Wouter de Vink
By Wouter de Vink

All festival lovers will agree that 2021 has been an eventful year. The same goes for Menno van der Veen, one of the best-known photographers in hardstyle. Constantly skipping between festivals, alternatives such as livestreams, mandatory seated events and multiple lockdowns: what did the year look like through the lens of his camera? “You are standing with so many people who have to hold back, while they are incredibly driven to do what they do best.”

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As a photographer, Menno goes along with artists such as D-Block & S-te-Fan, Ran-D, Rebelion and Sub Zero Project or he captures major events such as Defqon.1 and Qlimax in The Netherlands and abroad. He now has hundreds of events on his resume under the name of MNO Photo, so you can say that he has turned his hobby into his profession. When the pandemic broke out, it was also a huge shift for him.

Despite the many lockdowns, Menno was still close to the fire of the few moments when there was something to enjoy. In total, the photographer spent 98 days on the road this year for various shoots: no fewer than 70 hardstyle-related jobs such as Defqon.1 at Home (on an abandoned festival site in Biddinghuizen) and Reverze (in a packed Sportpaleis in Antwerp). All in all, Menno supplied 39,739 photos for all his assignments. Together, we review 10 of his photos to take him through the ‘bittersweet year’. “It’s been an extraordinary time.”

1. January: we start 2021 as we are (unfortunately) used to with creative alternatives

After several COVID-19 measures, Menno (like many others) was more often behind the PlayStation than he would have liked. Nevertheless, more and more creative solutions emerged in the form of videoclips and livestreams. “The year started nicely, because now you’re at home again and you think: ‘What a misery…'”, Menno looks back. If people from the festival world are good at something, then it’s definitely switching quickly if the situation asks for it. “You notice it in all the artists and the people behind the scenes. You can still make yourself useful with such alternatives and it also gave your week a purpose.”

Menno had already updated the administration for the umpteenth time (‘because you have to do something’), but slowly the year started to take shape. Think of the clip of ‘Dance With The Devil’ by Ran-D & D-Sturb and the WRTN Homebase broadcasts of Ran-D. “These are those interruptions that you really need. And slowly everything starts to pick up again and things can be organized again.” Right..?

MNO Photo Ran-D WRTN Homebase 2021

2. After a (way too long) long wait we can ‘almost’ again: everyone is eager

In the first months of 2021 it will become clear that the Fieldlab events must provide a solution in order to be able to party safely again. So a festive solution is being worked on and Supremacy is now selling 10,000 tickets in no time to people who can’t wait for a party. There is hope for better times.

At the same time, Menno is present during the shooting of the very first POWER HOUR film. A unique opportunity that graces the ingenuity of festival makers, because bringing the well-known hardstyle phenomenon to the cinema screen is of course a crazy achievement. Menno: “You’ve already seen everything from Netflix and in between I was also allowed to shoot the skating competitions in Thialf. But POWER HOUR The Movie is something else.” These are 8 long days of recording, which has been transformed into a special experience for the viewers at home with 60 crazy minutes of harder styles. The recordings were done with gigantic green screens and a trip to this special theatre.

MNO Photo tijdens POWER HOUR The Movie

3. Everyone believes it: ‘Defqon.1 at Home will be the last livestream’

“Is Defqon.1 going ahead or not?”, asks Menno (and just about everything and everyone who wants to go to the largest harder styles festival in the world). “Everyone wants to, but it is not possible. This was also strange for the artists. In the end, a Defqon.1 at Home livestream is still a massive operation, but it is still bittersweet. There you are: you work in the middle of the sacred grounds of the RED on something cool, but you miss the fans enormously.”

The moment everyone has been waiting for has now arrived: festivals are allowed again from 30 June. This is also the most read article on Hard News with tens of thousands of readers, who can finally fill their festival agenda with parties again. Unfortunately for Defqon.1 it comes just too late. Yet, Q-dance is once again making a huge impact with the largest online experience to date. Defqon.1 at Home is watched from 115 countries worldwide for an entire weekend.

No audience means there is no sound system. Livestreams present quite a few challenges for a photographer: to avoid the flying drones, Menno takes a huge zoom lens (it looks like a bazooka that costs quite a few monthly salaries). This way, he can photograph the performing artists from a safe distance, but then of course you won’t hear anything from the music. “The sound is so soft, it’s like you’re in a portable toilet and you can hear the song faintly thumping in the distance.” It is only during moments like these that you realize that it is useful to have earplugs with you: “The fireworks are really banging without music.”

MNO Photo op Defqon.1 at Home 2021

4. “We can FINALLY go again!”

The moment everyone has been waiting for: the festivals in the Netherlands are back. The livestreams are wrapping up, because all artists and organizations are more than ready for the good stuff. During Sound Rush presents Brothers in 013 (one of the first hardstyle shows in the Netherlands), Menno is there of course. “We have had B-Front’s Coffee Club on the terrace a few times before, but that is between all seated people. Now, it was finally really between people and you have old-fashioned feeling in the stomach again. We are 15 months in the shit, so how’s it going to be?”

Fortunately, the tension is gone in no time. Partying is like riding a bike: you never forget how to do it. “After the first three classics by Jones, the dancefloor went nuts right from the start. That is really a boost: because the feeling has not gone away at all. It feels like coming home.” The photo of the Sound Rush brothers on stage shows the general feeling of the event industry: “Pure release. Glad we can finally do what we love again.”

MNO Photo tijdens Sound Rush presents Brothers: een van de eerste hardstyle shows in Nederland

5. The first multi-day festival on the coast of Croatia: Dropzone

Weekend festivals are not yet possible in the Netherlands, but luckily the Croatian Dropzone offers a solution. For four days, the first harder styles festival of the summer provides a stage for many artists on the tropical Zrće Beach. With a bit of sunshine, pleasant temperatures and lots of happy people enjoying their hard holiday. “Yes, that is quite enjoyable when you see that everything is allowed there.”

The situation is changing: in the Netherlands, all measures are suddenly being implemented again. “We came back from Dropzone”, Menno remembers well. He and Ran-D had only just returned landed on home soil and he took out his phone: “Oh oh, a new press conference tonight…” Festivals such as 7th Sunday and REAWAKE have to pull the plug at the last minute. “That is another slap in the face. It feels like powerlessness, because you go from zero to 100 and all the way back within just a few weeks. As if it went way too fast.” So far the festival summer in the Netherlands…

MNO Photo op Dropzone 2021

6. Plenty of festivals (except in the Netherlands)

It is the end of July and the Netherlands is locked in again. Because it is bursting with events in countries such as Sweden, Austria and Denmark, Menno can temporarily call himself ‘the virologist of the festivals’. He knows all the different measures by now. “Why is it allowed here, we can do this too right? We have the most experience in the Netherlands, but we can’t fix it.”

During Unmute Us, tens of thousands of people throughout the Netherlands gather together to protest, an impressive gesture. Still, we look with wide eyes at events such as Shutdown Festival – an Austrian harder styles event with four stages next to an old nuclear power plant – and the Q-dance hosting at Aairport Festival in Denmark. “If you can still go with Q and D-Block & S-te-Fan, you secretly still have a sneaky (and much-needed) dose of festival experience, so that was super nice. That also kept me a bit sane. I did some business stuff, but this is what you do it for.” In between, a clipshoot in the French mountains of Tignes, which produces the stunning picture below. These are strange times.

MNO Photo tijdens Ran-D, Sound Rush en Le Prince: We Are The Storm

7. ‘From a few hundred people to thousands of visitors is a matter of crossing the border’

“Fortunately, I had some distraction, but many people have not seen a DJ play for a long time. I was sometimes asked when a certain photo was. When I replied that it was yesterday, they looked at me as if I was crazy, but luckily I went somewhere.” This is Menno’s average explanation at the time, when people ask about his work.

It became an even stranger time. The Dutch government has determined that only events for a maximum of 750 people may take place, such as B-Front’s Coffee Rave XL. “That was very strange, because Sunset Festival in Belgium also took place that same day.” For example, you are first in Bob’s silent disco, then you drive 90 kilometers by car and miraculously you will find thousands of visitors at a festival near our southern neighbors. “I was here for Coone, Hard Driver and Rebelion, and then you can fully enjoy all those hands that go up in the air. As it should be.”

MNO Photo op Sunset Festival

8. All eyes on Reverze

Remember when Reverze was the last event before the coronavirus threw a spanner in the works? That was almost 2 years ago. And magically, it was also the first of this size again within the harder styles. “We picked up where we left off again”, Menno thought hopefully in September. In the hallways of the Sportpaleis, he ran into the boys from Primeshock and asked how their performance was during the first hour of the party. “Insane!”, was the answer of the duo.

D-Block & S-te-Fan were also able to play the long-awaited tracks from their album for thousands of visitors in Belgium. “That’s so bizarre”, says the photographer. “Everyone is screaming from the start and everyone is so happy. We really felt like we were back home – where we belong.”

MNO Photo op Reverze

9. Events are allowed to take place again: until midnight and up to 75% capacity

It was about damn time! After we had already experienced all the craziness (for example, consider the question from the government whether Mojo would rather not organize dance events), The Hague decides on 14 September that the Netherlands can throw events again. One party after the other is announced and Menno is fortunately busy again. He realizes this during the biggest Hardstyle Classics event Vroeger Was Alles Beter.

“I may sound like a grandpa, but those Classics take me back to the time when I started listening to Hardstyle”, he says about VWAB. Headhunterz would do his very first Hardstyle Classics set and Menno doesn’t have to think twice when we ask which song he has been looking forward to. “It may be cliché, but ‘Rock Civilization’ does something to people. You know there’s going to be a reaction to this, so when that melody comes in, you finally see all those hands go up again.” It is also a pleasure for the photographer.

MNO Photo over VWAB

10. And again all events in the Netherlands were gone

“We’ve had WiSH and then REVELATiON (again in 013), but behind the scenes we already heard rumblings. Are we still working somewhere next week?” All arrows were aimed at Qlimax and the other events. “In the case of Q-dance, it would be the first since DEDIQATED: it could really happen. The first trucks were already in the GelreDome.” It was still made impossible by COVID-19 and so Qlimax had to stop building after just one day.

Menno immediately picked up the phone to discuss how he could be of service. “What’s going to happen now?”, he appended. Q-dance replied that they were going to do a livestream called Qlimax Distorted Reality, with many new techniques. “Everything was done in two days and the Augmented Reality made it extra challenging for me. You weren’t allowed to go anywhere near, so it was remote again. You start thinking in other ways and have to deal with what has been given to you.” Still, some things – no matter what – still have something magical. “When Ran-D plays that anthem, you know: there is more happening and you have to take it in hand. After all, it is Qlimax, the trusting feeling was also there on location.”

MNO op Qlimax Distorted Reality

And now: hope for the best in the future

The word that keeps coming back to Menno is ‘bittersweet’; he realizes that he still has a lot to do in a year that is at the same time dramatic. “It’s nice that people know where to find me. Sometimes you think: ‘Do they still find it necessary to free up extra budget?’ Because money is money.” But all in all, the photographer has had a special year.

He remains hopeful for the coming year, although he notices that the mood around him is different – not very surprising after the many lockdowns. “Everyone is a bit hesitant. But if we can go wild again: we have been able to taste it for a while and we will go wild again at that moment. REBiRTH Festival is coming up and there are exciting things for Q to come. So I still am in good faith, but also be realistic and moderately positive.”

So bittersweet. “It was a year with a lot of ups, also some downs. A bumpy road. It’s like driving through the tunnel of Italy, where it is dark for miles with a small bright spot. That bright spot is coming closer, and we will finally have that beautiful familiar environment around us.”

Hopefully Menno and the many other familiar faces can be found again soon at one of the many events. Follow MNO Photo on Instagram for more photos and info.


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Footage taken from Instagram page MNO Photo

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