At 79, Belgian-born Joel Vandroogenbroeck hasn’t got just a long name. His comparably long and fascinating career that began at the age of three saw him build up an impressive repertoire of unusual instruments and a diverse body of work that is gaining brand new fans today, thanks to multiple reissues of his albums in recent years. From classical cinematic pieces to drones and electronic funk, the experimental offerings of this multi instrumentalist is an acquired taste. For those ready to take the plunge, Tijmen Lohmeijer has prepared a selection from Vandroogenbroeck’s solo excursions to get your feet wet.
The Australian born Steele Bonus is up for the 5th entry in our Mix Series. Besides being a respected digger, Bonus compiles, creates art, and passes on his knowledge to the uninformed. We’re delighted to have him, so our editor Ocke Weeda asked him some questions about life & stuff.
Hey Steele, how’s it going? What are you up to these days?
Going well here thanks. Just staying busy. Working during the week and then dividing up my spare time and weekends between designing record sleeves, learning to speak Dutch, traveling around Europe and doing the odd DJ gig. I’m also trying to devote more time to reading and sleeping but it’s not going well at the moment.
Not long ago you decided to move from down-under to Amsterdam, what motivated you?
I always wanted to try living in another country and the Netherlands seemed like a good option for a number of reasons – my mother is from here and I have a passport, I already had friends and family living here and it also seemed like a place where I could find a job in a design agency and explore Europe and music further. My last few years in Sydney felt like I was in a bit of a grind. I’d been working non-stop for 10 years straight and all my money was going to rent, I felt a need to refresh and try something new. I stored away my stuff and packed a suitcase, laptop and record bag and traveled around the globe for a couple of months before arriving in Amsterdam with no real plan, no work, very little money and no place to live. After 20 months or so I’m still here and still enjoying it.
Could you describe the difference between Sydney and here, culture-club-wise? Pro’s and con’s are allowed, we need some feedback as well.
I think in Sydney you have a stronger focus on food and coffee so you have more of an industry and culture around cafe’s, restaurants and bars. In Amsterdam it’s more skewed towards music and nightlife (the government supports this much more than back in Sydney also), so you have way more record shops and more interesting clubs here. That being said I think you can still find good nightlife in Sydney, it’s just harder to seek out. I don’t DJ all that regularly in Amsterdam but I would DJ out every weekend in Sydney. Often it would be in a small bar playing till midnight or 1am where I would get to play whatever I liked (usually some weird psych rock and disco 45s or something), then I would DJ a warehouse party once every couple of months which would be more of a DIY illegal all night thing with a smoke machine, 100 or so sweaty freaks and lots of house and techno. In Amsterdam you don’t have so many of these smaller bar venues that offer good music and it’s also harder to do a warehouse party because there are so many decent clubs here already, so I kind of miss that. I also miss the more informal approach because here in Amsterdam these clubs are very organized and more business like. On the upside on any given weekend here you can go out and hear good music until the sun comes up. Plus I get to travel to other cities around Europe on my weekends to meet with likeminded music lovers, dig and play records, which is very cool. So yes, both definitely have their pro’s and con’s, I could even go on for longer but I won’t.
Could you tell us something about your magazine and mix bundle “odd waves?
Odd Waves is a series of mixes that I recorded over the years and put up on Soundcloud. The magazine was made up of band and artist portraits that I scanned from the sleeves of the records. it’s mainly Euro stuff. Synth-pop, new-wave and 80s boogie, weird b-sides of 45’s and that sort of thing. It was all done when I was in Australia but now I am based here it definitely makes searching for all these European records easier.
Besides this project, many other projects such as the celebrated “Oz waves” compilation and your works as a graphic designer fill your daily agenda. Do short-term ventures keep you going, or are you heading towards something steady, like your own label or design-bureau?
It would be nice if I could make a living from doing compilations and designing magazines but that is purely something I do for the love and enjoyment of it. I’m working from Monday to Friday here in an agency and that pays the bills. I have worked for myself in the past but I always had to try to maintain some level of corporate work to keep things going. I don’t know if I want to keep working in design or even music forever but that’s all I know. I do like the idea of starting my own thing someday, not really a record label but maybe something more like a little bar or venue would be nice.
About the mix: for me it feels like a train ride through scenes of feeble melancholy and despair, mixed with some serious drum programming; very exciting! Maybe I’m totally off, but was there an idea behind it?
Nice description! To be honest I didn’t have much of an idea, just a couple of slow chugging records that I liked and used as a starting point. But I like that reference to a train ride, I think I could compare a lot of the music I’m into with a train, the way it moves forward, clunking along from A to B in a kind of rhythmic and direct way. I understand where you would get the melancholy and despair thing from but that sounds a bit too dark and heavy for me. Maybe it would be more like a soundtrack to a train ride through some distant parallel world, a place named Tlön or perhaps Vheissu.
It seems though that the mix is packed with forgotten gems from the past, is this something you cling onto, or are there bands/groups/artists that seriously innovate the sound you cultivate at the moment?
I try not to cling to anything too much to be honest. For the most part I just try to keep an open mind. I never stop searching and I’m coming across music I like all the time, sometimes it’s new, sometimes it was made 3 years ago, sometimes 30. A lot of the music and art I like has a raw and naive quality about it and that’s something that existed a lot in the 80s, so I am quite drawn to this period. For sure there are also current labels and artists releasing music that I try and follow plus I have plenty of friends making and releasing interesting stuff, but I’m really not bothered about rushing out to play brand new or unreleased music for the sake of it being new or cool and exclusive.
And ahead of the feast: last year at our festival, you laid down some serious jams at the RLR stage, which act should newcomers check out this year?
I’m not sure I want to tell people how to spend their day but personally I’d be curious about checking out Mutant Beat Dance and also Wally Badarou.
Lastly, what’s your favorite cheese?
Since moving to the Netherlands I’m definitely eating much more cheese! Lately I like to go for a firm aged goat or sheep cheese like Manchego or something similar.