Zki and Dobre, Jark Prongo, The Good Men or just plain old Rene et Gaston; whatever you prefer to call the DJ and production duo most commonly hailed as Chocolate Puma, chances are you know them one way or another. Gaston Steenkist and René ter Horst are two of Holland’s most celebrated electronic producers and with a career spanning 20 years, 200-odd releases and countless remixes under their various guises are a duo whose influence on the European dance music scene cannot be underestimated.
You made your first record in 1991. Then a lot of things happened. How are things now for Chocolate Puma?
It’s more fun than ever actually. I hear some older producers and DJ’s from our generation complain about these new times. These kids are ruining what we built, but we don’t think that way. We love it right now. The energy, the connection you have right now with your fans through social media.
You have quite an extensive repertoire of aliases. How might you go about defining Chocolate Puma?
When we started Chocolate Puma, when we made “I Wanna Be U”, we didn’t think it would fit the other projects. At that time we also had a project called Jark Prongo. It was more techno. Now, we only have this one project, Chocolate Puma, but we still love to make more techno stuff, or vocal stuff, or future house, or whatever you call it. The difference between Chocolate Puma and all the other projects is that for now, anything goes. Back in the day, we would have different projects for different styles. I think it’s also a sign of the time that people are more accepting when artists are do different stuff. Especially this year, you see different artists making trap or moombathon, or bass-house, and people love it.
What was it like being a DJ/producer during the rise of house music?
It’s totally different than now. Because back in the day being a DJ was totally separate from being a producer. We happen to like both. I like to be a DJ but also liked producing music or playing piano or playing drums. Later it became a mixture. Now it’s like if you’re a DJ you have to release records to get gigs. If you’re a producer you cannot make money just producing, you have to get out and play. So back in the day that wasn’t the case. You had typical DJs and you had producers, some guys like us did both, but it’s different.
How many tracks in total do you think you guys have put out? How do you come to that final conclusion that a song is ready to release?
Hundreds. A record is ready when we feel that there is absolutely nothing left to tweak. That can happen after weeks, or after 2 days. But sometimes after a release we sometimes think, damn that kick could have used a bit more gain at 60hz haha.
Since you’ve been in the music industry for the amount of time you have, you’ve gotten to see everything grow from actual hardware to virtual technology all in a single laptop. Did you ever think back in the 90s that it would get to the point where it is now?
When we first started it was all hardware. An Atari computer running cubase with only MIDI, a few synths and a hardware sampler. When the first hard disk recording came to the market, and after that the first plug ins and software synths, it was for the first time we thought; what if computing power gets so high that we could actually run our whole studio in a laptop? This was a pretty wild idea, but after we heard that Secret Cinema switched from hardware to totally producing in the box in the early 2000’s, it was clear for us it was possible. But still it amazes us that we’re able to travel with our whole studio in our backpack, and still have a million times more possibilities than we had back in the 90’s
So how crucial is technological development in our industry for growth?
The ideas are always more important than all the technological bell and whistles, but at the same time technological developments are the core of what makes electronic music. So it’s important to find a balance between telling your story and using technology to enhance that story.
What genres of music did both of you grow up on?
It goes from disco to punk & from hip hop to house, you could say we’ve always been very open for any kind of good music
How does the creative process flow between you two?
After 25 years it’s almost flowing by itself, so we don’t need too much words. We can read each other’s body language very good, so we feel when something is good. And although we have differences in our taste, it always seems to walk in sync.
How do you decide if your next track will be more on the chill side or more on the harder side?
We like both the harder and chill side of music, but when we start making a track we rarely decide what it’s gonna be. We just fool around with drums, sounds and melodies and let the inspiration flow without overthinking too much. So we automatically come up with either of those, we almost never now when this is gonna happen.
What are you most excited for in the next 1-2 years?
Our music has always been house in one form or another, so it’s nice to notice that more and more people are discovering it, be it for the first time, or again. We think that in the next one or two years it will only get bigger and better. New producers are already inventing their version of house, EDM producers throwing their energy in it, dubstep producers coming up with crazy bassline house. So yeah, we’re very excited about that.
Where do you see the electronic dance music industry heading next?
Gaston: Some kid with a laptop, who probably still lives with his parents, is gonna invent a new genre.
René: Yeah, but I still think that while we used to have EDM—like big room, hands in the air, jumping around music—we now have like Oliver Heldens with what they call future house or deep house. I think that will be the next step.
Do you have any unique or special requests on your rider?