Dutch Dance, 1988-2018: How the Netherlands Took the Lead in Electronic Music Culture
University of Southern California (US)
In an iconic scene from The Social Network, young Mark Zuckerberg and Napster-founder Sean Parker are sitting in a sleek dance club in San Francisco. While discussing business, they are immersed in some hypnotic music bordering on progressive house or trance. The track is Cassius’s “The Sound of Violence”, but as remixed by Dennis De Laat, a producer from the Netherlands. Moreover, De Laat’s mix was released on a sublabel of Spinnin’ Records, one of the bestselling dance labels in the world—itself based in Hilversum near Amsterdam. That a Dutch producer would soundtrack a key scene from a film concerned with big-tech entrepreneurship would come as no surprise to Mark van Bergen, the author of Dutch Dance, 1988-2018: How the Netherlands Took the Lead in Electronic Music Culture. The topic of this book is primarily the history and rise of Dutch dance music both within Holland and abroad.
When exploring the lineups of major EDM festivals over the last decade, the presence of global stars from the Netherlands certainly stands out: Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, Martin Garrix, Afrojack, Hardwell, Chuckie, and Nicky Romero, to name a few. However, partly because of underground tendencies that avoid the commercial mainstream, EDMC studies has scarcely touched on why and how these Dutch stars came to have such prominence in dance pop. Dutch Dance is the first book in English to attempt a recounting of this history up through commercial success. The book is divided into four chapters, or “dance stages”, that explore the respective decades of this history, from the 1980s to the 2010s. A longtime journalist and lecturer on EDM and the music industry, van Bergen has assembled an impressive array of interviews and insider knowledge. Dutch Dance is also a long-time project, as this book is an expanded edition of an original 2013 publication that covered a 25-year history. Van Bergen’s publisher, Mary Go Wild, is itself the publishing wing of a key dance store in Amsterdam that was launched in 2013. Mary Go Wild, as store and publishing house, resulted from a successful book launch of a volume of the same name. Multiple books focusing on Dutch dance have followed, the majority of which have not appeared in English (e.g. Bergen 2013).
Given this relative scarcity of English scholarly resources, questions of presenting and translating Dutch dance history for an international audience are key. The volume’s strengths lie here in that it is primarily a scene history, with a wealth of details, although I will discuss some critical responses to the framing and analysis of this history. I recommend that readers focus on the insights into the music industry and the regional dance scenes discussed by van Bergen. As an overarching history of four decades, the book explores key styles in Dutch dance’s evolution. In the 1980s chapter, van Bergen primarily explores the reception of disco, house, techno, and new beat in Holland, emphasizing the foundations of dance music in queer and Black American dance cultures. Regarding the 1980s scene in Holland, particular attention is given to pioneering DJs such as Eddy de Clercq and Joost van Bellen at the Amsterdam club RoXY, as well as Hillegonda Rietveld’s experiences at the Hacienda when house music exploded. Van Bergen promotes the notion of a Dutch “Autumn of Love” as a response to the famed British “Summer of Love” in 1988. This idea resituates and complicates the UK focus in the development of rave culture, demonstrating a transnational evolution of rave across Europe.
In the 1990s chapter, van Bergen shifts to a key period of transformation in Dutch dance culture. He emphasizes the innovations of Dutch gabber and hardcore, and the founding of the event organization ID&T, which has had lasting marks on Dutch dance to this day. Importantly, van Bergen does not forget Holland’s key success at this time with respect to Eurodance, exploring acts from Twenty 4 Seven to 2 Unlimited, followed later by the Vengaboys. Such a focus demonstrates the long history of dance pop in Holland beyond current EDM stars. Van Bergen points out key features in 1990s rave, such as the links between gabber and soccer culture, as well as the full array of hardcore DJs from Paul Elstak to Gizmo. He further addresses the debates on the shift by Paul Elstak to happy hardcore, along with stars such as Charlie Lownoise and Mental Theo. Still, critical limits to the national focus in this narrative emerge here. A number of transnational stories are left out. With respect to gabber, van Bergen surprisingly only makes mention of inspirations from the Belgian scene, with no discussion of the influences of Marc Acardipane and PCP Records from Frankfurt, as well as Lenny Dee and Industrial Strength in New York. In terms of techno and house, I would also have been interested in more discussion of the international networks of pioneering artists such as Speedy J and Miss Djax. To be sure, there is a great deal to cover in this history, and van Bergen lays important groundwork in addressing this decade.
When he turns to the 2000s, important shifts are also highlighted. By the beginning of the 2000s, the massive influence of three Dutch trance stars—Tiësto, Ferry Corsten, and Armin van Buuren—could be observed, along with the refinement of gabber into the more accessible and popular genre of hardstyle. He also highlights the founding of another major events company, Q-Dance, in connection with hardstyle. Important stories are recounted here in how various artist networks evolved: for example, Ferry Corsten’s production talents were combined with Tiësto’s focus on DJing. Trance stars were also becoming representative of a new transnational European identity, reflected in Tiësto’s famous DJ-set at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece. Van Bergen also reminds us of some major shifts in monetary and political organization that are sometimes not addressed in dance history—for example, the introduction of the Euro in 2002, along with the continued expansion of the E.U. and the Schengen area (172-73).
These developments of trance and hardstyle then lead to the 2010s and the “fourth stage”, with the particular Dutch stamp on EDM pop with a new generation of stars such as Martin Garrix and Hardwell, with major commercial success in the USA. Indeed, this final chapter is properly called “Vegas Billboards”. Van Bergen emphasizes that “enormous billboards in hotspot cities like Miami and Las Vegas display the faces of Dutch DJs” (234). I can attest to such billboards in Hollywood, as well as on a visit to Las Vegas in 2013. Images of Tiësto, along with Scottish star Calvin Harris, were displayed on the MGM Grand casino in sizes equal to the announcements of David Copperfield and Cirque du Soleil. However, despite the chapter’s title, I did not find many details on Las Vegas’s particular history, such as Tiësto’s move to Las Vegas and his residency at Club Hakkasan at the MGM Grand. Still, in taking this review full circle back to The Social Network, van Bergen at least discusses the rise and expansion of the aforementioned Spinnin’ records as a global label and brand (249-256).
Beyond these detailed scene histories, however, the results in Dutch Dance when it comes to a critical analysis of the music industry and dance culture are decidedly mixed. The tone of the writing tends too much toward pop rhetoric. For example, Van Bergen states with casual positivity that Dutch dance’s brand “has gone from strength to strength” (10). The constant mix of historical narration and interview quotations, some of which read like PR statements, does not provide enough variation in analysis. A troubling feature for scholars, there are also no footnotes or page number citations, so it can be difficult to locate van Bergen’s sources (though a bibliography and an index are included). Furthermore, there are repeated attempts to compare Holland in the age of EDM to the Dutch Golden Age, which borders too much on clichés rather than a close analysis of Dutch politics, culture, and economics since the 1970s. Van Bergen primarily positions the Netherlands as a place of neoliberal entrepreneurship, with music little different from any other import cargo, which can be refined and sold around the globe (272–273). Little critique regarding this is offered, although Dutch EDM stars have come under heightened scrutiny regarding cultural appropriation and the excesses of commercialization – more recently by house legend Marshall Jefferson. Quite a number of underground Dutch artists are left out of the picture in this later EDM-star focus, though again, EDMC scholarship has also not done enough to address the pop mainstream. How this history is framed and critiqued within the context of dance music and the current crisis in the festival economy will be ever more important. Van Bergen does, however, provide a detailed history across four decades, which demonstrates that major stars such as Tiësto certainly did not emerge out of thin air. More research on Dutch dance history and festival culture is needed, which hopefully will include translations of more recent memoires published by Mary Go Wild and related organizations.
van Bergen, Mark. 2013. Dutch Dance: 25 Jaar dance in Nederland. Amsterdam: Xander Uitgevers.
 For a comparable discussion, see Gert Van Veen’s “Amsterdam’s Autumn of Love” in Resident Advisor: https://ra.co/features/1945
 See the report in Rolling Stone in 2013: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/tiesto-commits-to-long-term-residency-in-las-vegas-48833/
 See Marshall Jefferson, “Why I Quit Djing”, in Mixmag, 28 October, 2020. https://mixmag.net/feature/marshall-jefferson-why-i-quit-djing