Perched on a bench on a sunny terrace overlooking Amsterdam city centre’s Leidseplein square, Amsterdam Dance Event Director Richard Zijlma waves his hand emphatically at the snapshot of city life below. “Look around you,” he enthuses, “Amsterdam is so beautiful”. This passionate paroxysm has been brought on by I amsterdam’s question of why someone looking to start a business might think about moving to the city. Zijlmer certainly knows about attracting people to the Amsterdam region, having helmed Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) for 23 years. After starting out as a small conference, last year's edition featured more than 2,500 artists and 550 speakers in a record-breaking 160 venues, attracting more than 400,000 visitors from over 90 countries to Amsterdam in just five days.
Since its inception in 1996, ADE has evolved into the leading business conference and festival of the global electronic music scene. It is the place to spot the latest musical trends and upcoming talent, to attend thought-provoking panels and amazing parties and network with business leaders from around the world. And Zijlma says that the decision to base the event in Amsterdam was never in question when it first launched. “The decision to do it in Amsterdam was not difficult, as the city was always a great centre for developments in music,” he explains. “Nowadays it fits so well with the city of Amsterdam to organise a conference or festival, especially a big one like ADE. We have hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to the city from all over the world.”
The perfect ecosystem for events and conferences
Amsterdam Dance Event works with a long list of partners and supporters – including KLM, Spotify and YouTube – but it’s also Amsterdam’s infrastructure that has made it possible for it to grow into one of the largest music events in the world. “I think Amsterdam has the perfect ecosystem for an event like ADE,” Zijlma explains. “It has so many world-class venues, places like Paradiso, Melkweg and nightclubs like AIR. That’s why we can have 160 different venues involved in ADE. The number of hotels and creatives and professionals working in our industry – it all makes it work. I also think one of the strengths is that everybody wants to visit Amsterdam and enjoy the beautiful city.”
More than 9,000 professional delegates visit ADE to network and exchange ideas each year, all looking for examples of great branding, innovative technology and the latest trends. “Nowadays the whole world is watching Amsterdam and ADE to see what we are doing,” Zijlma says, going on to explain how the City of Amsterdam has helped foster ADE’s reputation around the world. “We work closely with the City of Amsterdam – we have a really strong relationship with them,” he adds. “We meet with them regularly throughout the year and it’s a really nice way to collaborate, they really help push the event forwards. For example, they introduced us to new venues in the city, opening up doors for us so we can be in venues which aren’t always known to do much with electronic music. They also really helped us to promote the event internationally.” Another organisation that helped ADE develop its global reputation is Amsterdam Marketing, the city marketing organisation of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. “We worked with them to promote ADE globally from the beginning, which really helped us,” Zijlma says, “They were instrumental in promoting the event worldwide.”
Investing in Amsterdam's future
Now Zijlma is using ADE’s profile to invest back into the city and its residents, including through ADE University, which organises workshops and panels for Dutch and international students, as well as an ADE Global Intern program and the ADE Hackathon, one of a number of tech and innovation events designed to stimulate entrepreneurship in the dance and festival scene. “We started ADE University so we could connect with students in the city,” Zijlma explains. “For me it was important for us to connect with the next generation. If you look at ADE nowadays it’s become more of a tech conference, because the creation and consumption of music is about technology. In one sense, you could call it a tech conference and say that the content is electronic music. Five or six years ago we also started ADE Green, to make the global scene more sustainable. We have connected with big promoters and prominent people in the music industry to work together on making their events and organisations more sustainable.”
Ziljma clearly has one eye on the future, but isn’t keen to try and predict what’s next for ADE. “It’s hard to talk about the future of ADE,” he explains. “Luckily no one is asking anymore whether electronic music will still be around in 10 years. That's what they used to ask.” Instead he looks down on the city scene below, surveying the tourists and locals going about their daily business. “My proudest moments with ADE is when I walk around the city during the event,” he muses. “To see so many people enjoying the festival, that makes me very proud.”