Rush Hour on Strange Sounds from Within

It can’t be really strange to us: to be searching far over the horizon for exciting exotica while we crush the beauty under our feet along our pilgrimage. My most typical and embarrassing personal example of overlooking local beauty is Joris Hilckmann. He’s been a Rush Hour goer since the very beginning, but I’d only found out about his musical background last year, having been put in touch by an acquaintance a few years earlier. While we have previously mentioned the importance of customers in our music search, here is one fine example of inspiring musical diversity and friendship.

Joris is a very friendly gentleman with a soft and quiet character. He enjoys good music with friends, but doesn’t reach out easily to strangers. I see him regularly with his friends at in-stores and other RH events, which he almost always attends. A handsome man, Joris looks 10 years younger than his age; a peculiar fact, considering his unstoppable love for nightlife.

It took me four years. It was during a chit-chat about deadlines, ideas, productions and the night’s acts in De School, that Joris introduced me to his diverse musical adventures. I’d known that this fellow was one of the guys involved in the Dutch happy hardcore group The Party Animals, but I wasn’t aware that he was also a part of the legendary, influential Dutch industrial/proto-techno band called Psychick Warriors ov Gaia (PWOG).

PWOG was formed in the late 80s by Tilburg-based Reinier Brekelmans, Reinoud van den Broek, Robbert Heynen, Bobby Reiner and Tim Freeman, who were inspired by Industrial, post-punk, electronic music of all ages and ethnic music from all over the world. It took just a few years before the band members were linked to more than a few pioneering dons such as Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle) and headlined with the groundbreaking Aphex Twin and Orbital. When Robbert left the band in 1992, Joris filled his shoes and remained a member for years. I was intrigued, so I asked Joris if I could interview him about his music adventures, and he said yes.

 

Your path in music is hard to research; I suppose you are quite a mystical producer. How many interviews have you done so far?

Well, I have actually never done a one-on-one interview before.

Really?

Yes, I’d always left it to the other band members. I mean, as the others were 5 to 8 years older I felt a bit like a junior member of the Psychick Warriors ov Gaia. I joined the group in 1992 after they had magical years with Robbert. I was in the band with Reinoud van den Broek, Reinier Brekelmans, Tim Freeman and two sound technicians. Reinoud and Reinier were pretty much the philosophical brains behind the music. They had so much more to share and had way more ideas… I was involved in the creative and writing process as well, but more so as an engineer covering sound design, programming, mixing and circuit bending. Robbert was the one with the most equipment and was in charge of the technique, so they were searching for his replacement. And so I brought in my gear and nerdiness.

Photo from 1994. From left to right: Reinier, Joris, Reinoud.

How did PWOG find you?

At the time I was a big fan of the band and I frequently visited Tommy records, where Reinoud used to work. Not that I’d reached out to chat about PWOG, but yes, after a few store visits I got into a conversation with him and I told him that I made music. He asked for a demo, and he must have liked it. Some time later, out of the blue, I was asked to join the band. Although I have replaced Robbert, I don’t feel that I have replaced him musically. I actually see the four – Robbert, Reinier, Reinoud and Tim as the core formation of PWOG. I feel that Robbert’s parting represented a missing link in the music, especially on recordings. Those bombastic shows were a part of our reputation: to bring the audience into some kind of trance during our live shows.

What was your most legendary PWOG show?

The live acts were a phenomenon, and I experienced it directly when I joined the group on tour for the very first time. The very first show I joined at the Brixton Academy in London still resonates with me. We shared the bill with Orbital, Aphex Twin and many more. I was a huge fan of Aphex Twin and Orbital because of their track “Chime”. I remember having a bit of a crush on one of the two Orbital brothers, resulting in an awkward situation bumping into him backstage haha. These acts were stellar!  I couldn’t believe that we were headlining on the same night. I excused ourselves in their presence; in return they awarded us equal respect by saying we were the shit. Weird.

And yeah, that show is still resonating with me… We sampled buzzing 50Hz noise, you know, the sound you hear when you touch an amplifier plug – an extremely powerful sound. What for? During the show, we simulated a total system shutdown that excluded the noise. There was only the sound of total malfunction, until we started to pulsate it into a rhythmic bassline, as the basis for a pounding techno track.. The crowd went berserk! People started screaming, climbing atop each other’s shoulders. That was such a kick. To achieve a response as this from a crowd that obviously understands the music and what we were doing on stage; that’s magical.

What did you use on stage? I heard your setup was pretty insane…

At up to two hours, the shows we did were pretty long, with – if we could – 24 channels directed from the stage to the PA mixer in the audience where Tim (and occasionally Peter) did the almost impossible: mixing all those channels live while adding a lot of dub effects. Tim had to clear the whole desk to a completely different setting for every track we played, and we did not have an intercom to sync our actions. Pretty unique I think. So you can imagine that even the soundchecks were already pretty nerve-wracking.

On stage it was just me and Reinier. We used two 8MB(!) Akai samplers, some Roland and Yamaha synths, 3 Roland drum machines, an Atari ST2, a mixer and effects; also some odd home-made rigs, including a 24-channel DI-box I built with a friend, so we could remove the crazy demand for 20+ single DI-boxes from our tour-rider. This whole complex setup and resulting sound was super sick, but pretty intense to manage also.

Reinier translated the tracks for our live shows, making the music as live as possible; you know, manipulating pre-programmed chunks, but we used Cubase as Ableton didn’t exist at the time. It took quite some effort and timing to post-arrange tracks live on stage using an erratic Cubase on an Atari ST. On stage I was managing all the machines, sounds and patches, loading the sample sets for each track using piles of dog-slow floppy disks, bending sounds and creating soundscapes.

And that night at The Brixton Academy… Reinier had the spirit to refrain from bringing in the bass kick for the first half of the show.

And then, at the moment when the crowd had completely lost it from anticipation, the bassdrum kicked in. Really, the place exploded!

During my first show with PWOG I realised that we were doing something really special that’s worth enduring all the hardship. I mean, I was the only driver since no one else in the band had a driving license. Driving a van fully equipped with gear and eight people throughout Europe (especially the UK), the US and Canada…it was pretty exhausting, but wonderful.

PWOG were pioneers, how did you get into electronic music at that early stage?

I got into electronic music when I was still a kid in the late 70s. My parents played a big part in this, because they were interested in a wide range of music styles. Except for pop music, which they detested. When I grew up, I was exposed to the music of Steve Reich, Laurie Anderson, Louis Andriessen, weird Turkish music, experimental arty music, jazz… This all really intrigued me. Plus I was super interested in electronic engineering, so combining the two interests was a logical step for me.  I started to build my own electronic drum kits and tone generators, hooking them up to my first computer, a Sinclair ZX81 (1981). Later I had a Commodore Amiga, which allowed me to explore (8bit!) sampling. Techno and house were emerging at the time, which I wanted to make as well. It just so happened that friends of mine were developing demos and games for Amigas, which required music, so they asked me to create it for them.

You were still living in Tilburg, how was your musical outlook?

In the very beginning industrial and wave tempted me the most. I was living with my parents in a village near Tilburg back then. But I was also a huge fan of disco and boogie, which I felt was a huge guilty pleasure, so I kept that to myself. The cornier the disco music, the better, haha. A bit later I got acquainted with a Belgium pirate station called Radio Starlight. We lived quite close to the Belgium border, so I planted an extra receiver on the roof of our house. In combination with my old tube radio, the reception was just ok. The station played mostly new beat and body music; it must have been somewhere around ’85. Before this, I also listened to easily accessible music like Yello, Kraftwerk, Art of Noise, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, New Order – enormously inspiring big productions to me. But the dawn of acid, house and techno blew everything away. Such spot-on powerful minimalism! Everything changed when I heard the first tracks by Adonis & Model 500. I started to buy those records and became a DJ.

Did you have access to soundsystems with some sort of dance/rave parties at the time?

No, there was no such thing in my environment. I always went to a youth centre called Nummer 90 in my village. That was a raw place occupied by bats and punkers – electronic music was a rarity there. I got familiar with groups such as  Meat Beat Manifesto & Nitzer Ebb a bit later, because they did play this music on VPRO radio (“Het Front” & “Crapuul de Lux”) and in wave-clubs in Tilburg. I really liked the music at the time, but the atmosphere on those nights was too dark for my taste. I liked to be in a more cheerful environment. A little later tekno emerged, with a K, mostly from Belgium, and I learned about these typical hippy-style raves in farmer sheds outside Rotterdam which I loved to attend secretly with a nerd friend at the time, who also made electronic music, telling my parents that I had slept over at his place. I started producing techno that sounded as ruthless as possible, but I also made music in the vein of New York house. Yes, influenced by disco. Funny enough, Reinoud from PWOG introduced me to many corny, cheerful NY house tracks. So yeah, I was influenced by many types of music.

Later, out of frustration with the ban on house and techno in the existing clubs a friend and I started organizing parties in a small atmospheric warehouse club in Tilburg on Sundays, with DJ Aardvarck and, of course, ourselves on the decks.

I also started to frequent club RoXY, and in 1990 Tilburg gained one of the first house-only clubs in the Netherlands: Kadance, in a pretty cool, highly industrial building. They were even hosting DJs like Derrick May. The best part: the local DJs there were kind enough to play my demo tracks at prime time. Such a rush.

How did you get involved in happy hardcore project The Party Animals over time?

Hmmm yeah, how did that start, haha… I was doing a show with PWOG in Paradiso, Amsterdam, where Abraxas – aka Jeff Porter – was also playing. He had Subtopia together with Jeroen Flamman at the time. I already knew Jeff from Dutch television, because they’d done interviews for the VPRO about their music and club. When I met him that night, I immediately felt a spark between us. I ended up at his place where I ran into his studio. So we started making music there. At the time, Subtopia was exploring the gabber side of things and it didn’t really appeal to me, but hey, I like to produce it so why not.

So… when we started remixing for others, out of the blue we had a huge No. 1 with “I want to be a hippy”, followed by a few more monster hits rebranded as “The Party Animals”. Such a silly move, but so much fun! It contrasted with PWOG tremendously. But on the other hand, contrasting music was not strange to PWOG either. The band was affiliated with Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, Genesis P-Orridge [Throbbing Gristle], and the formation Psychick TV with members of Coil, experimenting with a wide range of styles, from surf music to punk wave to tear-jerkers and folk so to speak. So yes, again, I was operating in the background, as co-producer/sound engineer. It provided a decent income, so it was fine by me. Plus we didn’t perform ourselves; a bunch of young guys were our act.

In hindsight, do you see yourself as less important than others in these music projects?

I was mainly responsible for engineering and sound design. I don’t see myself as a good composer. I just love analyzing music and attempting to copy it as good as possible, no matter the style. I just love sound design. In the mid-90s there was some sort of hype-house music style with snare-roll climaxes and breakdowns. I hated it! For me, it was logical to imitate it simply to face it. I did a few of those productions, but trust me, no one will ever find out what they are, hahaha.

While with The Party Animals I discovered the Internet as my new technical playing field, so I got distracted from music and began analyzing website structures instead. I went on to work as a programmer, which led to a job at the university in Tilburg. Since then, I have completely stopped with music, something I kind of regret. I think it’s a combination of not really having the guts and being too busy.

I’ve been out of it for so long now that it’s hard for me to restart again, especially since I have the feeling I didn’t keep up with the technological changes. My approach to making music is very analog based… Also, I am very used to working together in a group. Would I be able to do it by myself? The funny thing is that I have so much inspiration to create things… I memoed hundreds of ideas on my phone’s voice recorder, but I just never go for it. It’s a bit frustrating, I have to say.

We hardly see you buy records at the store, but you attend almost all of Rush Hour’s events. When did you start visiting Rush Hour?

It wasn’t till 2000 that I moved to Amsterdam. I bought records during the initial few years, but that stopped approximately 12 years ago, I think. I suffered from vinyl fatigue, and started listening to online mixes and radio shows instead. Today I wouldn’t know where to start my record search in the store. I am completely out of it. But even without buying vinyl, I admire Rush Hour and what it meant for the city of Amsterdam and beyond. You guys created such a warm family-like scene.

Members of the Rush Hour staff, including myself, have only gotten to meet you pretty recently…

Yes, although I’ve been attending the events for two decades, it was only recently that I had spoken with the staff. I guess I was too shy all these years to make the first move.

Well, thanks for your honesty and your story. It’s been great getting to know more about you…

Likewise! 😀