April 2024

The smell of music: Sencity Festival

Sencity is a festival designed to make all your senses tingle. This annual event is aimed at people with impaired hearing, but absolutely anyone will enjoy it. One of the newest features is Revelland: six acts that have broadened their shows into a multisensory experience, with vibrations, light and smells.

There’s a band playing on stage. Right next to them is an artist who brings the music, texts, emotion and intention to life through dance and sign language. You’re watching a Deaf Performance, a completely normal phenomenon at the Sencity Festival. Deaf performers use facial expression, movement and body language to bring the music to life for as wide an audience as possible. This is the whole point of Sencity: to allow as many people as possible to experience culture, with as many senses as possible. As well as music and dance, there are art exhibitions, Hand Talks (‘the only talk show with more interpreters than guests’), workshops given in Dutch sign language, and (Un)spoken word performances.

Sensory direction

The six international bands in the line-up were all professionally coached for a year to show them how ‘sensory direction’ would add an extra dimension to their shows. Smells, tastes, visuals and theatrical effects are all used to heighten the emotions and make the songs understandable, so that everyone can enjoy the experience, whether they can hear or not. Revelland is the name of the overarching programme for these six acts, and the electronic pop duo CUT_ from Amsterdam is one of them. ‘There are so many more ways to experience music than simply through your eyes and ears,’ says band member Belle Doran. ‘Your act can be much more meaningful than just a few bodies on a stage.’

What did the coaching involve?

Belle: ‘Together with the designers, we thought up elements that would take the musical experience far beyond sound. I designed a special costume that can emit smells, for example. Lights in my costume make my voice visible, and we use sign language and broadcast text on news tickers. There’s also a device that enables the audience to feel the music through vibrations. We followed the nothing about us, without us principle when we devised the show. People with disabilities were continually asked for feedback.’

Does your show appeal to a larger audience?

‘Too right it does! We’ve added loads of extra layers to the performance. The news ticker doesn’t just flash up our lyrics, for example, but gives a poetic interpretation of the thoughts and feelings we have as band members when we’re playing the tracks. And we use smell. I hope that we’ll inspire other bands.’

Are large-scale pop festivals suitable for people with disabilities?

‘Our rider states that we demand good spots for people in wheelchairs and that there must be a quiet space for people with autism who need some down-time. It would be great if people without a disability were to use this too, so that they could meet people who are different from them. One of my friends is in a wheelchair; I’ve been to loads of festivals with her. There’s always a special place for wheelchair users, but only one friend is allowed in with her. The larger festivals could learn a lot from Sencity about how to be really accessible to people with disabilities.’

6 April 2024, TivoliVredenburg. For more info see sencity.nl



A ‘musical city-in-a-city’. Having five auditoriums, TivoliVredenburg can offer something for everyone.

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