It’s the time of year many people have longed for throughout a miserable European winter - the start of Spring. A season where we begin to get excited about the prospect of sunshine and the upcoming summer schedule as the first festival seeds of the year blossom their long-awaited heads.
Kicking off the festival season in Belgium was Rampage - an event quite rightly billed as the biggest drum and bass and dubstep party in the world. But with ‘The Beast From The East’ descending on Europe (and we don’t mean Andy C) it was the wintery weather scenario everyone attending the festival had been dreading.
With people traveling from more than 45 countries to attend and travel options canceling at an alarming rate, the outcome looked bleak, literally. But an event as renowned to bass music fans as Rampage was always going to encourage people to persevere.
Rampage has become a staple event in Antwerp, growing rapidly from a 1000 capacity gathering at Trix nightclub, to a 15,000 strong party at the famed Sportpaleis arena on the outskirts of the city. For the first time in the festival’s history, it took the form of a two night event.
Before the doors opened, Rampage HQ was a hive of activity for everyone attending the event. Situated across the street in an unassuming restaurant was a pop-up merchandise store and a crowd of Rampagers surrounding themselves in bass music and beer. Everyone who visited even got a keyring. A freebie at a festival? Surely not.
Upon entering the venue, it was hard to prepare myself for what lay ahead. For years the videos on social media have had me drooling at the high-end production, but walking out into the mammoth arena left me completely speechless.
From the towering visuals wrapping around the stage and the sea of people engulfed by them, to the sheer volume of green lasers and the moving light panels dangling above the crowd - working in unison with the music to create a truly immersive experience. Welcome to Rampage.
The first night played host to a scintillating line up in which the enormity of the festival was put into context. Kings of The Rollers followed by Maduk, Doctor P B2B Flux Pavillion, Camo & Krooked, Pendulum and Andy C - was this a dream? That was only part of the schedule.
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One of the most highly anticipated sets of the night came from Camo & Krooked, who have become Rampage favorites over the years with performances that have gone down in history as some of the greatest. This year was no different. But their set did bring with it a new experience in their Mosaik live show.
From breathtaking visuals of crumbling soldiers and the CK logo beaming over the crowd like the Batman beacon, to seamless live mixing that made the set sound like a polished musical composition. This was a special show teaming with nostalgia through the inclusion of legendary tracks such as "Climax" and their remix of John B’s "Numbers" - two songs that have helped define the C&K journey.
To say that C&K were a chilled out act would be wrong, but considering what followed, their set acted as a warm-up for a night of pure chaos. From the uncontrollable mosh pits breaking out during Flux Pavilion and Doctor P’s dubstep onslaught, to Andy C raining d’n’b dub plates and double drops on the crowd whilst MC Tonn Piper hyped the Rampagers and ran across the stage as Superman after having a cape thrown at him from the crowd.
All night it was clear how much Rampage meant to everyone. From endless crowd skanking to the DJs in disbelief at the horde of people they were playing to - none more so than the closing Low Down Deep showcase. Featuring Turno, Logan D and Upgrade, this was a momentous moment for a label who were voted as the best in the scene at the Drum & Bass Awards on the same weekend.
The occasion clearly meant a lot to them as they kicked off their set with a flurry of unreleased tracks they had held back in anticipation of Rampage. Despite it being 5am, the trio unleashed a ferociously quick jump up mix and even Turno was running around the stage like it was the start of the night. They signed off day one in style.
Day two started off as a struggle. Wandering around Antwerp it was clear the Rampagers who had forced themselves out of their slumber were feeling rather fragile. None more so than the guy who approached me during the afternoon wearing last night’s costume - struggling to formulate a question asking where the nearest kebab shop was.
But as soon as night descended and the Sportpaleis doors reopened, the energy levels quickly resumed. To my shock, there was actually a queue of people forming at the door prior to the 7pm start - true Rampage soldiers.
Depending on your music tastes, the second night of the event was arguably considerably weaker than the first. However, the line up did still include Dirtyphonics, Chase & Status and Cookie Monsta B2B FuntCase.
Taking the reigns of the first part of the night was a special showing from Viper Recordings, alongside sets from Rampage co-founder Murdock and the Disciple crew. But it was the midnight set from SASASAS that drew the biggest and most pumped up crowd.
The group that shut down last year’s Rampage started with a drawn-out intro where many in the crowd got down low chanting ‘SAS’ in anticipation of the group walking out on stage. The amount of phones raised in the air filming was crazy, this performance was the one everyone had been waiting for.
As the music dropped and the MC’s ran out on stage, a massive cheer erupted. This was followed by roars and screw faces to every drop. I was always aware the jump up d’n’b scene was popular in Belgium, but not on such a huge scale. Everywhere you looked smiles were beaming and mosh pits were opening.
This was not just any normal set though, it was an emotional one for both SASASAS and the crowd. With MC Stormin’s recent passing, it was a performance fuelled with passion to remember one of the greats.
There was a touching tribute to Stormin during the performance when the lights and music turned down low and the arena was illuminated by lighters and phones to pay homage to Stormin, whilst an image of his face flashed up on the screens behind the stage. It was a beautiful moment of unity between everyone.
The second half of the night carried on with the same momentum, with Chase & Status laying down a blend of grime and d’n’b, while Cookie Monsta and FuntCase demonstrated great showmanship with Funtcase jumping on the decks head-banging in his mask and Cookie Monster waving a flag behind the booth. Needless to say, the mosh pits were hitting uncontrollable sizes.
It was Dirtyphonics who produced one of the sets of the entire festival, as the French producers brought a fiery mix of dubstep and d’n’b, which perfectly intertwined into a frantic rollercoaster of heavy rolling bass music. The way the duo built up drops and suddenly switched to different styles had the crowd skanking hard.
From constantly dropping VIPs and exclusives, to putting fresh spins on tracks that have been overused over the years - such as DJ Hazard and D*Mind’s "Mr. Happy." Their performance was relentless energy from start to finish and is why so many people pleaded they return to the line up after their initial 2015 Rampage outing,
As Rampage drew to a close, the crowd inside the arena was still heaving. Being from the UK, I’m used to seeing crowds disperse when it hits 5am, so it was a testament to the people who had traveled from all over the world to relish every minute of the event.
Ending the night was Hedex, an artist Belgium has fallen in love with over recent years. A guy next to me in the crowd summed it up best - ‘‘jump up as the last set again… What are you doing to me Rampage?’ Putting one of the heaviest artists as the closer was always going to be the way two magical nights of hefty bass music would end.
Until next time Rampage.