Name: Michel de Hey
Occupation: DJ, Producer
Current Release: "Look at Luf EP" on Poker Flat
Recommendations: For DJs, a must read is "Last Night a DJ SavedMy Life" by Tim Lawrence about the early days of disco. The last book I could not stop reading was "A Little Life" by Hanja Yahagihara. I was at the Picasso museum in Paris, that was a must see!
And something to watch on a rainy Sunday: "Wild Wild Country" documentary on Netflix about Bhagwan.
Website / Contact: If this interview with Michel de Hey sparked your interest, visit Michel's website or soundcloud page for more music, news and tour dates.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
My first influences were the music that my older brothers and sisters played, mainly pop stuff, Beatles Stones etc. Then one of my brothers bought a disco record (202 machine-get up) and I was hooked! From a very early age, I was listening to pirate radio stations which played disco and apart for the 7”s I already collected, I started to spend my hard earned saving money on 12’s which I heard on the pirate stations. I was way too young to go to a club so for me to get in touch with dance music was radio or the record store. So every week I went to the record store where I was listening to all the records, which irritated the recordsellers to the max. At the end of the day I would leave the store with 1 record or I went to a nearby department store where they sometimes had the same records on sale:)
What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first gig ever was on a preschool party when I was 11, everything I had was on tape or on 7” and all I wanted was to make my class mates dance. And that could go from AC/DC to Donna Summer, as long as people danced. The only DJ I ever heard was the summer before at mobile disco on a holiday resort and he did the same, playing Meatloaf next to Lime, and everybody was dancing, including me. So from the start I wanted to play whatever made me dance as well. Then, when I was 16, I was allowed to go to a club for the first time and I heard Peter Slaghuis (hithouse) who sadly died too young. He was mixing with 3 turntables using accapellas and being very creative in the mix. I was blown away. 1) I wanted to work in a club as a DJ and 2) I needed to get Technics sl 1200 mkII.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
As a DJ I still get inspired when I hear other DJs play, I will not copy them but I always like it when a DJ really reads and works the crowd in a certain way. It can inspire me to do things differently, to make different choices next time I play.
Production wise when I first started to make music I knew nothing. I just tried stuff by reading a manual. I had a sampler and a sequencer and a tr 909 (which somebody stole from me $@#!#@#$@!#%@!). I had no idea about mixing or effects or stuff like that. I made a few rave records and I was just happy:)
Then I met Jeroen Verhey (Secret Cinema) and Gert Jan Bijl (Gerd). I was so blown away with their music, that I barely touched my studiogear again, I would never reach that level. I started my own record labels Brave New World and Ec record records, and I kicked off by releasing music of them. All together we did about 125 releases with a huge variety of producers.
After a few years I started tot do some collaborations, first with Jeroen and later with Gerd and Mirko Van Dommelen and slowly but surely I learned some production skills from these studio hours and started to use the things I picked up in the studio into my own productions. It still took a lot of time to find a way to create the things that I wanted to make on my own. I am still learning:)
Sometimes I will listen to records and they'll sound like chinese words to me - I have no idea how they make them? I wouldn't even know how to copy them, I just can’t. But I leave that behind me. I make music in the way I want, in a way I can create something that I like and I learn more skills by putting in more studio hours. And with making tracks it comes and goes. Sometimes I can make something new every day and sometimes I can’t seem to find a way to start on a new track for a few weeks. But the moment you make something new and you can not stop working on it, that is the moment I obviously like the most!
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
As I said earlier, from early age my drive was to let people dance to the music that I wanted to dance to. Luckily my taste changed over the years since then otherwise I would still be playing meatloaf :) But in all its simplicity I still play the music that I would dance to, if I were to go out to a club.
Before the whole DJ superstatus appeared, my goal was to have a weekly job in a club on a Saturday night and beside that I would have some sort of normal job. However all studies I did were a disaster and while this was happening, house music exploded in Holland. My DJing goal was the same, being a weekly resident in a club however instead of doing a Saturday night club thing I would be doing this in different places and in different cities, which still today is a true gift.
As a DJ I also developed, I was complete into rave then turned into techno and now I am more into housy stuff and techno if it has a more Detroit or classic feel to it. While I started out as a DJ, I mainly played long sets in clubs where I would play several times a year. I could play everything within my taste and I could really make records in the clubs where I was working. When the festivals started to develop, there was a change to shorter sets and more traveling which also has its charms.
I like being in the studio nowadays during the week and then my second life starts in the weekend, where I can play the stuff I made during that week. Also, it is nice to play out and I can meet other people – rather than my studio gear:)
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
Although it is my passion, it is in a way a job, but a very nice one. Music, in all its varieties is there all day. From the moment I wake up, I turn the music on. Either to listen to it, to produce music in the studio, dance with my daughter etc and it stops when I go to sleep. To be able to let people listen and dance to my music is fantastic, I never expected that this would become my job, And I am grateful for that every day. As a DJ you can influence the way people feel with your music. I am very basic I just want to give them am great time that they will remember afterwards as a special night. Or in the weeks, months or years after they will still cherish that moment we had together. It is always nice to hear that people had special moment with you. I am glad that in that way I could influence their life in a positive way for a few hours...
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My very first one was cassettes and 1 turntable without pitch. I am glad there are no more recordings available from this:). I slowly but surely saved money for technics sl 1200 and when my career really kicked off I brought a roland tr909 to my gigs, that same 909 that somebody stole from me!!! Anyway my set up evolved first with CDs, then with a Cycloops then Traktor - back then it was called Final Scratch - and now I use a USB with tracks. If the setup is really perfect I bring records along, usually when it is a long set. I still like vinyl the most but with all festivals it is easier to just plug in a USB ... modern DJ times :)
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I am not a whizzkid so I use the technology as far as I can understand it. It does make studio life a lot easier. I used to have a huge studio full of stuff which was too big for me to handle. So now I have a small setup where I use old school gear together with a computer. The machines or technology do not make me creative, I have a hip hop attitude with making music so I sample a lot or get my inspiration from other producers or other genres of music. Sometimes doing things live on the fly gives music a certain feel which a machine is able to copy, but not in a human way.
As far as I know my machines do not do the thinking or creating for me? So idea-wise humans excel, machines can make things a lot easier and quicker they can certainly handle more things at a rapid speed. In a way you as a human can put the salt and pepper in the music, a machine can not.