It is no secret that Amsterdam is one of the biggest clubbing and music destinations in the world. From the no holds barred approach to experiencing music, the programming, the bookings, the domestic artists that populate the clubs and of course the clubs. Right up at the top of the Dutch scene is Shelter, a subterranean adult’s playground that somehow manages to tie together so many elements together that produces truly world class venue.
To the average clubber, it might not be obvious just how much work goes into producing events of this calibre on a weekly basis across so many different genres. Promoters such as VBX and Slap Funk call Shelter home and for very good reason, but these events don’t just run on their own. Behind the scenes of any great venue is an even better team that all work together towards a shared vision.
Bringing this vision to life is the result of hours of hard work by a team of creatives. With every member of this group with a very specific role within Shelter we caught up with Onome Sarawi, Managing Director & Programmer and Charro-Nathan Tanamal, Shelter’s Marketing Director to find out more about the people that keep the show on the road. Beginning with Onome, who got her start promoting parties in Ibiza (Privilege, Used & Abused, Music On for 5 years (promoter then artist liaison and head of logistics then assistant booker), Kiesgrube (artist liaison and head of logistics), The BPM Festival (head booker and productions). With a background in psychology and counselling, Onome most definitely transferred her proven skills to produce an award-winning nightlife brand. Joining Onome as one of the minds behind Shelter is Charro, having previously worked on the Social Media & Marketing Manager for S.A.S.H., one of Australia’s biggest and longest running parties, so he was well used to the demands of the cut and thrust of the underground.
Also, part of the team is Wenuri de Silva, Shelter’s Social Media & Community Manager, and Head of Logistics. Through her time in her native Sydney she came into contact with none other Charro as a result of their involvement in SASH their bond soon formed. Perhaps one of the newest members of the Shelter team Wenuri has only just arrived in Amsterdam but she is already making an impact within the team. The same can be said about Zackeria Geraci, Head of Production at Shelter. Having cut his teeth in the fertile community of London’s underground scene he brings an invaluable wealth of experience. Today, Zack bounces between the UK and Europe, as an indispensable part of Shelter’s vibrant team, working not only as Event Manager, but also handling the finer details associated with weekly events.
With Onome and Charro both joining the team in the last few years it was interesting to understand what their experiences of the club was prior to joining the team, “We were always impressed by the sound of the club, and the open and clear ambience inside. With Shelter, what you see is what you get, and we loved that. The first time we walked down the hatch, we fell in love immediately. The former general manager of the club, who happens to be a dear friend of both of ours, always made us feel welcome, making it instantly feel like home. You can tell that the team who initially built it, Merijn and Brona, really put their everything into the club. You can feel it from the moment you walk in, and this really stuck with us.”
With Onome joining just before COVID-19 and Charro just after that, it was obvious that this was a horrific time for club culture. They both explain a little about eh challenges of this period in time, “We had no idea when we would reopen, or how the scene may have changed, and what we could expect as a result of all of this. It was a challenge to strategically program and build Shelter back up based on so much ambiguity. Everything that went on behind closed doors left a mark on the clubbers of Amsterdam. Especially the younger generation who missed out on 2 years of the club experience. We had to find each other again organically, and reconnect to that audience in a way that they would be open to it. This was definitely one of the bigger challenges.”
With Onome’s experience coming from her time in Dubai and Ibiza, she explains how she has adapted this skills to her role in Amsterdam, “In Dubai, I was simply helping promote parties, but it wasn’t before I started working in Ibiza that I learned what real hospitality was. At Music On, I was taught how to go the extra mile, which was already an integral part of the culture that I grew up in. So, it came naturally to me. That being said, Ibiza is where that notion got cultivated, and where I learnt how to build a cult-like community. This is what I apply to Shelter, passing it on to, and building with our entire team. I think carefully about the feeling I want to leave people with. For this reason, I can also be found at Shelter almost every weekend even though I do not need to be there.”
Onome and Charro both have a high level of educational background outside of the nightlife industry. Onome firstly tells us how she applied her studies to her current role, “With my background being in psychology and counselling, my current career path wasn’t the obvious choice. However, I really feel that it has helped me get to where I am today. Being quite a person and a feeling oriented job, my background helps me see different sides to a club night experience that may be missed by others. For example, Shelter’s lineups are created with the psychology behind them in mind. I think carefully about the feeling I want to leave people with. For this reason, I can also be found at Shelter almost every weekend. It’s important for me to experience it myself, so that I can see the complete picture and make every night better.”
Charro gives insight into how he applies his background in Anthropology to his role at Shelter, “I really see that certain concepts I learned in Anthropology come to life in club culture. How we collectively come together and dance to the same rhythms makes us feel like we’re a part of something bigger. I think in general, my education is applicable to a lot of things I have to resolve in my day to day role. Being inclined to look at the greater perspective of things leads me to thinking of more and more logical details regarding Shelter and all its aspects.”
There is no denying that with the advent of this seismic shift in club culture that the marketing of music events was to change. Charro explains how this shift affected his marketing plan since the reopening back in 2021, “I believe there’s always room for improvement, especially after being closed for 2 years. In the first few months, my strategy was built on basic logic and knowledge from before the pandemic but, over time, I’ve learnt what works for our audience specifically, and how to reach them without selling out our socials. I think we’re well on our way to building a community around Shelter, and we’ve made some cool branding decisions to push that even more. For 2023, we’re planning to let our visual identity evolve further. I believe you should always keep reinventing yourself without losing sight of the core values that make you, you.”
Two years is a long time in club land and for a venue of Shelter’s calibre it was well missed. Having been to the club on numerous occasions it is easy to see why it was missed so much. There is however, always a silver lining and Onome and Charro explain there’s, “Applying this question to Shelter, we see this period as a reset. We believe the first 5 years laid a solid foundation for the club, in which all the pieces of the puzzle were placed and the wheels were set in motion to gain international notoriety. We don’t feel that we could have taken over directly after the founding team. The “reset” gave us some breathing room, to gradually re-think and re-focus Shelter’s ethos, using the time to our benefit when kick-starting a brand-new, fresh, Shelter 2.0, which still builds on the strong brand that was previously established.”
Not wishing to dwell on the past too much there is no getting away from the fact that music has changed in that time, “It felt like the guests may have forgotten how to party long. People came in early and left earlier than we expected, or earlier than what we were used to. Those 2 years really made the younger generation unaware, and inexperienced of the things that a club night normally teaches you, and they definitely had to make up for it quickly. Now, we finally see our nights get stretched out, with the crowd staying longer and giving it their all on the dance floor. It’s so wonderful to experience this again!”
With Shelter already being a top flight destination for music there was understandably a great deal of pressure to succeed, especially with the addition of a post pandemic hangover it was interesting to hear how they made their mark on such an iconic venue, “As we already had a friendly relationship with the former team, we were extremely humbled and proud to take over the reins. We had big shoes to fill and we were really determined to embrace all Shelter’s strengths. It’s one of those rare spaces that was actually built as a club, giving it its own unique identity, and that’s something we were compelled to focus on. Program-wise, we aren’t trying to force feed new music to our audience, but instead slowly educate them. We draw on our experience as ravers when thinking about any aspects of the club we’d like to upgrade, thinking about what we would like ourselves in a club experience.”
On any given weekend, Shelter is home to all manner of artists, crowds, vibes and of course there is hotspots throughout the year such as ADE, Kings Day weekend. Onome explains her choice of prominent success, both personally and collectively, “The weekend after ADE was a success for us, collectively as a club and as a team. We didn’t expect the night to sell out, one week after our city hosted the biggest electronic music gathering in the world. I programmed it with only local names and, on the night, the club was filled with familiar faces. It was the first night that I really felt our own community was present, substantiating all of the hard work I’ve put in over the past 9 months.”
“That being said, it also feels like one of my personal successes as Shelter’s programmer. I always like to give an opportunity to up and coming artists, and ensure every line-up has a local name on it. This is one of our core principles and a strong building block for our community around Shelter.”
There are many elements that go into producing a world class venue and after just one trip down the hatch it is clear that this is no ordinary club. Onome and Charro give us the lowdown on what makes Shelter standout from the myriad of venues in Amsterdam, “Our sound system has to take first place. It really is like no other in Amsterdam and, at the venue itself, it’s placed in a way that optimises our club space. When you experience it on the dance floor it really flows through your whole body, being all-encompassing without being too overpowering. Shelter’s hospitality is another key aspect that makes us stand out from the crowd. Hospitality not only towards our guests, but towards our artists and their teams as well.”
The responsibility of this hospitality lies with Shelter’s Club Manager, Thara Bergen and she has vast experience working within Amsterdam nightlife. Having spent the 90’s growing up in Ibiza she is intrinsically linked to electronic and her love for music doesn’t stop there as she also studied International Music Manager. Through her Project Sugar events she has garnered invaluable knowledge and skills in the industry that have easily transferred to operational success of Shelter.
Onome goes on to explain another significant facet of Shelter’s attraction, “…is its international allure as a club. Every week we’re proud to welcome a small percentage of international guests, and a handful of some of the best international artists, down the hatch. We really notice that people travel to Amsterdam with Shelter at the top of their lists. It’s an enormous compliment and we’re very grateful!” This international of Shelter can be epitomised by one of the biggest celebrations of worldwide electronic music culture – Amsterdam Dance Event. Every year Shelter produces one of the standout programs of the week and this is welcomed by Onome and Charro who cite it as one of their favourite times of the year, “Even though it’s the busiest time of the year for us, we both see ADE as our favourite. The city is filled to the brim with people of the industry, both locals and internationals. It’s really nice to reconnect with friends and colleagues from all over the world. It also marks the start of club season here in Amsterdam, and we’re both definitely fans of that.”
While ADE is undoubtedly one of the biggest weekends of the year, one event stood out in recent times as being one of the most memorable, “One of the first events that comes to mind is our opening weekend back in February. The Dutch legend, David Vunk, played an amazing set, effortlessly weaving a bunch of different genres together. We were next to each other in the booth, with tears in our eyes, looking at the crowd smiling from ear to ear, just dancing and enjoying themselves. That moment really motivated us to embark on this journey together.”
“Another one was actually very recently. LeMaia did a collab night with Mad Radio, and we booked names who you wouldn’t expect to easily fill the club. We think our community has really started to trust in Shelter’s vibe and energy. The dance floor was completely full and everybody was dancing from the beginning until the end.”
To round off out chat with Onome and Charro we asked them where the future of Shelter lies, “We’re focusing on creating a legacy, building a club that people will talk about in the years to come. Obviously, we have lots of ideas in the pipeline, but we guess everyone will just have to wait and see, and come experience Shelter for themselves. Keep an eye out! We’re only just getting started!” If you havnt managed to get yourself over to Amsterdam yet make sure it is at the top of your to do list, we guarantee you won’t regret it.
There is no better time to visit Shelter than Saturday, December 10th where we will be presenting a party alongside Shelter. Offering the full spectrum of our sound will see A Guy Called Gerald who will perform live, Fumiya Tanaka, Junki Inoue and Doris Nicholas will be sharing the depths of their record collections. One for the books and no doubt about it.