Kr!z always had a strong sympathy for the more gloomy, dark, rawer sound of techno. Influences ranging from Jeff Mills, Surgeon & James Ruskin to old school hip-hop DJs have made a big imprint on his DJ style – technically tight, fast and dosed with cuts and scratches. Being a respected & established value in Belgium for a decade and a resident dj for Belgium’s legendary techno night Kozzmozz, his schedule now takes him all over the world. Since establishing Token Records in 2007, Kr!z’s label has released records by some of the most respected artists within techno such as Luke Slater, Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann. 2019 sees Kr!z move from behind the decks into the studio with his debut record Mantra. We were lucky enough to get the chance to speak with Kr!z about his past, his thought process when producing his new record and how he feels about the current climate for DJs; among other things.
Kr!z firstly I would like to say thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us, everybody over at Monument are huge fans of Token Records.
No problem, thanks for the support.
Token’s 90th release sees a shift from you as a label head to releasing as a producer. Twelve years is a long time to wait to release music. What were the deciding factors in the length of time waited to release your new record?
I’ve been producing music for a long time but never really with a lot of focus or dedication, as the biggest issue was always time. Therefore the results were never really satisfying. When I suffered big injuries from a car crash in September 2015, I was stuck in the hospital for months to recover. When I got back home there was still a long way to go, to start walking again properly, so a lot of the time I was on the couch resting. I quickly decided to channel the frustration of the slow recovery into music, so I invested some money into new production gear and got to work. A special mention should go to CTRLS. During extensive conversations online he helped me a lot with some of the technical challenges I was facing.
Once I fully recovered and got back into full DJ-mode, I spent less time in the studio but I always got back to it, even if it was just 1 day each month. The last 2 years I slowly made progress, testing each track out at gigs and refining them to the point where I was happy. It really is a special feeling to see your own tracks move a dancefloor. That gave me a lot of confidence to a point where I felt I was ready to make the jump.
A lot of DJs that become producers over time say that it is a case of finding their sound. Listening to your DJ sets, and releases from different artists on Token, it is safe to say that you already have a sonic identity. Was it difficult to translate this identity from DJ sets into the studio?
Thank you. I’m not sure if I really found my sound yet though. The ‘identity’ you’re hearing is indeed my DJ identity, I guess. For this EP I went into the studio with 1 clear idea: I wanted to make tracks that I would love to play as a DJ, as that’s what I am first: a DJ. The tracks are of course a result of my influences: I was brought up in the end of the 90’s with the sounds of Jeff Mills, Steve Rachmad, James Ruskin, Surgeon & Robert Hood.
Mantra is a fantastic record that wears its influences on its sleeve. How important is it to you to pay homage to those within the industry that influenced you to get to the stage that you are at now?
Thank you for the compliment. It’s not ‘important’ as such. I don’t go in the studio with the idea of paying homage. I just want to ‘do me’. It just feels natural. Mills is obviously in my DNA. We’re all the product of our environment.
Throughout the recording process of Mantra did you use hardware and software? If so, what did you use?
All tracks started from outboard machine jams which I then arranged inside the computer. A lot of the sounds on this EP come from my Access Virus C and the Vermona Lancet. The last track The Start of Nothing came from a jam with the legendary Korg Mono/Poly, which I bought last summer. The drums on all the tracks are a mix of stacked samples and my Analog Rytm. It’s a super basic setup, but for now it works. I feel like I can’t justify buying a lot of new gear while I’m only spending so little time in the studio.
There are some fantastic producers on Token (not going to name drop
because that’s redundant). Did they help you within the transition from being a DJ to being a DJ that is also a producer? Does everyone in the Token camp share their knowledge and experience?
They definitely do not! As I mentioned before, I was chatting with CTRLS a lot in the process of making the tracks. I did everything myself of course, but the process would have probably been even longer without his guidance. I also got quite a bit of help from Rødhåd (aka Mister ‘Read the fucking manual!’).
Now that you’ve successfully made your first EP, are there any plans for an LP any time in the future?
Oh, I’m definitely not ready for an LP. I hope to finish another EP this year, but I’m not rushing it. I’m testing quite a few tracks now in my sets, but most still need tweaks here and there. Once I’m completely satisfied with them, I will find a good home for them.
Since setting up Token in 2007, you have released some records by some of the most innovative artists within the techno scene. When looking to find a new release for the label, do you have certain parameters that the music must meet?
I never really look for a release to be honest. I only did that in the first years, when I didn’t know anyone and still had to build the label profile. Now it usually just starts with artists sending me there music. Or sometimes with me being a fan of someone’s music and sending them a simple message of appreciation for what they do. I never send out formal questions like ‘hey, do you want to release on my label’. I don’t really like to run the label as a business but prefer the more organic way of building relations. Forcing stuff is never a good idea I think, both as an artist and an A&R. What am I looking for in the music? Personality. I really can’t get any more specific than that.
There is a lot of pressure on DJs nowadays to be producers as well. When you look at some of the most successful DJs of the past 5 years or so, not even within just techno, it seems that production comes first, and DJing comes second. Your entry into the scene was the opposite of this, becoming well known within the scene as a DJ without producing. How do you feel the focus on production impacts dance music culture as a whole
Well in an ideal world DJ’s would only be booked because they are good DJ’s, but sadly it doesn’t work like that. The reality is a lot of promoters only book DJ’s cause they have a producer profile, which results in a lot of DJ’s who release records for the sake of it without focusing on quality and longevity. The other way around, there is not a lot of money to be made with releasing records, so a lot of producers who want to make a living from their art, feel like they need to start DJ’ing, which results in a lot of good producers DJ’ing badly cause they never learned how to rock a crowd properly.
Then there’s a new category that entered the game these last years: the DJ or producer who hasn’t really mastered either yet but is good at social media. It just takes away even more skill from the whole art of DJ’ing. It becomes a show where the DJ is the center and people just want to see the person they follow on social media, rather than hearing him/her playing the music they like. The major issue is of course that there is a lot of money going around in this ‘scene’ these last 5 years. This always attracts more people that ‘fake it to make it’. But everything goes in cycles, I’m not worried about techno’s future at all. There’s still pure and good music out there. I mean pure as in ‘made for the right reasons’. The money just attracts a lot of shit, which demands digging deeper for the diamonds. And the same goes for DJ’s.
A lot of DJs are reverting back to the ways of the past and doing vinyl only sets when possible. How important is it to you to have a bag of records that you can play when requested?
To me it is of 0 importance, even though I haven’t always thought that way. Content is just more important than form. I’ve seen so many inspiring sets by DJ’s on CDJ’s, seen so many boring sets by DJ’s on vinyl decks and vice versa. And I’m not even hating on the whole ‘sync’ thing (anymore). Last year I witnessed DJ Pete playing an absolutely killer set at Berghain on 4 CDJ’s, using the sync function. He used every single function on the CDJ and was incredibly creative with it, stuff you could never do without that sync function. It blew my mind and totally changed my view on the whole sync debate. I don’t use it myself but I don’t want to dictate what others should use. The only thing I’d like to dictate is creativity and.. personality.
You’ve been DJing for a very long time now, and have made a name for
yourself as an innovative and forwarding thinking DJ. What do you think it is that makes a great DJ great?
Thank you for the compliment, again. I try to push my limits every time I’m playing. I can do more on CDJ’s than on vinyl for example, so I DO more. I personally like to see a DJ work the decks and mix, whether it be vinyl, CDJ’s or a sync setup. Good DJ’s (to me) are able to translate tension & energy through whatever setup. Laziness does not generate energy, obviously. This of course doesn’t mean that DJ’s who don’t work the mixer are bad DJ’s. Track selection is still the most important, playing the right track at the right time. But what gives it all an extra dimension to me is that when you play 3 decks, you’re able to create new compositions with the layers of each individual track. Using small building blocks gives you more control, but you have to work harder.
Within the electronic music landscape, techno has come to a forefront in the past few years, with the rise in the popularity of major festivals like Awakenings, Dekmantel & Time Warp. How do you feel this has impacted the way that sets are laid out by DJs?
A lot of DJ’s feel more pressure when performing for larger crowds. Some try to please everyone and play music to which as many people can relate too. This generally eliminates a lot of depth and personality from the set. Of course it’s not an easy task to take people on a journey when you only have 90 minutes, but I do feel a lot of DJ’s aren’t even trying and just play it very safe. Don’t get me wrong: I too like to please as many people, but I don’t want to sacrifice my integrity or my style. I might not go as deep or weird as in a club but still I will try to make the set my own and different from any other set they will hear at the festival. I don’t expect everyone to like it, I always just remember how I discovered techno: I was at a rock festival to check out some hiphop & DnB acts while I accidentally stumbled into a techno area and heard Steve Rachmad play a deeply hypnotic techno set which blew my mind. I always hope there are kids in the crowd who might have a similar experience.
There are certain DJs that are so highly in demand that their tour schedules never slow down, traveling from country to country every week. Do you think that this has an impact on their ability to do their job to the highest capacity possible?
I can’t speak for those people of course, but I think it depends on the person. Travelling constantly is quite heavy on both your body and your mind, but I think it’s still possible to perform at high capacity even when playing 4 times a week. It all depends how well you take care of yourself and how strong you are mentally. It’s definitely not for everyone. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a dream job to me, but before I started playing the international circuit, I definitely underestimated the travel, fatigue and loneliness touring brings. I always joke that I play for free and that I’m just getting paid for all the other stuff. Some people forget the DJ’ing itself is only a small part of the weekend. You might leave your house Friday morning and come back Sunday night while you were only actually DJ’ing for 4 hours in those 60 hours you were gone from home. It’s not like you’re partying the rest of the time. Well I don’t at least 🙂
What are your five favorite releases of the year so far?
Indigo Æra – Terraformer EP
Svreca – An Unfolding Portrait
Blenk – Shelter EP
Ulwhednar – Razor Mesh Fencing
Pfirter – The Empty Space
What is one record that you consider a ‘must have’ for any techno fan?
Impossible to answer. I’ll give you 5 for this question too and I’ll narrow it down to albums.
Sterac – Thera
Surgeon – Basictonalvocabulary
James Ruskin – Point 2
Robert Hood – Minimal Nation Jeff Mills – Metropolis (close call with Waveform Transmission Vol. 3, which had a huge impact on me, but I think Metropolis is him at his absolute best).
What is your favorite club to play in in the world, and why?
Also quite impossible to answer. The obvious answers are (with good reason) clubs like Berghain, Bassiani, Concrete, De School and more, but that doesn’t mean that every time you play there is ‘epic’, even though many people would like to have you believe that. In the end it’s up to you to connect with the crowd. That’s my main focus. It doesn’t always work. Of course it helps when the conditions are optimal, like a great soundsystem (both on the floor and in the DJ booth), a special location, a dedicated crowd and nice crew. The clubs I mentioned easily tick all those boxes.
Mantra is a fantastic record, and shows that patience is a virtue. Kr!z, congratulations on your debut record, thanks for speaking with us and looking forward to what the future holds in store for you as a producer.
Thanks both for your patience and compliments.