VOLTAGE Podcast 10 - Kr!z
Whether you know him for his mixes that have been played all over the world in the finest clubs, his more recent delve in production, or for his very own Token records - which has been easily one of the most influential techno labels in recent history - Kr!z’s work has been unavoidable and his impact irrefutable.
From a small town not far from Antwerp and currently based in Ghent, Belgium, Kr!z’s passion for blending tracks goes back to the early two thousands and has since seen him touring the world, sharing the decks with just about anyone you can think of, with a comfortable residency at the infamous Kozzmozz parties in Ghent.
Known for his mixes, and now hitting hard in the world of production with a few releases including a shared EP with Pfirter on Mindtrip, Kr!z’s productions serve the same purpose as his label : to arm him with the perfect tracks to get the club moving.
You were a drum n bass fan back in the day before you encountered techno at a party and made the transition after a Steve Rachmad set. It took a few musical phases before finding the ultimate genre that make your career in music.
What did you grow up listening to and what have you been listening to lately?
[Drum n bass] was part of my interests, but I wasn’t more of a dnb head than I was into hip hop or techno. I grew up in a rather small town, so it was really hard to find music with an edge. The parties were commercial, there was a lot of cheesy house & trance music. I grew up as a teenager with all this eurodance and trance, it was all I knew. I actually encountered more interesting music at the local library. Because I was into this commercial dance music (I didn’t know any better), I knew that if there was an artist name with “DJ” in it, then it would be dance music.
As a kid, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, I would go to the library in the music section where there were all these CD’s and I would just go to the dance section. I’d see “DJ” and think it was trance music, so I took things like DJ Shadow, DJ Krush… DJ Krust even, as well. Then I would come home and think ‘fuck, this isn’t trance music!’ [laughs]. I was put off at first, but at that age you’re just a sponge absorbing all these new things by exploring. Just by exploring the dance section in the library, I discovered stuff like Aphex Twin and Daft Punk. It was so far from what I used to listen to.
And then I eventually started searching for more obscure, different music than what I had known before. It was never really specifically one genre, I simultaneously discovered Aphex Twin, Gang Starr, Goldie… and then I had discovered some techno through my missions at the library, but the first real time I heard it was at a festival near the Belgian seaside. We went there for the drum n bass tent and at the hip hop tent there was a crazy lineup… and there was this techno tent hosted by Fuse. We were at a break between artists, and we just decided to see what was happening there. There was Steve Rachmad playing, I found out in the end. That was when my interest for the genre first sparked. From then on I also met new friends and I went to I Love Techno. I started out with the big names like Dave Clarke and Jeff Mills, and I just went deeper into the rabbit hole by buying records.
It seems like since a young age you’ve really been more focused on electronic music.
I always joke about it, but it’s kind of true; when I was like ten years old I was listening to things like 2 Unlimited… you know, eurodance. The thing that really grabbed me was of course the music in itself, but also the rappers. You know with eurodance, right? [laughs] You got the guy who’s rapping over trancey music. I only thought about this ten years ago or so, even back then my interests were developing into hip hop and electronic music. Because now of course I’m a techno head, but I’m also a massive hip hop head. I listen to hip hop way more than I listen to techno. That also started around the age I was grabbing things from the library.
Why is it then that your career ended up in techno instead of hip hop?
When I started DJing, a lot of people were very interested in the genre they were playing, as of course I was. But when I started out, I was more focused on the technique of DJing. When I first saw someone blend two records, I was completely blown away. Same thing for when I saw someone scratching for the first time, I immediately thought it was crazy and it was what I wanted to learn. From the first moment of buying records, I tried to scratch: touching the record, touching the faders, trying to do tricks. I was scratching even when playing super commercial music. So that’s what attracted me to DJing at first.[...] I was scratching at home over hip hop beats.
But yeah, my friends were more into techno and we went to techno parties. I never really went to hip hop parties. I played techno, people saw that I did it in a specific way that they liked and that made me a bit successful on a local level and then a more national level. People ask me why I never did hip hop, and to be honest there was never really the opportunity. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had become a hip hop DJ. I still love hip hop, I do make some beats sometimes, but I don’t know if I want to make a career out of it because it’s very confusing for me to be in these two different genres. For my career, I would rather focus on one genre. I already put so much into techno, I don’t necessarily want to pursue a career in hip hop, but just enjoy it from the sidelines.
You’ve expressed that you’re a DJ first and a producer second, following the footsteps of artists of your generation. Things are different now and I wanted to extend this conversation that you’ve had briefly before.
As someone who’s started putting out records yourself only recently after having DJ’d and managed a label for so long, is this universal pressure to produce as a DJ something you feel in your own career?
No, not at all. I don’t feel any pressure regarding that. I did feel the pressure for many years and that’s actually what put me off to start producing. People were expecting it of me and since I had the label it would have been so easy to release a record. It would have been easy to release a record, not make, I want to make that clear. So, I felt the pressure and, yeah, it totally put me off. But then it disappeared because people were saying it was never going to happen.
Then life happened, I had a car accident and after that I had time to pursue that path. If I didn’t have that accident I probably wouldn’t have had the time to start producing and I still wouldn’t have released a record. I started to find out how to produce with all this time at home. For me, it’s an extra, not a focus. I’ve been DJing for a long time, with moderate success I would say. I’ve been around the world, I’ve played a lot of places, and I’ve done that without releasing a record. For me DJing has always been the focus because I prefer it. I think I developed a feeling for it based on all the experience so it feels really natural to me to DJ after all these years.
With producing there are still so many problems, trying to figure things out, asking for advice… and it’s fun, but sometimes it’s frustrating. I don’t really think I’m cut out to be a really prolific producer. My main objective is to emulate the techno I love and to produce stuff that I can play in my sets. I don’t want to be ‘the’ big artist, I just think it’s interesting to know how music is made, to discover how my heroes do it, and to try and find a way myself.
Token Records, your label, is simply unavoidable when getting into techno or diving deep into it. Your Day 1 regulars are Ø [Phase] and Inigo Kennedy, and you’ve released Planetary Assault Systems, Rødhäd, Truncate, Oscar Mulero and so many others.. In 2020 and 2021 two releases that have caught our eye are smaller, local artists Border One and PTTRN. Are you planning on going a bit more local for future releases?
It was never a mission statement to have more Belgians on the label. I would love to release more Belgians, but I never really came across people that could really work with the label. It’s kind of a coincidence that in a 1 year period there were Border One, the guys from PTTRN, and JRD who made a track for a compilation last year. I released Belgian people in the early days, but I was never focused on any scene in particular. I feel a bit isolated in Belgium anyway. People always say I’m a part of the Belgian scene, but I don’t feel it. I’m in touch with Border One very regularly, I know Phara and the guys at VOLTAGE, but apart from that I don’t feel attached to a Belgian crew. If I get good Belgian stuff, I’ll put it out, just like I would put out music from anywhere else.
Having heard that, it’s nice to see that they’ve been featured on Token, because the sound matches the Token identity you’ve been curating for the past 14 years.
I think it kind of grew. I’ve known Steven (Border One) for so many years and we’ve always been in touch. When I first met him, I really liked his music but I thought it wasn’t right for Token yet. We just kept in touch, his music evolved and it started creeping into my sets more & more. He was pretty patient with me. The EP we did, he worked on it for one year. It was finished after a few months, but he was so prolific with the music he made, and he kept on sending me better stuff, so the tracklist kept on changing. Steven is super nice to work with and really easy going. We grew towards each other, I think. I just listened to his music one day and thought it fit Token one hundred percent.
Being the head of one of the most influential labels in techno on an international level, how do you select artists, and do you work with them to put records out?
There’s no standard way, really. Sometimes I go crazy about a record that I’m playing from another label and I’ll send the artist a message to show him/her my appreciation and I tell them to feel free to send me anything. Sometimes it’s friends of mine who also own labels or DJ themselves that tell me to look out for certain artists who would fit the label well.
The way it usually doesn’t work is through demos, I don’t do that anymore. I only listen to demos from people I know or demos that were recommended to me by people I know. I get maybe 200 of them a day and it’s impossible to listen to all of them, so I don’t listen to any at all. I only listen to demos from people I recognize, like people whose tracks I play, because I know it won’t be a waste of time. I get so many demos from people who don’t really know Token or what the label is about and they’ll send the most horrible music. It’s very time consuming so I decided not to listen to them.
I’ve been working with so many people over the last 14 years, they keep sending me stuff so I have that to listen to already. Then there’s the promos I get through which I discover new artists… so there’s enough to keep Token’s schedule full and it’s more than full. There’s no shortage of releases, I couldn’t take on any more.
Speaking of releasing records, you just released your 100th Token record - a Planetary Assault Systems EP, a great way to celebrate a huge milestone. How did this record come about and what does 100 releases mean to you?
It doesn’t mean a lot, it’s just a number. There’s been some tension building around that number, though. Since we reached 94 or 95, people were messaging me ‘can’t wait for number 100! What will that be?’ and I was like, fuck, I need to do something special [laughs]. It was really hard to find something special we hadn’t done already, like a compilation or something. I didn’t want to do a compilation of Token hits or remixes, there were so many cheesy ideas I had at first.
Then I had the idea of contacting Luke [Slater], because I was thinking I should find someone whose sound is super representative of what Token is about. I’ve known Luke, not very personally, for many years. He already did one track for the Aphelion compilation in 2014 and he had done a remix before that, and I had asked him to do a Planetary Assault Systems record before.
He said he wasn’t really in a Planetary Assault Systems mood at that point, because the way he works is through phases. Sometimes he’s in a 7th Plane mood where he does more ambient, experimental music, sometimes he does other stuff. He said he wasn’t really in the mood, but that it would be great to do an EP on Token at some point. Then, of course, Token’s 100th release was approaching and I contacted him… and he was up for it! [laughs] I was very lucky. It was crazy with the stuff he sent me, I was like ‘fuck, this is a hit!’.
Any upcoming personal projects or with Token you’re looking forward to?
The next record will be a new Jeroen Search EP coming out at the end of June. Then after summer we have 2 more singles and a big project coming out in October…
For my own productions, I’ve been in and out of creative moods. Sometimes I’m inspired, other times I just feel depressed working on music and feel no inspiration. I decided some time ago that I wouldn’t release music until I could feel it in a club. I have so much music right now, like many people, and as with the last two records I released, I just want to heavily road test them. I feel pretty sure about a few of them, but it would feel weird to put out a record without playing it for a few months… and I’m not in a rush. Like I said, it’s not a priority, just extra. I want to be sure that what I put out works well and represents what I stand for in my DJ sets. I’ve been talking to labels and there have been vague plans, but everything is kind of pending for now. I might do a new Token release next year, but we’ll see..