For a DJ/producer who describes his music as straight from the heart, Joris Voorn is intensely thoughtful about his work. As we talked following his set at The Social Festival, the striking impression was of a man whose mind is constantly searching for ways to let music create a new, emotive experience.
Having observed the transformation of underground house and techno from a niche culture in the mid-90s to an environment populated by a cleaner cross-section of society, Voorn brings a rare level of perspective to the ins and outs of his industry.
What's your first memory of live music?
That must have been going to a classical concert with my parents. My father was a composer and he had his pieces performed a lot, so he brought his whole family along and we all had to sit somewhere quiet in the audience listening to an experimental saxophone player or something.
Did you enjoy it?
Erm… I'm not sure. I think the music he was making wasn't always the easiest to digest. I think for children it wasn't so much… I mean, it's amazing music, but you need some trained ears to really appreciate that.
Is accessibility something you think about when you're making your own music?
I think so, yeah, absolutely. It's something that I do believe in. I'm someone that makes music more from the heart, rather than with my brain. It's a different approach to music.
How did you get into electronic music?
I think listening to electronic music came through the radio in my time. Things like Leftfield, Underworld, The Chemical Brothers, this kind of music which, to me, was really interesting. It had the kind of indie sound but with a more electronic feel. And also, me having been a fan of bands like Nine Inch Nails, which is already quite electronic, that was an easy entrance for me.
Is that meeting point between electronic and 'indie' music something you're interested in?
Yeah, I think that's something I explored with Nobody Knows. Dance music is usually about a certain structure, a certain melodic harmony, that I tried to step away from. And I really tried to approach the music from a more emotional point of view. Also less repetitiveness, so the chord structures are very different, they're much more song-like almost. It was a very interesting challenge for me, and interesting journey. I think the way the music ended up on the final album, it's still a very different kind of atmosphere than what I play in my DJ sets.
Did you approach fabric 83 in the same way?
I think fabric 83 is a lot more about the dance floor. Although not completely, because I think when you make a CD it still has to be appealing for home listening or car listening, or anywhere outside of a club. I wanted to present something that was going to create a different atmosphere with the same kind of music that I play in my sets. And also taking the concept that I had on my Balance 014 mix CD from 2009, where I was trying to mix kind of solid dance music with more ambient and almost indie kinds of sounds as well, to create a whole new story. Literally a full story-line from the beginning to the end.
It's a real skill, pulling together so many influences and different tracks, and yet keeping it simple and allowing the story to come through.
I think that by using so many different tracks, it's kind of creating music with music. I don't really simply play one track ofter the other because I don't get the same atmosphere that I'm looking for. It's much more about making artistic decisions that you cannot make if you're just playing a track, because there's nothing you can really do. Whereas in every single track, I’ve sometimes just used a two-bar loop or an intro, or whatever part I felt was going to match for the moment. And in this way, artistically you can really do something special and something you could never ever do with two turntables or maybe even four turntables.
Were the Joris Voorn tracks on fabric 83 written specifically for this mix?
There's a remix by Nobody Home [Fall]; then there's a beatless track that I used as an intro a couple of years back for an Awakenings party in Holland. Another track is called Looks Fake Obviously, that's kind of a nod to the LFO name – I made that track kind of inspired by some old LFO tracks where the rights from Warp records had expired. So that was an interesting process. To be honest, I think this is one of the great things about making music. You can't really plan things so much, you know, sometimes you just have to let go and seize opportunities that appear right in front of you.
You mention Awakenings. What's it like from an artist's point of view?
It's the classic Dutch electronic party. I used to go there I think the first year they opened in Amsterdam. And then a couple of years later, after I had some releases, I started playing there. I'm really good friends with the promoter now and the guys still working there, and I'm just kind of part of the furniture. But it's a great group of people to work with, because the standards they have are really really high, on every single level. So I'm blessed to be able to work with them.
Do you ever think back to going to Awakenings when it started, and the journey you've come on?
I do sometimes, yeah, and it's actually very different. In 1997 it was great but it wasn't anywehre near the production that it is now, with all the LEDs and sound, so I don't really know what it's like to be in the audience. But I think I should go and do that again, so probably at the ADE show, I'll go into the audience and try to enjoy it like that a bit more as well.
This ADE, at the Awakenings Presents Joris Voorn & Friends night, you've got people like Agoria, Hot Since 82, Green Velvet playing with you…
Yeah, I think that's also one of the things that's so amazing. Over the years we've gotten so close, and we like working together, and they're such good nights. I'm super happy. I think it's gonna be a great one.
Do you have a favourite country to play in?
Audiences are very different in different places. I think Holland's really good at the moment, there's so many good festivals and club gigs around. The UK, I think is always amazing. It's a very educated crowd that's also interested in a very broad range of music. In Spain the parties tend to be a bit more techno, a bit more high-energy and really really good, especially for really big raves. Italy is interesting too, a very groovy kind of vibe. And the US, of course, is amazing. It's kind of been starting up for a really long time already - the development in underground dance is going a little bit slower than elsewhere but still, it's really picking up. So basically anywhere in the world there's something interesting happening.
How would you describe the difference between festival sets and club gigs or your own shows?
I think when you're at a festival you have to always look at who's playing before you and, a little bit as well, who's playing after you. At least that's what I like to do. I really enjoy playing shorter festival gigs where the attention span is a lot shorter for people, and it's more about compressing it, all the energy into an hour and a half.
And finally, if you were to curate your own festival stage, who would you book at the moment?
Oh my goodness, that's a difficult one! I would probably try to put on a lot of different kinds of artists, to show the whole range of electronic music nowadays. I would probably try to see if guys like Four Tet would be up for playing. Maybe see a Dutch guy like Tom Trago to do an early set. Who else? Actually I did a Mysteryland stage and I had Agoria play, who’s also someone who’s been around for a really long time and he did an amazing set. There’s a Dutch guy called Joran van Pol who’s like a groovy minimal techno guy whos’s done stuff for Minus and really knows how to rock a bigger crowd.
Thanks to Mylene Philippo and XSENSE – organisers of Sneeuwbal Winter Festival, Lief Festival, Brothers Open Air and World Of Pleasure – for your help in arranging this interview.