Music speaks louder than words _ Interview with Opuswerk [Plak Records]
Opuswerk is Hendrik van Boetzelaer, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland and he is very good a making lush & sometimes dubby, filthy, jackin techno.
We meet at the mid-point of the Sea of Cables to discuss music production, his releases and his work at Plak Records.
Well Hendrik, how are you? So.. was your family encouraging of music as child? Were there any musical instruments at home?
I can’t really pin-point when I discovered music. It’s one of those things that’s always been there until one day you look at it differently and it starts really shining. Playing an instrument was compulsory in my family, so I’d say I was encouraged to get into music and helped me build tools to understand what it’s about. As a kid, I played the flute and later on the saxophone until I started skateboarding. Then there was no music making for a while until I got some turntables.
What was the 1st song that you can remember paying real attention to?
That would be on a late night ride home from a friend. I was hitch-hiking, and for some reason it was one of those times where the first car would pick me up. The last one, had drum and bass blasting through his radio and crazy lights in his car. I got home recorded the radio show to tape and forgot I had recorded it. I believe I’ve been hooked to electrronic music since I pressed play the next morning. My tastes as a child weren’t so great, so I’ll stick with that story J, apart from really really loving Michael Jackson’s Bad album.
Michael Jackson – Bad
What was the last non electronic record / CD you bought?
I recently stumbled upon the 2nd LP of Patty Drew “Workin’ on a groovy thing”. I’ve been enjoying this one since I got it. Perfect soundtrack to sunny Sundays.
How did you get into production? Did you start to DJ first, or did that come later?
Studying architecture left me with very little time off, and the little time I had, I needed for myself and to zone out. My flatmate at the time somehow had cubase installed on his laptop and I got hooked to it. It was the perfect escape after a long day drawing lines in Autocad. I could instead assemble blocks and notes in the sequencer! As I didn’t have a computer of my own, I was literrally squatting his. But it took a while until I did it more seriously, as studies where always in the way. Before that, I was already djing drum and bass, at a time where I found it was good and interesting (1998-2001). Then the whole wobble and clownstep thing came about, and I started studying, so I somehow quit and was trying to make stuff like Dom & Roland, not knowing what sampling was, nor about any of the famous breakbeats.
Who were the first producers / DJ’s to make your ears pop & your jaw drop?
First dj that really blew my mind so much he left me standing motionless on the dancefloor in awe was Dbridge, one of the guys behind the whole Autonomic thing. Interestingly, I was really following him when he quit Bad Company, and still do, as his sound is something really special to me. Techno-wise, a friend of mine was playing what he called minimal techno. His collection consisted of Studio1, Auftrieb records and other early really stripped out minimal techno stuff. Everytime I start a track, I whish to nail something in the same vein, but never got there yet.
Studio 1 Grün A1
Tell us about your first experiments in production.. did you try software? What was the very first piece of hardware you bought.
I was first working only on my flatmate’s computer who had Cubase. I remember trying to grab every possible piece of vst at that time. Looking back at it, I was maybe more collecting VSTs that using them to make music. That period lasted a while, and was not so productive. Then I decided to invest in monitors. When I got them, that was the moment I thought I was gonna do the music thing a bit more seriously. Unfortunately university was not really giving me enough time to properly use them. Then a few years later, and while I was finishing my master degree, I bought a second hand Elektron MachineDrum UW MKII. Mainly because of the great videos Wesen was posting at the time. Still got both the monitors and the Machinedrum today.
Which is better? Brand new or second hand equipment? Does any of your gear have a history or links with other people? I occasionally buy & sell synths / hardware and it always surprises me the history and links to other people – It’s a small world..
Getting the gear first hand really makes you feel like a kid at christmas, the unboxing and unwrapping is really nice. However, I usually tend to get gear where I can get it the cheapest, so that’s usually second hand, as the prices here in Switzerland for new stuff are crazy. But, as you say, getting gear of other people makes it a much more humane experience, and somehow when you use it, it makes it feel like it has more history. It also can link you up to people. Since the past year and half, I started getting hardware, mainly after meeting Rastko. He says he’s my dealer… He makes drone and crazy unrythmical music, on the most amazing modular system I’ve seen. So after having played around in his studio and having him try to sell me every piece of gear he had, I finally bought a Vermona Retroverb MKI of him. This led to me buying a Vermona Monolancet off another guy, who happened to know Chaton of Plak records, whom I knew a bit because we live in the same city, and because he was the friend of a friend. Thanks to that, I got more in touch with him, and to my really great surprise got a release on Plak, and am now running the label along with him. Now, the guy who sold me the lancet is lending me his sh-101 which he bought off Rastko. So yeah, I recommend buying gear second hand, you never know where it can lead to. I also have a second hand Waldorf uWave XT with a bomb sticker on it. The guy who sold it to me said it was to remind me of the bomb sounds it can make.
Is there an absence of grit and character in the digital age? What is your ethic towards making music? Keep it raw, or polish it up?
I don’t really believe in an absence of grit and character in the digital age, especially with how everybody seems now to want to add grit and character to everything. There can also be a very interesting aesthetic in the 100% digital. While acquiring gear, I got more and more into producing OTB, so I wouldn’t be able to polish things up too much, and wouldn’t spend time on getting things gritty. Funnily, this has really allowed me to make the music I wanted to make since the beginngin. Working ITB really didn’t allow me to get to where I wanted. I was always building up crazy melodies and ending up with progressive-house tracks instead of doing the linear repetitive machinic minimal techno I wanted. But I know other people using purely ITB stuff that make really great music. It’s really all about the mind behind the tools.
Will you talk us through your production set-up?
Everything is hooked up to an Allen and Heath ZedR16, which is a mixer and a audio interface. Since it got here, I never used any ITB equing, and if I use VSTs, I always send them through that, as the summing is really something else than ITB. Synth wise, I use a combination of hardware and software. The hardware ones I got are a Waldorf uWave XT, a Roland D50, a Matrix 1000 on lease and a Vermona MonoLancet. Depending on the track each of those can take various roles, from leads to fx sounds. As I said before, There’s also a MachineDrum on the desk, that I use for a lot of drum sounds, as well as for sequencing the other synths. It’s really nice to be able to make music without a computer at all. Soft-wise, I use the free synth by Urs Heckman called Tyrell a lot. It’s really a great synth for chords, pads, and strings. I also bought the great DIVA plugin. It’s a cpu hog, but it really sounds lush. I’ve used it in a few tracks already, but nothing that’s out yet. To color the soft synths, I use the D16 SilverLine plugins a lot. I find they can bring to life some more static soft sounds. I also have Maschine, but for some reason I can’t get myself to using it more. There’s also a few hardware fxs units, mainly a Strymon El Capistan for space Echo Duties, the Vermona Spring Reverb and a lexicon MX400. That may sound like a lot of stuff, but as I barely use ITB stuff anymore, it mostly allows for tracks done on 16 tracks, including about 4 stereo ones. The music making process is actually pretty simple. Build up clips in Ableton Live to sequence the hardware synth and get a groove running, and then I just record takes until I got the best one. Because my “studio” is in my living room, I mainly produce on headphones.
What do you think is the most common mistake people new to production make?
It’s hard to generalize, as we’re all different. But I’d say that when you start you’re convinced you need another synth, fx, sample pack or whatever piece of gear to get “that sound”. A lot of really great music was made on supposedly “shit” gear. But used in a specific way, they could actually make “your own” sound. It’s important to know your tools before you try and get another one. One can simply listen to what Legowelt or Levon Vincent make to get an idea of that. Another thing that can be really crippling, is the drive to get a release out. Nowadays there’s so many labels, that it’s relatively easy to find one that will release your music when you think it’s good enough. My recommendation would be to wait until yourself you’re convinced it better than good enough, and aim only to labels you look up to. When they’ll pick your stuff up, it’ll mean you’re ready. Don’t go for compromises.
What has been the worst and best buy?
As my wallet is far from infinite, I spend a lot of time researching the gear I’m gonna get. So I never bought something that I regretted buying until now (fingers crossed). Although I did buy a FastTrack Pro as my first soundcard, and I learned the hard way it’s sometimes really worth it to spend a bit more on studio gear.
What about playing live or DJ’ing Hendrik? Do you get out much?
Last gig I played was at la Gravière, a new place that opened here in Geneva. The rest of the line-up consisted of Nemelka and Wandler. Both did really great sets, and it was a real pleasure to see such a crowd here in Geneva. Proper techno night as one can see/hear HERE. I do want to mention that the one before that was for the Electron Festival as a warmup for Carl Craig for his 69 project. That was quite a rush and an honor for me.
Anything interesting coming up over the summer?
I used to have a residency at the Milk-klub that kept me pretty busy with bookings here. Unfortunately, I’m not the best at selling myself, and never put enough energy to get more gigs. I hope doing this interview is the first step of it. If anyone reading this is interested in booking me, please don’t hesitate to contact my booker at booking [at] plak-records [dot] com 🙂 haha.
Next gig I have coming up is with Brendon Moeller – also at la Gravière for his last album tour, which also be fun, as I’m a big fan of his work.
What are the next releases for Opuswerk?
I’m very shy in sending my stuff out to labels. So I got quite a few stuff that’s sitting on my hard-drive, some of which you’ve already heard. My next EP and probably with the hardest techno I ever did is coming out on Knotweed records and hopefully another one on Plak. There might also be something on Krill Music that we’re working on with the label boss. I also just had one that came out on Plak at the end of April: Link to clone.nl.
You have another side – which is your involvement in Plak Records.. They started in 91, didn’t they? Give us the low down..
This whole situation with Plak is something I’m still really gratefull for. As you said, the label has been running since 2001, with releases from the likes of Chaton, Hopen, Donato Dozzy, Quarion, Agnès, Ripperton, John Daly, Dachshund and more (the whole back catalog can be checked out on our brand new website). Needless to say, I’m still shocked to be on board too. Chaton was running it mostly on his own since the past 10 years, alongside the shop of the same name. Since January, he offered to Se-Te-Ve and me to join the “direction” of the label, where we all do every part of running it. We’re now re-invigorating the label for its 11th year. It’s a small operation, with every one knowing each other, so it really feels like a big family. I’m pretty new to all of it, and must say still very impressed by everyone on board. But thanks to how nice every-one is, it feels really great to be running a lable and much less of a daunting task, especially thanks to Chaton guidance. We all do it for the love of it, so we try to put out music we all believe in and deliver it in a quality package. Every release comes on black vinyl, and since this year, with amazing fully printed sleeves done by Fred from influx. The next covers he designed are simply gorgeous.
Theres been some really strong releases and great support right across the board. Can you tell us about the highlights and successes for Plak?
I’ve knew a little of the back catalog of Plak, mainly the +91 ahead sessions which to me are each really amazing tracks, and a great conceptual project. John Daly’s albums are really strong too. He actually just had a new one out on Drumpoet Community, which is about as great as his previous ones. It might be too housey for the subsekt community though, but it’s great music none the less. The next releases we got coming up are also really good, I can’t say much about them, except maybe for the Plak #26 which is getting pressed as I type. I’ll send you clips of the music as soon as I can 😉
How difficult is it to develop a unique identity as a label when anyone in theory can set up a bandcamp?
That’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves and I believe every label is asking themselves. There’s no definite answer, but I believe it’s a lot to do with the personnality and the convictions of the ones behind the label. Whatever you put out, if you’re honest to yourself and what you feel, I believe this should come out after a few releases and it will be picked up by your followers. It’s the same for great djs, no matter what they play, there’s always some sort of narrative to it where they’re sharing their music tastes and beliefs with you the listener. Tastes evolve as you go, so it wouldn’t be wise to be stuck in time and stick too much to an idea that was developped 10 years ago. Again, I believe that if you put out music that you believe in, that you as a dj would also buy and play, this will come out. Thinking about it, there’s a few great labels that, to me, have managed to maintain such a honest stance. I’m thinking of labels like Delsin and all it’s sub-labels, Deeply Rooted House Music, Sandwell District, Sudden Drop, Echocord, and more recent ones like Other Heights, Field Recordings, Frozen Border / Horizontal Ground. At Plak, aside from the label, we’re also promoting Plak record parties through our booking agency (contact: booking [at] plak-records [dot] com), so fans from all over the world can get a glimpse of what Plak is about behind the music.
Is it challenging to maintain the original ideals as time goes on? Or do you learn to become stubborn?
I’m really new to the label thing, so I’ll let you know in a few years. But I believe part of the answer lies above.
How hard is it to maintain a full time job and satisfy your musical responsibilities? What do you work at by day mate?
As I wrote before, I have a degree in architecture, at the same time I’m quite a geeky person, so after graduating and working in an office for about a year, I decided to go freelance. Since one year, I do consulting in parametric design for architectural firms. This involves a lot of code writing to solve geometrical problems, from the best shape of windows for optimal sun-light, to organizing 15000 acoustic dots on a ceiling. Aside from that, I do more standard architecture for smaller projects and I also run a small webdesign company called vbbros with my brother. There are also some other side projects to that. It’s actually quite a lot, and these days feels like too much. So I’ve decided that I was going to focus mostly on the parametric consulting and the music thing as soon as I finish the other projects I have running, in the medium term, I’d love to be able to merge both activities into one, combining sound and generative design. Also, now that I’m a part of Plak, I really want to make the most of this opportunity, to push the label forward in the best way possible, as well as do my best to maybe one day be able to add a little touch to the whole techno thing. I’m not really gifted, but I believe I’m very perseverant.
Have your opinions and expectations changed since you got involved with Plak?
Now with Plak, I’m on the other side of the music thing. It kind of revealed the crude reality of what running a label is about. Financially, it’s not the hard, although I believe it’s always been hard, and humanly it’s really amazing. Apart from the demos we get that are way off, some are amazingly good, usually the people behind the tracks are also great persons, so to me, apart from putting out music I love, it’s also an opportunity to meet like-minded people and work with them so we can all grow and add a little brick to the temple of techno. Regarding the promo, I’m starting to realise how difficult it is to push a release it as hard as possible without feeling like spamming the whole internet. Getting in the business side of music, really changed my view of how music is put out, as well as how it should be put out, and that has made me even more critical to my own music.
What do you do to relax?
I’ve been blessed to have an amazing girlfriend and even luckier that she’s really supportive to what I do. Even though she doesn’t like techno so much, nor me being busy all the time. When I need time to relax, I guess I spend most of my time chilling out, making music, or doing some graphic design. I believe I’m very lucky, as I never really feel like I need to relax, so it must mean maybe I never really work?
Techno Cats or Techno Dogs?
Techno cats 🙂
And finally – what was the best bit of advice that you ever got?
Be honest to what you do and true to yourself, it always pays. And more practically, if you need to eq a sound to death, it’s usually not the right sound to start with 🙂