With a new EP out next week, we catch up with a Dutch veteran who's revered in house and techno circles alike
While the worlds of house and techno have been as close together musically, in the past five-ten years or so, as they've been for decades, there still aren't THAT many producers who are held in equal esteem on both sides of the fence.
Names like Kevin Saunderson, Robert Hood or Laurent Garnier spring to mind, but most electronic music-makers will tend to find more favour with one camp or the other. What the likes of the three producers just named all share is the ability to fuse the sheer driving energy of techno with the funk and groove of house, without alienating fans of either, and that's not always an easy task.
Another producer who can be relied to pull it off with aplomb, though, is Orlando Voorn, who first emerged onto the scene as a hip-hop DJ and turntablist – he came third in the Dutch DMCs while still in his mid teens – before being seduced by the lure of the 4/4 kickdrum in the late 80s. By 1991, tracks like Flash (credited to Fix) had garnered him the attention of the great and good from the Motor City, with releases on Derrick May's Fragile and Kevin Saunderson's KMS, and collaborations with Juan Atkins both for Atkins's Metroplex label and for Tresor.
There's always been a more house-oriented side to Voorn's productions, though – not to mention forays into hardcore, drum & bass and whatever else he felt like along the way – while last year's The Master album found him in funk, soul and disco territory. Clearly Voorn is a producer who doesn't like to get stuck in a rut, which as he explains below is one reason he's put out music under a truly bewildering array of aliases over the years.
These days, though, he's working mostly under his own name, as on his forthcoming Everyday Desires EP. The very first release from brand new London-based label Super Culture Music, Everyday Desires is a peaktime-oriented disco scream-up with something of a mid-90s feel in its original form, before getting deeper, jazzier makeovers from the man himself and label boss Will B, as well as a warping, techy refix from Terry Francis.
It's the kind of EP, in other words, that can be enjoyed by techno and house heads in equal measure. So here's what he had to tell us about it…
We're talking today because you've got the Everyday Desires EP coming out next week, so tell us a little bit about that track, first of all? To me it's got an almost Wild Pitch-y sound...
“It’s one of those tracks where I have the clubs in mind but is playable in many sets when house-minded. You could even throw it in a funky techno set – it’s a peaktime thing.”
What are your thoughts on the various remixes?
“I did two mixes, fabric resident Terry Francis did two and Super Culture boss Will B did one, too. They’re nice smooth variations on the two mixes that I did and the contrast is good between the mixes.”
Everyday Desires is the first release from Will B's new Super Culture label. How did you come to hook up with him?
“As with a lot people these days, we crossed paths on Facebook and Instagram. I always like to work with people that really understand what you want to achieve and are on the same wavelength music-wise – Will and I clicked immediately.”
Let's rewind now. You started out, back in the early/mid 80s, as a hip-hop/electro DJ and turntablist. Does that style of DJing ever still inform your sets? And have the worlds of house and techno lost something, do you think, in swapping turntablist-style mixing for simple blends?
“I learned that with techno and house there is very little room for cutting and scratching. However I love mixing and blending too... it might be cool to cut and scratch if you do hip-hop or drum & bass or ghetto tech, but most people that go out just wanna dance and not be distracted by scratching. I think music is in general something you gotta look at as a taste thing. What rocks your boat might be trash to the other and vice versa.
“Obviously I have a very sharp objective against this phenomenon ‘business techno’ where (IMO) mostly terrible music is represented by quick-risen ‘stars’. I often wonder why people let themselves be brainwashed by these horrible big corporate techno/house machines that use their money to dictate the festival scene. It has very little to do with talent – with a few exceptions that are really talented. Anyone with a budget can now become that superstar out of the blue.
“That said, there are also heroes that never moved from their path and remained loyal to their beliefs, and didn’t choose the commercial concept of producing something meaningless, soulless music. I have high regard for such artists and they inspire me to keep walking that same road.”
Compared to a lot of people you were a DJ for quite a lot of years before making the move into production, weren't you? Was that a deliberate decision or did studio/production opportunities just not present themselves in those early days?
“I started the DJ thing in my bedroom around 13 years old and my long-time friend Dave also had two turntables. We were practising daily at backspinning, cutting etc. At 15 I won a scratch competition at what was then the Flora Palace club in Holland.
“It was an all American-judged thing and I went there with no records because I had no idea I could compete in it. So I borrowed some records from a contestant and that contestant came second and was much older then me. He literally did not believe I beat him with his own records!
“In that same era, I was producing hip-hop already when I was 17, but that’s also when I really started digging into production. My first record was a hip-hop record, Hurt ’Em Bad by Fixomatic. Shortly after that I started to get into more styles of music and did a record as X-it, Keep The Party Going, which I did with tape loops.
“My first techno record was Frequency’s Hey Hey Hey We’re Rolling This Way on Lower East Side Records.
Do you feel there's too much pressure on young DJs and producers today to be all things to all people, all at once? DJing used to tend to come first, then production a few years later...
“These days it seems everyone's a DJ, producer and label owner from day one! Does that lead to a decline in overall quality standards, do you think? It depends on the person, I believe the scene is flooded now with people acting as producers and they don’t do anything – they just have some ghost producer do their work. People think they are stars but they are really frauds.
“It now depends on many more things that ain’t got nothing to do with music. It’s a power thing. If you have a believable history, then it’s of course granted there are many greats out there. But there are also artists/DJs that are flipping their style to obtain more money… it’s pure money-driven. It’s going to be a tough cookie for most people that want to do the right thing and you have little contacts… in this time, you need your own circle.”
You're one of the few producers whose name is held in equal esteem in house and techno circles alike, and over the years you've produced everything from hardcore to trance. But if push comes to shove, what's your true musical love?
“Well, I did not really produce trance – it’s one of those styles that is mostly nerve-wrecking! Solid Session, which I did as Format in 1991, is considered a trance-starting record, but I disagree with that as trance music is not funky and does not have soul most of the time. Especially now, it’s kind of an insult to me to compare the Solid Session original to trance music. The only trance-like track I did was The Deep but there is still some soul in that track.
“My favourite styles of producing depend on the moment but I am versatile and like to do as I please so it’s tuff for people to put me in a box. My last album The Master was really nice to put together. That contains raw soul, funk, house, disco. I love all these styles but I also like hard techno… it just has to have something that grabs you.
“The techno with only boring ass drums and no feeling, just soulless machinery, is not for me. I like it to have some substance, no matter what it is.”
You've used a bewildering array of aliases over the years. I'm guessing that's partly a function of the above, with different aliases for different genres, but do you ever wish you'd maybe used less aliases and put your own name out there more?
“Yes and no! There were a couple of advantages and also disadvantages about that way of working. But it was also great to see a record hit hard with an alias and people don’t even know it’s you till years later.
“The output was always the reason for me to do different aliases, along with the styles of music. One project would be hardcore and the other would be house-y and another would be drum & bass and so on. This way you can also see what works and what doesn’t without immediately having your name on it. But these days I use my name a lot more, as well as some of the well-known aliases like Basic Bastard and Fix.”
With over 30 years in the production game your production CV/discography is a long one… but if you had to pick, say, THREE of your tracks/releases you were most proud of, what would they be?
“That’s a tuff one. There are many I am proud of, and some not so much anymore! But…
1. Format #1 – Solid Session (ESP, 1991)
This track was put together in an hour and my idea at the time was it needed to be a cross between Detroit and the B.E.S.T. Records sound of Eric Nouhan & Dimitri. I was heavily inspired by their stuff on that label. Through this record I met Blake Baxter who had that record at #1 on his playlist at the time. This record is still played everywhere today and it came out In 1991.”
2. Fix – Flash (KMS, 1992)
“When I put this track together nobody understood it in my birthplace Holland. It was a sampled piece mixed with real played synths and ghetto-style drums and pitched-up funk all stars. Around that time I went to Detroit and met everyone, including Kevin Sanderson who runs KMS. I played him the tracks Flash and D’ope Computer, both funk-fired techno tracks, and the rest is history. After KMS released it, it still took six months for it to completely take off and it was a hit in Detroit first. That’s one reason I am so proud of this one – to have a hit in Detroit with techno is not the easiest task!”
3. Infiniti – Game One (Metroplex, 1994)
“As everyone knows, I made a couple records with Juan Atkins and this one was the most natural, in that it was 50/50 equal collaboration in my then home studio in Amsterdam. Juan just said, ‘Hey man, we here, let’s fire this shit up!’ and so we did. It was made in a very natural way, like we understood each other completely. Juan called me from the States a couple of days after he was back and asked me to release it on Metroplex, and it’s now known as a label classic.”
With the benefit of all your years' experience, what one piece of wisdom or advice would you offer to anyone starting out today?
“Have legal advice on all your paperwork and understand all the things that come along with doing business and especially who you’re gonna do business with. The best thing is if you can keep the rights to your music and publishing, or make fair deals with third parties. And of course in today’s world it is important to promote yourself, have likes, have money, have scene friends… and, oh yeah, you need some talent as well!’
Your DJ biography claims you were an inspiration for Deadmau5 and his mouse head costume… how does that work, exactly?
“Don’t know who wrote that bio, but let’s just say I won’t waste any more words on this character! Lol :-)”
Finally, what else is going on/coming up for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“I have lots of things coming out in the next few months and into 2022. There’s a collaboration with Amp Fiddler on Burek, where I supply the music and Amp does the vocals. There’s the Swing The Jazz album on vinyl for Contrafact; a collab with the late Guru from Gangstarr & Lil Dap called Pay Attention is coming out on a Dutch label. There’s the Trigger EP on Clones Records, a Nighttripper album on my own imprint (vinyl and digital) and the DBA 002 and DBA 003 (Detroit Boogie Assemble) EPs.
“There will also be a couple of my tracks on a Detroit vinyl compilation by Rick Wilhite on Michel De Hey’s label In The Future, there’s tracks such as Without No Doubt and Rareform including an Anil Aras Remix of Without No Doubt which is already circulating on Ballroom Radio Records. There’s also a vinyl release of two disco heaters.
“Also, people can follow me on my Bandcamp, as there are a lot of things there you can’t get anywhere else yet or period, and many more in the pipeline.”
Words: Russell Deeks
Everyday Desires is out on Super Culture Music on 26 November