Name: Vander
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Nationality: Dominican  
Current Release: Vander's Deliverance EP is out via A Tribe Called Kotori.
Recommendations: Books: The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle; Finding your Why - Simon Sinek

If you enjoyed this interview with Vander and would like to stay up to date on his activities, visit him on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Instagram.

A Tribe Called Kotori · ATCK024 - Vander & Saudade - Deliverance

When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started DJing when I was around 12-13 years old. It was more about sound than music, I was already a musician back then. I played guitar and bass and I then I started organising school parties with other friends. Our parties escalated so much that we got expelled from school for going against the rules.

I was playing reggaeton back then and some house music, but of course reggaeton was what the people wanted. I was still a kid, learning about sound, systems, etc.

After I got expelled I stop DJing for 8 years. My parents prohibited it. Then I discovered the “underground” scene and the rest is history. I quit everything for this.

For most artists, originality is 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 voice?

It’s a constant development. Of course, first I had to learn by emulating others. Now I am in a phase where I am consciously trying not to emulate, but at the end of the day we are all inspired by other artists so it’s kind of impossible. Unless I isolate myself which I won’t do. Before I used to use a lot of tracks as reference for example, now I don’t. I let my feelings drive the way of my music.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

It influences it greatly. I have to admit sometimes I feel I have an identity crisis because part of me wants to let my Latin side shine and another one wants my underground, synth wave and rock vibes to come through. Which is hard to combine and if I let it go to my brain my creativity dies immediately.

That’s why I now officially launched my new alter ego project called Andy Anderson. It’s a way to help my creativity flow into one way or the other. I will keep Vander as my latin influenced electronic music project and Andy Anderson take over the raw underground sounds I like as well.

What were your main creative challenges when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time?

The main creative challenge was to stand out from the rest. I think the more I DJed the more I got to know myself as an artist and performer.

I don’t see this as a challenge anymore. I know who I am and what I want to tell with my music.

As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?

The first tool I got was a Launchpad Mini, it was the tool that opened the world of music production for me. I didn’t use it that much to be honest. It’s not that good for creating, at least not for me. But it opened the gates of Ableton. After that I got a Novation midi keyboard, then I bought my first synthesiser which was a Roland Boutique JX-3P and drum machine Volca Beats. Both great machines for their size and price. They opened to me the world of hardware. After that I started exchanging gear all the time until I found the ones that really inspired me.

For me, having a flow of new gear constantly is important to keep my creativity and motivation going. Receiving a new toy is always exciting and this energy is very good for creativity. Although I need to admit that not all gear turns me on. I once had a Dave Smith Mopho and had it for almost a year, didn’t manage to use it properly. But then I got the Elektron Analog Four and has been with me ever since. Every-time I use that machine I find something that inspires me and that is essential for my creative process.

The TR8S is also a machine that is key in my creative process. I first started using the TR8 (first edition) in my DJ sets, and got very good (and quick) at using it. The upgrade included samples so it was a no brainer to have it in the studio.

Now I am experimenting with guitars and effect pedals. That’s my new creative ‘tool’.

DJing is a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation. How would you describe your approach to it? What do you start with, how do you develop a set, how does a form gradually manifest itself, what are good transitions between different tracks etc?

My approach to DJing is very simple. I use my music library to create a story, which is basically playing with tension and release. I don’t prepare my sets at all. I let the energy of the room dictate what I play because at the end I play for the crowd, not for myself. So my decisions are based on the reactions I am getting at the moment.

What I like to do in my transitions is to create tension, an expectation that something is about to come but you don’t know exactly what it is. Then a new beat comes through the speakers and people go mad.

Hearing people cheer, scream and dance is the biggest compliment I get during my sets. That’s how I know that my transition was good, because I created the tension that people needed for that specific moment and it was released properly with the next track.

How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? Is there a sense of collaboration between you and the dancers?

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, I play for the crowd. All my decisions are based on the room and the energy that people are creating there. DJ sets are an exchange of energy between the dance floor and the person selecting the music (the DJ).

In a song or classical composition, the building blocks are notes, but in a DJ set the building blocks are entire songs and their combinatory potential. Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening and perhaps also, if applicable, your work as a producer?

Music in any form, either as one single track, DJ set, classical composition or whatever - is a story. In order for a story to be good, there needs to be tension and release. I don’t think DJ sets have affected the way I produce that much, but the way I produce affected big time the way I DJ. The more I learn about music and the way we can use it to change the energy of the listener the more careful I am when deciding where to take my audience.

For example, I find some DJs very boring because they keep the same “flow” during an 1-2 hour set. Meaning they’re playing the same style of tracks and aren’t taking us on any journey further than the ones already contained on the tracks. On the other hand other DJs that play with different genres or style in their sets deliver a better job because they understand that in order to be light there have to be dark moments, too.

In my DJ sets for example I do this a lot. I'll play very dark beats for a while in order to create a tension that is later released with a very light, happy track. The happy track wouldn’t hit the same note if my earlier tracks would also be happy. The reason why the happy track hits so good is because before the energy was dark.

That contrast is key. In any form of music (and storytelling).

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

It’s very hard for me to have a routine or fixed schedule because of my touring schedule.

When I’m not on tour, I wake up around 8am, exercise for 30-45 min, meditate 15 minutes and then go to the studio. As soon as I have a gig, this routine gets disturbed because I need to compensate my lack of sleep during the weekend and get energy. Also it’s hard to try to have an early morning when on Friday you need to be awake till 5am or something.

With the years I learned to let go of this. Most of the things I do, except for my family, is music related. It is my full time job so I have no problems adapting to this. My routine is basically, wake up, exercise, go to the studio, sleep and repeat.

Can you talk about a breakthrough DJ set or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

In 2019 I had the chance to close the MainStage of The Monastery Festival after Viken Arman. The festival was organised by The Gardens of Babylon, it’s been my music family since I came to Europe and most of my friends were there and the energy after Viken’s set was fire. I was very excited and I am so grateful for the opportunity to take over and close the stage. It’s been my favourite set. The love in the air was magical!

The most exciting part of that set was that it wasn’t planned. I already played my set the day before and I was partying with my friends. All of the sudden Shishi called me and asked me if I wanted to play after Viken - I was like “Of course!” I think the fact that it wasn’t planned or anything it made it so special. I have to admit though, I was dreaming about closing that stage for a year so I think it was a moment of manifestation.

Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?

I see music as an energetic tool. It can modify the energetic field we are in. Either good or bad. I’ve never felt a bad experience with music to be honest. Besides shitty uber music (laughs).

I’ve had multiple of healing experiences though, especially with sound healing and binaural beats. I use it when I need to calm down, sleep or focus. Before, when I was a teenager, I used music as a form of emotional healing as well, back in my emo days. (laughs)

There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?

I think as long as the signs or symbols are used with respect there shouldn’t be any problems in using them. I think it is cool to see things from one culture being blended in others. As long as things are made with love and good intentions, why not?

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

My approach to art and being an artist is to put intentions in the things I do in order to express something. Art can be found everywhere, either in music or even in the way people dress or behave. I find everything as an art form, an expression of the self.

Everyone is an artist, even if they are not aware of it.

What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?

Feelings that we are afraid to say with words.