The eve of his latest release seemed like an ideal occasion to catch up with the Lisbon-based producer Miguel Duarte, better known as Holldën. He has been around the techno scene since the early ’00s, with his debut EP in 2016, and, production-wise, he has been keeping up ever since. Curating his personal imprint, Kuiper Noise, he gained a sound experience of the industry’s processes and another place to call home, currently thinking about its future at full speed. Even from his first steps, how he experienced and approached electronic music until his upcoming creation “Would I Lie?” has left a noticeable trail of hard work, commitment, and passion. Without caring about fame and not betting on chances, he lives and breathes techno on his own, adapting on terms and style. Which can easily be seen through the course of his productions, as the slow, careful sound shaping and his instincts provide strong guidance for the final result. On top of that his fiery temperament and caustic sarcasm made the following discussion so vivid, appealing, sincere, and to the point. Would Holldën lie? Definitely not!

Having been involved in electronic music for quite a long time, how would you describe your approach towards it?

I’m fully committed to making it in the scene now. But that decision only came fairly recently. I wandered around a lot in my interests back in the day, so it took me a while to get to a point where I could just focus 100% on this. I had wanted to be a writer before… My mind is restless, it needs to play. But then it was all so simple all of a sudden. One day I said to myself “you can do this!” and the thought felt so pure, so natural, that I never looked back. I live and breathe techno 24 hours a day. I’ve tried going on vacation. It doesn’t work. You take me within 10 meters of a beach and I start seeing sound. The bouncing balls, the waves, the screaming kids, their moaning parents: I start sorting everything out, laying it on a score, tuning a fat kick behind it. I’m always itching for the next best track.

Any special feelings for this genre and its culture? What have been your experiences?

My introduction to dance music coincided with the happiest period in my life. It really was the cement that held our little community together. There’s no memory from my youth that isn’t infused with the whole musical apparatus, from clubs to raves, the smells, the bootleg CDs, the endless days punishing the turntables. It’s an entire city of emotions erected from scratch. Then, you take a step back, as I did for years, and it actually becomes a feeling. Feelings are not your ‘bourgeois’ daddy trying to get a quick fix with ‘Nikita’ at Elton John’s casino gig. Feelings are abstract and the more powerful for it. They’re an invisible hand guiding you. It’s no coincidence I got reacquainted with techno after all that time.

How much have they affected you in the music you are making and in which ways?

The attitude, a lot. I’ll never be the old dog in the corner croaking about saint Kenny Rogers. I’ll make an enemy of anyone who says “those were the days“. Fuck your days! We’re all sinners under the sun. There’s you before you got fat and there’s you after you got fat. End of story. But the music thunders on, always! What I grab from the past, I introduce it to the future. I just lay it there on the bed – all that raw, undaunted, energy of the 90s – and let those modern sensuous textures ride it ’till kingdom come. That’s exactly where I wanted to go with “Would I Lie?”, my latest work. I wanted to take all that pent up energy and paint it with lots of colors, give the audience something to hold on to, a human element they can relate to. There’s a lot of people trying to modulate their farts into music nowadays. But, after all is said and done, only the stench lingers long after the beat subsides. With this I’m making a statement. Frantic, sexy, hard-knocking techno, that can really put you in a different place without betraying the primary goal, which is to have fun and dance. This is techno. If you forget this, we’re screwed!

Moving on in terms of production, what keeps you motivated and inspired?

To achieve fulfillment on my own terms. That’s a big factor. I’m stubborn. But also that, despite everything, techno surprises you every once in a while, in a good way. You still find quite a few nuggets out there that excite you, in the midst of all the muck and sameness. Producers new and old. Good ideas. State of the art craft. And that’s a sign of vigour, I guess. But it can also spur you into action. I don’t condone self-indulgent mediocrity. If you’re just going through the motions, might as well unplug your synth, join the crowd and enjoy. You’re not adding anything. So I have my eyes on the best and try to learn from them. I don’t settle. I keep struggling, improving. Work, eat, sleep. Eat, sleep, work. Repeat this 24/7, all year long. Eventually, you get to a place of confidence and your worries vanish. Now you’re ready to leave your humble mark.

Where do you find the ideas for the context of each of your compositions? And, also, what makes an idea ideal?

I begin with a simple structure, only a few elements deep. And I play a loop for a while. I sort of get into a trance. And the sounds just start popping and filling the gaps. More and more sounds. I try to execute them as best I can. Until I get to a point where all the meaning is condensed. So now I start to pull each thread, displaying every element in the right order, so the meaning becomes palpable. This is the process. First you gotta know the difference between shit music and good music. You always have a sense of where you want to go, but no track ever really turns out exactly the way you planned. You sort of have to trust the sound and let it guide you, and trust your instincts to avoid crashing into the sun.

What’s your environment like? Is there something specific that accelerates and completes your initial thoughts for a track?

I have a nice working space at home. It’s where I spend most of my time, where I get in the zone. But I set aside most hardware and work mostly with my computer now. I guess I’ll have to raise a budget just for cloned synths, so I can photograph my way into Resident Advisor, no? It’s what many others do. I had my fling with hardware too. But over the years I found out you don’t really need that much material to make good music. You have your ideas, good speakers, good notion of sound, and you’re good to go.

What’s your favourite part of making music? Or the most fun.

I’d say it’s when I start to get flirtatious with the groove. Then all the vast possibilities of the song are revealed, like a beautiful dream. Man, there’s no feeling like it!

Does having releases in different labels affect you in some manner? How do you handle that?

I’m done with the “label roulette” circus. Only a handful of them are actually willing to put in the work to promote your music. I’d rather control the process and let the music speak for itself, so I’m more hands-on now with my label, Kuiper Noise. If I get an attractive invitation, I’ll consider it. Sure, I’m thankful to everyone who bet on me in the past. Some tried their best, some didn’t. But, honestly, most labels are just glorified pantries with a sign on the door. They’re there to serve your family, your girlfriend, your cousin’s mate, whatever. Inevitably, results are mixed. Some smaller labels are doing a very commendable job, no doubt! But there’s just too many people who covet the “lifestyle” and they think waving a “Label Owner” calling card is the best way to go. I think it’s particularly evident with electronic music, because with the easy access to production means you’re faced with a constant downpour of amateurish producers who facilitate this state of affairs. But I guess it’s the same thing with every genre. In the end, let the public filter it out.

Do you consider pause as a good practice and how often? Or, maybe, you prefer keeping up with a schedule?

I’m at a point where I feel I don’t need to be releasing material all the time. Quality, not quantity. But that hasn’t changed my approach. Basically, I’m always producing something new. As a techno producer, having music ready to go is a must. And, of course, it’s important to keep your creative muscles in shape. Things move so quickly, you gotta stay in the race and keep your eyes aware of any dynamics.

What is improvement to you and how do you realise when it’s happening to you? 

There is no fixed goal for improvement. It’s a shifting field of play and targets keep moving. If you ever feel like “this is it, this is as far as I can go“, then you got it all wrong, it’s over, you’re officially a nuisance. It doesn’t mean improvement is a one way street. Your music can be different things at different times, sometimes better, sometimes not. What matters is that you keep moving.

Have you experienced a dead-end? If yes, how did you overcome it?

Sure. Not long ago. For years I’d been fine tuning my skills and, after a particularly painful “rejection letter”, I just came to the conclusion that the aesthetic path I was trailing wasn’t getting me anywhere. So I took a deep breath, reassessed my surroundings, made some adjustments to my methods. A very clear idea began to emerge of where I wanted to take my music. What I wasn’t counting on was for the materialization to happen so seamlessly. That’s how “Would I Lie?” was born. The thing is, I’ve never worked so hard on a record, but simultaneously all the pieces seemed to fall into place in a way I’d never experienced before. I’m certainly a dreamer and very likely a fool. But at that point I just took a deep breath and thought “you’ve really done something here, boy“. I didn’t even bother pitching this to anyone. I just threw it on the old Kuiper Noise blender and say “fuck it, if it means that much to you, you’re not gonna leave it to chance“.

How do you spend your time between releases? Is there any “process” there?

Working, going places, sorting stuff. Never a dull moment in my days.

Finally, what’s your plan or target(s) for your future as a producer?

I want to make ever more infectious tracks. Techno is nothing without the dancefloor, remember that. The dance floor can host many different moods, but it is ultimately the heart of the scene, a place of magic and ritual where people come together. If you strip it of that purpose, people will go someplace else. I mean, no one’s going home after an 8-hour work day to buy your conceptual ambient triple LP on Bandcamp, or your 50-minute fart modulating jam.

Follow the links to catch up with the latest news from Holldën and his label Kuiper Noise.