If there is one organization standing out at this year’s Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), it’s Audio Obscura. Having steadily manifested themselves as the Dam’s number one spotters of stunning off-locations since 2013—staging legendary events like Sven Väth at the Concertgebouw and Underworld under the Rijksmuseum—they are now stepping up their ADE game with a total of eleven events in four different locations, Central Station, the Maritime Museum, The Loft and a former prison called Bijlmerbajes. Some of dance music’s most revered artists are playing there, like Seth Troxler, Nina Kraviz, Joris Voorn, Stephan Bodzin. We sat down with owner Naut Donders to talk about convincing even the most reluctant believers of your ideas.
Written by Aron Friedman
The School of House: Audio Obscura is owned by you and your partner Jeroen Fontein. Can you tell us about both your backgrounds?
Naut Donders: “Jeroen used to have a bookings agency, and he has also worked in film and TV scores. I studied at Team Academy in Haarlem, a school for entrepreneurship. After my internship at GZG, I worked at Studio 80 for a while. Then I started as a manager and booker at Jeroen’s agency. By the time the company was dissolved, we had already launched Audio Obscura.”
Naut Donders (left) and Jeroen Fontein (right) (Photo: Tim Buiting)
TSOH: What was the initial Audio Obscura concept, and how has it developed over the years?
ND: “Our initial idea was to stage contemporary musicians in classical buildings like concert halls. We figured it made just as much sense for modern composers to play at concert halls as it does for classical composers. Concert halls are meant for music, and we felt we had to push the boundaries for electronic music in places like those. Pushing boundaries is still what we strive for, even though our scope has broadened. That’s why after two editions at the Rijksmuseum, we’re moving on to new venues.”
TSOH: These off-locations must be a challenge to produce; no infrastructure, no experience with music events?
ND: “Definitely. It took us a total of fifteen visits to the Bijlmer prison just to prepare our license application. The place was never built for mass gatherings, so we’re going to have to drill our way through prison walls to make sure we have enough emergency exits—a very costly endeavor.
TSOH: How do you even start convincing monumental institutions like the Rijksmuseum to throw a rave with you?
ND: “Well, that’s one of the hardest parts of our job. Throughout the year, we visit at least one location a week, and only two to four of them actually work out, or sometimes take years to work out. The first thing we heard when we sat down with the Rijksmuseum in 2010 was: ‘Sorry guys, never going to happen.’ But we weren’t let down. We persevered, kept on coming back until they were on the same page as us.
“As long as you’re passionate, convinced of your story, there has to be a way to convince the other person. But in order to make them see what you’re seeing, you have to start looking at things from their perspective first. In 2016, the Rijks wanted to promote their musical instruments, so we found a way to connect with Maceo Plex.
“Once the museum experienced the hype around the event (we had 66k attendees on Facebook that first year!) and saw how we took care of production, they trusted us, and we got a lot done more quickly. Everything became a lot easier the next year with Underworld. We just had to prove ourselves.
“Institutions like the Rijks are very careful about things like these. They don’t need to throw a rave, or at least they don’t think they do, haha. But in the end, the entire collaboration proved to be beneficial for both parties. Rijksmuseum became known with a huge younger audience, and we cemented our name further as an organization. Now that we have a track record, it has become a lot more easy to knock on other doors, like the Bijlmerbajes and the Maritime Museum.”
ADE under the Rijksmuseum (Photo: Katja Rupp)
TSOH: You have eleven events coming up at four different locations. How do you manage that with two people in one week?
ND: “Tell me about it… It’s going to be horrendous, haha! And that’s not even all, because we’re yet to announce more nights this coming week. Luckily, we’re working with a solid team of senior producers. They’re extremely skilled at making the best of these locations.”
TSOH: In earlier interviews, you hinted at an international expansion. What are the developments there?
ND: “It has long been our dream to take Audio Obscura abroad. Until recently, we hadn’t found a suitable location yet. We have found one now, but I’m still reluctant to talk about it too much. I can tell you the building something out of a fairy tale. But I want to make sure the conditions are exactly right before I make it public. We’re not going to do anything if we can’t make it work exactly as we envision it.”
Check out Audio Obscura’s ADE Agenda:
18/10: Audio Obscura x Spectrum w/ Joris Voorn (Central Station)
18/10: Audio Obscura x Seth Troxler & Honey Dijon (Bijlmerbajes)
19/10: Audio Obscura x Charlotte de Witte (Central Station)
19/10: Audio Obscura x Stephan Bodzin (Maritime Museum)
19/10: Audio Obscura x Electric Deluxe & Dystopian (Bijlmerbajes)
20/10: Audio Obscura x Nina Kraviz presents Tрип (Bijlmerbajes)
20/10: Audio Obscura x Mariel Ito (Central Station)
(four more events to be announced…)