The Dutch techno producer has reinvented himself as a live act – and he's got the recently released live album to prove it
Known to his mum and the taxman as Robert Vosmeijer, Dutch techno producer and Patron Records boss De Sluwe Vos – the name means 'Sly Fox' in Dutch – first started making serious waves on the international scene in 2015, with the release of his three-part album Kontra.
Since then he's appeared at numerous festivals worldwide including Glastonbury, DGTL, Fuse and Awakenings, and had releases on labels including DGTL Records, Who's Susan and Unknown To Unknown. But in December he returned to his own imprint with his fourth long-player Live At Lowlands, a blistering house and techno set in which he shows off what he can do with his new, all-analogue live set-up.
We were intrigued… but everything we knew about the man up to that point, you've just read! So we set about discovering more, via the time-honoured technique of asking him some questions, and here's what he had to tell us…
We're told the album represents "a new fully analogue live show" that you've been working on for two years. So were you not playing live at all before that, or were you playing live but with a different set-up?
"This isn’t my first live show, but it's the first in this particular format. I already did a live tour a couple of years ago, before the release of my first album ‘Kontra’. In that set-up I did play with a lot of analogue equipment, but it was mainly based around Ableton.
"After the album was released, I also did a tour with a live band, and we rewrote some of the tracks so that the drummer, marimba player, percussionist and guitarist were all able to play them. That was really amazing, but my input was still, for the most part, based around Ableton.
"For my latest live show I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to take the stage with the same equipment I also use in my studio, and I also wanted to push myself away from my control freak self and force myself to improvise. This worked out quite well."
Talk us through what kit you use for live performance… and if push came to shove, what piece of gear could you absolutely not live without?
"The set-up consists of a sampler/sequencer (Elektron Octatrack), two drum computers (Roland TR-8S and the Acidlab MIAMI), a MIDI clock (ERM Multiclock), a polyphonic synth (Waldorf Blofeld), my modular set-up, some foot pedals, a compressor (FMR Audio RNLA-7239) and the Elektron Analogue Heat Mk 1 to glue it all together. The mixer that I use is a Midas Venice 160.
"The Octatrack I mainly use for routing my audio. All my drums come together in one group on the Midas, the two outputs of that group go into the two inputs of the Octatrack, and from the Octatrack it goes to a stereo channel on the Midas. This routing gives me the ability to mute my drums really fast using the crossfader on the Octatrack.
"On the other two ins and outs, the sampler of my modular is connected. I will tell some more about that shortly. Besides the audio routing I also use the Octatrack for sequencing the Blofeld, which works really well! I’m a big fan of the sequencer on the Octatrack, and because my modular is monophonic, the polyphonic touch of the Blofeld really works like some sort of glue to the whole set.
"In my modular there are different oscillators, filters, sequencers and effects. The effects are a delay (MakeNoise Echophone) and a reverb (MakeNoise Erbe-Verb), which I signal via an Aux on the Midas. Because of a combiner in my modular, I can take the oscillators and Aux from the Midas and combine these with the effects so I can signal them together, which makes it to work really smooth for me. It also makes it more of an undivided whole.
"Next to all of this I also have a 1010 Bitbox in my modular. I use the Bitbox like a sort of Ableton grid and it gives me the ability to play existing loops. The clips are selectable with a MIDIi controller, which goes into a FH-1 to convert the midi signal to cv. The output of the Bitbox subsequently enters the Octatrack so I can use its filters to mix the Bitbox with the rest of the gear. For those who are interested there’s an overview of my modular system here.
"All of this is glued together using someslight saturation from the Analogue Heat, which is inserted on the insert on the Midas's master channel. There is also a filter on the Analogue Heat that is constantly on. The (high pass) filter is controlled by my foot, using a sustain pedal, and by a pot meter on the MIDI controller. I used to only use the sustain pedal, but I soon found out it made it all too static, and I wanted to control it all like I was playing a DJ set. The guiding of the filter with my hand works really organically.
"This whole set-up cost me a couple of years to put together, a long process of ‘trial and error’. The Bitbox really saved my life: I don’t think I could play without this sampler. And like I said before, the Blofeld really is the glue of it all and without the Octatrack I would be lost, ha ha. I don’t know if there is one piece of gear that stands on itself – everything really works as a whole."
The fact that it's an all-analogue system – was that a conscious decision you made or just how things panned out? And what are the pros and cons of working this way?
"I thought, I’ve been working with analogue equipment for such a long time now, why not just try? Let’s just work on this set in peace. So bit by bit it all came together, and I realised I wasn’t dependent on Ableton to make it work. So then I consciously made the decision if I would do it, I would do it 100%. After a full year of trying different things – I literally tried every sampler, but eventually always returned to the Octatrack – I finally put together something that was fit for the stage.
"By playing live you really find out what can be improved in the set. I think the live album perfectly reflects the set like it is at the moment. I’ve got it under control. I think the biggest advantage of working like this is the freedom it gives you. It just gives the biggest rush to go on stage and really play. The whole ‘go with the flow’ element has something freeing, and this genuinely makes me enjoy it a lot.
"The downside is having to carry all the equipment, ha ha! And having to connect it all up each time, then break it all down, carry it back to my studio (which is in a four-storey building in central Haarlem) and set it all up again there."
When you're playing live, are all sounds generated entirely on the fly? Or do you use a lot of prepared loops and samples?
"The biggest part is generated live on stage: for instance, all of the drums and kick drums and a big part of the synthesis. Next to that, I also wanted the possibility to play existing tracks and translate them on the stage: the Bitbox makes this all possible. Another part consists of loops and samples."
And is this live album "fully" live – ie, you hit Record at the start of an hour-long set, and Stop at the end of it? Or were the live jams edited down to make sense in the album format?
"We recorded all of the channels entering the Midas instantaneously. The recording consisted of 16 channels, which we remixed afterwards. The good thing about this process is that we had the option to cut out some elements. The stage I was playing was huge and demanded for those big drum rolls and reverb moments, which maybe aren’t so nice to listen to on an album."
There seem to be a lot more "live" techno artists around than there are "live" house artists - why is that, do you think? Is it because house tends to lean more on traditional song structures, and so offers less scope for improvisation, or is there more to it than that?
"I’m kind of amazed by this as well, and to be honest I’m not quite sure why it is! The only reason I can come up with is that techno doesn’t need any breaks. So yeah, house is usually formed around original song structures. This given might be tricky for artists to improvise when playing live. It makes it hard to form A/B's really fast."
What other live techno acts have inspired you? And have any of those artists ever given you any help or advice?
"If there’s one name that instantly comes to mind it has to be Mathew Jonson. I’ve heard him play live a couple of times now, and his sets are always so fresh and gripping to listen to. There's also a nice video about his live set-up on YouTube that really helped me out."
That said, do you even see yourself as a "techno" producer, given that the album certainly isn't lacking in housier moments? How do you describe the music you make?
"For me, techno just feels like a wider spectrum than house does. I’m very conscious of playing and producing a wide variety of sounds, but I feel most comfortable using the term ‘techno’. That being said, I don’t believe in genres and it kind of confuses me when I have to describe myself as an artist playing/producing a certain genre."
How do you see live work fitting into everything else you do, going forward? For instance, Sayek's studio recordings are now jammed out live as well, rather than being programmed – is that a route you see yourself going down?
"I would love to improvise some more. A lot of the tracks I’m finishing at the moment came into existence on the stage while making a certain sequence in that moment. I’ve noticed this really works for me: it's fast, efficient and you don’t have to think about it so much, ha ha! Maybe this is something I like to pursue some more in the future. Next to that, the set-up feels so familiar now that it might be time for some swaps, maybe with a new synth or drum computer."
If the album's got iDJ readers excited, when can they hear more – do you have any plans to play live in the UK any time soon?
"At the moment there are no UK dates in my diary, but the set-up is designed for flying, so who knows? I would love to travel with this live show and see different places!"
You also run the Patron Records label, so tell us a bit about what's going on there?
"Patron is the label on which we release young talent, which we think everybody should be listening to. It is also a nice platform for myself to show my more experimental side. Up until now we’ve released a lot of electro tracks, like a couple of EP’s by the mega talented artist Lewski. But for the future we want to broaden our horizon some more, which comes down to everything I like and that fits the label."
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I just really hope people like the album and enjoy it as much as I did when making it. And maybe I'll see you at a live show in the future!"
Words: Russell Deeks Pics: Sven Signe Den Hartogh (top), Jorn Jileson (middle), Sofia Schuit (bottom)
Live At Lowlands is out now on Patron Records – click here to hear it on Spotify