Amsterdam Beyond Red Lights

Most people do one of two things when traveling through Amsterdam. It’s a little ridiculous. Residents tolerate it, happy to keep the best spots in the city to themselves. Tourists stay in a congested area directly adjacent to Dam Square, bobbling around trying to avoid being tagged by a steady flow of bikes, trams, cars and taxis, while crossing busy intersections looking at the “coffeeshop guide book” trying to find Barney’s. Meanwhile, the city is actually home to some of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to (and trust me, I’ve been to a few). One the size of a studio apartment spills out into a tiny alley just off the main drag six nights a week, somehow hidden from the sight of passing vacationers reveling in a boozy “Amsterdam Weekend,” a few others lie just south of the main canal belt where the hip kids live, and a bunch more are out on the east and west side of downtown where the maps they give out at the youth hostels and hotels cut off.

Trouw is one of the latter described. On a studio visit with Dutch artist Boris Tellegen (Delta), we got to talking about dub music; he played me some Basic Channel mixes and put me on to a show that night by the Moritz von Oswald trio at some place that used to be a newspaper printing factory (also named Trouw, coincidentally). I rode my bike in the pouring rain across the Amstel River at like midnight into a neighborhood bearing little resemblance to the postcard photos we’ve all seen.

The building is huge, concrete and has a giant orange sign that says Trouw. Hard to miss I guess. A little door on the side, almost mocking the size of the sign, leads you down a metal staircase to a lower level draped in bright murals. Money is exchanged, hands are stamped, and guests are pointed to another metal staircase leading back up, or further up to be more accurate. On this particular night, the lights were all the way down when I walked in to the main room, which exhibits an impressive modernist take on the typical warehouse venue. Just a few small white beams crossed the walls, pushed forward from behind a drum kit that served as one of three stations occupied by Moritz von Oswald and his trio. Wooden benches were arranged diagonally in the concrete room, every available space barely occupied. An understated, beautifully crafted bar at the back of the room was buzzing, but nearly silent. In fact the whole place was silent, save for the reverb laden experimental sounds coming from the stage. Apparently the place goes off as well though. Images from a party featuring Flying Lotus and Gaslamp Killer prove it. But this night it was a calm viewing of some cerebral dub in a respectful atmosphere, far removed from the typical “Red Light” Amsterdam experience that clouds the city’s reputation.

-Omar Almufti
Photography by Nick Torrens