- Feb 19, 2001
DJ JeanDJ Jean is recognized worldwide for his DJing talents, and has also scored several hits as an artist, the first one being "The Launch" in 1998. He has held a residency for many years at the famous IT club in Amsterdam.
HQ: How did you get started in the music business as a DJ?
I got known as a DJ when I started playing at the IT, on Friday and Saturday nights. 10 years ago, the IT was the place to be. I played there twice a week for years, and I started off the IT CDs ( compilations of the music being played there – Ed. ), which were advertised on TV throughout the country. But I started really before that, in the mid-80’s, playing at school parties and messing around in my bedroom at home with cheap turntables.
HQ: And as a producer?
I've never been a producer, and I never will be, although people think I am, because I’ve released so many records. I make all my records in collaboration with Klubbheads - that’s Koen (Groeneveld), Addy (van der Zwan) and Jan (Voermans) - who are really the producers. I just give them ideas and send them in the right direction. Klubbheads are affiliated with Digidance, a rather big independent record label housed in Maassluis, which is also where the studios are. I met them about 4 -5 years ago. Until then I made records with Peran, who’s also a producer. We released those singles under the name DJ Jean & Peran. Then we had a financial dispute and I went looking for a new producer and found the Klubbheads.
HQ: What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome in order to establish yourself as a DJ?
At that time, it was a fight against the established DJs, who were Marcello, Remi and Dimitri. At the beginning of the House era, they were THE DJs who played at every party. Being a DJ wasn’t such a hype yet, so I was more or less the only one challenging them with a completely different style. I was in my own corner playing a style that is now so popular, the so-called Dutch House sound, which was happier and more up-tempo than what they were playing. But I struggled for many years, because they were established and in many ways untouchable.
HQ: What skills put you in the top rank of DJs?
My style, which wasn't being played by any of the known DJs, became very popular in time. It didn't get much media attention, but thousands of people came to hear it every weekend. And in the end the audience decides. I think, if I can say it about myself, that I have a unique insight into the entire buildup of an evening and into the selection of music that should accompany it. It's difficult to explain, it's just knowing what to play and when, having a good ear. Besides, I'm technically skilled: I was the Dutch mixing champion in 1989. The combination of these skills, plus the fact that I created my own sound, has got me where I am today.
HQ: Which styles do you play now?
In the last few years, so many new styles have come along. It’s all House music in the end but you can divide it into many different subcategories, from 2step to Trance and everything in between, Techno, Club, Garage, you name it. I try to pick out the best records from every style and turn them into something new. When I play I have my own sound, but I use all kind of sources from Dance music. I'm not stuck in a certain sound.
HQ: How do you find new music to play, which sources are important to you in this respect?
I just keep track of what is going on in the world. Last year, I played in 19 countries. So, automatically, I'm informed as to what's going on in the music field abroad. And I’m quick to learn from it. I think that nowadays, it's almost impossible to discover something new. Everything’s been done in Dance music. The only styles that are even remotely "new" are those which have evolved from previous styles, so I don't see anything spectacularly new popping up in the near future.
HQ: Are DJs heavily marketed by record and promotion companies?
Yes, and there are a lot of examples that prove its efficiency, a lot of records that start on the dancefloor and end up high in the national and international pop charts. Record companies go to the DJs first, and then try to create sales hits from the tracks that are most popular on the dancefloor.
HQ: What are you currently involved with?
Right now, I'm finishing my last single, the follow-up to "Love Come Home". A new album’s going to be released, we're about ¾ of the way through that, and we’ve got 10 numbers ready. This will be my first own album. I've made 21 mix compilations but never my own album, so the first one at last. It'll be released next spring ( 2001 ). Besides that, all the DJ bookings abroad are coming up next spring and summer. Officially, the IT is still my homebase, but due to lack of time I'm not there every Friday anymore. I’m going to start a new night in the PowerZone, a new hotspot that just opened here in Amsterdam, which pulls a crowd of 4000. I'm not sure what I'm going to do there and on which night, but we're negotiating.
HQ: How does one get started as a DJ today, how does one take the step from being a bedroom DJ to a club DJ?
Nowadays it's difficult, because DJing has been really hyped up. It looks like all the kids in the Netherlands are busy becoming DJs. There's nothing wrong with that, but as a consequence it becomes more and more difficult to become one, because supply is higher than demand. In the old days, you could choose anywhere to play in The Netherlands, nowadays it’s been turned around; the DJs are lined up and the clubs can choose. So, for a new DJ it's hard, you have to be the right person in the right place, or make records that are successful and become famous because of that, that's the best way. I think the situation is the same in every country. Of course, there are people who can market themselves very well, by sending tapes and being on the phone all day. I never did that.
HQ: How important are the DJ Championships and the various other competitions?
They’re not important anymore, although they used to be. In 1989, these championships were carefully considered, but nobody cares about them anymore, because it doesn’t necessarily have any effect on your career. It's not as if you will have a bright future just because you’ve won the mixing championship.
HQ: Are you a member of any DJ organisation?
I am on the mailing list of IDP, Record Pole. If you become a member, you pay a certain amount per month, and then they send you a large amount of promos.
(http://www.idp.nl, interesting organisation for DJs and Dance Producers - ED. )
HQ: Is it necessary to have a manager when reaching medium to top level as a DJ?
A lot of people have a manager, but I don't have one. Anna Agency is my booking agent, and sometimes it can look like they act as management. She calls me when there are requests for interviews, for example. So you could say that she took on some of the tasks of a manager, simply because I don't have the time. But officially she's my booking agent and not my manager. I arrange business and contracts myself.
HQ: What characteristics or skills do you think it is important for a DJ to have?
Awareness of the place where you’re at, what has to be played at that moment. Technical skill to give the impression of seamlessness. And a little bit of personality is not too much to ask. It means not standing behind the decks as if you were a stone cold statue. You could do that in the old days, but not anymore. Nowadays, you almost have to be a clown to entertain the crowd. You must also be up-to-date with the new trends in music and the new releases. And to have a bit of luck can definitely help.
HQ: What kind of money is there in DJing?
From almost nothing to a lot. Depending on the popularity or reputation of the DJ, it varies between 100-10.000 NLG/hour ( 42-4.200 USD, 30-3.000 GBP, 90-9.000 DEM, 300-30.000 FF ), in The Netherlands and abroad.
HQ: You also put together dance compilations?
Yes, we do about 3 releases per year, in general, but it's getting more difficult, because nowadays there's an overkill of compilations; every little club in Holland which nobody’s ever heard of releases their own CD. And because of this overkill, plus the fact that it's not new anymore, it’s very difficult to sell large amounts of them in The Netherlands. Also, something that is killing CD sales in Holland is the whole MP3 thing, downloading to your computer. They should have come up with a solution to that a long time ago, because it's obviously killing the music industry. I select the best records from my case, and deliver a mix compilation to the record company. Then the records have to be cleared, which means that permission is asked to use them on the CD. When they give me the green light, I'll go to the IT and mix them during the daytime.
HQ: If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would it be?
As I said before, downloading music to a computer for free should have been made impossible, in one way or another, by the big companies, who have been losing billions for a long time now. That is the most pressing issue in the industry at the moment.
HQ: What have been your greatest moments in the DJ and music biz so far?
I guess for me it was "The Launch" becoming such a big hit. That was a very important moment for me, particularly in an international sense. Now, instead of 3 or 4 countries, I visit 20 different countries every year, and that, for the most part, is due to "The Launch". I could play well and I proved myself at every gig, as opposed to a lot of producers who’d scored a hit but weren't actual DJs, but nevertheless got bookings all over the place and were never asked back because their set was lousy. I didn't have problems like that, because first I was a DJ for years and not a producer, and before I had a hit, I had the opportunity to live up to expectations everywhere I went. The fact that I could always play a good set was recognized and the word spread all over the world, so I was asked to play at more and more spots. In short, 'The Launch" was my definite worldwide breakthrough.
For more information on DJ Jean: http://www.djjean.com
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