Interview - ID&T - 2004
DJAX IT UP
Saskia Slegers, Miss Djax, celebrates her Djax-Up-Beats labels 15th anniversary with the release of a compilation mix-CD, looking back upon the history of an internationally highly respected label. Moreover, now that the Q-fellows have discovered her deliciously heavy techno-sound, this pioneer from Eindhoven is playing more often in Holland again. ID&T Magazine interviewed Saskia on the occasion of her jubilee record, Djax-it-up, her first CD for the United-label.
Dave Clarke recently sent her an email: “I miss Djax in my box.” Funny pun of this English technohero, who has been a big fan of both the miss and the label for many years now. Even before his breakthrough as a deejay, Saskia states: “At first he worked as a reviewer for one of the English music magazines, Mixmag. That is how he became acquainted with the Djax-records. Later on he started making music himself. He once even asked me permission to send me some of his first tracks, which he finally never did.” Obviously, the label's strapping acid- and techno-sound has had an audible influence on Clarke's later work, as well as it has inspired an entire generation of international deejays and producers. Laurent Gamier, for example, once confessed in an interview with yours truly that Djax has been his favourite label for a long time. Not bad for a small company from the south of Holland, managed by a girl from Eindhoven, who, completely on her own, knocked up a small but influential company, which in Holland, besides for techno, particularly is known for the introduction of Nederhop and the launching of, among others, Osdorp Posse.
Nowadays the Nederhop-chapter is closed. “I decided to stop it because I had the feeling that the creative height was over. The demos I received did not add anything to what I already had done. Furthermore, because of the arrival of the Internet and the possibilities of downloading, the CD-sale was that tough going, that I thought: it is time for something else, which by the way, currently is not on hand, so I'll just have to wait for a while.”
Although she is one of the biggest names in the history of international techno and house, Saskia is friendly and modest. Her hearty laugh regularly rattles through the Amsterdam Arena Hotel where, later that day, she will record a promo-videotape for her new CD, looking back on 15 years of Djax.
She started her musical career in the eighties, playing the bass in a female band. For many years, she worked for the record-company Bullit and subsequently as an export-manager at record-distributor IMC. In the beginning of 1990 Stefan Robbers, one of Eindhoven's producers, sent her a demo of which the refined Detroit techno-sound immediately captured her heart. A new chapter in the history of Djax was born: besides an initial series of hip hop releases, Djax started to release techno as well, for which the sub label Djax-Up-Beats was established.
Already in 1992 the British New Musical Express called Djax-Up-Beats “one of the best labels in the world”. The music was beautifully minimal and strongly leaned on the original house and techno sound.
The conspicuous, comic-styled record-labels were drawn by Detroit-artist Alan Oldham, whose name Saskia knew of because of the record-sleeves he had designed for Derrick May's Transmatlabel. In 1991 Oldham sent her a cassette containing 4 of his own techno-tracks. Saskia: “I thought, hey I know that name, and indeed, he turned out to be the Alan Oldham. I released his tracks on Djax-Up-Beats and ever since that time Oldham has been designing my Djax-comics. A new book - the first one since 1995- is about to be published soon.
The cooperation with Oldham initiated strong ties with a large series of producers from Detroit and Chicago. In the summer of 1992 Saskia decided to take a trip to both cities, on her own initiative. In Detroit she stayed at Carl Craig's home who also showed her round and put her in touch with all of Detroit's scene-kingpins. In Chicago she met all the Iynchpins of that time, such as, for example, Joe Smooth and K-Alexi. Which deeply impressed Saskia were the visits she paid to the city's deep underground: clubs like The Warehouse (from which the term house is derived) and to the Traxlabel record press. “It was a terribly old building that seemed to be about to collapse and the record press itself was a prehistoric machine too. The records just tumbled out of it and all fell on the floor. In the meantime someone was chipping away labels from discarded records in order to reuse the vinyl. Not surprising that many of the earliest Chicago house records sounded extremely bad. On the other hand, this was the place where all the excellent music came from.”
An exciting adventure, that trip, during which she regularly asked herself where the hell she has ended up. She remembered how on the bedroom-wall, of one of the deejays she stayed with, a pair of handcuffs was hanging. She got a sneak preview in the personal lives and households of all these techno and house legends. “Everybody was very nice to me. I met Armando, Derrick May, Underground Resistance, too many to name. Most of the producers were very eager to give their music to me as to release some tracks on a European label was a great possibility for them to earn some extra hard needed cash.”
Work that mutha fucker
Saskia returned to Eindhoven with a bag full of records and cassettes of producers, eagerly willing to release their music on her label and all of a sudden she had more music at her disposal than she ever could have dreamt of. A number of those tracks, later on released on Djax-Up-Beats, unvaryingly remain to be first-rate house and techno classics. Like Steve Poindexter's Work that mutha fucker - also to be found on the Djax-it-up jubilee CD on which 24 heavy highlights of the Djax history (such as Rush, Claude Young, Luke Slater and Mike Dearborn) are mixed by Miss Djax in an austere and compelling way.
It is a classic sound indeed, yet a contemporary one as well. Pure, hard and direct. No wonder that the Q-organisation regularly puts her on their event-list.
Actually, her appearing more frequently in Holland is still relatively recent. “In the past, I mainly used to perform in Germany. At those enormous parties that, ten years ago, already played the kind of techno I still perform. In Holland this was not hot, because the Dutch house scene consisted of gabber-parties and that club stuff. Except for some small parties, there was nothing in between, let alone the big events. Only recently techno has claimed its position in the large halls.
The fact that Saskia mainly performed in Germany, especially was a direct result of her triumphant set on Berlin's Mayday in 1992: “My international breakthrough”.
A breakthrough, by the way, that had hung by a thread. “At the airport I found out that my records were missing, which caused a really unbearable stress situation. Fortunately, a second airplane arrived and my records were found back, but it was so tight. I had to rush to the hall, ignoring all the traffic lights, of which there are quite a lot in East Berlin. I flew to the hall and arrived just one minute before I had to appear. The deejay behind the turntables was wearing a space suit. I had no idea what kind of music was played. I only had brought a case full of my own records, a lot of Djax things, Edge of motion, Suburban hell. And I just started. It turned out to be a tremendous success. At one go I was famous. Afterwards, all the promoters approached me, presenting me their business cards and bingo! From that very moment on I was invited all over the world.” Another height in Germany was her performance at the final stage of the Love Parade of 1995, when all the vehicles had gathered at the large square of Berlin's centre. Saskia had brought her own Djax-vehicle to Berlin, carrying a giant rocket based on the Tintin comics. And there she was, behind the turntables at the Victory Tower, bringing up the rear in front of a million-headed public: “An indescribable feeling.”
Book of photographs
I last met Saskia 5 years ago, at the 10th anniversary of the Djax label, on the occasion of which a large book of photographs was published. Since then a relative silence fell around miss Djax. She needed to take things a bit easier for a while, Saskia explains: “My father suddenly passed away in 2000. My jubilee book had just been published but, in stead of feeling euphoria, I felt rotten. It changed my perspective on life. I decided to give myself more time. That is how the last 5 years flew by. Actually, little exciting things happened. It was a bit of a period in which I looked back upon Djax's first decade. I have achieved all the things I wanted to achieve. What would I want to do next? I needed some time to find the answer to that question. I wanted to reduce my company, make it more manageable. Otherwise I would be very busy managing a company at the expense of the creative things I want to do.”
The Djax-it-up CD is the first album released by another record company: United Recordings. “Due to the possibilities of digital downloading, releasing CD's no longer is lucrative for Djax-Up-Beats. Therefore, I confine myself to vinyl.” Later this year her own music will be released, on Djax as well. “From now on, I will more often be concentrating on my own productions.”
Anyway, the musical climate looks hopeful, she states. “Techno still has a strong position and unlike trance, it has never become very common or extremely commercial. So it can remain alive. It Is rather dangerous when a style of music suddenly becomes highly popular. From being public property first, it will soon run down. Techno has never been the latest fad, that is why it has always managed to survive.”
Actually, that goes for Djax-Up-Beats too. Although miss Djax looks back upon a period of 15 years during which she released an impressive collection that has stood the ravages of time, it has not left her any the richer. Has she ever been jealous of the success of, for example, Dave Clarke and Laurent Gamier, both deejays/Djax-fans who, in some respects, have outstripped her. The logic of the question seems to escape her. “Jealous? I don't get it. Of what?” The mere question. She does her own thing, is her own boss. Would there be anything else left to desire?
Text: Gert van Veen
Translation: Sylvia Slegers
Published in ID&T Magazine 2004