Trouw was Holland’s Best Club… and it’s Closing This Weekend
Despite the disco politics and Berlin-worshipping, most superlatives are entirely worthy of Amsterdam's beloved clubbing institution.
photo of Trouw by Raymond van Mil
Just before closing, it's tough to write a balanced story about Trouw's legacy. The club, which opened in 2010 in a somewhat non-descript neighborhood in the east of Amsterdam, will close this weekend. In the heat of the hype, so many superlatives are being used in the Dutch media, the only nuance has been one irritated commentary amid a sea of hype. Like most Amsterdammers, I have a very emotional bond with the club. I've seen enough closings of my favorite clubs, to know January 3, is not the end of the Maya-calendar. But I also know Trouw is a unique place. Whether it was your temple or not, you can't ignore the fact that the club has been iconic for Amsterdam and for dance music in general.
The madness surrounding the closing of Trouw reminds me of that surrounding Club 11 about seven years ago. At the time, we were romanticizing the end of an era and we couldn't comprehend an Amsterdam without 11 (similar to how many of us feel now about Trouw). It was the first club I had personally experienced from the beginning to the very end. It was my life, and I couldn't imagine nightlife without it. Like most people, I fostered the false hope that it would never end. At the time, I didn't fully realize, in order to stay legendary, it needs a timely end. You can drink a carton of milk long after its expiration date, but the chance of a sour taste only increases with time.
The people of 11 and Trouw (incidentally, both clubs were run by many of the same folks) have truly understood this oft-ignored rule of nightlife. They even based their business model on it. Both clubs were able to anticipate going out with a bang, which was the key to enshrining themselves as true legends. Most clubs have a lifespan comparable to a Berlin dj-set: they go on forever and whoever's still on the floor once the lights go on, should have been in bed ages ago. Because Trouw and 11 knew long beforehand when the lights would go on, they could think about their tempo of their last months and their final record. Because of this, the last days of 11 were far more memorable than the last days of, say, Mazzo (Amsterdam's longest running techno club, 1983 – 2005).
Last night of Club 11 shows what a Phill Collins sample and a sitdown can do.
With their "here today, gone tomorrow" formula, 11 and Trouw have not only supplied a blueprint for what a club can be in the 21st Century, they have also showed Amsterdammers and the city council that the ugliest surroundings can spawn the most gorgeous thing, if given some space. In a city where 5am used to be the curfew for every nightclub, the first 24-hour permit granted to Trouw has paved the way for more lenient opening hours. Subsequent initiatives at clubs like Radion and the one in the Volkshotel hotel show how the temporary club as a concept is more viable than ever.
Trouw also made its mark on electronic music, not only in Holland, but also internationally. If you'd have walked into the club at any given moment for the past five years, you would have heard the most relevant house, techno (and other subgenres) of that moment. This indelible relevance attracted international media attention and, accordingly, plenty of foreign visitors, all of which was great for enlivening the local scene. On the other hand, Dutch artists with Trouw behind their name were warmly welcomed in many parts of the world. DJs like Sandrien, Patrice Bäumel and Job Jobse have built an international profile from their residency at Trouw, and their profiles will continue to grow. Guys like Elias Mazian, Tsepo and Tim Hoeben, for whom Trouw provided a first serious stage, are also here to stay.
Over the years, Trouw has also endured criticism—some of it justified. There were many complaints about the repetitiveness of artists who frequenting the decks. Like many choices the club made, this has been a very conscious—and smart—choice of creative director Olaf Boswijk. From day one, he's been building long-lasting relationships with international artists, based on a shared musical vision and mutual loyalty. These days, you could fill a hall of 5000 with an Innervisions or an Ostgut Ton showcase, but Trouw was booking those artists when scarcely anybody knew about their labels. They've become part of Trouw's identity and it would be silly not to continue booking them just because they've become more popular.
The loyalty wasn't always heartfelt; sometimes it was imposed on artists. As I recall, Trouw was the first club in Amsterdam since the 90s that demanded such a high degree of exclusivity from its guest-DJs and residents. Locals were allowed to play in other clubs in Amsterdam, but there were many restrictions. If Trouw booked you on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day (the day in the year when Dutch DJs get the most offers) you weren't allowed to play elsewhere in the city. Later, other clubs and organizations also adopted these exclusivity deals, which does more to dampen creativity than enhance it. DJs are at their best when they have the right to play anywhere. As soon as they are involved in the inevitable politics of a city's club owners, it always comes at the expense of the music and consequently, the fans. It's understandable that a club wants to maintain its own exclusivity, but a renowned institute like Trouw should have been able to rise above these narrow-minded disco politics, especially once they were the established ringleader of the city's scene.
Trouw went to Panoramabar a while ago. The title of the night means: "Trouw marries Panoramabar"
Berghain on the Amstel
What I never really got is Trouw's idolization of Berlin's Berghain/Panoramabar. Trouw isn't Berghain and it never could have become it either. That disconnect starts with the lack of a darkroom—something Berghain even points out on its website. Like it or not, Trouw is not the place you walk into on a Sunday afternoon to snort a gram of ketamine with someone's fist up your ass. The management's too square for that (aren't most of us?), and the security too strict. Still, I can't help but feel Trouw always had the dream of becoming Berghain on the Amstel. At least, that would definitely explain some odd choices, like having a yearly quasi-fetish-party, suddenly enforcing a no-photo policy and temporarily halting presale tickets. It never really felt sincere. You can forbid taking pictures from one day to another, but if you've posted your own partypics online only months before, such a ban doesn't come across as very credible. And if your yearly kinky party, Ontrouw—with the telling motto "step out of your comfort zone"—has a darkroom light enough to function as the chillout, you're trying to be something you simply aren't. Whereas, without all that Berlin-worshipping, it still would have been the best club of the Netherlands.
Now that Trouw is about to close, it's easy to over glorify the place. But some superlatives are entirely justified: Trouw is the best club of the Netherlands, hands down. Ask Laurent Garnier, Marcel Dettmann, Dixon or Harvey why they rarely play elsewhere in Holland. It doesn't have anything to do with money, but with love, vibes and and indescribable magic. Ask all the fans, desperately roaming Facebook now in search of overpriced tickets for the final nights, or the ones who've spent three and a half hours in the freezing cold this past month, hoping to get in; all of them want one more chance to be part of that magic, before the beat stops once and for all on January 4.
So what remains of Trouw once the last record has played? After the closing of Club 11, Olaf Boswijk got a letter from a very young visitor, thanking the club for changing his life. The sender happened to be Job Jobse, who later got involved in Trouw's very first club night, and is now one of the hottest rising DJ stars in Holland. From his homebase Trouw, Job has inspired another generation with his music and vibe. There must be someone among them with enough fire burning in his or her heart to take up the torch. Amsterdam clubs overflow with talent and expertise. Somewhere in town, a new spot will emerge, where these souls can find each other. But before we start our search for a new temple, let's give Trouw a worthy funeral ceremony. Trouw tot in den dood.
Trouw's last clubnight, "Until the Music Stops," starts today and runs until January 3, 2015.
Aron Friedman is the editor of THUMP Netherlands