There aren’t many names in techno with bulkier reputations behind them than Joris Voorn, the mild-mannered producer and DJ whose journey to the top of underground music started a full two decades years ago. An esteemed composer of deep, soulful house and techno, Voorn is one of many electronic musicians to have risen from the thriving Amsterdam circuit, working his way up to a position amongst the very best DJs in the world. Clearly as thoughtful in reflection as he is in producing music, Voorn spoke to us ahead of his set at London’s SW4 Festival, ushering us into the transforming world of dance music as he sees it.
“[Dance music] has gotten a lot bigger than it ever was. The parties are getting bigger; there are more artists; there are more people listening to the music”, Joris informs, and with over 20 years of experience in the field, he should know. Having watched dance music grow in both public appeal and commercial value in tandem with his own rise, he notes that a general shift in party culture has been easily observed. “I guess when I started listening it wasn’t so DJ focussed - of course there were good DJs and there were famous DJs but people came to a party because they wanted to party; nowadays people go see a DJ more than just go to party”, he explains. “DJs have become superstars. There’s a lot going on, especially with the internet, which has been making it easy for people to check out artists and new artists - it’s made the scene grow exponentially.”
Clearly a beneficiary of this rise in dance music’s appeal, Voorn has gone from playing small bars in Amsterdam to standing in front of thousands at some of the world’s biggest music festivals and clubs, though the potential pitfalls of a transition to headline act status has not been lost on him. “I think there is still a lot of intimacy [in dance music], of course not necessarily at the bigger gigs”, he suggests. “But even at the bigger gigs there is sometimes a setup where you’re quite close to the people, which is really nice, and I’m also still doing small gigs once in a while to make sure I don’t lose touch with that side of the scene. It’s really important to keep doing these small ones because if you’re only playing big shows you end up playing big tracks, and you lose track of what it’s really about. You lose track of the musical side of things.”
The increase in the scale of dance music is only one part of the development, Joris notes; technology too has played its part. Initially mixing records, Voorn quickly embraced new technologies which have now become commonplace in dance music, moving away from physical formats towards digital.
“Things are a lot more convenient nowadays, especially if you’re traveling three, four days and playing sets from small clubs to bigger festival stages. If I had to bring all of the music that I would want to bring or that I would need over a whole weekend I would have to bring three or four bags of vinyl, which is really just too difficult.”
“I did play vinyl for two sets at Awakenings [in April], which was a celebration of 20 years of Awakenings and kind of a celebration of me having had twenty years on stage as well, so I decided to do a vinyl set. It was a lot of fun, but I don’t have many new vinyls so it was mainly old tracks and records from my own labels, which I do have on record because we still make vinyls. It was really fun and I loved it to bits but I don’t think I’ll be going back on tour with vinyl; it’s just not really the right medium for me at this point and I don’t need it to express musically what I want to say these days.”
Even the most ardent vinyl purist would struggle to argue against the convenience of digital formats, and for Joris Voorn, the wider bank of tunes that he is able to bring makes sense - particularly during the busy summer months. “I think it’s good when there’s a wide spectrum of music that you can hear at a festival. The best festivals for me are the festivals where you have the so called underground mostly, no matter whether it’s drum and bass or other genres, or techno and house.” Festivals like South West Four, which invites the likes of Pendulum, Tinie Tempah and Maya Jane Coles vs Heidi to Clapham Common in August, offer broad music policies to the festival crowd, and that’s something that Voorn enjoys. “I prefer playing for people that really know what I’m doing and understand the music that I play. But at places like SW4 and, for example, Tomorrowland as well, they‘re such big festivals that there’s always a dedicated crowd that comes to my stage, and I actually never really have any issues playing the music that I want to play.”
(A whole host of huge artists are on the lineup at SW4)
This year, he will join Sasha in a back to back set at SW4, a resurrection of a combination that proved very popular at Parklife in 2015. “There’s no point playing back to back if you play exactly the same music; it’s best if you have something overlapping but also have your own identity on the side of that”, Voorn muses, explaining that he had somewhat overlooked Sasha during his rise in the 90s and early 2000s in favour of techno, which Voorn was far more excited by at the time. “ I think now we’re a lot closer to each other musically than we ever were and that’s made it possible to play together. We just did it once for fun at Parklife Festival and it worked out really well, it was a great combination.”
As boss of two record labels in Green and Rejected, Voorn is well versed in finding artists that fit his sound.
“Sometimes discovering a new artist can be more interesting than signing a really big artist, because if you find someone that makes really good music you can give them a platform and really try to make sure that their music gets the best reach that you can offer.” Discovering a talent, he argues, is more satisfying than releasing an established act, because it give you the chance to “really launch someone’s career, and that’s a great thing to do.”
That said, having recently signed Steve Bug to Rejected and also begun to think about pulling together a new release himself, Joris has no trouble getting excited about the old-timers either. “ We’ll see how it goes and where it takes me but there’s a lot of music lying around that I would like to collect and create one new album out of. That’s something that I think will probably start working on after the summer because it’s really hectic at the moment. I need to sit down and try to find a good moment.”
Finding the time to write, of course, can be tricky during the busy festival period, but inspiration can come from anywhere. A fan of David Lynch, Joris points to the method behind the madness of Twin Peaks as an example of how art need not be restricted.
“I think it’s a general aesthetic that is interesting, like a musical aesthetic or in this case a visual aesthetic, which translates into everything from music to art or film. I can’t really say that every track I make is inspired by someone like David Lynch, but he’s generally just a very big inspiration”, he admits. “I think he’s very open minded but has a very clear direction even if it can seem as vague as anything.”
Lynch’s work is often confusing, uncomfortable and strikingly creative, so it is no wonder that his work resonates beyond crowds of film students and TV fanatics. “I think maybe that’s what I draw inspiration from more than specifically the soundtrack or something”, Voorn muses, considering whether music production could emulate Lynch’s measured eccentricity. “It’s more a frame of thoughts and an aesthetic that I think is very interesting.
“If you look at the new Twin Peaks, it’s pretty weird and all over the place but still there’s this underlying tone of something that’s really mysterious and very David Lynch… That’s what makes it engaging.”
Joris Voorn plays at South West Four in London on Saturday 26th August.
Photo courtesy of Joris Voorn