Selling out Belgium’s biggest indoor venue for a weekend-long party is no small feat. Doing it 2 months in advance is a record. “Now that’s what you call a nice present for your 10th birthday party”, says founder Hans Machiels aka Murdock. His team is on a roll, having announced their first edition of a full on 2-day festival in July, fully dedicated to drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep. Long story short: it’s an overload of good news for team Rampage. We linked up with Murdock for a conversation about his brainchild and the state of drum ‘n’ bass today.
First of all: congratulations on this remarkable achievement!
Last year was the first time we did two days of Rampage, a full weekend of mayhem with over 20 hours of drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep – but we were sold out 10 days before the event. This blew us away because we really didn’t expect to sell all the tickets the first time we did 2 nights in a row. Now, we felt we couldn’t go back to just one day, especially since it’s our 10th anniversary. We have a slightly higher capacity now and when people arrive at the venue, they will see why. It will be a nice surprise. So it’s great to see the tickets fly out the door faster than ever. We’ve sold out a whopping two months in advance and we are flooded additional ticket requests!
You have seen drum ‘n’ bass evolve from its early jungle beginnings to filling up Belgium’s biggest indoor venue. What’s your take on what the scene looks like right now?
When I first got into the music, my world wasn’t much bigger than the city I lived in. Nowadays, the whole globe is within reach and distance has become relative. If something happens at the other side of the world, you can experience it online in realtime. To me, that’s the biggest difference: people are flying in or driving to Rampage from over 60 countries because they’ve seen it online. The trip to Belgium just has become a lot more feasible with cheap travel now.
Musically speaking, it’s all about cycles. The big thing in drum ‘n’ bass right now is rollers: pretty minimal drums with huge midrange stabs that sound like foghorns or some growling monster in a horror movie. It takes a lot from the jungle era and it has a cool, underground vibe to it. At the same time, there are still plenty of neuro fans that like it really hard, or jump up fans that just want to bounce. But at the end of the day, people seem to enjoy the musical side of this genre, which you can tell by the huge Spotify plays for vocal and vibey tracks. My vocal-led ‘Can’t Keep Me Down’ on V Recordings easily surpassed 700.000 plays in less than a year without any real radio or press support, solely because it was used in a lot of DJ-sets.
I get the impression that people are only willing to travel to events that really stand for something.
And then there’s dubstep, which is having a big moment now. The big tear-out sound, particularly popular in the U.S., is starting to make serious waves over here as well. The ‘riddim’ movement has ushered people back into the arms of the original dubstep dons. Dubstep, the proper dubstep, that real, bass-driven sound, is really popping off again in London and the young guns doing riddim are popularizing this movement with their updated version of this sound.
Lineup-wise, you skipped the massive A list artists, booking only hardened drum ’n’ bass names (like Andy C, DJ Hype or DJ Hazard) as headliners instead. That makes selling out all the more impressive. Weren’t you afraid this tactic could backfire?
All the big waves in drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep are coming from the underground. It’s mostly new producers that come up with new ways of approaching the well-known recipe, creating a buzz along the way. Since I feel that Rampage should be about the essence of music and the gathering of real followers of the movement, everything just came together naturally. Although I do try to hit the different key elements of both genres with the different acts I book, selling tickets is not what’s on my mind during the process. But when the jigsaw gets pieced together just right, everyone in the scene seems to feel addressed.
Do you feel like making your event more niche actually helps you attract more people?
Again, it’s not a conscious choice as such, but I do get the impression that people are only willing to travel to events that really stand for something, that have a clear, outlined profile. Just look at the house and techno festivals that are doing so well across the continent: they wouldn't get more people in if they put on some flash-in-the-pan crossover hitmaker, they would most likely loose people, especially in the long run.
Now that you’ve also announced the Rampage Open Air weekend at the end of July, do you intend to make Rampage a brand that can compete with the giants of the Belgian festival circuit?
We’re not trying to compete. We’re trying to do our own thing. There’s too much competition as it is and everyone could take a few notes from the way things are handled in the drum ‘n’ bass scene, where big events co-exist and cooperate. Most of the big events just take place just once a year, so people want to party on the other weekends as well. That’s why you will need other parties and festivals too. And besides, if the crowd at Rampage Open Air is anything like the one in Sportpaleis, we will have around 60 to 70% of foreign visitors. So we are definitely not trying to eat into other festivals’ crowds.
Everyone could take a few notes from the way things are handled in the drum ‘n’ bass scene, where big events co-exist and cooperate.
That said, we’ll just see how things evolve. The daily capacity for this year’s Rampage Open Air is 15.000 per day and I would be very impressed if we can fill that up. And if we do, we can look into making it a bit bigger next year. There is no use in being too ambitious I think. the most important thing right now is to create something that has an identity of its own, a place where people will feel at home, an event that ticks all the right Rampage-boxes, something we can be proud of and we’ll be happy to look back on down the line.
How will you be able to successfully transfer that Sportpaleis energy to an outdoor stage?
We are putting a lot of thought and effort into the production of the three stages at Rampage Open Air in order to make sure we bring that same audio-visual experience. We will be working with tent- and dome-like structures to create an indoor feel while being outdoors, without losing the summer vibe. Additionally, the last weekend of July should (statistically at least) come with the best weather of the whole summer. So we aim to give people the best of both worlds: the mad rave vibes of LEDs, lights and lasers, but the holiday feeling of being away from the world for a while as well. We have permission to go on until 3 a.m., so we’ve got plenty of time to build the energy throughout the day and well into the night. The camping site will be right next to the festival, so people can go to sleep almost instantly after the last lights go out and really have plenty of time to rest up before we go back at it again. And if they don’t want to rest, they can grab a drink at the all-night bars! We intend to pour some of that special Rampage sauce over the whole weekend: we’re creating a haven in the middle of nowhere that will look and feel like a Mad Max world, while also providing the perfect camping grounds to make it a holiday.
You’ve also been in the studio with MC Mota to make another Rampage Anthem, which will premiere on the Rampage Weekend itself. What can we expect from that single?
Doctrine and I put the music together. It’s a bit of everything: a military style intro, frantic rave stabs in the build-up and a gruesome drop that switches up a few times. And yes, we have Mota doing a full vocal, expressing what it feels like to be a Rampage soldier. Last year, the anthem needed a little vocal input and I asked around for a bit, trying to find the right kind of voice to do so, but in the end I just ended up doing it myself. Doctrine went to town on the few bars I spit, so you can’t really recognise my voice anymore. Mota really liked the vocal drop in there and he told me if I ever wanted him to do vocals for an anthem, he’d be up for it. He really cracked up when I told him it was my voice on the track (laughs).
What could possibly be the next step after selling out a weekender at Sportpaleis and throwing a new festival?
Doing it all again? :)