In the narrow and busy street connecting the Amstel River to Rembrandt Square in central Amsterdam, at an historic building that houses one of the city’s most popular nightclubs, is a one-of-a-kind cultural experience: the world’s first electronic dance music museum.
Our House is the latest destination in a country that has some of the world’s top electronic music DJs, from Tiesto and Armin van Buuren to Afrojack. It is the brainchild of a group of enthusiastic professionals from the Dutch music scene who managed to get the producers of world-class events such as Tomorrowland, Sensation and the Heineken Experience on board to make it a reality.
Why a museum about EDM?
Electronic dance music, and the subgenres that fall under the label, such as house music, are successors of disco music. Black and Latino communities in Chicago, New York and Detroit set its foundations in the late 1970s in underground clubs, which represented a safe space for them to express themselves in an era marked by racism.
“As this genre grew more commercial, mainstream clubs in New York and Miami started to programme it,” says Lotte Anna Lebens, brand and content director at Our House. The genre soon travelled across the world, breaking ground, particularly in Britain and the Netherlands.
“No one truly understands how big the impact of electronic music is on both older or more traditional music genres and newer genres alike,” Lebens says. “Going back to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love to any of today’s international superstar DJs, the club experience owes what it is today to electronic music.”
Despite its scale and impact, EDM and its subgenres, from techno to trance and dubstep, lacked a dedicated cultural or historic experience. This led creative Amsterdam locals, such as Alan Luring, in 2015 to come up with the idea for creating such an experience.
“It took another three years for me and for those who shared the same idea to come together, and with the support of major event producers like Fourmation Entertainment and the Dutch Experience Group, as well as angel investors, we started working on what became Our House,” says Luring, who is a manager and co-founder of Our House.
‘No solution is too crazy’
From spring 2020 and for another 18 months marked by lockdowns and a pandemic, the team behind Our House was busy turning their idea into a reality. But Covid-19 was not their only challenge.
“Without any strategy in the ’80s and ’90s and the new millennium, Amsterdam positioned itself as an extremely liberal party city, but we’re anything but nowadays,” Lebens says. “Nowadays, we’re strongly regulated when it comes to permitting entertainment venues, and making noise in residential or commercial locations across the city is strictly banned.”
To overcome this challenge, the founders came up with the Sustainable Placemaking Concept.
“Since nightclubs have well-insulated locations and the necessary permits, we proposed to the city council the idea of being situated at one of the city’s nightclubs, making use of them during the day when they are closed anyway,” Lebens says.
This resulted in a hybrid museum-by-day, nightclub-by-night set-up, which took six months to build, and it finally opened late last year. “All the engineering skills we relied on were Dutch, which comes as no surprise as we are known for our expertise in music, clubs and festivals,” Luring says. “For us, the Dutch, no solution is too crazy.”
“This is a very interesting proposition not only in the Netherlands but also in the future, possibly abroad,” Lebens says.
Forty years in 65 minutes
Walking into the museum, visitors are greeted with modern interiors and colourful screens that say “Welcome to Our House”. There is also a gift shop with a collection of books, records and merchandise, and a little coffee shop, all quite characteristic of a museum.
A big display screen shows a countdown of the minutes until the next show. As the figure on the screen nears zero, visitors begin to queue in front of the door through which they will be led to the dance floor.
In and around the dance floor, museum visitors go through six exhibitions and 15 installations in a 65-minute tour. “We had very complex engineering for the venue, with every single installation designed in a way that allows it to be clicked away behind walls without a trace,” Lebens says.
The tour begins with an immersive laser and light show featuring the My House speech by American musician Chuck Roberts, which powerfully sums up the origins of house music.
Next, visitors go through an audio-visual masterclass that sums up in 15 minutes four decades of house music history, narrated by noted EDM stars such as American music producer Kevin Saunderson and British record producer Carl Cox, as well as Van Buuren.
“To create the content, we worked with a team of curators made up of renowned music journalists from the US, the UK, France, and Germany, directors from the BBC, among others – but at the end of the day, there is not one true story about the history of house music because everyone has their own story to tell and their own identity,” Lebens says.
Visitors can also have a taste of the DJ experience via an installation of drum computers, browse through 150 records from the EDM genre, and inspect up close a collection of memorabilia representing some key moments from different styles that fall within the music genre.
The best of the tour is saved for last, with a 15-minute club experience that goes over the highlights of half a century of electronic music, technology and culture.
“We call that part The Culture Ride, which is a 4D audiovisual experience where ceilings drop down and the floor shakes to the beats of some of the most famous EDM tracks in history,” Lebens says.
Not just a museum and nightclub
Our House also incorporates an academy that offers masterclasses and courses to help create a new generation of talent in music and events.
“The Netherlands is the number one country in terms of production, creativity and festival organising in the EDM genre, and through our academy we aim to teach young talent how to produce and create music and events, thus giving back to the local and international music scene,” Luring says.
Our House incorporates a lifestyle platform, which is named Mary Go Wild after a 1996 Dutch soundtrack that gained international popularity. “This underground cultural shop is part of our plan to create content that travels the world, where we publish books focused on EDM genres,” Luring says.
“We plan to tour the world in a variety of set-ups, from fully blown immersive museum experiences in different parts of the world, to smaller pop-up museum set-ups that give people a 30-minute taste of what the culture is about,” Lebens says.
Luring likes to remind people that Our House is everyone’s story. “And by touring the world, we are eager to make this an internationally shared experience where house music lovers all feel as one.”