Interview - Backspin - 2002
THE WORLD OF DJAX - CROSSROADS OF HIPHOP AND DANCE
In 1989 Saskia Slegers, at that time working in a record shop in Eindhoven, received a cassette of a local rap group: 24 K. Because no Dutch record company wanted to release Dutch hip hop, she decided to start her own independent label: Djax Records.
The location was and still is Eindhoven in the south-east of the Netherlands. Within two years Djax released eight hip hop albums of Dutch rappers who were rapping in English: 24 K, Dope Posse, Kay LC, Buckaneers. This was the the beginning of a success story that is still going on. But Saskia Slegers is not only the founder of the first Dutch hiphop label. After starting up with Dutch hiphop Djax turned soon into one of the world most famous labels in hard electronic music: in dance and techno. Nowadays techno, acid, hiphop, breakbeat and nederhop (Dutch spoken hiphop) records are released under the flag of Djax.
In the book “Djax Records. The power of underground. 1989-1999” you can read how Saskia Slegers got in touch with the Nederhop rappers of the Osdorp Posse. “I was really impressed by this group. They were hardcore, underground, original and very funny, in other words just what I was looking for” she writes. In 1991 Djax offered a record contract to the Osdorp Posse . The following success of the Osdorp Posse was also that of Djax, the only Dutch record company who at that time had the guts to release Dutch hip-hop, in English and in Dutch. “With English spoken hip-hop I stopped already in the second part of 1992 because there was no development anymore in the Netherlands. The Osdorp Posse brought renewal in the hip-hop (Nederhop !). Without the Osdorp Posse it would have been different with Djax” Saskia Slegers tells me. “Because they became big, other Nederhop crews got the chance . So, I regretted it very much when they left and started their own label: Ramp. But they were so professionally that they could go further on their own. They are a well running machine. We split as good friends. We still work together. By their mail- order service Ramp sells also albums of Djax Records.” Since 1992 Djax released 5 compilation albums of Nederhop, called “De Posse”. The sleeves were designed by Def P. But by the end of 2001 Saskia decided to stop the series. A compilation of Belgian Nederhop was even cancelled. Saskia Slegers: “I wasn’t satisfied with the material I received. I think that the highdays of Nederhop are over. Some groups we released in the past stopped already. And there is not much renewal. It’s not the same anymore like two years ago when I released six Nederhop records per year”. “When a group wants to survive, it’s not enough to make only good music” she adds. “In the long run groups need perseverance, they need strong legs and not all have that. I know it’s not easy for them. They have to work hard and they earn not much because the Dutch market is a very small one. It’s very difficult for these groups”. On the other hand nobody is waiting for groups who sound as an echo of the Osdorp Posse. “A Belgian group like Nest, they came with something new. Some members are Maroccan, they use samples of Maroccan music. And ABN is original too. Together with the Spookrijders they are one of the few Nederhop crews I still release. In the future I want to release an album of Dwaalspoor, a rap group from Eindhoven.
Dwaalspoor brings renewal; they have a fantastic rapper with a mega quick flow. Further they are just as hard workers as the Osdorp Posse. It’s really a group you can build on”. Another contributing factor is that it is not going well with the music industry. Illegal pressings and free downloading through Internet became a major problem. Many record companies get rid of groups because they don’t sell enough records anymore. That’s not good for Dutch hip hop because new groups don’t get enough possibilities to develop themselves. “At the moment Djax and Ramp are the only Dutch hiphop labels. And I don’t think that there will come others. Djax has the advantage that we are not dependent on CD’s. All releases on our techno label Djax-Up-Beats are on vinyl only and luckily vinyl cannot be downloaded from the Internet !”. “But I have never been happy with the CD format anyway” she adds. “Because I am a DJ to the backbone. ”The advantage of an LP is also that the designs can come out very well compared to the CD. For Djax the artwork is very important. That Djax gives much attention to this, the pages of “The power of underground” are showing very well. Hundreds of photos and illustrations are making this book a very colorful and visual document. The artwork for Djax is mainly made by an artist from Detroit: Alan Oldham. In 1991 she asked him to make some illustrations for her label Djax-Up-Beats. Since then he made hundreds of illustrations for Djax and three Miss Djax comic-books.
The artwork for the Djax-break-beatz. records is made by Sender, known for his very detailed and futuristic designs. Sender lives in Amsterdam. The Djax-break-beatz series is very interesting. There are released till now six volumes, the first one by Seda, beat creator of the Osdorp Posse. The other five are DJ Alien, bigbeat producer from the hardcore city Rotterdam; Bitchville, Pita (former beatcreator of ABN), Zebulon, an oldschoolproducer; and PWB, beatcreator of the succesfull Nederhop crew White Wolf.
Saskia Slegers: “I started with the Djax-break-beatz albums because there is a chronic lack of Nederhop beats and breaks on vinyl. The Djax-break-beatz series is made by and for producers. The idea behind it is that they can be used for sampling and mixing.” The DJs and beat creators can release whatever they want: beats, breaks, samples, sounds and noises in any style as long as it is cool and different. “I want to put the beat creators in the spotlights. They are always standing in the shadow of rappers.” Saskia wanted to make the series as wide as possible. Self-evidently with old-skool-breaks . But she also released artists who don’t come from the hip-hopscene like DJ Alien and Bitchville. “They produce bigbeat, jungle, triphop. dub. I like crossovers. Just like the Osdorp Posse did with their mix of Nederhop and metal. I don’t like incrowd scenes. So, everything I release under the flag of Djax, goes together: hip-hop, jungle, acid, techno.”
The different kinds of music were brought together in various divisions (Djax-Up-Beats, Djax Break-Beatz, Djax Hip-Hop and Nederhop). Those are sub-labels of the main label Djax. Some artists like Bitchville for example release records at different sub-labels of Djax.
DJAX-UP-BEATS AND DJAX-X-BEATS
Djax-Up-Beats, the techno and acid label of Djax started in 1990 with the first release of Terrace, a new producer from Eindhoven, who makes Detroit style techno. There are 250 vinyl releases till now. I release many Americans. When I was in Chicago and Detroit in 1992 I discovered many artists who didn’t get a chance there. They found an outlet in me. And I hold the door wide open for them. That has been always my attitude to artists. It surprised me that they had faith in me. But they got their money and that wasn't always the case in the States.”
In 1997 Djax started to release records in the Djax-X-Beats division. The bands released in this dividion produce a crossover between rock and dance. In this series are also found big beat, jungle and trip-hop. All bands have a strong live performance. Djax released for example Head First with rapper Syklone and DJ Rockid, He is a hiphop DJ and was Dutch DMC scratch champion in 1998, 2000 and 2001. The band is seen as one of Holland’s most promising dance-crossover bands. They performed several times in Germany and USA. Saskia Slegers: “Head First consists of five members who all have a different musical background. The beat creator and also the brain behind the group is Ype Wielinga. This talented producer, guitarplayer and singer originally comes from the rock circuit. The keyboardplayer comes from a funk band and the DJ form the hip-hopscene. So, the band is influenced by many different styles but the basis are fat self-produced hip-hop beats.”
As a DJ Saskia Slegers is well known as Miss Djax. “The name Djax was already my DJ name before I started my label. It sounds very good, I think. The letter X is my favorite letter and Djax rhymes very well at ‘wax’ (is vinyl), ‘trax’ and ‘sex’.” She is not a hip-hop DJ anymore. “Since 12 years I don’t play any hip-hop but only techno and acid. In the eighties I played much hip-hop: Public Enemy, NWA, Ice T, Ice Cube”. In the international dance-and techno scene Miss Djax is a well respected DJ. In 1992 she had her international break through at the Mayday Party in Berlin. She has a preference for the heavy stuff. When she works as a DJ, her style is not different. ”I play techno and acid, as hard as possible. And of course the bass is important for me. When I was 18 I played bass guitar in a band. That you will hear in my music”. Miss Djax always had her own uncompromising vision on music. That can be considered as one of the causes of the success of Djax. ”The same you can say for the Osdorp Posse. We always carried on, never made any compromise considering our music. I don’t give a shit when people say: don’t do that. Then I just do it. When I heard the Osdorp Posse, I wanted to release them. I wanted to put them on the map. I also had the luck that I started in the right period. In 1989 there were not many independents like today. Especially in the techno scene there are many now. So, on the one hand I was lucky but on the other hand I also had a good nose for the right music. But I never planned anything, it simply happened to me.”
Published in Backspin, Germany May 2002
Copyright: Rik van Boeckel