How IsBurning Helped Shape Amsterdam’s Queer Party Scene

Inspired by the old school gay club culture, IsBurning has become one of Amsterdam’s most essential and energetic LGBTQIA+ parties in the six years since its inception. April Clare Welsh speaks to the founders

9 min
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Jul 15, 2020
April Clare Welsh

When IsBurning resident Titia van Beckum (AKA TITIA) played at Amsterdam’s packed-out Warehouse Elementenstraat on New Year’s Day in 2017, the local DJ tore through a set of warm, raved-up house bangers with raw edges. “Everyone was waving their shirts and jumping around. I like it when that happens; the more skin the better! There was so much happiness and appreciation,” she remembers fondly.

The dancefloor is always heaving and electric at IsBurning; Amsterdam’s roving LGBTQIA+ party that has been setting the city on fire for six years. With an inviting tagline of ‘come as you are’, and a discerning music policy that caters for dance music devotees, IsBurning has carved out a vital and forward-thinking space in a world-famous gay scene previously dominated by commercial, Top 40-friendly nightspots.

“We were tired of not having a club that satisfied our needs like places in London, Berlin or New York did, especially seeing as Amsterdam is such an important gay city,” says Carlos Valdes, who co-founded IsBurning with De School resident Sandrien in 2014. Sandrien had been hosting monthly techno nights at Trouw — Amsterdam’s beloved multi-purpose arts space which sadly closed its doors in 2015 — and bonded with Valdes over a mutual love of Chicago house and Detroit house and techno. The pair wanted to create a new home for the city’s queer community.

“We started thinking about the whole idea of the gay scene as being early adopters or pioneers in music and fashion, and felt that things were lagging behind in terms of what was being offered at that point musically,” says Valdes. “The majority of events were super commercial; not interesting, fun dance music. And we felt that we also had to give back and show where the music came from; so that’s how it all started. I now know lots of stories of people who met their current partners at IsBurning.”

TITIA, who first played IsBurning’s “crazy” second edition at the Verdieping (the basement) at Trouw (she’s been a resident ever since), had been experiencing a similar sense of frustration over the lack of queer club night options in her city. “I just didn’t really feel like I had a place to go. There wasn’t a proper gay party with music I liked, like music played at balls in NYC. Music that screams equality and diversity to me.”

She continues: “IsBurning is not just a gay night, it is a night where everyone is welcome and where everyone is treated with respect equally. No matter what race, class, gender, or sexuality. No prejudices. I have the feeling this definitely set the tone at the time.”

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IsBurning hosted their first-ever night at Trouw in April 2014, with Sandrien and Valdes playing a B2B set of Chicago house and techno alongside Berlin staple Virginia. The following year, they were able to see Trouw out with a bang when they played at the venue’s closing weekend. “It was just amazing to have that experience as it will never ever happen again,” recalls Valdes. “It was such a great space for IsBurning, especially the basement.”

IsBurning began scoping out new venues and settled on the cozy Cruquiusgilde warehouse, located in an industrial area in the east of the city. The warehouse setting chimed perfectly with the party’s essence. “It was a great transition from the 1,600-capacity Trouw to more intimate Sunday parties,” says Valdes. For IsBurning’s second birthday bash at Cruquiusgilde, they treated club-goers to surprise sets from DJ Pure, Valdes himself, and Handmade; it was one of Valdes’s favourite sets to date. These secret lineups soon became the club night’s trademark.

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“It meant there was something unique about IsBurning, that people would come for the party instead of the headlining name,” says Valdes. Over the years, the club night has seen a glittering array of international artists take to the decks, including Andy Butler, Dr, Rubinstein, Job Jobse, Kim Ann Foxman, Mike Servito, Tama Sumo, Chez Damier, Eris Drew, Robert Owens, Octo Octa, Josh Cheon and many, many more.

Cruquiusgilde shut down in 2016, and IsBurning have since thrown parties in a number of venues around the city, like Shelter Amsterdam, De Marktkantine, BAR, Paradigm and Warehouse Elementenstraat, where they were due to celebrate their sixth birthday in April until the coronavirus pandemic forced the Netherlands into lockdown. Nightclubs and venues will remain closed until September 1st, and the city’s thousands-strong Pride parade (which is usually held during the first weekend of August) will no longer be taking place.

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“August is my favourite month of the year,” enthuses Valdes, who sketches out a typically eye-watering schedule of pre-parties, DJ sets, and the canal parade on Saturday. “It’s such an insane weekend. But I think now with everything that is going on, maybe people really want to go back to the essence of Pride, and not have all of Holland coming and watching the parade. And I think we will be a bit more aware of why we do these things, take note.” Valdes and the IsBurning crew will nonetheless mark Pride on Saturday, August 1st with an as-yet-to-be-revealed event (the Dutch government recently announced the easing of some restrictions).

“Pride is of course super important,” says van Beckum. “I feel like it is good for everyone to show that we appoint a full week on our agenda where we get to celebrate our freedom. It provides a way for others to show their acceptance and support. It’s important to take this moment and realize this is not yet the matter everywhere around the world, unfortunately. Not every country is as progressive as ours, it’s super great we can set a good example. Though even in our country, sadly there’s still a lot of progress to be made for the community.”

While some of the crew’s summer plans are now on hold, IsBurning has continued to grow in recent years. Last August, they collaborated with Dekmantel for a Pride event, and they were supposed to host one of the boat parties at this year’s canceled Dekmantel Selectors in Croatia. There’s also the mix series. Now on its 59th edition, the IsBurning mixes immortalises the night in sound, while providing a platform for queer artists. Looking ahead, Valdes says a label is on the horizon, and of course, plenty more parties. “We are doing parties for everyone; that for me is the point of doing a party. We’re there to support.”