Hailing from Antwerp, Belgium, CJ Bolland is well and truly a legend of techno. One of the first producers to ever be signed by the iconic R&S Records, he has worked with everyone from Jeff Mills to Joey Beltram. Our editor Jordan Kinlan spoke to CJ recently as he took some time out from his busy studio schedule to tell us what he is up to lately.
In the early 1990s, he was top of the pile when it came to crunchy techno. Releases like ‘Horsepower’ and ‘Mantra’ on R&S really kicked things off. Bolland was based in Antwerp at the time and I couldn’t help but wonder how he got involved with the label who were based in Gent.
“By coincidence really. There was a pirate radio station in Antwerp called Radio Central and I used to go there on Sunday afternoons to play house and early Detroit techno stuff around 1985/86. I used to go in with little demo tracks I made at home on cassettes and play them. A phone call then came in from a guy in Gent who said, ‘I’ve got a studio, I’ve got a record label, can we talk.’ So I took the train to Gent, had a sit down, saw his studio, met Cisco Ferreira who was working there at the time, and I didn’t want to go home (laughs). Sign here…”
Known to be a collector of studio hardware, I got an insight of how he started his collection.
“The very first thing I bought was Korg MS-20. I had a lot of fun with it but I couldn’t sequence it, I couldn’t do anything with it, in fact I didn’t even know what a sequencer was. So I started looking around and found a sampler made by Ensoniq and it was called a Mirage. I bought it and it was the first chance I had to sequence things. Saying that it was really crappy (laughs). After that I picked up a 303, an 808 and suddenly I had really tight beats. I would work weekend jobs and holiday jobs just so I could buy more gear, it was what you had to do!”
Sharing the studio with the likes of Dave Clarke, Laurent Garnier and Jeff Mills, did CJ ever think he was going to be such an influential figure in techno?
“No not at all, that was the last thing on my mind. I was just happy to be there and having fun all the time. Don’t forget at the time, all these guys coming in, Dave Clarke, Richie Hawtin would drop by, Joey Beltram was there, we were all just young kids, including myself. I remember having Juan Atkins there and that was the first time I was star struck. I was only 17 at the time and this hero of mine had just walked in. But as for everyone else, we’d just hang out. We were actually writing too many tunes (laughs).”
Growing up around the time of the revolutionary Detroit sound, where did he get the inspiration to make a more darker, heavy-hitting sound.
“For me, it all started in the 80s with the dark side of of new wave which was called cold wave. You had electro cold wave, really industrial stuff, the likes of The Neon Judgment and then the Germans were also doing the same thing. I just really loved that dark, edgy, crunchy analogue sound. So I started doing my own home productions in the early acid house era and then I met Dave Angel. He really introduced me to the Detroit sound and I was like “this is amazing.” At the same time there was this really hard four to the floor beat coming from Belgium. So I would mix that sound with my love from Detroit sound and it worked really nice.”
A lot of people claim techno was born in Germany, some say Belgium. As one of the first people around to make that type of music, CJ gave us his thoughts on the discussion.
“It originated everywhere, Germany is definitely hugely influential, but so are Belgium and Holland. I mean, Holland invented invented Gabber! (laughs) So I don’t know who the very first person to ever do a hard techno tune, but what I do know is that it was happening very early on in Belgium, Holland and Germany.”
Tonnes of EPs, many different aliases and white labels, these were ordinary things was the 1990s. Have any of these gems ever resurfaced?
“Not really, I’ve never really thought about it. Actually as soon as I’m finished this new Magnus album, I’ve decide to dive back into the techno scene. Leaving it aside for a couple of years, I’m really looking forward to getting back into it. Also, I am really enjoying where techno is going at the moment. For a while it got minimal and really down tempo. It wasn’t really my thing anymore but it seems to be getting quite exciting again. As for putting out EPs every week, we were young, maybe 18, we didn’t have girlfriends!”
After finding out he was liking the route techno was going down, I couldn’t leave without asking him what artists he’s enjoying at the moment and will we ever see another techno album from the pioneer.
“To be honest, I don’t really know names like I used too, I’m not so freakishly involved anymore. I can’t really remember them simply because I used to buy it all on vinyl, nowadays you can’t get most of it on vinyl, so I’m downloading from Beatport and just forget the names. Can you expect another techno album… yes you can! I wouldn’t say as soon as three weeks but definitely in 2017.”