When it comes to rave music in 2018 no one comes close to touching Rotterdam native Stranger. The Self-Reflektion label boss is in a league of his own in a densely populated techno market and only making more unique tracks as each release goes by.
After garnering public notoriety through a release on Dax J’s Monnom Black imprint, the Dutch native has quickly become one of the most recognisable faces in electronic music through both his productions and flawlessly intense DJ sets.
DSNT’s 6th birthday seen him make his return to Ireland after recent shows in Limerick and Dublin for both Subtech and a joint venture between Rave Selekts and Techno & Cans. Not only that, but it finally gave us a chance to catch up with one of the magazine’s favourite artists and someone that’s definitely shaping the sound of a somewhat monotonous genre.
The couch in the centre of the greenroom acts as a stage for the conversation, while the expected debauchery of a greenroom continues to take place all around us.
The Netherlands are looked at as a sort of haven when it comes to electronic music, whereas Belfast doesn’t really have the same idyllic image in the general clubber’s mind. With that being said, DSNT’s raves are noted for their emphasis on the clubbers experience, something that isn’t necessarily paramount in a money driven scene.
“I’ve started to feel like this is where I find value in my career. I’ve played a lot of sets in Holland where I get the feeling that it’s not that much about the music as it is when I play abroad. People have to put in a lot of effort to get you there, I think it’s refreshing find people that have the same ideas that I have. This is what I want to find, it should be like this.”
The STOOR project is one of the most interesting developments in recent years when it comes to techno labels. Emanating from a Speedy J-owned studio, projects are released every two weeks, with supposed involvement from Speedy J himself to Rodhad and Clouds. With a STOOR logo printed right across the front of his white t-shirt, surely the Dutchman could give some more info on the development.
“I was really amazed when it was announced because Speedy J told me he had this pressing machine. Back then he told me that he could just press a 909 session that he does with whoever. He could cut it to vinyl, put it online, not make any money and still be happy.
When he said that, I thought; “Wow, that’s the dream!”.
That’s what you want to do; you want to put stuff out because of your vision, not because of money. You don’t want to make any concessions because of money.
When he announced this, he didn’t say he was going to do it this way, he just announced it. He mailed me ; ‘Hey man, I just announced this new platform.’
The funny thing is is that I’m still trying to decode everything to do with it!”
Rotterdam seems to contrast Amsterdam pretty heavily, with the interest there really rooted in the music, more so than creating an image of a music haven.
“I’d like to think so, but that’s probably because I’m from Rotterdam. There’s always been a strong community; a lot of people involved in techno but not a huge club scene. I think this says a lot about why there’s a lot of big techno artists that come from Rotterdam. People have to try and make something out of the scene themselves and they do it by making music, not by clubbing or whatever. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in Rotterdam despite the fact that we don’t have a strong clubbing scene.
It’s not that common that people in Holland get the same chances as me. Everyone is focused on the headliners from abroad, so eventually there’s a lot of people doing very good stuff and you just don’t see them.
You [the media] have the responsibility to try and educate people about these artists. That’s the important thing. In Holland, there aren’t so many people taking these responsibilities. They have a lot of strength to push [small artists] and they don’t, which frustrates me!”
His label, Self-Reflektion, has gone from strength to strength since its launch. Having your own label is nothing new in today’s electronic music landscape, however Stranger’s unique style now has a place where it doesn’t have to compromise.
The lack of compromise is evident via his two most recent releases under his ‘Unknown Artist’ alias on the label. Both ‘Nostalgica’ and ‘Paranoid Dancer’ are certain floorfillers.
“I made that [Nostalgica] in one day. Paranoid Dancer is really important to me, I was working on it, polishing it and polishing it and I worked on it for so long to the point where I got frustrated with it, but everyone talks about Nostalgica! I really didn’t expect that record to do as well as it did.”
Stranger tracks never quite sound like they’re straight from the 90s or straight from 2018, but they’d fit in in both eras simultaneously.
“This comes naturally. If you listen to my first records, I wouldn’t say that I was copying, but they were sounding more like tracks that were made in the 90s. This is because this is the sound that I lived. For years I’ve been digging for stuff from the 90s. I’d been playing hardcore for 10 years before I started doing this so I was always listening to these kind of sounds. From that, you get influenced, you make tracks that sound like that.
Eventually, you want to make something new. You don’t want to make something you’ve already done. You want to keep trying to do things different. I don’t want to seem like an artist that uses rave stabs to be cool. I don’t want to offend anyone, I won’t name names!”
DSNT is really unique given that they don’t do warm up sets. It’s almost like a festival; everyone plays their preferred style and there are no real limitations as there would be on a normal club night.
“This is something that I’m trying to stay aware of; what I’m playing and why I’m playing it. A lot of gigs I didn’t dare to go as deep as I’d want to. I was making a lot of concessions. I found that that’s not what I want to do. At the same time, I’m not this sort of purist, I just like to play ravey records and if it’s not really for the dance floor then I’ll play it at home.
I’m in a position where it’s not that hard to play what I want to play, rather than playing hits. At the same time, people are enjoying the fact that I’m playing stuff from 1990-93.”
Ten years ago people were saying ‘Fuck off! You weren’t there when this music was made, play your own music!’. I’m happy now that the time is right for it.
The balancing act of the DJ lifestyle and maintaining it as a sustainable job is an endless question, and the fast paced life of a rave DJ from Rotterdam is none different. With drink and drugs being in constant close contact at parties and raves but the responsibilities of catching flights, promo and keeping up to date with releases are just as nearby.
“I am aware of the fact that I’m putting myself at risk by playing a lot. You’re putting yourself in the position where there’s a lot of drinks or drugs around. Awareness is something that’s really important. I’m not really a star at keeping myself on the low!”