The Antwerp Sportpaleis is possibly the very last place you would expect to find crowds dressed as British policeman, skanking to London Drum and Bass collective SASASAS. Yet over the weekend the venue was host to the festival - billed as "the biggest drum & bass and dubstep party in the world – filling the 20,000 capacity venue with 180 bpm anthems.
Belgium's drum and bass scene doesn't begin and end at Rampage. Hospitality have successfully operated in Antwerp’s Trix nightclub since 2011, and D+B promoters Stealth Bombers running multiple events all over the city – bringing big names like Sigma and Friction, with unparalleled production values, making it an ever more attractive prospect for young producers.
Starwarz based in Ghent has been another massive success for the genre in Belgium, in conjunction with Exit Records and Outlook Festival, managed to attract the likes of Commix, Randall and Fre4kNC in November.
Though Rampage has easily confirmed itself as the world’s premier Drum and Bass event in recent years. The Organiser, Belgian-based producer Murdock, has worked closely with London’s biggest acts to bring variety to Rampage’s line-up, managing to attract 15,000 Drum and Bass fans (from 35 countries) into an arena usually reserved for global music stars like Beyoncé. Last year’s edition saw a mix of new Belgian talent and London heavyweights, like Doctor P, Doctorine, DJ Guv – alongside Mefjus and MC Mota.
The music erred towards dub-step, on the first night crowd pleasers Camo and Krooked played live b2b with Pendulum – who had the majority local crowd shouting in anticipation.The more EDM-leaning set of Flux Pavilion came later with household bops like "I can't stop" and "hold me close" mixed easily into a bassy rendition of Clean Bandits "Rather Be", US producer Barely Alive blasted out trappy classics "Elastic Nightmare" and "Boston Shit". Alongside the international Dubstep names were some British heavyweights – Rinse FM's Youngsta made his Rampage debut, as did Dubstep Allstars Dj Hatcha.
When asking the crowds who they were anticipating the most however, it was the British drum and bass producers on everyone's lips. Andy C's Friday set appeared to cause a swell in the football-pitch-sized audience, who moved under the rooftop lasers in waves. Mixed in with some of his classics like 2003's "Drum and Bass Arena" and his UKF produced track "Haunting", were poppy anthems which felt like a remedy to the harder, more serious Dubstep that had featured before him – a sample DJ Fresh's "Gold Dust" had the crowd reaching down the floor (all 10,000 of them). SASASAS followed suit, rounding out their dirty set with a soulful mix of Wilkinson's "Afterglow".
Chase and Status felt like a moment of cultural exchange, playing straight after Canadian dub-step/trap act Snails, the Londoners alongside the legendary MC Rage delivered a set of bassy anthems to a European crowd miming every lyric. There were teenagers brandishing union jacks as they sprang to action at the drop in "Pieces"; just the starting bars of "No Problems" elicited screams from the audience.
The crowd wasn't your classic bucket-hat wearing drum and bass crowd seen in London raves. The crowd stood on seats on the sides of the arena, jacking – not skanking. There were exclamations of relief at the drops, with LEDs and Rampage branded bikini tops replacing the sportswear we're more common with. There was a nostalgia there, it appeared we were back in the fleeting era in 2010/11, hooked on relentless and moshing to "Propane Nightmares" – but this wasn't a bad thing, the giddy, recklessness remained in spirit from those days; but was now accompanied by once-in-a-lifetime light shows, and well-established acts that had solidified their place in musical history.
The focus is always the visuals at Rampage – not the names, producers at this year’s event proudly declared: “we spend half the budget on the lights… the talent doesn't come anywhere close, we sort the lights out and the talent comes later”. Most of the lights hung from the ceiling, on levitating brackets that moved up and down with the music to shine high above one minute, and then drop down – to create the illusion of being in an underground sweaty club, despite the actual location being one of Europe biggest indoor events spaces.
The sheer magnitude of seeing so many people at an electronic music event was shocking enough – to see them constantly illuminated by the breathtaking visuals coming not only from the stage, but also in different points around the room, felt like a spectacle within itself. It was easy to lose yourself staring into the crowd, event when your attention was thoroughly demanded at the front.
In such an odd period of relations with our European neighbours, it felt heartening to see thousands of Belgians smiling into each others faces reciting "No Problem". This can't be an indicator of British cultural influence over Belgium, or Europe post-brexit – but despite frustration in talks in Brussels... in Antwerp, locals indicated that maybe we can still be friends after all.
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