Trax: Everything does not begin with the dance music for you, though?
I started experimenting with cassette decks in the early eighties (I could not afford a ‘reel’ tape-machine) and I doctored little loops from them and played around with the pitch inside the decks. I was into New Wave: Laurie Anderson, Psychic TV and Einstürzende Neubauten, but also Cabaret Voltaire, Philip Glass, Klaus Schulze and of course Kraftwerk; I tried to mimic their sounds, even when I had no synthesizer. I used records, toys, simple oscillators and my mom’s organ (and it’s string reverb ;) anything I could get my hands on that could make for an interesting sound.
Later I did a course in Electronic Music at the Centre of Electronic Music (CEM) in Arnhem, where I found out the music I was doing was called ‘tape music’ or 'Musique Concrète'.
Trax: And the music produced by others than you, that you did what?
I came in touch with the legacy of that: Pierre Schaeffer, Stockhausen, Reich. Actually, most of that music never really touched me: it sounded to me like ‘calculated works’ or it simply could not drive me.
All changed with the introduction of the sampler: when I first heard Art of Noise, I was looking at my speakers like they just liquefied; what was that sound? How would you make that? I delved pretty deep into anything electronic: Tackhead, Greater Than One, Coil, but also disco, early hardcore hip-hop, dub… And gradually got more stuff: a toy-sampler (Casio SK1), some tape machines and my first synth, a Crumar Trilogy, but still worked dubbing, without a sequencer that is.
At the CEM-studio learned how to work the big synths (ARP2500, EMS Synthi A) and the mixing desk and could use a 16-track tape machine.
Trax: This is where you could finalize your first productions?
Yes. One of my fellow students, Tibor Fülöp (RIP 17-03-2010) had a Roland sampler (S330 I believe) and a Juno synth and we started working together as Voltage Control, making EBM inspired by Front 242, Skinny Puppy, Clock DVA etc..
We got a record-deal with the Belgian Antler Subway records, but when we were producing our first EP, Acid hit Europe. I’ll never forget how stunned I was with Phuture, Lidell Townsell, 808 State: this was liberating, futuristic and pleasantly revolting.
And since we were in the middle of producing, we took the chance to incorporate some of those influences in our first record: “Force D'Inquisition” in 1990.
The A1-track Apocalypse did very well (especially in Belgium) but also Frankie Knuckles was playing it. We did live shows that were quite radical around that time, bringing samplers and our Atari computers on stage and placing it in the middle of the audience, with video and other performances surrounding us. You can’t imagine now, but back than sometimes people hissed at us: “I can do that: just press some buttons…” while it was all live and direct. Actually my sampler (Yamaha TX16W) took around 4 to 5 minutes to load a sample-set, so Tibor had to make tracks long enough to last!
Another EP and CD followed, but on the latter, I was practically working on my own, since Tibor could not make his mind up on what he wanted. “To An Undefined Public” (1992) is a hybrid bunch of experimental and some dance-driven tracks and (maybe therefore) never got the appreciation I was hoping for.
Trax: The success, you've got with Random XS.
Meanwhile, I got to know Sander Friedeman (Zero One) trough evening school and introduced him to the CEM-Studio. He was already making DJ-mixes of both acid and techno and I got most of my inspiration for dance from what he played. Of course me having made a record still meant something back in those days, so Sander was keen on working with me. But he was into techno and acid and not so much into experimental music. It is this blend: him being kinda strict and focused on minimalism and me being the ‘sound guy’ with weird samples and unorthodox approaches which made Random XS bloom at first.
But from the start, we produced most of our tracks separately, but performed together. Our first record “Give Your Body” was released in 1992 on Djax-Up-Beats, a contact Sander had made, featured two tracks by him (the title track became a classic) and only one track by the both of us (“CEM Jam”). I meanwhile started my solo-project Spasms on the same label, which gave me more freedom to do my own thing. More on that later.
But in short: Random XS is more of a brainchild of Sander and I credit him for that.
Trax: You were also very known for your concerts.
Touring Europe with Random XS is indeed something I will never forget; parties were in the early stages of becoming raves, but it was still pretty underground. It’s difficult for me to determine my influence on the Random XS sound, except what I already mentioned: out-of-the-box approach of sound, weird samples and a nasty habit of making the 303 vomit.
Our second release “Young Angry Men” (Y.A.M. 1993) featured more cooperation: A1 me, A2 together, B1 Sander and B2 was recorded live if I remember well. We were at the Love Parade, played in Paris, Frankfurt, Basel… We were on a roll.
Enter Richard van der Giessen, who setup U-Trax and teamed up with us to form the AWAX Foundation. On his label we also released stuff under different names, did remixes and got in touch with other producers from our area.
But one difference always stood out: I was feeling boxed in by the necessity to keep it minimal and/or danceable. This is definitely not a critique: dance is functional music, it should make you wanna groove. Renewing the sound asks for a strong determination and a lot of talent to introduce new things without distracting your audience too much. At least that was definitely the case within the sound of Random XS or at least back in the mid nineties IMHO.
Sander found out he could work better with Frank de Groodt and just before Random XS would tour the US, he told me he’d rather go with Frank. And that was that. No hard feelings, but of course disappointment. Later Frank and I also teamed up for a side-project: Urban Electro.
Trax: You have rebounded with the first LP Spasms.
In 1995 I felt the freedom to make a CD that would ‘turn things upside down’ (hey, I was still in my 20’s ;-) and talked till I was blue trying to convince Saskia Sleegers (Miss Djax) to release it.
She finally gave in and released “Fuzzy logic” in 1995. To me personally, it is still very dear. But around that time, Aphex Twin hit the world and some said I had copycatted his sound (which definitely isn’t true, however inspiring he was). Anyways: the CD got some good reviews, but also some that convinced me I was too early to throw my stone into the techno-pond.
Trax: How did you fare after that?
But funny enough, a program called Supplement on Dutch National Radio 4 (classical station) picked up the experimental tracks and I was invited for a chat. If I would be interested in a composition assignment for the (hold breath) International Rostrum for Electro-Acoustic Music, which was to be held in Amsterdam (1996). They thought it would be a nice gesture not to ask an experienced composer, but a young newcomer. And I could not even read or write notes!
So I crafted the non-stop composition AeroSon and made a rather daring score which I was obliged to hand in to be able to enter the competition. I won the first prize in the category ‘Composers Under 30’ and the jury could not make out whether what I did was ‘sound art’ or ‘electro acoustic music’ (…) AeroSon got released with the German Mille Plateaux for which also I did two tracks on the Modulation & Transformation 3 and 4.
Meanwhile, I started life as an engineer for Radio 4 and gradually climbed my way up to being producer and making radio shows of my own. I left the station when it got too commercial for my taste, but continued to make programs as a hired hand.
Nowadays, I still do sounddesign and mastering for Radio 1 (documentaries).
Trax: But techno, it's over for you?
Unfortunately I don’t have much time left to compose. I do, but only when someone puts me up to it. I can’t just simply sit down to knack a tune. I like to be driven by the need to compose and when I do projects abroad with my wife Iris (last couple of years we worked as community artists in a.o. Vietnam, Finland, Ukraine, India, Sierra Leone, Uganda…) I make dedicated soundtracks to our installations. But I have made radio jingles as well ;-)
I would love to do more remixing and get back into the (dance) scene, which might not be for long with a recent invitation to make something for Skudge.
(bummer coming up) I don’t listen much dance these days. For a while I had the feeling it was all one big bag of the same ole tricks. I do tune in to Dave Clarks’ show on RTE to keep up a little.
But what I do like is that the brackets have become softer: it’s perfectly normal to have soundscapes, dubstep and IDM on one record by one artist. I feel there is still need for change, but than again: you need to be a tough cookie to really stir things up. Combining jazz with reggae-samples and putting a four-on-the-floor under that just won’t cut it. You would need to really step away from the concept, or rather the confinements of dance to come up with new inventions. I would love to be that one, but who doesn’t?
Interview by Christian Bernard Cedervall