Interview - Penthouse - 1999
BLONDE GAZELLE IN A MEN'S WORLD
The entire music-scene is at her feet. Saskia Slegers alias Miss Djax is hot. Her star has risen like a comet in the techno-, hiphop- and house-scene as a deejay and (record)producer. Once started from zero, she nowadays has become a successful businesswoman signing the most extreme contracts: from Osdorp Posse, Neuk and Spookrijders to Head First and Grumpyhead. Saskia Slegers -sturdy, sexy, not afraid to make a steady remark and extolled for her plain way of doing business- knows how to create the unexpected and succeeds in turning the stale musicbizz into something magic. With the cool resoluteness of a vamp she brings about a wave of excitement on stage and in the Dutch music-industry. A portrait of an irresistible rebel.
On the face of it it seems impossible to make an appointment with Miss Djax. Since she recently has been offered the Industry-award ‘De Veer’, not only her popularity has increased but she also seems to (have) be(come) completely unapproachable. After having contacted the captains of music-industry by phone it became evident that everyone agreed her to be a more than rightly winner. There was talk of a collective respect.
‘An absolute crack at her job with an authentic vision and razor-sharp observation-skills’ and ‘a phenomenon with an unmistakable intuition for talent and new developments’ were some of the many praises. In the meantime the telephone is red-hot at Miss Djax’s office in Eindhoven. My furious efforts to reach her personally invariably broke down on the sympathetic but relentless operator who gives me to understand that I should ‘try it again later’. On the point of giving up, I manage to reach her. My enthusiasm is slightly nipped in the bud. Remotely and in a monotonous voice she makes clear not really being in an urgent need of an interview. It’s not that she’s indifferent but she is getting tired of it. Continually answering the same questions and dishing up the same story. She might as well hand over an old interview, in the end they are all more or less equal. Besides, she is extremely busy. Ten minutes later our appointment is a fact. Being a genuine businesswoman she makes a point of it that our appointment is put on paper and she also wants to know when the interview will be published. Miss Djax does not have time for nonsense. At two sharp -the time we agreed on- she adroitly jumps like a blonde gazelle out of her gleaming, inky black car, a BMW Cabriolet. She is surprisingly beautiful. A mixture of female elegance and male stalwartness. Within three seconds she is standing in front of me. Her face has such a depth that it also seems worth while to go into her character.
Miss Djax is a woman who cannot be labelled. She combines shyness with nerve and innocence with being businesslike. Dressed in a black outfit, her hair tied backwards, not a trace of make-up, after having given the instruction that she does not want to be disturbed for the rest of the afternoon, she sits down at her desk, ready to start the interview. Her frankness surprises. The sturly girl I talked to on the phone reveals herself as a warm dynamic personality. With great fervour she puts her passions and her fear of dying into words. But the paradox of her looks of a cool vamp and her brave appearance as a no-nonsense businesswoman keeps on surprising me during the entire interview.
Penthouse: Being Djax Records’ manager you imperturbably work out your plans and you conquer the world with new talent. Beside, you travel about half the globe being a sparkling deejay in front of frantic crowds. This almost cranky way of life, is that your way of feeling happy?
Miss Djax: Absolutely! Sometimes I complain that it all is too much for me but on the other hand working is my greatest passion. I have an enormous drive, I am ambitious and pig-headed. My ambition is unlimited. I have to do things I like and things that are a challenge to me. As for this I am a junk. I need that drive. I am afflicted with it. My springs? I need to get rid of my energy but it is also a way of releasing all my ambitions. Being at work on music, that is my life. As Djax’s manager I enjoy being over the creative process so that I can give chanceless artists the chance to profile. See how ideas develop, ripen and subsequently change again. That whole process, I think, is uncommonly engaging.
Let’s follow the track back in time. At the age of 16 she quits higher general secondary education and during a couple of years she leads a dissolute life in which sex, drugs and rock & roll are important factors. “I was young, wild and imaginative, I had an insatiable curiosity and wanted to try out everything” she confesses. “I played the bass-guitar in a band and ended up in an environment in which drugs played a crucial role. I was used to turn night into day. Jamming the night away on snow was the rule rather than the exception. In that time we really used a lot of speed and coke. At a certain moment my brains began to have the upper hand again and I became sick and tired of that ‘liberty-and-joy-life’. I was not addicted, I simply was extremely curious. It is not in me to get addicted to drugs, my self-respect is too strong for that. Spirits that are genuinely free don’t need drugs. In my view, people that destroy themselves don’t have selfesteem.”
“Beside my work as a deejay those days, I worked in a record-shop to which all kinds of musicians brought their demo-tapes. Amongst those tapes I found such interesting materials that I did not understand why no-one paid attention to it. I thought: ‘Damn it, isn’t there anybody who is sensitive to good music?’ Then I decided to do it myself and I founded Djax Records. Everybody told me I was crazy. But I believed in it. Besides, to me those reactions were one more reason to go on.”
Her unbridled perseverance, the necessary luck and the right contacts made her plan a success.
After having seen 24K’s hiphop-act in 1989 she asked her mother to lend her 10,000 Guilders, brought 24K’s mastertape to the vinyl-factory and had 1,000 albums pressed. “That was the most important decision of my career” states Miss Djax. The 24K’s No Enemies-album still is sold frequently. It was the beginning of Djax Records. In 1991 she took another important decision and totally intuitively she contracted Osdorp Posse. “A set of pimply adolescents but we immediately clicked. I thought their work was highly remarkable and super original.” Without having had one single day of airplay on Radio 3 -very important in those days- Osdorp Posse broke through in 1995 after the release of the fourth album Afslag Osdorp. The Osdorp Posse-career and the Djax-one strongly correspond. An iron will, unlimited self-confidence and an aim at perfection. Success did not drop in upon them. “After having performed for years in front of crates of beer Osdorp Posse finally became succesful” says Miss Djax. “Many bands decide to stop if, after several months, the wanted success fails to come. This leads to one single conclusion: follow your heart and it will come right. I simply am convinced that if you believe in something you will succeed. That is also the secret of my success. I devote myself to the things I believe in. I go through fire and water for my artists. Whether I can make money with it does not matter to me. Trends are relatively unimportant to me. If I think an act has quality, I’ll sign it. Period. You know, the point is that new underground-artists hardly are given a chance in Holland. There are quite a lot of artists busying themselves with underground-music but there are hardly any serious outlets. There are major and independent labels but there is not much in between. At independent companies it is relatively easy to release a record. If need be, you can even found a company yourself. But in most cases there is no more money left for publicity. So artists are not able to work on it seriously and the short-lived stars are born.”
Djax Records and Osdorp Posse are often mentioned in one breath. This is not completely rightly because Djax is more than Nederhop. The techno-label Djax-Up-Beats, which is represented by Djax, keeps on growing. It is successful, not only at home in Holland but also abroad. This branch has taken its bearings internationally. Almost half of the released materials come from Chicago. “As a deejay I played my records all over the world, which allowed me to contact many people” says Miss Djax. “These contacts are extremely useful for my artists. This year Grumpyhead and Head First will be at the American Music-exchange South B South West, which can be regarded the biggest one in the world.”
Penthouse: What does music mean to you?
Miss Djax: That question is hard to answer. I am also always asked what the secret of my career is. I don’t have one. I am just who I am. Music means everything to me. It is a basic necessity of life. I communicate by way of music. I could not think of a life without music. If I had to choose between being blind or deaf, I would know what to ‘prefer’. Ofcourse I realize that both choices are terrible but nevertheless I would ‘prefer’ to be blind. I would feel rather lonely without music. “My musical taste is very broad” Miss Djax continues “I love the hard work like Marilyn Manson but I am also into Tori Amos, Prodigy and Rage Against the Machine. Electro, triphop or hiphop. I like so many sorts but there has to be some kind of feeling to dance in it, or depth. It has to be heavy too. Tori Amos is not really heavy actually but it sure is super sensual. Since recently I have got my own radio-programme at KINK-FM, Mission Djax. I am completely free to decide what to play. Terrific! To me that is the ultimate sense of freedom: not having to mind what the great mass of the people may or may not like. The commercial world is extremely stressed - I cannot help having the idea that there is always someone sort of panting at my neck. Like: ‘we don’t have much time, you should play the very latest, otherwise you will fall behind’. I cannot stand that. Yet at the age of 12 I knew I wanted to be a deejay. Those days I already was mad about music. Being as young as I was I wanted to create my own little world and I disliked any restriction whatsoever. All night long I was listening to pirate-transmitters. My mother often came to my room in the middle of the night to tell me to finally go to sleep. But I had an unlimited energy. This ‘problem’ has never been solved: I still spend the night listening to music, I still don’t go to sleep before 5 a.m. which results in my not being approachable before 12 p.m.! All my pocketmoney was spent on records, mostly reduced ones, because I evidently did not have that much those days. I became self-supporting very quickly. My parents were divorced and I left home at the age of 16 to live in digs. In that time I started playing records in a discoteque in Eindhoven which I visited frequently. The owner gave me permission so I took my bike, carried a box full of record and was ready to face my first gig. It apparently gave satisfaction for I was allowed to stay. Although I was not paid much, I thought it was terrific. Music is my life -she cannot stop herself from repeating it over and over again- and even then I already thought it was great to pass my musical knowledge over to other people. I could give expression to all my ideas and at the same time I procured the visitors a great night at the dancing-floor.”
Penthouse: When was your breaking through as an international (techno-acid) deejay?
Miss Djax: In 1979, when I had just started, house did not excist yet. I do have experienced all musical trends from the very beginning of disco. I have at about 7,000 maxi-singles at home. I still buy what is new. It keeps the mind keen. I am addicted to it. In 1991 I got my first abroad gig, in Paris. I had to play my records in a gigantic parking garage in front of at about 6,000 people. Wow! I was thrown in at the deep end. Coming from Eindhoven’s discoteque’s to this huge crowd! I have to admit that it startled me a little. But it was a success and from that moment on I have been asked continually. The real break through was a the May Day Party in Berlin, in 1992, where I had a gig in front of 8,000 people. All major management consultants and promoters are present at such events, eagerly looking for new deejay-talents. In case they like you, everybody wants to book you. From that moment on everything was accelerated.
Penthouse: Have you got a manager or an agent?
Miss Djax: No way! I do it all by myself. All an agent thinks of is his commission. No matter what or where, he’ll book it, as much as he can. I receive mountains of requests but I decline more than half of it. I am at the top and I like to keep it that way. I’ll prevent myself from being worn out. It is like working to death. At a given moment it consequently became too much for me. Having to travel, a couple of years in succession, constantly from New York to Paris, from Brazil to South-Africa and from Canada to Barcelona. You’ll soon be burnt-out. And yet, there are still so many things I want to do in life.
Penthouse: Is it still exciting?
Miss Djax: For a while it wasn’t that exciting anymore. It started to tire me out. But I am managing to find my way out and I absolutely want to keep doing this job. Travelling, which is part of it, nevertheless is a way to widen one’s horizon and to broaden one’s mind. The combination of being a deejay and working at Djax offers me a firm variety
and I need that. It even is a necessity!
Penthouse: What does your day look like before Miss Djax sets foot on stage?
Miss Djax: My gigs are planned months beforehand because flyers have to be made. The entire promotion-machine is started up. But it invariably starts with a journey by car, train or plane because most of the time I work abroad. There is always some sort of pressure, people expect things from me. As a deejay I have my responsibilities which implies stress. But as soon as I put my first record onto the pick-up, it is all over and gone-by. I may have a head-ache, a pain in my inside, a period...... once I am playing my records, all diseases vanish. It is a fixed ritual. I arrive at the hotel, I check in, have a bite to eat, have a nap, take a bath and get dressed. Because most of the time I don’t start working before 2 a.m., regularly till 4 a.m. Beforehand I don’t want anybody to disturb me, interview me or whatever. I need that time to prepare myself mentally and fysically. Neither do I ever go to the club for a warming-up.
Penthouse: Don’t you need to pep or stir yourself up? Do you really just go on stage clean and sober in front of that swaying crowd?
Miss Djax: Yes indeed, I don’t drink nor do I take drugs. I am completely myself on stage. Music is my drug.
Miss Djax: I use to receive fanmail in which people write: ‘You’re always so cool’ but don’t underestimate it. You’re banging for two hours, it is hard to maintain your concentration much longer. Many people think you are just playing some nice little records but being a deejay requires knowledge and feeling. You have to stay alert and always keep one step ahead of your public. Nowadays deejays are regarded as artists. Deejays are the new popstars, surrounded with passion and eroticism. That is a completely new culture. In the past you simply were some kind of a walking juke-box, inconspiciously playing records in the corner of the hall. Now you are standing on a platform, all spots focussed on you, you are a real star. I don’t really feel in such a way but you can hardly avoid it. You are seen and treated as an idol, people want to identify with you. This really goes very far. Whereas in the past nine out of ten youngsters wanted to be a popstar, nowadays they dream of being a deejay.
Penthouse: Functioning in this glamorous world, at least requires a dose of desire to assert yourself.
Miss Djax: Ah, glamour. After having played my records I sometimes get a little kick out of being asked for my signature. But I am very down-to-earth. Even an artist at the top remains a human being that, just like you and me, every now and then has to go to the loo to shit and secretly picks his nose.
Penthouse: With tempting long blond locks, tattoos on your arms and nice outfits you are more or less like a goddess on stage. Do you really only radiate innocence or is there also question of musical masturbation?
Miss Djax: (stupefied) Certain music certainly can throw me into a rapture and I make no bones about that but for the rest I am only doing my job! Ofcourse being the chosen one and the feeling of being directly in contact with your public is great. But don’t think I am constantly in some kind of completely submerged bliss. Besides, the power of one’s looks isn’t that strong as you might think. Someone may look very seductive but if the music is shit, you’ll soon be cold-shouldered.
Penthouse: In order to drag along the public you have to make it really hungry. What’s your strategy to achieve that?
Miss Djax: By telling them a good story with my music. My story. It has to be the right music.
Penthouse: Does eroticism play a role at such an evening?
Miss Djax: I think so yes. Looking at the clothes women -but men also- wear, or should I say don’t wear, at those parties. That really goes pretty far. Nice thing about it is that, despite this, nobody gets bothered. It is one of the few scenes in which it’s (still) possible. In this case eroticism isn’t self-evidently put on a level with physical love. Besides, that isn’t exactly what those evenings are about! It is a matter of having a good time and raising the roof. People don’t come in search of sex. Although, right enough, there are supersexy deejays. The way they play and move their muscular bodies to the bass-sounds combined with the feeling of black disco, that is rather lascivious. But my music, being a bit harder, heavier and cooler, does not lend itself to this purpose.
Penthouse: Out of what do you get the ultimate kick?
Miss Djax: When I am playing my records and see people completely lifting the roof because of my music. In the end I am doing something I believe in, heart and soul. And I get an enormous kick out of other people sharing that feeling with me. And also acknowledgement.
Penthouse: What do you do afterwards, when you are finished?
Miss Djax: It depends. I sometimes want to leave immediately. I hurry off backstage. Then I am not in the mood to meet all those people talking to me because the music already has made me deaf. But sometimes I stay for hours, hanging around with the other deejays, doing a little dance in the deejay-den. By all means, it is impossible to go to sleep immediately. After my work I really need to cool-down.
Penthouse: What about men waiting in a queue, wanting to catch hold of you and suggesting all kinds of indecent things, as far as they are indecent ofcourse?
Miss Djax: No, male fans rarely are annoying. On the contrary. They look at you full of admiration.
Penthouse: What does success mean to you?
Miss Djax: Success is pretty relative. There are so many other things that I am occupied in. Growing older, for example. My parents age. Everything can come to an end all at once. This is my biggest fright. I am mortally afraid of death; afraid to loose beloved ones. The thought of it makes me panic. I repress it, otherwise I would go mad. I have been working on Djax for ten years now and I am at a point of reflecting. What have I achieved? What are my plans for the future? Those are questions I don’t know the answers to yet. The last few years I fairly neglected my friends. I was only engaged on my music -in other words: on myself- I want to change that. This way of life evidently has got its price. Whether you want it or not, life is taken over from you. There is hardly any room left for a social life. I’ll go one better than that: there is hardly any time left to spend your money.
Penthouse: Is money important to you?
Miss Djax: It is a cliche. It is rather easy to have money but it absolutely does not make you any happier. I started form zero. During many years I had little money but it did not make me unhappier. I don’t do this work because of the money but because of the fact that I enjoy it. Doing nothing gets under my skin. A lot of musicians recognize that. Like Charlie Watts, the drummer of the Rolling Stones. Well, I bet he is a made man but being at home he locks himself up in another room to play the drums, simply because that is the only thing he wants to do. When it comes to music this also counts for me.
Penthouse: Do you feel a winner?
Miss Djax: In certain respect I do. I fought hard for it. I realized my musical ideals without having to compromise or to make commercial concessions.
Penthouse: But winners are by defenition irritating to others. Don’t you lose any sleep over that?
Miss Djax: Not even a single minute. What others think and do does not concern me at all.
Penthouse: How does it feel to be a businesswoman in a men’s world?
Miss Djax: It does not bother me because I am used to going my own way and I don’t let anybody or anything act upon me. Men sometimes can appear rather sex-ridden and I can imagine that other women may have problems with that, but not me. Such remarks go in at one ear and out at the other. My golden rule is that I am not obliged to do anything. I always do the things I believe in. It seems easy but it requires pluck to make that choice.
Penthouse: You aren’t exactly in want of self-confidence, are you? Have you sucked it in
with your mother’s milk?
Miss Djax: I have no idea. At home the credo was: do the things that you feel happy with. This probably made me the person I am now. My father is the same. Being a painter he had a gallery at the ground-floor of our house. To him freedom is all that counts. He prefers having nothing to eat to making concessions. I recognize that. My mother is more like: do a study in order to get on in the world. I inherited her perseverance. Being in her thirties she started studying Law. I admire that. I admire strong women anyway. Like Madonna. She is a living legend. A phenomenon at her job. An up-to-date kameleon that keeps on developing. She has got the reputation of being a nuisance but she simply is a sturdy woman that has rocked the (music)world to its foundations.
Penthouse: Generally, in business community, women are more unobtrusive than men. That looks graceful, people say. The danger is, however, that they’ll easily be overlooked by men. How do you avoid that?
Penthouse: By not sojourning too frequently in those circles. When the ‘De Veer’-award was presented to me, several hundreds of executives were expecting me to deliver an inspiring speech. I know I have the reputation of being a rebel. There it is, when people expect me to do something I tend to do the opposite. But in this case that wasn’t on. I was very honoured but I did not actually feel at ease. Which brings me to my weak side. I don’t care being on stage in front of 200,000 people, I am able to do business with musicbizz-dignities from all over the world but when I have to deliver a speech in front of the executives of the business community, I am lost. It makes me extremely insecure. I feel more comfortable in the company of my artists or on stage.
Penthouse: You make no bones about obviously choosing to swim against the stream in everything you do.
Miss Djax: To me being contrary is not an aim in itself. I just refuse to go the accepted way. I want to develop my own musical ideas, without following any trend. I hate predictability. It cannot be helped, that is the way I am. Don’t ask me why, I don’t have a clue. If I started thinking over all the things I am doing I would not achieve much.
Penthouse: In conclusion, no doubt that you can be typified as a happy person. Is there anything left to be desired?
Miss Djax: There are still a lot of challenges. I am working on a book ‘Ten Years of Djax’ which will be published end of this year. (resolutely) You know, I just follow my heart. That is my talent, the rest simply is the cause of my drive.
Interview by Rosemary de Boer for Penthouse Holland, February 1999
Translation by Sylvia Slegers