Hi Nina, we just saw you at Concrete where, once again, you put the crowd in a special kind of state. What emotions do you try to evoke when you mix?
Thank you. I am happy you felt the same way I did that night. It was the 10th anniversary of Underground Quality. Jus-Ed released my first solo record in 2008 so it was a special moment. Good nights are what I live for. And that holds all the more true when I’m playing my own records, I play them first and foremost for myself. I concentrate on one record that I particularly like and I construct my set around that. When it works, the joy is contagious, it explodes through the room. But if you had the idea that I have the secret recipe for a good night, for me it’s a bit more like playing Russian roulette. You never know how it’s going to work. That’s the beauty of it all. There is no script. It’s a complete mystery that depends on the ambience, the sound system and on the ego.
Why the ego?
I think the balance of the ego plays a central role in the creation of an atmosphere which flows smoothly from then on: the crowd, the room and the DJ (who is more of a mediator) are now as one. In that atmosphere which has a certain voodoo about it, choosing records is almost subconscious. Everything just flows perfectly. There’s a powerful and invigorating energy that flies between the DJ and the crowd. It’s a strong connection. The sound spreads through the air with a natural sense of freedom. When I reach that kind of state I feel love, and I want to share my whole world with people. It’s one of the moments when I feel truly happy.
How is it that people feel so swept away? What part of that is due to the song selection, to the show, the personality of the artist, their attitude, and how do you play with these elements to interact with them as much as you want?
There’s a certain aura around an artist and their performance. It’s important to be a good performer. To put on a good show, good music and virtuosity aren’t enough. The talent of an artist also touches on their ability to create interest and excitement, to keep the crowd’s attention, in a way that’s different from night to night. A performer has to be interesting and charismatic enough to take the crowd away with them in one way or another. They must have a distinctive feature about their DJ set. I know many competent DJs with huge followings, a real devotion to music and great taste, in whom I see nothing extraordinary, in the spiritual sense of the word. Because all they do is play records…
How can you make people who have nothing in common feel this connection on the dancefloor?
I think everybody has something in common. We all want, at least on a subconscious level, to be loved, understood, accepted and we all want to share our experiences with others. For me it’s enough to concentrate on the music I play until I feel something I can share with the public. I’ve noticed that the vibe in a club is largely dependent on the emotions I’m feeling at the time. I like to scan the dancefloor, see people dancing, read what happens when I play a certain mix. To some extent, I stop thinking about what I’m playing. I become a mediator, part of a movement, and all I do is send back the energy.
Your music is made to dance to. What would you say to the awkward guy at the edge of the room, arms crossed, who only vaguely bobs his head?
A very good question to which I haven’t yet really found an answer. There are many theories. One says that true art has no need to be well presented to be sincerely accepted and understood by the masses, no matter the upbringing or origin.
There’s also the more honest view though, that of the boy, which judges something by the base emotional response. Either he likes it or he doesn’t. And there’s also the idea that a person’s opinion is largely based on their level of education and their background. That would suggest that ‘good taste’ could be taught and developed. That’s good for the culture but it’s also easy to abuse it if the press (which has an enormous influence on people) works on preconceptions or simply isn’t informed enough to publish correct information. I think the truth lies somewhere between the two. The ideal situation is when people are well enough educated to make their own choices, to distinguish between true and false, beautiful and ugly, through their own experience.
And you too, do you have a nerdy side when you find yourself alone in front of computers in the intimacy of your studio?
I am fairly nerdy when it comes to the studio. But above all I’m very sensitive. I sincerely believe that old synthesisers have a soul, just like humans, and that you need to have the right attitude towards them if you want them to behave nicely with you. For me, the connection with the synth is like meditation, it’s liberating. The creative process allows me to feel free and understood. Like a conversation in a funny way. Writing melodies is my connection with the space. Each time I buy a new machine, it’s an immense source of inspiration. I think I’m one of those musicians who buys equipment more for the inspiration than simply for its technical characteristics. Sometimes I buy an instrument which doesn’t sound particularly good, because it’s too old or been badly kept. The process of interacting with an instrument comes as you build a personal relation with it. That’s what allows you to get inspiration and the few sounds that you get from it are all you need for a good track.
But what I do doesn’t always need a load of instruments or pro studio. Most of my first releases were produced with a very simple setup. Sometimes I just chop up pre-recorded synths on my computer. That’s how I made Ghetto Kraviz, for example. It took me twenty minutes to finish the song. I truly believe you don’t need much to make a good track. The most important thing is the ideas and the passion you put into it.
Through the years, you have kept a very specific sound: one that is dark and sensual at the same time. Your DJ Kicks mix goes even further down that route, perhaps a bit more atmospheric. What are the emotions you wish to convey through your music?
Even if my DJ Kicks mix fits that definition, it still has the feel of a late night radio show, one that works its way slowly into your head. At the end it’s quite trippy and leaves a lot to the imagination. It’s a story that could be interpreted a thousand different ways. So the best thing is to listen and let go.