Beyond the Lineup: Carnaval in the Netherlands

Carnaval in the Netherlands, known as “Carnaval” in Dutch or “vastenavond” (eve of fasting), is a festive tradition celebrated in the Southern and Eastern regions of the country. This celebration puts a strong emphasis on role reversal and the temporary suspension of societal norms, which has become the ultimate influence to Carnaval festivities. The origins of this festival lie in the assimilation by the Catholic Church (if you’re also familiar with Rio de Janeiro’s Carnivale), incorporating elements from ancient pagan spring festivals. 

From a morale perspective, Carnaval is recognized as a reversal ritual, where social roles are upended, and conventional norms of behavior seem to be blurred. In the historical context, winter symbolized the reign of cold season spirits that needed to be expelled for the arrival of summer. Carnaval can be interpreted as a rite of passage from darkness to light, from winter to summer, essentially signifying a celebration for the new year. During this time in the Netherlands, everyday life pretty much comes to a standstill. The roads are temporarily closed, and most small businesses shut down for the week as the locals take time off during and after Carnaval. But what gravitates the music-loving people, of course, is a respective music festival!

There is an important crossover between the modern day music festival and Carnaval. Carnaval music and songs emerged relatively recently, post-World War II. Traditionally, intentionally amateurish marching bands, known as Zaate Hermeniekes or Drunken Marching Bands, perform this genre of music on the streets, and the music is predominantly played indoors in pubs and feast halls. Carnaval music often takes the form of a specially crafted song for the occasion, designed for easy dancing. These songs may express pride in one’s village, town, or region, showcasing local patriotism and admiration for the regional dialect. They can act as a form of resistance to the loss of identity and alienation, challenging changes that impact individuality or local society and pushing back against assimilation into broader culture. As a result, it’s common to find village names or the group’s prince’s name mentioned in the lyrics of a Carnaval song. The use of Carnaval music during the celebration is aimed at satirizing normal culture, making the creation and performance of Carnaval music a highly seasonal event.

But today, we see this transformation with the country’s evolutionary love for electronic music. The umbrella of genre-bending sounds and influences of counter culture and freedom of expression. 

Karnaval Festival, held annually in Moergestel, the Netherlands, has quickly become one of the most exhilarating electronic music festivals since its first year in 2018. Recognized for its high-energy hardstyle and techno, the festival also features house, trance, all while sustaining the Carnaval tradition of including classic songs, but reinvented as a hardcore remix. The festival goers dress up in outrageous outfits, whether it is classic Dutch attire (‘klopmen’ or wooden clogs, with a ‘kraplap’ which is a cloth worn over the shoulders), or if it’s a giant hot dog costume. Prepare to see it all. 

Karnaval Festival is only in a few days happening on February 11 and 12. This year’s lineup includes acts across two stages such as Act of Rage, Aversion, D-Block, Bloodlust, S-te-Fan, Element, Export, Lamme Frans, amongst many more. Prepare for a trippy weekend of meshing the past, present and future. 

For more information and how to purchase tickets, click here

Previous Post
Camping Festivals 101
Next Post
Aslice: Creating A Fairer Music Ecosystem