Interview - Party Flock - 2009
I WILL KEEP ON RELEASING VINYL TILL MY LAST GASP
Fortunately there is a door mat in front of the entrance. It would be unthinkable to enter the Queen of Techno's shelter with soaked shoes. Bloody rain. However, it is not just a door mat, I notice, it is a Superman-mat. Is it there just for decoration? I decide to give it a shot, I dry my shoes and ring the doorbell. A few seconds later, she opens the door: Saskia Slegers, also known as Miss Djax. I must admit that I had a little crush on her when I saw her for the first time, performing at a party, in 1995. And I adored her music. A couple of days ago, she had her 'Djax Records 1989-2009 - Underground Nation' party at 'De Effenaar', and I must say: I still felt a little amorous. And even now I feel slightly nervous. "Come in!", she says enthusiasticly before kissing me three times on the cheeks. All of a sudden I am faced with twenty years of dance-history which all started way back in time with the purchase of a Beatles single and a present for her thirteenth birthday: a panel of illumination equipment, flashing in accordance with the bass-beat while playing music. Having painted the ceiling of her room black, she pretended to be a DJ in a discoteque. Three years later she indeed started working as a DJ: at discoteque Vox in Eindhoven, earning 30 Dutch guilders a night. She was completely fed up with school, all she wanted was music. At the age of eightteen she bought a bass-guitar. Playing in a band appealed to her and this dream also came true: the new-wave band New Article was born soon. After having performed for a couple of years she decided to quit and started working at recordshop Bullit. In the late eighties everyone was clueless about dance-music, even the recordshop owner. "Just do your thing," he told Saskia, who subsequently established a dance-department. "Would you like something to drink?" she asks, walking towards the kitchen. I secretly watch her. I realize that she already was performing while many of the readers of the interview that I am taking right now were not even born yet. I accomplish a quick calculation and conclude that she must be somewhere in her forties. Downright jabber. She returns, hands me a beer and puts a glass of water in front of her. I determine I also quit drinking beer. There is a squeaky sound, coming from the livingroom. "Oh, those are my mice, do you want to see them?" Miss Djax's mouse, would anyone refuse such an offer? I follow her sheepishly and become aware of the life-sized Superman next to the mousecage. In the livingroom the superhero is also on all sides and he even shows up at the toilet. Damned, possibly that door mat was decoration indeed. There is a huge cabinet with numerous action figures and horror sculptures in the livingroom. She's fond of horror and comics, she tells me. And of Superman. It's no surprise to me at all. I gather that Saskia is on Kryptonite or something too.
In 1989 rapgroup 24K gave her a cassette-tape and she discovered that the Netherlands lacked a record label contracting that kind of music. So she raised one herself. In 1990 she added her sublabel Djax-Up-Beats to it and in 1991 she contracted a new band. That band, Osdorp Posse, would turn out to be the best Nederhop our country had ever experienced thus far. Miss Djax's as well as her record label's impressive histories go on and on and the resemblance to her red-blue hero becomes increasingly clear to me. For a minute I rattle off all the facts in silence and my head swims. She probably will turn out to be one of the many arrogant, presumptuous bitches of the music business. Actually, I am secretly slightly hoping for it. Perhaps there might also be a less fortunate aspect to this superwoman. It's time to push off.
Your label, Djax Records, recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary. It is sometimes said that one should stop at the pinnacle. What about you? Does your career keep culminating over and over again or doesn't this saying count for you and will you just be going on as long as you enjoy doing it?
"Surely, as long as I like what I am doing, I will keep on doing it. I do what I like anyway. I think that everyone in this life should do the things they feel good about. When someone at the age of thirty states: "I no longer can stand the night-life", it's fine with me. When someone is sixty years old and still eager to bang every week, also fine. Our society forces us to be and stay young, beautiful and fashionable, but a fat lot I care! Age really is but a number. I still fully enjoy performing and producing. And I still do have dreams and wishes. One thing I had been wishing for a long time was a golden album and, dash it, recently I received two! One for Osdorp Posse's 'Afslag Osdorp' and the other for all the albums sold by way of my record label. Frankly spoken, I also would like to receive one for a Djax production of my own. That would be another culminating-point. Actually, my producing-career has always been subordinated to my label. Not forgetting all the gigs I performed. Producing never really got a chance. My first record was released only in 1994, it wasn't serious business yet. I just connected a bunch of analogue devices, beat a little, taped it and that was it. If I had known then that the Internet would increase the way it did and that the sales of vinyl would diminish in such a drastic way, I would have put more effort in it previously. I certainly will keep focussing on producing but I will never manage to equal the former sales of huge piles of vinyl. It will all be about digital downloads and a whole lot of illegal downloads. Well, then maybe I should go for a digital golden album (laughs)."
The development of the Internet, resulting in an enlargement of illegal downloads, indeed has made it harder to make a profit on music sales. Ten years ago, the Djax-releases were in great demand, nowadays it has gone down considerably. How is Djax Records doing at this moment?
"Except for the Manu Kenton one this year, I presently only produce releases of my own, actually. I will keep releasing vinyl to my last gasp. The sales have diminished immensely, but as far as the releases are concerned it still is more or less acceptable. For the time being, I will keep prefering vinyl and I still want the records to look very beautiful too. Coloured vinyl, consolidated vinyl, a nice cover.... It costs a pretty penny but I consider it to be promotional material for my gigs."
Recordshops also suffer from the popularity of the Internet. What was your reaction when you learnt that Bullit -where you were employed yet when Miss Djax still was Saskia Slegers and where you were allowed to raise a dance department on your own account- had to move from its good old quarters in the town center to a much smaller location in the outskirts?
"Bullit gone, Rare Records gone.... I think that's a great pitty. The familiar image of the DJ visiting the recordshop a couple of times a week, headset on, judging the most recent releases for hours, is pretty much dying out. I still buy vinyl and I also still perform with records, but I fear that, sooner or later, this will come to an end. I sometimes am delayed because I have to wait until the vinyl finally is released. Suppose it will be released. In the meantime, all the world already obtained that track months ago. At the same time, Rush and Pet Duo send me the digital version of their new tracks, so eventually I will have to start playing cd's. Horrible! Anyhow, I will keep playing vinyl as long as I can."
Is this some piece of nostalgia?
"I mainly think it's more pleasant to play vinyl. I don't enjoy playing cd's. Besides, I don't feel like getting used to it either. I just want to be able to see the record turn and go around. Prior to my gigs I really have to communicate very clearly what kind of equipment I need, otherwise there will be no turntables. Or I find them, all leaning and dusty, somewhere piled up in the corner. Vinyl has survived the introduction of the cd, I truly like that very much. What's the capacity of a disc, 70 minutes? Soon, every DJ will carry a stick to plug in. All that will needed is a pocket. Not for me, I prefer my large and heavy recordcase filled with vinyl. I think there will always be some small record companies that keep releasing vinyl. I hope to be one of them. It genuinely is a hobby of mine: even if I lose on an album, I don't care. I just want to have it. In case I had to manufacture only one copy for myself, I would do it. As far as my livesets are concerned, I have let go of my nostalgia because constantly carrying along all those devices was no longer feasible. Ableton functions tremendously live. In the past I used to connect a 606 and some 303's to it, but it is very inconvenient to drag that stuff along in an airplane, it often gets damaged and at parties there is frequently no room for it. However, simply plug in a cd, pound some buttons and pretend it to be a liveset carries me way too far. Anyone who choses to do so should ofcourse feel entirely free, but for me it is on principle."
Do you keep up with the other scenes?
"I have never really followed any trend. Hard acid and techno have always been and will always be my favourite styles. I am very loyal in this respect, with regard to colours as well, for example. As a child I already was fond of red and black and just look around you: red and black all over the place. On the other hand, this doesn't mean I don't follow other styles at all. I am open to a lot of things. When I perform at a festival, I pop in on all the booths. But I don't feel the need to produce other styles myself. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable doing my own thing."
So, what exactly is it about techno and acid that those particular styles have been able to keep attracting your attention for such a long time?
"Techno has always been the underdog but it manages to persist. There have been no huge peaks but no real lows either. It is rather consistent. People might think that the techno-scene has changed, because of the subgenres such as minimal and hard techno, but in fact there is nothing new under the sun. Robert Hood used to produce music that nowadays would be classified as 'minimal'. In the nineties Rave music was called 'techno' as well. Nowadays, in season and out of season, there is a tendency to invent a new name for almost everything. But not at my label. It consists of Djax-Up-Beats and the common Djax, but whether it is hiphop or acid or techno, all of it belongs to the same Djax-label and all of it carries the same logo. What I find very cool about techno is that it is raw, uncomplicated. And it has a lot of possibilities. You're not committed to all sorts of things, it isn't limited. The sounds are pretty gross. And techno has and gives out an awful lot of energy. Lovely."
Does it also apply to you personally? Uncomplicated and gross?
"I do have some sort of a 'fuck you' mentality indeed. Lots of people think I am a tough one, perhaps they even think I am gross because of all my tattoos (laughs). I very often hear people say "how forceful of you to stand your ground as a woman in a men's world." That doesn't mean anything to me at all, you know. In the past, when I played in a band, people also used to ask me if I was the vocalist. It's all so narrow-minded. When I was working for Bullit, we sold lots of heavy music, metal and stuff like that, I was engaged in hiphop and, as I already mentioned, later on in dance. 90% of the customers were men and the few female customers purchased other styles. My gigs are attended by an 80% male public too. Women might be less attracted to raw and hard stuff like that, perhaps society has drummed it into them or something. I have never given a shit about it at all. I happen to like hard and rough. I have never profiled myself specifically as a female DJ, I am a DJ, period. Never mind the gender."
The 4th of December, you celebrated the Djax Records anniversary at De Effenaar. Was it a deliberate choice to use the small hall in stead of the large one? Like: "This is how and where it all started."?
"Well, the small room just has a splendid atmosphere. It is a cosy, nice and dark den. The next Djax-party, the 9th of April, will also take place at De Effenaar. This time in the large hall, though. I do have a history with that spot. In the past I used to go to De Effenaar to watch new wave bands and later I performed there with my own band. Furthermore, Djax's lustrum was celebrated at De Effenaar too. De Effenaar's former large hall was much more of a dark and smoky den, but we will make sure the new large hall will sense the same way in April."
After having taken part in the Love Parade for four years in a row, do those large parties still mean anything to you?
"Last summer I performed at a lot of festivals, a decade at a rough estimate, like Awakenings, Ground zero with an area of my own, Dance Valley and Wooferland. And you bet I raised the roof when I noticed that the hard techno booth at Awakenings had increased again. Obviously, performing in front of a million people is some kind of a once in a lifetime event. That´s why I quit participating the Love Parade after 1998. Actually, the things I did during those years in Berlin, were completely selfless and entirely for the benefit of the scene. It ran into a lot of money. Without being sponsored, I spent between 30.000 and 50.000 guilders a year on sound equipment, decoration, accomodation, transport, security and the whole caboodle. Just for the sake of the scene, to do something in return for the people. However, the Parade became increasingly commercial and after all, I coudn't really surpass the 1998 smash anyway. Driving the leading trailer truck, being the one to take off the music, surrounded by a one-million crowd of exuberant people...... So in that case I did stop at the pinnacle. Returning to that subject: my real culmination point was approximately in 1995/1996. If I had sold Djax by then, I could have begun to lead a life of leisure without having any need to work anymore. But it simply didn't occur to me. Like one is raising an infant that starts blossoming and suddenly develops into a cracker. No way that, out of the blue, anyone would decide to place that child for adoption, right? If I had been asked that question in those days I seriously would have replied: "Suck it!""
On the occasion of Djax Records' tenth anniversary, you published a book, at the twentieth anniversary a DVD was released. Do you have any idea what gift could be expected ten years from now? A Djax sculpture? Or something very high-tech?
"Some kind of beam-me-up gadget sounds really cool indeed. As a matter of fact, a Djax sculpture already exists. My girlfriend designs figures, like weddingcake-toppers and stuff. (Saskia rises, enters the livingroom and returns with a Miss Djax figure). Here you are, including all my tattoos. A genuine Miss Djax action figure, but there is only one example of it. Having regard to the technical changes of the past few years, I guess, it surely will turn out to be something severe ten years from now..... Like I said, in the past we had to drag a load of analogue devices: nowadays bringing a laptop will do. God knows what it will be like ten years from now, it's all going so very fast. By the way, composing that DVD was quite a drudgery, I spent months sorting out videotapes and still it doesn't contain everything I had in mind. With regard to music, a lot has changed too. At the beginning of my DJ career I played disco and funk. Meanwhile an entire dance scene with hundreds of subsegments has come into being."
Beyond the scope of the dance scene, could you imagine the possiblity that something completely new may happen still?
"I never look at the future that much,I just let things drift. Although I am open to it, it would suit me if something new were to be released. On the other hand: I have been doing the same thing for 20 years now (laughs). Just leave that techno up to me. Nowadays people pretty much draw on the style that was popular in the early nineties. Like Lady Gaga for example, who recycled Dominator's Juno sounds. At the moment Human Resource and I are cooperating at the studio for the purpose of increasingly blending our styles. Our newest maxi single will be released in March and we hope that projects like that will call the hardcore public's attention a litte more towards techno. Many people consider techno to be hustle and bustle. But hard techno really does rattle, you know. A lot of the other styles make use of many long breaks as a result of which the public also becomes calm. The techno breaks are way more psychedelic, like a huge, continuing orgasm. Techno is a train that has to keep on running. Fortunately, more and more people are getting that. The number of people that are converted to our belief is slowly but surely rising.(laughs)"
Let's go back in time, bringing up another commonplace: "the good old days." Was it, at that time, really as good as this saying suggests? Were the parties better? And what about being a DJ: in your opinion, when was making a career more difficult, either in the past or nowadays?
Well, people often use to claim things like that about the past. And ten years from now they will be saying the same things again. Personally I think the nineties were extremely hot. But those days everything was new, fresh and exciting. As far as the DJ profession is concerned: I think breaking through has always been rather difficult. In the past it mainly turned on a limited number of people, having significance of their own. A recordlabel, good productions, throwing their own parties.... Just think of Marusha, Westbam, Laurent Garnier and Carl Cox. At that time, like myself, a lot of the starting folks already worked as a DJ before the rising of the dance scene. The present DJ's lack the year-long experience of working in a tiny bar, earning only a trifle a night. Presently, people simply buy a couple of cd-players or turntables and after practising at home they proclaim themselves DJ. At the same time, a whole lot of people are doing this nowadays, so it is hard to join in. Succeeding is caused by a combination of factors. It is also a matter of being lucky, creating something original at the right moment and being charismatic."
If -out of that Djax Records' twenty years history- you were able to do one single year all over again, exactly the way it took place, which year would you choose and why?
"I certainly would choose 1995. Participating in the Love Parade for the first time while driving my own trailer truck, Osdorp Posse's Afslag Osdorp, my anniversary at De Effenaar, a gig and two-week stay in South Africa.... That really was a fabulous vintage."
What if, from those twenty years, you had to pick one you could change, which year would that be and why?
"In that case I would choose a year that was very heavy for me personally: the year 2000. At that time my father passed away unexpectedly. I was incredibly busy, organising Djax's tenth anniversary, working on publishing that book. It was all very hectic, I was interviewed while my father was in hospital and that same interview was broadcast on TV the day we were arranging his funeral. That was very hard. Preliminary I had done another interview, for Penthouse, in which I was asked what things I fear. I replied that one of my fears was losing my parents. And soon after that I effectively lost my father. So if I could, I certainly would change that year's events. Those days I highly went into pieces and so did my generally strong ambition for quite a while. During the first years after having lost my father I made the decision to work less, to slow down a little. Less gigs, less activity with relation to my label. Not because I thought I had to work less and enjoy life more, for I truly am fond of my work. To me working equalises enjoying. Obviously, while waiting at some kind of rotten airport again, I sometimes curse. But all that effort is completely balanced by the state of euphoria a gig brings about. When my father died I wanted to spend more time on my mother or friends, but after a while the urge to work reared its head again. Anyhow, I am just a workaholic I guess."
Apologizing for the cliche: which was your best party?
"Seriously, that question has not been asked very often. I would say Mayday 1992, which resulted to be my break-through. Prior to that party I had been completely stressed out. At the airport the trunk that contained my recordcase, turned out to be lost. I had to perform at 8.30 p.m. As a matter of fact, the next flight from Amsterdam, fortunately bringing the recordcase, only arrived shortly before the beginning of my perfomance. My driver drove like crazy, he ignored all the traffic-lights and hurriedly parked the car, I had to run for my life, dragging along my recordcase, pushing all the people aside. In those days the policy was: being too late comes down to being expelled. I arrived at the stage, all of a sweat and awfully stressed out, without having had the chance to get acclimatized and I was told: "just go ahead". Eventually, the performance I subsequently gave, resulted in my break-through. I defenitely will always remember that evening of extremes."
What has a lifetime of working on music meant to: - Your hearing?
"Apparently, when I had my hearing tested a couple of years ago, I found out it might have been worse. I do have ear-plugs, you know, but I never use them (laughs). It's like putting a clot of plaster in my ears and closing everthing off. That sucks! I literally thought: "take those rotten things away!" It hurts my ears and I can't help it but when I perform I just have to hear the music out loud. Otherwise I feel like I am one of those radio DJs in a glass booth. When I took that test, the audiologist was surprised to learn that I had been performing since the age of sixteen. I did have a dip in the frequencies of vocal sounds and stuff like that. And after having performed for 45 minutes, the music increasingly starts sounding like pulp which makes it harder to distinguish the tones. In the meantime my hearing might have declined further on, perhaps. The employees of the company below my appartment start to clatter at 8 a.m. and this used to keep me from sleeping. Ever since last year it hasn't occured anymore. Anyway, it suits me, actually (laughs). I guess I am not setting a very good example, am I? (laughs again). People who frequently attend parties really should be careful, though. Being the DJ, I am exposed to the noise for two hours maximum, the guests are subject to it all night long. Many times I have witnessed people, eihter dead drunk or unconcious and stoned, sleeping off their debauch in the loud-speakers. So folks, just put them in, those ear-plugs!"
"It has always been to my advantage that I don't smoke, don't drink and don't take drugs. Although, in the past I did use drugs for a while, together with the members of the band. Jamming the night away on speed. I dislike cannabis because I don't like depressants and I don't want to be sluggish. By the way, I already am provided with a huge dose of adrenaline, even drinking a cup of coffee will make me hyperactive for an entire night. So drugs simply were way too heavy for me. The nightlife doesn't wear me out either, because I am a night owl myself. If I had been obliged to do everything in the morning, I would have looked and felt twice as old as I do now (laughs). Flying is what I find the hardest about this way of life. Every flying-trip troubles me. Jet lags, airconditioning and stuff like that. But apart from that, my health hasn't been hard pressed at all."
Your financial situation?
"Up to now I have always managed to make a living with my music. I think that one should live comfortably and enjoy life, so I am not frugal, but I certainly don't waste money I don't own. I have always been sensible from childhood in this respect. I am not concerned about the future at all, I surely will manage to earn my living. In case my gigs will come to an end, I will still be able to produce. If I stop producing, my knowledge will serve anywhere. Besides, I did put aside some money for my old age. Some artists, who experienced golden years in the past, presently are completely broke. A tax official descended on them and now they are in debt."
"I advise against having a relationship during the first couple of years because you are never at home (laughs). In 1995 I met someone from Germany, we had a relationship for a couple of years, he used to come along with me to my gigs. I have been going steady for some years now, so I have no complaints to make of my lovelife. My current partner isn't very devoted to the dance scene and therefore doesn't come along with me very often. Actually, I think my lifestyle would hinder being in a relationship with someone having a job from 9-to-5, we would never see each other. In my opinion, that would be unbearable." Four hours later, loaded with cd's, all kinds of gadgets and two cram-full tape-recordings, I take a huge step and leap over the Superman mat. Eat your heart out, Clark Kent, that Miss Djax rides on the crest of the wave, in every respect. Consequently, riding my bike back home, I simply can't help having a little crush on her, still.
Text by Wackie Jacky
Translated by Sylvia Slegers
Published at Party Flock in 2009