Defqon 1 may just be the most popular festival you've never heard of; hosted twice yearly by hard dance music powerhouse Q-Dance, the Dutch festival provides the biggest names in hard dance music to patrons from all corners of the world. Originally hosted in the Netherlands, the event has grown to 80,000 patrons per day and even has a second location in Australia. Complete with the biggest names in a multitude of hard dance genres, fans of everything from Hardstyle to Frenchcore (whose following is as obscure as the name) come to Defqon expecting the best from their favorite artists. To call Defqon 1 the EDC Vegas of Hard Dance might just take away from its dedicated fan base; Defqon logo hairstyles and even tattoos populate the huge festival. These people live, breathe, and dance everything Defqon. And with over 250 of the biggest names in Hard Dance, these fans expect nothing less than unforgettable sets and monumental moments.
Walking into the festival campgrounds with a suitcase full of Amsterdam souvenirs, the first thing to surprise me was the national diversity of the patrons. Within moments of entering the vast campsite in Biddinghuizen (a small town about an hour out of Amsterdam), I witnessed a dozen national flags being hoisted over a sea of tents. All corners of the Q-Dance world seemed to be represented, with nations from Australia to USA to even South Korea in attendance. Most of these tents had their own music bumping out of them, a tenant to the excitement and energy this crowd brought from all corners of the world. Talking with some patrons, it became clear that a lot of these people traveled thousands of miles. In an era where nearly every major town has a local festival to speak of, it was refreshing to see people with such dedication to the 13-year-old event. After witnessing all of this, it became increasingly appropriate that fans refer to the trip to Defqon as "the pilgrimage."
It wasn't long before arriving to the event that the sounds of hard dance began bumping out of over-sized subwoofers. After barely dropping off my belongings, I noticed two large trucks carrying a DJ and MC each. Looking like the dance music equivalent of a monster truck rally, each truck had a mob of fans following closely behind. Dubbed "The Warmup Express", these trucks may have just been the single coolest piece of production I'd ever seen. People abandoned their attempts to raise tents just to tail these trucks, preparing them for the festival's opening Friday evening.
Friday's opening event, called "The Gathering", featured only two enclosed side stages that opened at 8 PM for five hours of your choice of melodic hardstyle or fast paced hardcore. I use the term "side stage" very liberally, as these two setups blew away nearly any mainstage I have seen at a domestic event. With full lighting and three sound systems to cater to the front, middle, and back of each tent, The Gathering was a testament to the always impressive production of Q-Dance. Even those not into hard dance could appreciate the well orchestrated light show occurring in each dark enclosure. Q-Dance really did an outstanding job, providing high-level production while still maintaining the dark rave feel within the tents. The only thing more impressive than the stages were the acts themselves, with names like Max Enforcer, Mad Dog, Brennan Heart, and the duo of Gunz For Hire getting the weekend long party started. Defqon could have ended that Friday with only these stages opening, and I would have been more than content with traveling this far.
Of course, the event went on, with two more days of A-list acts over an overwhelming twelve stages still to come. Each stage was unique both in terms of aesthetics as well as sound; Q-Dance went more than out of their way to appease every genre of the hard dance community. Most big names in Hardstyle were featured on the festivals "Red" mainstage, where I got to enjoy the sounds (and quacks) of Da Tweekaz to start off. Additionally, seeing worldwide talents such as this year's anthem creator Ran-D was awe-inspiring. I could go on forever about the 14-hour day that was Saturday, seeing dozens of the biggest names in hard bass music.
Visiting one of the side stages really spoke to how in tune Q-Dance is with their audience. At no time of day did I see a single side stage empty. It was also very common to see the same faces at the same stage for hours and hours. Q-Dance's dedication to even the smaller niches of the hard dance community were apparent. Walking past the yellow stage, I first heard the sounds of Frenchcore. With a fast-paced BPM reminiscent of gabber and even faster footwork by its fans, this small side stage was nearly impossible to enter due to the number of patrons. On a lighter note, the white stage featured an impressive indoor dome, with a more club feel and shuffling abound. Being introduced to the sounds of subground was a nice break from the madness that is Defqon 1. Plenty aware of how exhausting 14 hours of hardcore can be, Q-Dance even included a number of areas to take a break from the rave. A chill out area and full-sized adult jungle gym were some of the most humorous sites at the whole festival. Their was something special about watching exhausted, drunk ravers who could hardly communicate just vibing about a single similar interest.
The final day, I was lucky enough to start a conversation with a fellow American, who was part of the group "Q-Dance Goes To Defqon 1." In an attempt to spread the popularity of hard dance in Europe to North America, Q-Dance gave special recognition to those who took the Pilgrimage over the Atlantic. QSA members were allowed a picture in front of the mainstage before opening. In one of the most memorable experiences of my festival career, the 100+ people dedicated to Defqon gathered in front of the massive setup. It was with these extremely friendly people who I spent the closing moments of my Defqon 1 experience. Watching the entire festival pack into the mainstage for "The Closing Ceremony" was somewhat unreal; never had I seen an entire festival joined into a single location to mutually close out an amazing experience. The festival's three-hour closing featured "Defqon 1 Legends", a compilation of Noisecontrollers, Wildstylez, and the legendary DJ Isaac. The crowd then spent its last hours at Defqon dancing to an array of lasers, fireworks, and music unseen anywhere else. Halfway across the world, surrounded by people with so many differences, I felt a connection based solely on a love for music. And that in itself might have been the most impressive part of Defqon 1.