The techno twosome on giving up their day jobs and becoming one of 2019's must-check festival favourites
This summer just gone, we couldn't help noticing that one name seemed to be appearing on more and more line-ups – and appearing higher and higher up the bill, to boot.
The name in question, of course, was that of Belgian techno duo Joyhauser, who despite having just a handful of releases to their name have already become a big draw on the European festival circuit, appearing everywhere from Drumcode festival to Tomorrowland. Stijn Vanspauwen and Joris Cielen may have only got together as Joyhauser in 2017 but the pair, who hail from the small town of Bilzen, roughly 100km (60 miles) east of Brussels, have come a long way in a short space of time.
And speaking of travelling a long way, they're just back from their first US tour! So with their debut appearance at No Sleep Festival in Serbia also coming up on 9 November, now seemed like a good time to find out a bit more about them…
According to your Facebook page, you formed Joyhauser in 2017. What were you both doing before that?
"Joyhauser was born out of a common passion for electronic music culture – and the culmination of a friendship that goes back to 2004. Starting out as party promoters back in the day, we organised events in our hometown. Techno music was always our biggest passion and we already played some gigs now and then, but in 2017 Joyhauser really grew to a professional level. Before that, Stijn worked in the family firm, selling wood and furniture products, and Joris worked as a clinical and neuro-psychologist.
"For quite a long time, we tried to combine both sides of our lives, but at a certain point you just need to take a leap of faith. The weekly workload was getting really heavy and this was beginning to take its toll. At the moment, we have a lot more time to allow ourselves to grow as artists. In the past, the only moment we could really work in the studio was on Sunday evenings, usually after a weekend full of gigs, and we would arrive at work the next morning with barely any sleep. This had a negative impact on our creativity and energy. Hard times."
You've come a long way quite quickly – what's the secret of your success, do you think?
"Having a plan, patience and always believing in yourself. We see a lot of enthusiastic young producers and DJs that are so eager to make it like artists like Amelie Lens have, but it’s not that easy. You need to give yourself enough time to develop an identity, a sound, an idea of some sorts.
"We put out some releases on a very small label when we had just started out, but looking back on that later we actually regretted it. We became more critical about our productions, kept on refining our sound, and eventually this led to the success we’re having right now.
"Parallel to our studio work, we were also building our reputation as DJs in Belgium and beyond. You may be a great DJ, but you need to be great producer too if you want to break through internationally. Similarly, great producers aren’t always the best DJs, even though that’s what people expect when they come to see you play. When you can’t deliver on these kinds of moments, you can find yourself in a dead end.
"Surrounding yourself with a good team and good people is also very important. We became part of the Labyrinth family, one of the biggest club and festival organisations in Belgium. Later we joined The Bliss Office Agency, which houses artists such as Amelie Lens, Pan-Pot and Marcel Fengler."
What's the best piece of advice you've been given in that time?
"Be critical and stick to your vision/plan. As we said earlier, it may sound tempting to release on the first label that wants your tracks. However, it’s better to think it through first.
"'Which labels are right for me?' and 'Where do I want to go with this?' are questions you need to ask yourself. Credibility and identity are very important if you want distinguish yourself from the rest. It might seem difficult to say 'no' but if you want to be in this for the long run, you need to pace yourself. Self-reflection is key."
Belgium was once a world centre for techno, along with Detroit and Berlin… does the country's techno scene get as much recognition as it deserves these days, do you think?
"Belgium always played a leading role back in the early days of raving, the 90s. Sadly, a lot of discotheques from that era have closed down, but it always stayed an important part of our culture.
"Now DJs like Amelie Lens and Charlotte de Witte have put our country back on the map. When we’re playing abroad, people tell us about how great Belgium is doing and how much they’re fan of 'the Belgian sound'. We can only hope this inspires more young Belgian talents to chase their dreams as well."
Speaking of which, there's a definite 90s techno feel to a lot your work – is that deliberate, or just what comes out at the end of the session?
"We’ve always been a big fan of that retro rave sound of the 90s. Bonzai Records? Yes please! But we wouldn’t say it’s a deliberate tactic, it’s just a certain sound that we love and which we like to incorporate into our productions."
…although what you don't seem to go in for are the big 90s trance riffs that seem to making a comeback in techno circles of late! Any thoughts on that phenomenon – is the techno scene at risk of becoming more commercialised as a result?
"Actually, trance has also been a big influence for us, although you may not hear it that clearly in our productions.
"Techno has become a denominator for a wide range of styles and so techno, as a name, has indeed become more mainstream and commercialised than it was back in the days. However, this is just a wave. There will always be an underground counterpart in techno. The underground sets the trends, trends get picked up and they evolve into something completely new and different. This is just how music works: everything comes and goes eventually."
What's in your studio: are you in-the-box kinda guys, dedicated hardware nerds or somewhere in-between, and what pieces of kit/software could you not live without?
"I guess we’re in-betweeners! We like to work in the box because it’s fast and easy, but the hands-on control of hardware is something you can’t emulate with software.
"We bought a Native Instruments Maschine when it first came out 10 years ago, and we still use it in all our productions today. A few years ago we acquired a Moog Sub 37, which is also an important part of our production process. Software-wise we use a lot of Arturia Classic Collection plug-ins, just because they sound great.
"We’re not really a big fan of the analogue vs digital discussion anyways. Vintage analogue is cool but everything gets digitally processed so much nowadays that you lose a lot of that analogue character. As long as it sounds good, it’s good, in our humble opinion."
Who does what in the studio: is one of you the ideas man and one the engineer, or are all duties split 50:50?
"Stijn mostly starts crafting different ideas and concepts to lay the base of a track. We then choose the best ideas together and start working on the arrangement. Mostly we just jam a bit, record everything to audio and/or MIDI and then take the best bits from those recordings. Happy accidents are a really important part of producing, so we always try to record everything and work from there.
"We’ve come to a point that we know quite quickly if a track is going to work or not. If we don’t like it, we just start with something new. We never discard of something completely though, because we often incorporate elements of older projects into new tracks."
I know you've just been touring, so tell us about that… what were the highlights? And, as the tour didn't include any UK dates, are there any plans to visit these shores any time soon?
"Yes, we just came back from our first North American tour. We went to New York, San Diego, Mexico City and Guadalajara. Flying overseas to play on another continent is always something special. The highlights were New York and Guadalajara: both clubs were fully packed and the atmosphere was crazy, but of course we liked Mexico City and San Diego as well. We can’t wait to go back there!
"And we’re playing in the UK – Edinburgh, to be precise – on 1 November. New dates for London, Liverpool, Manchester and Belfast are coming up as well."
You're also playing at No Sleep festival in Belgrade on 9 November. Have you played there before, or is this your first time – and are you looking forward to it?
"No, this will be our Serbian debut and we can’t wait, because we've heard a lot of good things about the Serbian music scene. Just look at the line-up of No Sleep festival: some great things are happening over there."
Finally, what else is going on in Joyhauser's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"There’s a new EP on Terminal M coming up in November, which is a follow-up to our C166W EP in 2018. It consists of four tracks, kind of varied in style. We’re really happy to release on Monika Kruse’s label again, as Terminal M has always been a big inspiration for us. We also just had a really nice remix request, but we can’t talk about that just yet!
"Gig-wise we’re gonna be playing in a lot of new countries and cities. We have an India tour next month, for example, and new tours in the making for South America and Australia."
Words: Russell Deeks
No Sleep Festival takes place in Belgrade on 8-10 November. For further info and tickets, see the festival website