De School nightclub in Amsterdam is so blindingly dark that your eyes don’t adjust until after you’ve descended the stairs. Deep in its basement, where techno pounds through a thicket of tall, black-clad revellers, a corridor leads to a giant rotating light-emitting orb, the highlight of a late-night art exhibition. Welcome to the new face of clubbing.
On any given weekend – in fact almost any given weekday – Amsterdam is up for a party. Whether it’s a couple of cold, frothy lagers on the terrace tables at Leidseplein square or a night of improvised jazz and juniper-flavoured jenever (gin) at Bimhuis, the Dutch capital throbs after dark.
Open all hours
Right now, it’s the electronic scene that’s getting hearts pounding. Festivals like the Amsterdam Dance Event (which showcases 2200 artists and DJs across 120 clubs each October) sells out regularly, and even the hallowed Rijksmuseum, where Rembrandt’s 1642 masterpiece The Night Watch hangs, recently invited techno DJ Maceo Plex to spin a four-hour set on its grounds.
The real party starters are Amsterdam City Hall who made the decision to nurture nightlife instead to restricting it. Much of the success can be attributed to Night Mayor Mirik Milan, the former club promoter whose job is to help the Dutch capital evolve after dark. Milan has already installed trained staff known as ‘hosts’ around Rembrandtplein square to limit disturbances from revellers as they spill out from bars and clubs, their antics illuminated by a blaze of neon signs.
He’s extended opening hours too. Seven clubs – mainly located away from the city centre – have been granted 24-hour-licenses, and it’s their day-long (or even weekend-long) parties that are starting to draw underground dance music fans from around the world. But clubbing in Amsterdam is no longer just about the music – venues are becoming cultural destinations in their own right with food, photography, performance art, talks and even gyms becoming part of the wider experience.
Where to find the best new clubs
Those after a weekend of partying should head to De School, the latest offering from the team behind Amsterdam’s legendary Trouw club. Housed in a former technical school, the dancefloor still bears the familiar coloured markings of a PE hall, as stars of the underground house and techno scenes (like Strobescopic Artefacts label boss Lucy or 90s German electronic music pioneer Roman Fluegel) test the sound system through the night. Be warned: the club is for over 21s in casual dress only; large groups will be turned away at the door.
De School is more than just a night-time hangout: it has an authentic 60s-styled gym (members only); a homely café with a sunny terrace and excellent White Label coffee; and an industrial-styled restaurant which serves a signature, seven-course tasting menu with full-flavoured wines from its open kitchen.
Another progressive party spot with a 24-hour license is RADION. Once Amsterdam's academic centre for dentistry, this immersive 1000-capacity space in Amsterdam Nieuw-West is now famed for its weekend-long parties. Huge, custom LEDs merge with projected visuals as forward-thinking DJs play pulsating club tracks.
Hosting theatre shows, art exhibitions, food markets and debates, RADION is something of a cultural centre too. Even its food offering is richly diverse, plating up thick, charcoal-grilled burgers with extra-crispy skin-on fries, and freshly-cooked tartufo (white truffle) pizzas. Real party-animals should get their teeth stuck into the club’s annual Friday-to-Sunday weekender each March.
Finding Shelter and a real political party
Whilst many clubs dedicated to electronic music are situated in the west of the city, Shelter - a purpose-built 700 capacity venue with a prized 24-hour license - is located in the basement of the A’DAM Tower in Amsterdam-Noord. To visit, take the Buiksloterweg ferry from behind Centraal Station; ferries run all night.
The decks at Shelter are positioned away from the wall, so clubbers crowd the DJ from all angles. When a storming track is dropped, the crowd erupts around the decks, creating a euphoric communal atmosphere. The club also displays audio-visual installations, paintings, and photography exhibitions from local creatives.
However, possibly the most ground-breaking gathering in Amsterdam-Noord is Progress Bar, situated within the ethereal surrounds of Paradiso. Describing itself as 'the political party you can dance to', the venue aims to make the clubbing experience similar to visiting an art gallery. Revellers can expect screenings, talks and live performances as well as DJ sets.
It’s also a haven for more diverse musical programming, so quick-witted MCs, grime-influenced acts and electronica stars can all feature. Previous Progress Bar events have also focused on transgender equality, gentrification, and the invisible power structures in society.
Amsterdam is leading the world when it comes to challenging the clubbing narrative, proving that nightclubs can be valid cultural spaces in their own right. Just make sure you bring comfortable shoes - with the city’s growing number of 24 hour licenses, you may be out a while.
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