“It’s a club with a small dancefloor that has an intimate vibe – the sound has always been proper, and it feels like a playground with its garden,” Modderkilk adds. “Over the years we’ve had amazing parties, with ecstatic vibes – BRET feels like home.”

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After the residents wrap up, with the dancefloor fully packed, comes the big surprise – an unannounced back-to-back set from Christian AB and Francesco Del Garda, with the two DJs having only played together once before. Spinning records for the best part of three hours, the pair find a sweet middle ground between their disparate styles, mixing rare trance-inspired cuts, hip house, with a sprinkling of Italo on top. “It’s a match made in heaven,” says Reiss. “I [really like] the super sophisticated, banging house stuff – it really struck a chord with people.”

But perhaps the set that has the crowd going for it the most comes immediately after from London underground scene regular, Toi.Toi. and Cartulis resident Junki Inoue. Bringing his bag of sleek, classy grooves, mixed reliably tightly, his set was fun and extremely danceable, with that Sunday afterparty liveliness that’s hard to capture in any other club scenario. A high-energy, techno forward set from Doudou MD followed, before the marathon was closed off by Moscow-born, Amsterdam-based head Makcim, who brought the final slice of magic. “Makcim is like the king of BRET,” says Modderkilk. “But he’s moved to Portugal with his wife and kid and is less focused on DJing, but he came and smashed it. It was epic – really epic.”

It wraps up the marathon party in fitting style for Reiss and Modderkilk, whose attentions now turn towards taking the party on tour, with dates lined up across Europe, Australia and South America for the coming year. “That set was very representative of what we want to do with VBX actually,” says Reiss. “It was party, but it was elegant – he really nailed it.”

Isaac Muk is a freelance writer and Socials Editor at Huck Magazine, follow him on Twitter

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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