By this point his Crème Organization imprint and its affiliated network of labels and artists, whose scene had birthed what was then called The West Coast Sound Of Holland—or more simply, The Hague Sound—was gaining international recognition. The US tour took them to dance music hotbeds like Chicago, Detroit and New York, but it was the off-the-beaten-path raves in places like Binghamton and Lawrence, Kansas, that pointed to the Crème ethos: "For the freaks, by the freaks," reads the label's battle cry.
Back in The Hague, the mid-'90s and early '00s raves attracted a mix of goths, punks, graffiti kids, skinheads and nerds, all dancing to hard industrial acid and techno. The city was a breeding ground for a small and tight-knit cluster of producers and DJs who would go on to have a lasting impact on underground electronic music. Bunker Records and Viewlexx were already well-known entities, while Legowelt and Orgue Electronique were starting to make a name for themselves internationally.
Van der Star founded Crème in 2001. By then he was already an established DJ in the city's squat party scene. He grew up in Leiden, a few miles outside The Hague, and became acquainted with Bunker founder Guy Tavares. He started putting on parties—low budget affairs in any location he could find. "We did parties in youth centres that were trying to help at-risk youths, which we weren't, but we were very good at pretending we were," he recalls. "Then there were insane squat parties organised by British travellers looking for easy money in the flower industry and an escape from the Criminal Justice act. These raves lasted for however long they lasted. There was no control, no security, no door people, nothing. Everybody kind of wandered in. You would see some 55-year-old guy walking his golden retriever at 6 AM in the morning—he'd just pop in and have a look around. Nobody really thought anything of it."
Soon van der Star booked Legowelt, AKA Danny Wolfers, and Orgue Electronique, real name Brian Schijf, to play at his parties. Both artists would become integral members of the Crème family. "I did a party in the late '90s called Breakers Revenge in a squat bar in Leiden," van der Star says. "I was looking for live acts and Guy recommended them. I thought they were a bit odd, and I am sure they thought the same of me."
Key early records came from Legowelt (Reports From The Backseat Pimp), and Bangkok Impact (Traveller), and all of them sold well. "I had to repress them and repress them and repress them," van der Star says, "and I thought that was normal." In 2002, the Crème Eclipse series started, which focused mostly on even darker recesses of electro. The label scored a distribution deal with Clone, the Rotterdam operation that was already distributing Bunker.
13 years in, Crème has weathered its share of fads and trends. The timing of the label's launch—smack bang in the halcyon days of electroclash—proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Though Crème's aesthetic seemed the very antithesis of the gaudy excess of Fischerspooner and Peaches et al., the two were regularly lumped together. Despite his professed disdain for the perceived shallowness of electroclash, van der Star admits the association helped sales. "We fought hard against them but we ultimately benefitted a lot from it."
Another important factor in Crème's growing international profile was the Global Darkness website, a rudimentary forum and database of sorts for likeminded music people. Launched in 1999, it contained articles and forums dedicated to different genres, and a "gear freaks" section that included Kassem Mosse among its users. In a pre-Wikipedia and -Discogs era, this kind of information "was very important in retrospect," van der Star says. "I keep running into people all the time that were on it. Most people who were involved in the forum from the early days, the weird freaks, have gone on to do interesting things. There were only a few hundred active members, but they were really active."
The website served as a conduit for the Crème-Bunker axis to launch an international tour. In 2001, van der Star joined Tavares, Legowelt and Orgue Electronique on the road. "We just started to put some dates on our website, called it a 'world tour,' and people actually started booking us," he recalls. Not only did the tour include the infamous show in Binghamton and dates across the US, it took them through Germany, the UK and Japan. They then returned to the US in 2002 for around 12 gigs in two weeks. "It was me, Legowelt, Orgue Electronique, Kassen, Bangkok Impact and Speculator [William Burnett, of W.T. Records] in a van. We covered more than 7000 miles that trip. Pure insanity in retrospect, I think it scarred all of us for life."
Since the beginning, Crème's visual identity has been the domain of Mehdi Rouchiche, AKA Godspill. Rouchiche's neo-horror imagery made a perfect match for Crème's dark but playful musical aesthetic. "People have always talked about [the artwork]," van der Star says. "It's very distinct. People actually thought it was some elaborate branding we did. It's not, it just happened that way. But he's like my brother, we're on the same wavelength most of the time, so it works."
In 2007, the Crème Jak series began, a jakbeat-inspired offshoot that released records from D'Marc Cantu, James T. Cotton and Hieroglyphic Being (as I.B.M) among others. Though sales were poor at the time, the series' sound—the dark, brooding, Chicago-inspired "jakbeat" associated with Traxx's label Nation—arguably pre-dated the current vogue for rough drum machine funk by a few years. "Crème Jak was really an idea that Traxx and I came up with in a car driving from Minneapolis to Chicago with Legowelt, for a gig organised by Jamal Moss," van der Star says. "Melvin was playing some stuff in the car. [The music] was a bit harder and darker. It was received very badly in the beginning, nobody really cared about it. Well, the freaks cared, but it wasn't picked up at all, minimal was still king." Despite the drop in sales, van der Star could still rely on the "weird army of nerd freaks" who stood by the label to carry it through.
Van der Star describes the mid-'00s as "pretty terrible" years for the label. The ascendency of minimal meant electro became a dirty word. As he puts it: "We were pushed into the uncool section." Sales dropped and he admits he had "a few serious moments of doubt" during these years. Despite this, the label continued putting out strong records from the likes of Rude 66, Traxx and Alexander Robotnick. Looking back, his attitude to this era is circumspect: "It was inevitable, like a pendulum swinging. But I was flexible. We just started to do a bit less—I could wear the loss whereas others weren't so lucky."
Less robust labels and distributors, however, drifted away. "There was a big crash, a cascade of bankruptcies within the distribution world—Neuton, Syntax and Cisco were dragged down by that. It was very tumultuous, a lot of labels went under but fortunately Clone was steady enough and survived. Those years were hard, so by 2008 or 2009, you had to really change your game plan."
The past 18 months, however, has seen labels like L.I.E.S. blossom, marking a return of the don't-give-a-fuck punk attitude that courses through Crème’s veins. Record buyers have again turned to darker, grittier sounds. Van der Star has embraced the newcomers, stocking L.I.E.S. and The Trilogy Tapes records on his Godspill mailorder shop. Last year he provided a cassette mix for The Trilogy Tapes—an honour also bestowed upon key underground figures like Kassem Mosse, Ben UFO and Madteo.
In April this year, van der Star set up another label, R-Zone, with a remit to put out records from established producers working anonymously. "R-Zone takes it back to the faceless dance music from back in the day," he explains. "It didn't really matter who made the track, it was just great. It's not about this guy or the next." He says the focus will be on "the stuff I was listening to in the mid-'90s, more breakbeat, jungle, hardcore, maybe some early techno." Two R-Zone releases have already come out, with a further seven already locked in. "It would be pretty fancy to have these big names printed on this new label, but it's even cooler that they're not. The music will have to speak for itself, because if they are so fancy then they should write kick-ass music as well. It should come out regardless of their reputation."
These days the Global Darkness forum is no longer active, but van der Star sees echoes of the collective feeling in contemporary sharing platforms like SoundCloud. "It's about the music again, it's very central, it's interactive. It's the first time that vibe of the forum is back." Despite his recent upswing in fortunes, van der Star isn't taking anything for granted. "I've also seen so many people disappear, they come up and go. A lot of people are fast risers and fast fallers," he says. "There's not that many people that stick to it this long. But there are some, and if you make it to the other side, then you're doing a good job."
Download: RA Label of the Month 1306 Mix: Crème Organization
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Filesize: 61.2 MB
Gunar Haslam - Cat Super Highway (L.I.E.S. unreleased) / Machine Gun
Alex Israel - A Man Of Qualities (Crème unreleased)
Bookworms - Untitled (L.I.E.S. unreleased)
Huerco S - Aphelia's Theme (Future Times)
Redshape - Path (Original) (Delsin unreleased)
Innershades - Nina At The Boiler Room (Crème unreleased)
Levon Vincent - These Games (Novel Sound)
R-Zone - 30390999 (R-Zone unreleased)
Mystica Tribe - His Temple (Syncom Data unreleased)
The Sun God - The Nine Billion Names Of God (Bio Rhythm unreleased)
Locked Groove - Dwarsdijk (Roze Balletten unreleased)
Xosar - Wildlife Genesis (Crème unreleased)
Simoncino - Tape Seven (Crème unreleased)
Kowton - Refix V10 (unreleased)
R-Zone - Rebecca In The Hall (R-Zone unreleased)
Terrence Dixon - Lost At Sea (Surface)
Legowelt - Unknown (unknown)
Moonraker - Oronimbus (Trilogy Tapes unreleased)
Fiedel One - Trinidad (Fiedel)
Samantha's Vacation - Untitled (L.I.E.S. unreleased)
DJ Spider & Marshalito - Untitled (Trilogy Tapes unreleased)
D'Marc Cantu - Tazakuro (Creme unreleased)