A singular DJ crafts a bold three-turntable mix.
"What punk meant to me was not the style of music, but an attitude to life," Marcelle Van Hoof once told the magazine Tight. "To be open to different cultures and don't care that much about audience and expectations. To go your own path." By this definition, Van Hoof is most definitely a punk. In the booth, which she likes to decorate with plastic flowers, she uses three turntables to weave a dizzying tapestry of disparate sounds—jungle, dub, dancehall, post-punk, ambient, whatever. Unconventional as her approach may be, she has no trouble making parties pop off. No surprise, then, that after decades in the game, she is, as she puts it, "almost a hype these days." In 2017, she was named "lifelong resident" at Nyege Nyege in Uganda. This past weekend, she played the mighty Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona.
As she tells us below, Van Hoof's sound is the result of a lifelong dedication to boundary-pushing music. On RA.679, which she titled "An 'Okay' Mix: Respect!", she guides us through her unique musical universe, using, by her telling, "at least 47 sound sources on (mainly) three turntables plus reel-to-reel machine and CD and cassette players."
What have you been up to recently?
I just played, in amongst others, Barcelona, Stockholm and Marseille, and also visited a great exhibition about the French artist Jean Dubuffet in Marseille, one of the protagonists of Art Brut/Outsider Art. Very inspiring! I bought a book about Dubuffet, in French, and very much like reading it, not only for the content but also because it improves my French.
Also my new LP One Place For The First Time has just been released so I am dragging copies of this along to sell at all my gigs.
How and where was the mix recorded?
It was done in my usual manner: mainly using three turntables and playing records simultaneously, therefore creating a new context for all the individual sounds. I work very organically and let my intuitions guide me. It was recorded in our Amsterdam home, full of flea market stuff, books, colourful design and furniture and loads and loads of records. I mention all this because this environment is very inspiring and important for and to me. That's one one of the reasons why I always bring plastic flowers and colourful cloths to my gigs, to brighten up the clichéd / male black set-up of the DJ booth. I create my own world!
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Playing great cutting-edge music and by playing them in a different way, hence on top of each other and sometimes radically changing style between the vinyl. You hopefully feel more liberated than what people do with your usual, more conservative and conventional mixes. Also I want to play more new music, as I think it's important for my art to be contemporary. But obviously I like to show my influences too, like in this mix Nocturnal Emissions and, one of my all time inspirations, Muslimgauze, who along with Mark E. Smith of The Fall had a totally unique and extremely inspiring "I just do what I believe in and fuck every one else" atititude. Both Smith and Muslimgauze were creative wonders. Miles ahead of their contemporaries.
You've got to have one of the most wonderfully peculiar record collections in dance music. How do you find new music? And how do you get to know your records well enough to find these wild connections between them?
I wouldn't say "dance music," but more underground leftfield music of the past 40-50 years. For example loads of dub, (post-)punk, leftfield electronic music, avant-garde, music from Africa. Also I wouldn't call it 'wild' (that description only says something about the person who says it) but more "creative, liberating and free."
It's not always that important to know all my records that well, I like to improvise, watch the grooves to see whether it's a loud or more soft passage, and also chance plays a part in my mix. I also like to think I have an ear for combining different sound sources very well. I can be quite indecisive in "real life" but when it comes to mixing and producing I am quick and creative. I never practice my sets, I decide in the moment but obviously I listen to a lot of music at home and in record shops. So some records I DO know :-)
What are some other DJs you admire? How about parties or clubs?
Not many as I believe the way of working and attitude of the majority of most DJs is very stale and limiting. They "act" how a DJ should, with their gestures, beat-matching and often bland music. I want to celebrate life with its endless possibilities, so to be free and open is of utmost importance. I also pay great attention about whether the music you play is actually very unique and great. That may sound like a cliché but I find too many DJs spend too much focus on the clichés instead of actually playing great music. I believe that sometimes audiences don't realise how bored they are at "regular" DJ sets. Well, sometimes they tell me after they saw and heard me: "We didn't realise that a DJ can also do something like you do!" Authenticity!
Of course, I like a good dub or techno set, but music should me more than that. I try to go beyond hedonism and "just having a great party." It's also about what you're trying to say, to get rid of conventions and be inspired to live life the way you want it. Not escapism but staying in reality.
What are you up to next?
Obviously producing new music and also playing a lot, in, amongst others, Athens, Rome, Paris. Festivals like Dour, Unsound and Lowlands. I very much look forward to returning to Nyege Nyege Festival in Uganda who have appointed me their lifelong resident DJ, which is a great honour for me, coming from such brave and supportive bookers. I received offers to play in Brazil, Reunion Island, Australia, Canada. I am almost a "hype" these days, which gives me mixed feelings. It's nice to be appreciated but also I want to stay my own woman and not get carried away by fakeness and trends. But then I play at home "Careering" by PiL, one of my all-time favourite songs, and I know I will never follow that wrong "mainly doing it for the money, fame or appreciation" road that too many artists follow. Music is too important for me to have it tampered with.