This article originally appeared in Time Out in August 2011.
By Kate Hutchinson Posted: Thu Aug 11 2011
European super club Sensation promises to thrill and inspire Londoners with one of its trademark parties this weekend. Time Out checks out the Belgian original to find out what's in store
I'm on the outskirts of an industrial estate in Belgium at an enormo-stadium blitzed with strobe lighting. Around me is a sea of white clothing last seen on the rails of Morgan circa 1996. Cauliflower crudités and white feather boas line the VIP tables. A white golf buggy has driven me across the tarmac to my seat, a pod-like booth in dazzling - you guessed it - white.
It would all seem very clinical if it wasn't for a mammoth pyramid construction in the centre of the arena, where scantily clad ladies are dancing on podiums and darting between laser beams while a DJ called (go on, you guess) Mr White, daubed in matching face paint and sunglasses stuck to his glowing cranium, spins tunes inside a rotating booth. I am not high, not hallucinating, but, when I look down, I am dressed head-to-toe in white too.
This is Sensation, Europe's biggest club night - the kind that, were its tables lined with bottles of Cristal, P Diddy would probably like very much indeed. I, however, am not so sure. The last time I wore all white - the party's enforced dress code - was when I was part of the sheep chorus in my primary school's nativity play. The average age of partygoers, it seems, is little older than that and everywhere rhinestone cowboy hats, feather boas, furry boots, boob tubes and even furry boob tubes run amok.
Tonight, inside the Ethias Arena in Hasselt, there are some 14,000 of them - a smallish event by Sensation's standards. The club ran solely at Amsterdam Arena for five years after debuting in 2000 and has since toured more then 20 countries in venues with capacities of up to 45,000 people. This weekend, it will add London to its list, as organisers bring the show to The 02, courtesy of Smirnoff.
Amazingly, even at £55 for regular entry, Sensation's thousands of tickets sold out weeks in advance. The price might seem steep but staging an event as big as this takes an impressive amount of work. The inaugural London show, themed 'Ocean of White', will use 108 sound cabins, 100 motors, 22 fountains, 16 six-metre jellyfish and 13 laser systems with 100 different pyrotechnic effects, plus a team of 70 people to make it happen. With stage dancers, booming 'X Factor'-style voiceovers and multi-sensory visuals, Sensation is its own breed of trance-opera.
'The inspiration comes from different places, but we always tend to bring a positive message to the event,' says Sensation director Duncan Stutterheim of Sensation's ethos. 'The themes
have to trigger people's imagination, adding positivity to their lives, so that they walk out of the event with a story or experience to remember. It takes a full year of planning from concept to event.'
Musically, Sensation has changed over the years. Originally an out-and-out trancefest, recent years have seen it embrace house music with a more electro, and even techno-geared music policy, despite protests from its trance devotees. This change is reflected in the London line-up, where Parisian house prankster Martin Solveig (his 2010 hit 'Hello' gets an almighty roar in Belgium), electro-house princes Fedde Le Grand and Erick E and forward-thinking yet Ibiza-friendly techno luminaries DJs Joris Voorn & Nic Fanciulli, who'll be spinning together, join trance crossover success Sander Van Doorn.
Van Doorn is Sensation's biggest fan and has played at 17 of them. 'I've got a lot of white shirts and a lot of white pants [boys - take note]. I try to keep it as plain as possible. To be honest, when dressing up in white there isn't much you can do,' he quips. But he likes the dress code because 'it's pretty unique. It creates some sort of unity. Everybody's the same, everyone's up for a party.'
Fans can expect to hear Doorn drop plenty of material from his new album, which, judging by his list of collaborators (including Sensation favourites Laidback Luke and Sidney Samson), could well flirt with jackin' electro-house beats too. Don't worry, though, there'll still be enough euphoric club classics for you to shake your feather boa to.
In the meantime, I'm still partying the night away in Hasselt. As Darude's 'Sandstorm' honks over the speakers, the Ethias Arena swells to a gladiator-strength climax and I'm feeling a sensation all right… even if I'm not quite sure what it is.