With 2021 ADE Conference Canceled, Organizers Discuss What's Still Going Down in Amsterdam

Meindert Kennis and Jan-Willem
Diederick Bulstra

Meindert Kennis and Jan-Willem

There's still a lot for dance fans to do in the Dutch capital during ADE 2021, including more than 350 performances, a virtual panel & a charity initiative.

As with just about all live events during the ongoing pandemic, the return of the Amsterdam Dance Event hasn't quite been seamless.

One of the dance scene's biggest and most influential industry conferences, Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) typically draws tens of thousands of professionals, fans and artists to its namesake city.

Last year, the conference happened virtually during lockdown. This year, ADE returns to a live format with the festival portion of the event, which will host roughly 350 performances in 140 venues around the city. Scene stars like Nina Kraviz, Maya Jane Coles, Jeff Mills, Armin van Buuren and many more will play, with performances beginning Wednesday and extending through this Sunday. And while the dance scene's preferred hours of the day are typically well after midnight, these sets and showcases are taking place between 6 a.m. and midnight, due to recent Dutch protocols around nightclub gatherings.

Given these restrictions and the challenges of coordinating a parallel conference event under a time crunch, ADE organizers canceled this year's conference entirely. They will, however, host a free online event, ADE in Conversation, on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Streaming from a mixed reality environment, the talk features Jon Vlassopolus (Global Head of Music at Roblox) and Oana Ruxandra (Chief Digital Officer at Warner Music Group) and others discussing the potential of mixed reality in the music industry.

ADE's annual fundraising initiative Bridges for Music, during which cyclists ride through the city and countryside before landing at ADE headquarters, will also still take place this weekend.

Here, ADE organizers Meindert Kennis and Jan-Willem van der Ven discuss the challenges and victories of bringing ADE (mostly) back to a live setting this year.

At what point did it become clear to you that the conference just wasn't going to be feasible this year? And why cancel it completely, versus just doing an online version as you did in 2020?

Kennis: After the last press conference by the Dutch government, it became clear that events were going to be allowed, but with a restriction between midnight and 6 a.m. That was on the 14th of September. That meant we had to schedule the entire programming of over 350 festival events to daytime and set up a complete conference in just a few weeks.

Which sounds tricky. 

van der Ven: We had to make a decision, which sometimes means you have to kill your darlings. Besides practical issues like restricted international travel, in order to host a top-class conference as we always do, you need a lot of time. It’s not a matter of showing up and having a chat. There are lots of narratives to set up and navigate through. If we had gone through with the conference, it would be substandard of what we want to offer. That's why we decided to focus all of our resources in making sure we could set up a festival for as many people as possible. For the industry that's in town however, we have set up a big business hangout in order to facilitate the reconnection of the industry.

And why not do the online event? Same reasons more or less?

van der Ven: Doing a full online version was not something we wanted to pursue this year, as that made a lot of sense last year when everyone was in lockdown. Now people are outside again, partying and events are starting to happen all over the place. We did organize an extended-reality showcase on Thursday to make sure we’re ahead of the curve, and to keep innovating and ensure we don't have to make these hard decisions again in the future.

Like you just said, you're still moving forward with the festival portion of ADE. Why was this music-related programming important to do this year?

Kennis: As said, within the given timeframe we got, we wanted to make sure we could give as many people the possibility to connect again -- to release and give them the feeling they’re back at where they want to be. To connect and let people do what they love without restrictions, that's the goal this year. It's truly unbelievable the whole industry, the local government and us are making this happen on this huge scale within a few weeks. It's insane.

Who do you imagine will be attending these festival events, given that the conference isn't happening? Are you still anticipating guests from abroad, and particularly from the United States, given current travel restrictions?

Kennis: A few weeks ago when we made the call, we anticipated it would be more of a local effort this year. But this hasn't been the case at all. Most artists waited until we decided ADE was taking place, while they could have easily gotten booked in another country in the meantime. When we gave the green light for the festival, instead of international artists dropping off our lineups, more were actually added to them. We have to see where visitors will come from this year. We have yet to analyze that, but it's going to be a unique one this year, that's for sure

This is the second year that the ADE conference isn't happening live due to the pandemic. Obviously other events and festivals are coming back, but do you yourselves yet feel a cohesion in the global scene? Does it really feel like things are "back" or is there still a sense of displacement?

van der Ven: Things are back in the sense that we feel this huge urge. That comes from visitors, artists, industry, everyone. We feel and see this cohesion as the urge is almost existential for everyone involved. It will be interesting to see what comes out after things have settled down a bit. What kind of genres, business models, innovations will start gaining traction? For now, everybody just wants to get out there.

Do you think there's anything dance fans or industry professionals can do to move beyond this feeling of displacement we've all experienced in the last 18 months?

van der Ven: For now, reconnection probably. Meet up, share experiences, have a laugh. Get out of your phone and into life. This connection is why we are part of this in the first place. After all, we're human beings, not robots.

A popular topic in the industry, and one you're focusing on in your ADE In Conversation event is the metaverse. What exactly is this metaverse, in the context of the dance world, and why does it have so much potential?

Kennis: The metaverse is one of those used and abused terms, but it's definitely something which will evolve in some way or another the coming years. It's where a lot of innovation will come together in the coming decades. Whether it's big tech, gaming, blockchain, innovation, VR, they will all be part of it in some way or another. By living in your phone, you're kind of already in there for a big part of your day. So whatever it will evolve into, the dance world will be part of it, as music is such an emotional product.

What's the current forecast for ADE 2022?

van der Ven: If there's one thing we learned over the past two years, is that nothing's taken for granted anymore. Of course we’re aiming for the best possible edition for 2022, and with our extended reality experiment we’re gathering data, experience and more options to be best prepared for coming editions.

Anything else you want to say?

Kennis: For the first time we’re setting up this huge beacon in Amsterdam that shines a yellow light over the city during ADE. Its a kind of lighthouse, which is our way of giving a hopeful signal to everyone and of course to tell everyone ADE will be lit!