Interview - Essensie - 2003
NOTHING BEATS DJAX!
More than a year ago, I sent Miss Djax an email, requesting a straightforward cover interview in Eindhoven, techno-city number one. The blonde record master, founder of, among others, the success of Osdorp Posse and Spookrijders, whose performances behind the turntables make black Detroit-fellows like Carl Cox turn into pale Dutch holey cheese, had been completely out of sight. Until two weeks ago, when we suddenly received her reply in which she apologized for her answering so late: “Last year was a lousy one, but now I am in again for interviews and new projects. Do you still feel like it?….” Yes, Djax is back and the beat goes on! EssensiE has been the first to interview this storm after the calm.
On a sunny Tuesday in April, the 38-years-old techno-businesswoman Saskia Slegers, owner of the reputable underground-label Djax, results to have an unusual amount of time for us. After having switched of the private PA and once the tape has started, she buckles down to us: “Well, go ahead!” she says, in a rather unaccustomed way, as if this were her first interview. Obviously, nothing is further form the truth, because Djax has been hot from the very beginning. So far her record label has received many awards and still is regarded authoritative in the international deejay scene, featuring Luke Slater, DJ Rush, Felix da Housecat, Claude Young and, last but not least, Miss Djax herself. As a deejay Djax soon became too big for Holland. At the international techno raves (such as I love Techno, Love Parade, Mayday and Nature One) she therefore prefers to be surrounded by people like Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin, Laurent Garnier and good old Carl Cox. Not omitting the many hip hop bands from Holland -performing either in Dutch or in English- that have become famous by means of Djax, of which Osdorp Posse and Spookrijders particularly appeal to one’s imagination. Hence the lady from Eindhoven, who fashionably (and deservedly) drives a classy convertible BMW, has never had any lack of attention.
Djax is back, ‘rougher than ever before’. The successful businesswoman from the South of Holland has needed a year to reconsider her plans for the future, which, by the way, no longer is as bright as it was 15 years ago when the CD and the Internet almost had to be invented still. Saskia;”2002 was a lousy year, not only for myself. Only recently it has become painfully clear how deeply the illegal MP3 on the Internet threaten the entire music industry. I fear the situation will just deteriorate in the near future, there is no stopping that. What a piece of luck I mainly depend on vinyl, which, fortunately cannot be downloaded from a computer (yet). The CD-market may have collapsed completely, but, thanks to the flourishing deejay scene, vinyl has survived. My mayor target group mainly consists of specialized deejays all over the world, purists that exclusively go for vinyl only. If you realize that, only in Holland, there are even more deejays than there are unemployed, like it is sometimes stated jestingly, you can imagine that there still is a considerable market for vinyl: of every 12-inch title, thousands of copies are sold.” Saskia swallows for a moment: “Well, at least for the time being, because the real freaks already have discovered Final Scratch: a system with which digital music can easily be mixed on turntables. The deejays of the future will take their laptop to the parties. No more dragging heavy record-cases, disposing of music in abundance. But it will all be less romantic as well. If Final Scratch turns out to be as big a hype as pinching MP3 from the Internet, nothing can be done and it indeed will become a question of ‘final scratch’. Fortunately we haven’t reached that stage yet.
Another result of the music-industry crisis is that Miss Djax as well has to make the best of a bad job: “Very regrettable indeed, but it simply is of little use to release an album on CD. I released mountains of nice underground CD-albums of which only 500 or 1000 copies were sold. That does not bother me because it is just very cool to do. But halving these limited sales figures makes it no longer attainable. Just fancy, the costs of a low budget underground CD-album release comes to 7500 up to 10.000 Euros, and then of course we will have to wait and see if these costs will fully be recovered. In the future I will have to be more selective in order to keep my head above water, which inevitably means that I will have to restrict the number of bands I contract. I reached a stage where I had at least 20 bands under my wing, which cost me a lot of money. This number has now been limited. I even had to annul some contracts, unfortunately. Believe me, I am not interested in reaping the profits, as long as the costs are covered I am okay. Definitely, but I am not some kind of rich aunt, am I?”
Saskia has not found an appropriate solution to the music industry’s slump yet. Nevertheless, this year she will go hard at it again. “There is no escaping it. It surely crossed my mind more than once to leave all the paperwork and all the fuss behind, to sell everything so that I can completely concentrate on the thing I like to do most: playing records. On the other hand, I no longer am such a fanatical partygoer as I used to be when I was twenty. After having performed I hardly ever linger at a party. It is a matter of packing up and go. Moreover, my left ear suffers terribly under all those banging techno beats. I constantly need to pump up the volume of the monitor, otherwise I cannot hear what I am playing. It drives me nuts! Still, playing records in front of a crowd, going crazy, remains to be my greatest passion. It’s just an occupational hazard.” In the future Djax Records will keep concentrating on vinyl, Saskia assures. “Besides that I will release a number of essential Djax-collections like a Djax-Up-Beats mix series and perhaps a Djax Nederhop-CD. At the moment I don’t contract new bands, unless I have a strong believe and confidence in their becoming successful. So now I completely concentrate myself on Spookrijders, my showpiece. Furthermore, I also am tremendously proud of A.B.N. and Head First, two typical underground-bands that already are at great length have proved their profitability. Nowadays Head First is one of the very few Dutch acts combining dance and rock, like Junkie XL used to do in the past.”
By now Djax Records has provided Spookrijders, Head First, as well as A.B.N. of a PIAS-licence. Saskia: ”It saves me a lot of bureaucracy. I still am responsible for the entire creative supervision and when it is ready for the press I subsequently hand in the master. PIAS takes care of an effective marketing and promotion. In a small country like Holland you could go on doing everything yourself, but why should I? I have always done everything on my own so now I would like to have my hands free. Moreover, PIAS is a company with a great sense of underground, so Djax and PIAS go together excellently.
Creatively spoken, Nederhop’s success has brought Saskia a lot of satisfaction, but being a sober-minded businesswoman in the ‘hard men’s world’, she gives due consideration to the relativity of this success story. “In the beginning people thought that I was crazy wanting to release this kind of music and for years they kept on expecting my coming a cropper. I just considered it an enormous compliment. With all due respect may I point out that proof to the contrary has been provided, but I have not always been able to reap the rewards of it because of the major companies that simply are using me as a huge breeding-ground. Still, this breeding-ground needs to be financed too!” The mother of nederhop, like Saskia rightly is considered by many people, still has a soft spot for the Osdorp Posse. Saskia laughs, visibly charmed: “I have had a tremendously great time with the Osdorp Posse fellows. It still is in my mind how the adventure started. Those days I was done with the promotion of Dutch hip hop bands performing in English, like 24K and Dope Posse because I realised that, although they were excellent performers, those bands no longer were a match for the advancing house music. So I was eagerly looking for something new when some of my underground friends told me about an obscure tape of some beanpoles from Amsterdam Osdorp. By means of an acquaintance I managed to get hold of the tape and I immediately became charmed of these, cheerfully rapping, pimply lads. Their lyrics were new, daring and last but not least delightfully controversial. Gorgeous! By the way, Def P’s long locks still are to be seen on a video at my website. Anyway, I promptly made an appointment with them in Amsterdam and there we were! No difficult negotiations about percentages and stuff, they simply didn’t give a damn about those things. The only guarantee they wanted was that their music and texts would be released in its original, authentic form which for me was the most natural thing in the world, so we hit it off immediately. We signed a two-year contract but finally cooperated closely for seven years, until they decided to start their own label. Nothing can be done about it, can it?.”
In the past, the uncensored underground, with which Saskia has managed to reach many fans, brought her as much criticism as positive publicity. When, on account of Osdorp Posse’s plain lyrics, the Association Against Cursing wrote Saskia a letter she immediately put them in their place. Subsequently, when Spookrijders were doing their Klokkenluid-concert, some Moroccan lads kicked up a row in which the police had to intervene. Again, the acid queen from Eindhoven reacted quickly, releasing a heavy video clip of the riot in Amsterdam West. Saskia recalls: “I was not thanked for that at all. It was held against me that it was a publicity stunt, but personally I simply found it a tough video clip. More than that, in my opinion it was relevant and newsworthy as well. As a matter of fact, I was mighty proud of it and promptly called the EMI promoter to find out when my clip could be broadcast on TMF. I was surprised to hear that TMF had decided to boycott the clip because of its political message. Even Klaas Wilting felt the need to meddle in, can you imagine?! A nasty, filthy and above all sick t.v. programme like Sex voor de Buch is broadcast unthinkingly, would you believe?! Obviously, looking back I would say that I only benefited from it because of all the publicity.
Nowadays Saskia, alias Djax, is preparing her 15th underground-anniversary of which she rightly is extremely proud. Saskia’s enormous attachment to the underground was undoubtedly proved 5 years ago when, on the occasion of Djax Records’ 10th anniversary, she came up with the unique jubilee edition The Power of the Underground (including a CD). At Saskia’s request the book finally would literally go underground at her father’s funeral, a famous artist whose expositions are organised by Saskia too (www.jacquesslegers.nl). Saskia: “It was a highly emotional period for me. The rotten thing was that my father had just been hospitalised when the book was published: a personal milestone in my career. Eventually I reached a stage where I only was able to give interviews at the parking of the hospital. Shortly afterwards my father passed away and as a mark of honour I decided to put the book in his coffin.”
“I am sick of all the paperwork, the faxes, e-mails, taxes and so on, it has completely nothing to do with creativity. One day I will sell Djax Records, that is one thing I know for sure. I will only occupy myself with A & R: Artist and Repertoire. No more labelling, but scouting talents, supervising artists, designing funny clips and of course composing and performing my own music. But selectively, I could easily make a lot of money performing every week, but I don’t feel like that either, it has to remain special. In addition, I am done with The Berlin Love Parade which has become a huge commercial business. I participated in it for years, only for the scene and it cost me stacks of money: 20.000 Euros was no exception. When I decide to do something I want to be both the best, the most beautiful and the first! However, if your cousin’s neighbour suddenly needs to go to the Love Parade too, it has little to do with the original techno scene and nothing at all with the underground. What is the use of performing for people who don’t understand the music? After all my music and style are way too complicated.
By Michiel van Hinsberg
Published in Essensie Magazine spring 2003
Translation by Sylvia Slegers