Name: Joris Voorn
Occupation: DJ / Producer / Label Owner
Labels: Rejected / Green
Current Release: Fabric 83 on Fabric Records
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started DJing in 1996 after being introduced to electronic music maybe a year earlier. When I was a kid I hated house music, all I listened to was indie rock and guitar music. House music was what I heard on commercial radio, cheesy top 40 stuff.
But then came bands like Chemical Brothers, the chemical beats sound and others like Leftfield and Underworld. They opened my ears to the world of electronic music, and that was only the beginning.
I listened to every genre of dance music and electronica, and decided I wanted to give DJing a try. Soon after I started buying vinyl records, I found that house and techno were the most interesting genres for me. Listening to DJs like Derrick May, Jeff Mills and Kevin Saunderson gave me a frame of mind, a sound aesthetic and a sense of soul which I really loved.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own style?
I mentioned I listened to every genre of dance music, so when I got my first bit of music gear in 1996, I tried making music in all genres too. A bit of trance, acid, chemical beats, house and techno. It was all practice and I loved it. I couldn't limit myself to just one sound, and I have that in me still. Working with a wide range of sounds I keep myself fresh and inspired, it’s a way to move forward.
In the beginning I copied my favourite artists, I tried to make tracks with their sound, and it taught me things about programming and arranging music.
Later on, when I got some more professional equipment I was able to make music with a better quality, but I still drew inspiration from other artists. I think you always do, inevitably. It’s all a matter of using that inspiration to create a sound that is your own.
What were some of the main challenges when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
The main challenge was finding good music. Learning how to beat match was easy, it’s like learning how to ride a bike. After that you focus on mixing, creating your own style. For me it’s always been a big part of a DJ's sound, besides the music. DJs like Derrick May and Jeff Mills had a unique technique, and of course I tried mimicking that.
But then the music; being at the right moment at the right record store to get the good records, that was a real challenge and something not as easy to control.
That’s very different these days, everything is available to everyone. However, the challenge is kind of still the same, finding the good records can be like finding a needle in a hay stack and you need to spend time to find it, it’s not as much about luck anymore.
DJing is where it started for me, making my own music came second but it was my big dream to one-day release my own vinyl record.
When that moment came it was like a milestone and also the beginning of a serious DJ career, as I started to get noticed finally.
That mix of being a DJ and producer has been the key to my success in times where not many DJs were producing their own music. That obviously has changed big time, starting a DJ career now without writing music is close to impossible.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first setup was two standard CD players, playing track after track. Then when I bought my first vinyl, I played them on two turntables from the flea market, they had a small pitch knob which was nothing like the real Technics SL1200s, but I had the most fun with those. My first mixer had no EQ, my second did have EQ but was so cheap it broke down in months.
Things have changed since then, naturally. After a while playing CDs I switched to playing Traktor with a midi controller and internal sync in 2008 and I haven’t looked back.
My setup is quite simple today and I can play it with my eyes closed. I use a MacBook Pro 15”, Fireface 400 Soundcard, Allen & Heath K2 midi controller and an iPad with the Lemur app.
How do you see the relationship between the tools you're using and the creative results – in which way do certain tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Do you believe in the idea of progress in DJing from a technological perspective?
Tools are just the medium between your own creativity and your audience. It matters very much that you know how to use them well, it matters much less what they actually are. I see DJs using modern day Pioneer USB players doing crazy stuff that I can’t even do on my laptop. There’s basically no limits to creativity these days, everything can be done on all of the latest equipment, therefore it’s more important than ever to focus on the music and your style.
I believe very much in technological progress, it allows me to expand my set of tools and do so much more, but as I said, music comes first.
Could you take me through the process of preparing for one of your gigs, please? How do you select the tracks you like to play, how do you prepare and how do you decide on the opening phase of your set?
I usually try to listen to new music during the week, promos or things like Beatport. I take them with me on the plane which is where I select the tracks I like most and put them in several genre playlists. I also like making a playlist for the show that night, just so I have a better focus. Scrolling through 1000 tracks in 10 different playlists can make you feel lost at times.
The opening track of a set can be chosen very randomly, it all depends really on who’s playing before me and what the vibe in the room is. Unless it’s a bigger show, I might make special openings for those.
What constitutes great mixing from your point of view? What are some of the sets that have personally impressed you over the years?
Great mixing is all about music selection and bringing things in in an inspiring way. You can mix and mash anything with anything, as long as it works, that’s the only rule.
One of my all-time favourite sets was Derrick May at Amsterdam Chemistry in 95 or 96 where he mixed disco into techno and house into ambient.
Another one was Jeff Mills live at the Liquid Room, that taught me that mixing can be messy, and that it’s all about the energy of a live mix, like using the turntables as actual instruments.
How would you describe your approach to building a set? What are some of the characteristics that define who you are as a DJ? How would you describe the difference between preparing for a live set and an album like your recently released Fabric mix?
Again, it’s the music selection and presentation that defines a DJ, that hasn’t changed since the early days of the art.
When playing a live mix, it’s all about catching the moment, feeling the room and taking your audience to another level. The outcome is defined by so many elements like the crowd’s response, the sound in the room, the space you’re playing in.
When preparing for a mix CD there is none of that, and you have more time to think about the music and the journey you’re on.
I love both dynamics, even though they’re both very different in nature.