|Joris Voorn: A dedicated mind
Following a year in which he put out a celebrated double mix CD, earned accolades for his live sets and released one of Ibiza's biggest anthems, RA's Todd L. Burns sat down with the Dutch DJ/producer to take stock.
There's a lot of words to describe Joris Voorn. But let's go with unpretentious. From his humble beginnings in a small Dutch town, Voorn's rise to superstar DJ status has been a measured process. A big remix here, a quality single there, a beloved mix CD, a fantastic live gig: His is not so much the stuff of legend as it is the stuff of hard work and dedication. Nonetheless, 2009 seemed to be the year when it all exploded. His Balance 014 mix has already gone down as one of the finest in the series, "Sweep the Floor" swept Ibiza and he garnered enough of your votes to hit the top 10 in both our live act and DJ poll at the end of the year. We caught up with him in January to speak about the accolades, his start as a DJ and why Ibiza has become credible again.
In reading about you in preparation for this interview, I realized that there is not much out there about your beginnings as a DJ. You started in the mid-'90s in Rotterdam, correct?
Actually it was in another place in Holland called Enschede. I went to arts school there, and, of course, was really into music. I have always been into music, since I was really young. When I was a teenager I got more into indie rock and underground bands, but later on I started listening to the new UK groups like Underworld and Orbital. You know: The best kind of broad electronic music. It was very inspiring, this song-based electronic music.
So this song-based stuff was a nice transition to the perhaps more freeing structures of electronic music.
Yeah, because I did come from a guitar music background. Aside from listening to things like Nine Inch Nails once in a while. But there was always bands that are doing different things and then, there's like Underworld, Orbital, The Chemical Brothers, that took it to a next level for me, personally. This was also just when Dave Clarke had released his Archive One CD, which was a massive revelation for me. This sort of stripped-down-to-the-bone techno was something I had never heard before.
Was there a big scene in Enschede? Or was it a very small place?
Joris Voorn and his partner in Rejected, Edwin Oosterwal.
It was small, but it was very nice and intimate. I did a DJ competition basically when I arrived there. I must have been 19 or so? A local club was looking for residents on their student's night, so I just played CDs, not even mixing really. Edwin [Oosterwal], my partner in Rejected, was in the same competition, and we ended up both winning. This is how I—almost right when I moved to the city—had a stage to start DJing. Also I had to learn quickly, because I didn't really know how to DJ.
Did you immediately know that Edwin and you had a similar music taste that was going to work out well?
We were DJing around '96 or '97, when big beat, drum & bass, Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk was all getting popular, so we played a mix of all these different styles. Edwin was more focused on house music. He knew a lot about techno and house and a little about drum & bass. I came from a different ground, he inspired me to listen to a lot of, for me, totally unknown music. Artists like Jeff Mills and DJs like Derrick May.
Were guest DJs coming into town that were inspiring to you, or were you traveling to other cities to see them?
Not really. We were really doing it all on our own. We had this Thursday night, and lot of people from the art academy came there because it's really a ghost town. There's not much happening, but all the people just wanted to have fun on Thursday night, so we all gathered in this club. [As far as traveling goes], I was really studying at that time, so on the weekends I was mainly just hanging out with friends, working on my architecture stuff or doing music. I had bought a Groovebox from Roland, so I would spend whole weekends with that.
Was there a moment that you felt like you had gotten to a point with the producing that you finally had something that you wanted to present to the world? Was there that a-ha! moment?
That was a lot, lot later. I think that was more like 2000, when I had moved to Rotterdam. I had moved there because I wanted to continue architecture. In the first year, I didn't work, I just went to school again. So I had a lot of time on the side, and started producing a lot of music. Well, I wouldn't even call it producing music, I was just sketching. By 2001 I had the first few tracks that I thought sounded OK, but I never really had the urge to send anything to anybody before I was happy with it myself. I think nowadays people will download Ableton Live and they download a sample CD and in one hour they make a track and send it to a hundred DJs on MySpace.
It certainly seems like—with the labels that you run—that there is a level of quality control that is borne out of that same desire to not flood the market.
Yeah, that's quite a subject you're touching there. I think, in the end, if you're in music, then it should be about the music. Not about the quantity of records you release. You shouldn't have to keep releasing music every month just because. If you've got something that's good, then release it. If you don't have anything decent, then just focus on other things.
Speaking of the labels, Ripperton has an album soon on Green. How did that come about?
I met Ripperton maybe two or three years ago I think in Holland, and then the day after I actually had to go and play in his town in Switzerland. So we were on the same easyJet flight, so we had a lot of time to chat. It really clicked, so we stayed in touch and when he was looking for a label for his album, I said very humbly that if he would ever consider sending it to me, releasing it on Green would make me very happy.
"I'd said before that Ibiza wasn't
my thing. But that was because
I'd never really been there."
Obviously there are portions of it that are not geared toward the dance floor. Is that a specific desire of yours for the album format on your label?
I think my first album, From a Deep Place, had some quite dance floor-oriented tracks on there. I mean, Ripperton's album was just what he made. It's not that I asked him to make a certain kind of music, he just made the music that he made and I was very impressed with what I heard. As it is an album, it's supposed to be listened to at home or in the car or anywhere else. I personally never ever, ever listen to techno or house albums you know because I simply don't really think that it's worth listening to them. That sounds a bit harsh but I just don't like the pounding bass drum when I'm relaxing or something.
What are you often listening to at home?
Recently I've really been listening to a lot of music from the '60s and '70s. Soul and jazz stuff. I just love the color of the music from that pre-electronic time. I like a lot of new music as well, I loved the Moderat album from last year.
Obviously mix CDs are a completely different format, but I wanted to ask you if the response to Balance 014 has perhaps changed the way that you DJ? Are you looking to be more adventurous, so to speak, in that medium?
Well, I changed my way of DJing about two years ago when I switched from playing CDs and vinyl to Traktor. That program has probably been the biggest influence—along with the hardware that I use with it, like the controllers. It was kind of like learning how to DJ again, you know? In the beginning it's quite static, because you don't have to pitch any records any more. It's changed the priorities a little bit when you're DJing. Now, it's all about making sure you play the right tracks. Looking for tracks is a very different process. I think the whole thing took about one, almost one-and-a-half years maybe, to be super-comfortable and really get the most out of the set-up. Now, I'm very comfortable. I'm not worrying anymore when I go to stage, but of course I'm always nervous something could go wrong. I had some technical issues last year. This is really the worst thing about the whole digital DJing side.
Was it any different though when you were DJing the other way? I mean, it's just different technical issues, right?
Well, the problem is that you have to bring all of your equipment yourself. So you're responsible for something if it goes wrong. I had a broken USB cable, for instance, and I only found out that it was the cable after I had some, um, issues on stage in front of an audience.
Ibiza was quite good to you in 2009, though. Did you feel that "Sweep the Floor" was going to be such a hit out there?
No, actually I've never really had big expectations for anything I've released.
Even after a couple of successes, you still have that…
Yeah, you never know. I mean, I might like it. Maybe some fans might like it, but you never know what the people will say.
You won the "breakthrough act" honor at the DJ Awards in Ibiza this year. Did it feel like a breakthrough year for you on the island?
I think so. I think I've done a few really good shows, if I may say so. And that definitely helps, you know? So many people go to Space or to Amnesia, so if you've done a good show there, you'll hear from so many people. People that you know, people that you don't know, so it's essential that if you get these spots on the island that you make sure that you perform well.
Are you surprised by the continued relevance of that? So many people talk about how Ibiza is dead, the numbers are down, but it still seems like if you have a good summer there, your stock rises considerably.
Yeah. I've said before, maybe the last two years, that Ibiza wasn't really my thing. But that was because I'd never really been there, and I always just felt that the whole Ibiza vibe wasn't for me. I personally think that music has changed quite a lot lately. The dance grounds have really shifted. The big DJs now play pretty underground music, and pretty underground music from the past. The world is kind of upside-down at the moment. Left and right has changed.
Why do you think this is happening?
That's a good question, because I think music in general has become more credible. I just think that the whole progressive bubble from a few years ago burst, and then I think the minimal bubble burst as well, so there was a void to be filled. I think it's filled with house music, that kind of sound of 2009. I think both minmal guys—and also the progressive guys—they all started playing that so...
Do you regard yourself as a house music producer?
No, I don't. It's one thing I like doing, but it's not the only thing I do. But I think that definitely the whole house vibe, the whole wave, has definitely worked for me. I really love playing a lot of stuff too. But I'm kind of missing the anthems, the really, really good tracks that stand out, you know? I think a lot of music actually is good for what it is. It's quite simple a lot of times, but you know house music, it's effective. I can really play very creatively with it when I'm DJing with my set-up at the moment.
Do you find yourself reaching back so to speak in your "box" for those anthems to take things over the top?
A little bit, yeah. A little bit. It's just that there's a lot of deep music, like really deep music. You know, the Resident Advisor kind of purist music. [laughter] There's a lot of that, you know? And then there's a lot of this functional stuff. But the really stand-out tracks, I can't find these so much.
So who is creating some of those anthems now? Is there anyone that you can pick out that you're excited about?
Yeah, that's the thing, I don't really know. I'm always bad with names as well, you know? But I was actually very happy to release the latest 360 single on my Green label because I feel that that is actually one of these tracks that really stands out. It's not trying to be this, it's not trying to be that, it's not for purists. It works great on the dance floor. It's melodic, it's recognizable. I'd love to hear more.