Mixed up in The Hague
It's impossible to overstate The Hague's impact on dance music. In the early '90s, this small city in northern Holland crafted a bastardised version of the sounds bubbling out of Detroit, a ravey mash of jacking house and techno that, at the time, sounded almost impossibly futuristic. Record stores like Bunker and Hot Mix were the hub where I-F and Unit Moebius would meet to swap records and arrange acid-fuelled squat parties, and where a young Legowelt, aka Danny Wolfers, was exposed to the sounds of acid, punk and Italo disco, influences he's fashioned into some of dance's most confounding music. He explains why The Hague's role in Dutch music can't be forgotten...
What did the Hague mean for your music?
“In the '90s, there was a very interesting music scene here that revolved around Bunker Records and I-F. There were lots of record stores and there was certainly a sound coming out of the Hague, which especially with Bunker was influenced by Detroit, Chicago, a lo-fi music made with very cheap equipment. But there were a lot of different styles of music. The Bunker guys came from punk music, so there was a huge DIY aesthetic. It was different from a normal house label, somehow weirder and stranger, more sinister. At a party here in the Hague you'd have punk music first, then someone would play old movie music, then it would become very hard acid techno, and there'd be projections of cyberspaces, stuff like that.”
Was there much cross-pollination between cities, with the Netherlands being so compact?
“It is really close, but in the '90s when there was no internet, even smaller cities like Utrecht or Haarlem, or weird little cities like Dordrecht, they'd have their own labels and their own sound. Utrecht in the '90s had a label called U-Trax, and they'd have their own parties and stuff like that. But I'd only go to Amsterdam to see something really special like Mike Paradinas, because he wouldn't come to the Hague. But nowadays the cities have grown much bigger, they're almost touching each other now. So many suburbs sprawling into each other.”
What was the club scene like in the Hague at that time? Would most people play in Amsterdam?
“We'd have people from Chicago and Detroit playing here, artists from Warp would play clubs in The Hague, and festivals and stuff of course later. But in the '90s the club scene had mellow house, which was where all the pedestrian people went to. Boring, normal people. I don't know if that term mellow is known outside Holland? In the mainstream you had two types of music; hardcore gabba and mellow. And mellow was basically anything that wasn't gabba. And then you had the scene around Bunker Records, where I come from, all the weird freaks flung together. And they'd play Chicago house and Detroit techno, and people from the mellow club scene wouldn't know what that was, and for the hardcore gabbas it was too soft, they saw it just as mellow house. But yeah, in the squats here, the very weird parties where people would play really jacking Chicago, weird acid, electro. That kind of stuff all mixed together.”
Did that scene have much of an influence on you?
“I never went to the squats that much, I was mainly going to the record stores and listening to the music on the radio. I was interested in the music itself. I didn't do much partying, I was still pretty young. Like a schoolboy. It wasn't the best for me to be going to squat parties.”
How did you discover the music then?
“Well, it was on the radio.”
“Yeah, the national state radio, which now is really horrible, but it was your only source of music information. Every Friday night they'd put the most strange people there. I-F and Unit Moebius used to come there and be interviewed quite a lot. I guess the presenter liked them. Or they were the only people he could get on the show.”
Was there much of a pirate radio scene?
“You had a lot of pirate radio stations. In the Hague alone more than 10. And of course, also, with finding music too there were some really good stores here like Hot Mix Records, which was I-F's own record store and distributor. He'd go to Chicago himself to actually get the records, just get off the plane with boxes of Chicago house.”
Were you aware there was a scene for this stuff in the Hague?
“I was just surprised that in the Hague there were people listening to that kind of stuff. If you looked around people were listening to mellow or hardcore, and if you were in-between that, it was a lonely venture, so it was nice to hook up with kindred spirits.”
So for you the music was divorced from clubs?
“Yeah. I never went clubbing a lot, just to see a DJ or a band that I wanted to see. I wasn't a raver, definitely not. I spent all that time a raver spends dancing and taking drugs learning synthesisers.”
How did you first get into making music?
“When you're a teenage boy you want to make stuff. I never really got being in a band, because you've got to work with lots of people, but then I heard the first acid records, and house records with weird melodies, and then I heard that people made it in their bedrooms, that it was produced with just two machines and cassette recorders. I thought that was very mysterious and exciting, I wanted to do that too. so I just started randomly buying synthesisers.”
Where were you buying things? A specific store?
“No, I never bought it in a store. Just the ad paper. You could buy all that analogue stuff for 50 euros. You'd get a Juno or something, a Moog for a few hundred, a 909 for 300 guilders.”
How many synths do you have now?
“I don't know. 30? They're scattered around.”
How did you start hanging out with the guys like I-F and Unit Moebius?
“I don't know. Me and my friend Orgue Electronique just gave them a demo tape, to Guy [Tavares], and he liked it. We just hung out with them, met them at parties, stuff like that.”
You've got a huge number of aliases, and Lords of Midnite is the most recent. What was behind that project?
“They were tracks made for my DJ mixing. DJ Haus asked if I wanted to do another Legowelt record, and I said, 'No, I just did one, the market will be too saturated'. But I've got a cool new name, a really evil name — Lords of Midnite. I guess the music's a little bit more ravey and raw. And it uses samples, which is different to how I work as Legowelt.”
Normally it's your voice, right?
“Yeah, but in Legowelt I wouldn't use samples so blatantly as I did with Lords of Midnite. There's samples, like a sample from a pop record and a jungle record.”
What do you think of the resurgence of jungle, the Amen break coming back?
“I'm doing it too. A couple of years back everybody was using the TR-707 and Juno 60 basslines, and making the same arpeggio like Mr Fingers. You can't do that anymore, people are stretching — 'Oh, let's take UK rave and be influenced by that'. It's the connection with the past that comes back after 20 years.”
Do you not think it's quite regressive?
“It's because the future that we envisioned we'd be living in right now was bright. Now, of course, it's not at all like we imagined, so I guess that's also why we look back to the '90s when we still had this. Things were still nice. At a certain level, certain things — that futuristic thing, we still have to hold onto that, it's very important. A yearning, a hope for a better world. Advances that didn't really come. So it's looking back, but at the same time looking to the future.”
You've started working with the American producer Xosar recently, as Xamiga and also Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui. How did that come about?
“She was already making music, and I met her through a mutual friend who's a producer too. An American rap artist, who now makes freestyle trance. He was making really weird music back then, and I met her through him. I knew she was making music because I first thought it was a guy. I knew the name Xosar, and I'd heard the music, and thought it was funny she was a girl. Then we went to Turkey together, I think, how that normally goes. And if you like each other's music you start collaborating, you know? Why not?”
You recently talked about Marco Carola in Ibiza, and it being boring and non-creative. What do you think techno should be, if it's not that?
“Well, I think it should have a certain — it doesn't have to be melody, but maybe you can also do it with just a beat. You can probably make a genius techno record with just a beat, but it has to be an inspirational beat. Something new, a new expression, something in your mind that takes you to another place. If you move a little bit, that touches you inside.”
Ibiza doesn't seem the sort of environment for your music, with the sun and commercialism.
“I wasn't playing there. Xosar was playing. That didn't go down well either. The club was — it was empty in 10 minutes. It was very strange.”
Was that the Marco Carola night?
“No, that was another day, in Amnesia I think. I stayed till the end, he played like two good records. It was just a very weird, very surreal affair. The whole megaclub thing.”
You used to tour with a huge number of machines, but you've stripped that back to just a laptop now. What was the thinking behind that?
“Basically it was because a lot of the clubs I'd play didn't have any idea what the hardware set-up was, didn't have a mixer. It would be really crowded, they'd expect me to just — it would get impossible to set up. I think with the computer you can play just as well live as with hardware. All that hardware is just a computer with a box around it. A TB-303 is computer-controlled, a little box with buttons. What's the difference if you do that on a laptop with a few controllers?”
You use machines not because you think it's the proper way?
“No, that's such a dull way of thinking, that one thing is better than the other. Of course I used to think like that too but if you grow up a little bit you know it's all bullshit. You shouldn't have those ideas. 'Oh, hardware's better because it's hands-on'. It's bullshit.”
Considering your career was born from record shops and analogue synths, you don't see digital as a negative thing for the music industry?
“Definitely not. Nowadays, people that are still complaining about that, they need to be more futuristic. You can go record shopping on the internet too, even if it's record shopping for a wav file. It's the same as going to a record store, I guess. You just have to listen to a lot of crap to find something cool.”
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