The fact that Eelke Kleijn DJs in his socks and produces in a standing position tells you a lot about what you need to know about him. He never feels more at home than when he’s behind the decks, and there’s no separation between the booth, his studio and the dancefloor. This natural air that he brings to all facets of his music is something that’s reflected in its organic feel, and it has helped his creative identity to shine in a crowded scene. Three albums into a well-established yet still rapidly ascending career, Kleijn is a artist very much in his element. Success has come on his own terms, without compromise or calculatedness. In the grand scheme of things, he’s an underground artist, but one who has effortlessly made the jump into the wider world when the time and opportunity have felt right. His remixes for the likes of John Legend, Pendulum and James Newton Howard & Jennifer Lawrence are testament to his ability to reach wider audiences without giving up on his core values.
When did you start writing/producing music – and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started to get into producing when I was 16 or so. I was already interested in music from a young age onwards though. I don’t know exactly what I was drawn to, but I remember always being quite excited about music. I got a double cassette deck for my 8th or 9th birthday and I used that to record mix tapes all the time. Then when I was 12, I started to take up piano lessons and not too long afterwards I started working at the same store where I had my lessons. At the time I was mostly into electronic music and I got introduced to mixers, Roland Groove Boxes such as the MC 303 and 505, and also Cubase. That’s how it all started for me. I took home some equipment during the weekend and brought it back on Tuesday morning before the store opened.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I know that is also how it started with me. Before I produced my own tracks, I would always try to re-create songs on the MC 505 and make them sound as much as the original as I could. I became quite proficient at doing that. And still to this day I think every producer gets influenced by the music they listen to. When I hear an amazing song I instantly wonder what it is that makes that song so good. And sometimes you try to inject some of that into your own songs. That is the way music has been built on through the ages. Listen, learn and apply it in your own, original way. It’s the only reason there are trends in music. Producers listen to what other producers are doing.
What inspirations, life events, lend themselves to creating a track and how do you decide on what name/title to give it?
Usually for me, the inspiration either comes from being in the studio and just experimenting, or from watching a series or listening to music and getting inspired by that. I’m not really the kind of person that gets inspired at random places. Mostly I really have to be physically in the studio to get something done. Sometimes nice ideas pop up when I play guitar or piano and I’ll write those down or record them. Naming tracks has always been something really fun. I used to have a large notebook full of names and words that I like, and whenever a track was finished I’d go through that and see if something fits. Nowadays I often look at what inspired the record. That can be a synthesizer, or a vocal sample, or something else. Often the track gets its name before it’s are actually done. But there are always nasty exceptions where even as I’m trying the track out in my sets, it’s still called something like 20v4. Those are the hardest to name because I feel track names should come naturally.
How important is it that artists develop a collaborative vs competitive relationship with one another to create music?
I’ve had many collaborations in the past, but I think I’m too much of a control freak. That’s why I don’t really do it anymore nowadays. I can be tweaking a sound for hours, and then decide I don’t like it and throw it away the next day. If I do collaborate, for instance with a vocalist, my preference is to send stuff back and forth. That way I can really focus on what I’m doing and send it over when I’m happy with it. I’ve never really looked at music as being a competitive thing. I mean, I know it is because there are only so many good slots at festivals and so many opportunities to headline. But if you get worked up about all of that I’m pretty sure it takes the fun out of this line of work very quickly.
As a classically trained pianist and composer, what led you to the electronic music that you create now?
I would say the composing only started after already writing electronic music. I started creating my own tracks when I was 16 or 17 years old. And I always had a thing for melodic music, I also really like classical instruments such as violins and cellos and they’ve taken up a prominent position in many of my tracks. Composing music for media was just a natural step up from there. I do think my electronic music is a little bit more dance floor oriented at the moment. If you listen to my second album Untold Stories that was released in 2010, I tried to combine some the worlds of dance and classical instruments, and in retrospect that doesn’t always work. I’ve learned a lot though since, and I’ve got better at recognizing what will work on a dance floor and what doesn’t.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
It has grown over the years, actually the basis of my studio is still the same. I started making music with 1 computer and 1 synthesizer, the Roland XP 30. I started gathering more stuff throughout the years, I’ve always liked technology and whenever something new was released I was instantly interested. And there are periods where I changed certain aspects. Like 2 years ago I changed monitors and AD/DA. I’m also working on 3 synced computers now and I’ve greatly expanded my synth arsenal. Right now I feel like I don’t need much more stuff though. I’m in the market for a new poly analog, and I want to buy a new acoustic guitar and maybe some more guitar pedals, but generally speaking I’m really happy with my studio. I haven’t really bought anything in the last year. Some of my most important gear right now are without a doubt my monitors, Neumann KH 310A, and the acoustic treatment. People tend to overlook this, but I’ve easily spent as much on acoustics as on synthesizers. It’s a hugely important but often overlooked part of any studio and if I was put on the spot, I would probably give away all my other gear to save monitors and acoustics.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I always like to follow technological advancements, when I grew up I was quite geeky and very proficient with computers. So I keep up to date with blogs and magazines like Sound on Sound to read about what’s new in audio land. But at the same time my music has taken a more human and organic approach. I’m using more and more live instruments in my music, and a lot of my recent and upcoming works feature piano, guitar, etc. In an age where everything is electronic I am certainly drawn more and more towards organic sounds. Although I also got into modular last year, which in one way is as technical as it can get, but from another perspective it is something that cannot be controlled and has to be kept in order at times, not so different from more traditional instruments. I play and record it live a lot. And I love the fact that I can just build on it with weird little modules and make it sound like nothing I have heard before. I guess I am looking at both ends of the spectrum now. Trying to combine organic and traditional instruments with my electronic background.
What are some of the challenges you face running your own label? What makes it all worth it?
There’s always challenges running your own business, I think that goes for everything, not just dance music. If you compare labels nowadays to say 20 years ago, there’s just so much more music out there and it’s harder to get noticed in between everything. But fortunately, we’ve got an amazing team that takes care of everything from distribution to online presence and socials. It’s a big part of running a label nowadays. I’m mostly involved in the A&R process myself, it’s great to let other people handle the other stuff that I’m not necessarily good at.
A little-known fact about your music repertoire, is that you’ve written music for movies like ‘The Crossing’, ‘Rush’ and ‘Transporter’, just to name a few. Can you give us a quick backstory about how this came about and how does it compare to producing electronic music?
Doing music for movies started about 10 years ago when I was having a discussion with my management about what I wanted to do in the future. I started out by doing small commercials, company movies and the like. But eventually, we worked our way up all the way to Hollywood blockbusters. I think the first movie that I wrote something for that was actually used was Parker, in 2012 or so. What I love about making music for picture is that I don’t really need to be inspired for it. That sounds weird, but let me explain. With electronic music I am my own judge and I can do whatever I want. Sometimes that gets a bit overwhelming. If I’m not super inspired I just don’t really know where to go with my music at that moment. Writing music for picture is often done to specific briefings, sometimes even with timelines. I will know there needs to be a buildup here, tension there, something ominous over here, etc. That makes it really easy to work to and I can turn my creative, self-judging brain off for a second and just go on autopilot, which is very refreshing to do every now and then.
It also plays a lot into the DJs health to be able to gradually move through the tour.
It’s very important I think. Also in terms of eating healthy and I try to workout a lot even when I’m touring just to keep in good shape and keep healthy because if you don’t, you get into a habit of too much drinking and partying and flying all the time. You can’t do that for years and years.