It’s well-publicised that the Dutch are obsessed with house, techno and EDM (and let’s not forget the insanity that is hardstyle). Sadly though, one particular genre that often gets overlooked is drum & bass; that’s not because the country doesn’t have a scene, far from it in fact, but in the shadow of behemoths it’s easy to disappear.
There does seem to be one exception to the rule, however. Sure, the headz will argue they can name dozens of Dutch DJs — naturally, that’s why they’re the heads — but there is a group that everybody just seems to know; that everybody used to have on an iPod, or go crazy to when the house party really kicked off; and even if we hadn’t slapped their name in large letters on this page, you’d know we speak, of course, of Noisia.
During the late 2000s, the trio was everywhere; clocking releases for major drum & bass labels like RAM and Metalheadz, remixing The Prodigy; hell, they even produced a whole album for electronic rockers, Hadouken!
And with the release of their debut LP, ‘Split The Atom’, in 2010, the name Noisia was permanently scored into the vaults of dance music history.
Still working out of their hometown of Groningen, Thijs de Vlieger, Martijn van Sonderen and Nik Roos — the three amigos of Noisia — have become local heroes and global icons. Who better, then, to divulge the whos, wheres and whens of Dutch drum & bass to DJ Mag?
Chatting over Skype from their studio — a complex of three rooms, each weighing in at over 60 metric tons and isolated from the floor by industrial springs — Thijs and Martijn make it clear from the off that it is only by comparison that their scene looks small.
“There’s a lot of crews on a professional level interested in drum & bass,” explains Thijs, “and also the festival programmers, they always have a drum & bass night at the bigger festivals. Like Lowlands — I think it was on the Friday this year. It was just one night, one tent, full drum & bass.”
Martijn elaborates further: “The drum & bass stage would be like 6000-capacity, but then obviously Tiësto or Martin Garrix would sell out like 80,000.”
The conversation flits back and forth smoothly between the two, as they offer up examples of Dutch artists that have pushed the scene further than ever before. Black Sun Empire top the list, followed by more UK favourites such as Lenzman, June Miller (one of whom is British but lives in Holland), and Icicle.
“He’s not really Dutch anymore,” pipes Martijn, poking fun at the Shogun staple’s emigration to London.
Then there’s the new wave too, Posij and Fre4knc — also from Groningen — and Signal, the “17-year-old wunderkind”, as Thijs puts it, who seriously impressed with his recent addition to Critical’s ‘Binary EP’ series.
A solid line-up then: we feel reassured that things are at least going steady. “There’s a parallel growth in the pop culture, with acts like Sigma doing really well over here on the radio,” continues Martijn.
“The drum & bass [acts] that were charting in the UK weren’t charting over here, but they are now. It’s definitely a mentality change, but it’s not really scene stuff, just pop stuff.”
Thijs agrees. “You won’t see Rudimental in Holland,” he says. “Well, they could be on at a festival as a radio act, but not as drum & bass.”
DJ Mag wonders if the guys feel a responsibility to help Dutch artists; given their internationally influential status, a thumbs up from Noisia could work wonders for an up-and-coming artist. “Not if they don’t deserve it,” replies Martijn.
“We don’t help Dutch artists specifically,” adds Thijs. “We could, but we could also help a Ukrainian dude like Nickbee or an American dude living in Prague like Hybris.”
He believes the group’s responsibility lies in organising events, breathing life into the scene through their Noisia Invites parties, which recently expanded into a full-blown festival, bringing the likes of Camo & Krooked, Mefjus, Ivy Lab and veterans Ed Rush & Optical to Groningen.
Noisia have become stalwarts of ADE too. From an external perspective, the Amsterdam Dance Event seems to lean in the four-to-the-floor direction; yet Noisia have sold out the Melkweg — a two room nightclub with a total capacity of over 2000 — on ADE Saturday for four years running.
“This is one of the three best clubs in Amsterdam, maybe the best,” exclaims Thijs, humbly suggesting Noisia aren’t really cool enough to achieve such a feat.
“It’s hard,” admits Martijn, “there’s a lot of competition that night. Everyone is there, so there’s a lot of potential people through the door, but there’s also a whole bunch of fucking cool nights going on at the same time.”
Thijs isn’t sure if the Noisia crowd actually has anything to do with ADE itself though, even if the party is run in association with the event. “We do that party twice a year,” he says, “the other one [is in] March/April and it kind of feels the same, so it’s maybe a bit unrelated.”
Noisia aim to shake things up a bit at ADE 2015 however, ushering the main room away from drum & bass for the most part, and recruiting LA hip-hop maverick, The Gaslamp Killer, as headliner. “He could easily play at another party, but he chose to play for us — which is really cool,” enthuses Thijs.
“When we could confirm him, we could base the rest of the acts around him, so we got Alix Perez and EPROM doing their beats thing. Then the second room is Gridlok, Current Value, Prolix, Posij — so that’ll be the drum & bass fill.”
The aim is to encourage a more diverse crowd following the relaunch of Noisia’s Division imprint. Although originally designed just for non-d&b, Martijn describes how the label was still “super electronic sounding”, something they aim to avoid the second-time round, starting with the organic textures of the ‘Six Rhythms’ EP from Amon Tobin’s side-project, Two Fingers.
In conjunction with their explorations beyond drum & bass, the guys have also launched Noisia Radio – a weekly podcast that offers an insight into the trio’s broader taste-range.
“We try not to be super diverse, but consistent within what we think is is cool at the moment,” Martijn divulges. “Obviously [you] cannot just play anything, but people don’t have to get what they expect.”
Noisia have never been ones to pander to expectation though, nor have they simply served up 170bpm beats; part of the appeal of ‘Split The Atom’ was it’s range of tempos and genres. Recently however, Thijs has noticed a loss of variation.
Since the release of their ‘Purpose’ EP last year, he fells Noisia have become “more drum & bass than ever”, following up with their ‘Ten Years of Vision Recordings’ compilation, the accompanying ‘Incessant’ EP, and ‘Dead Limit’ – a collaboration with bat-shit-crazy Kiwis, The Upbeats.
“It’s been reflected in our DJ sets as well,” Thijs continues. “I just started putting some stuff back in that is actually at 170 but half-tempo, because we used to have to go down all the way to 130 to do the electro stuff and some crowds would really not appreciate it.”
Noisia’s newer work takes a turn towards a more aggressive palette (and it’s not like they were pulling any punches before), but it is still driven by the trademark chainsaw riffs that their reputation was built on.
The aesthetic is grotesque to say the least, but oh-so addictive! DJ Mag inquires as to how the group is able to still stay fresh, whilst maintaining such a recognisable sound.
The answer is simple, of course: “Just work hard, make a lot and throw a lot away because it’s not good enough,” replies Thijs, leaking information on a secret Dropbox folder filled with odds and ends. “I have so many weird, vague experiments that don’t really have a point,” he adds. “Noisia also make shitty music!” chuckles Martijn.
With 15 years of Noisia now under their belts, along with 10 years of their main label, Vision, it can’t all be shitty, though. “I’m happy we’re not outdated yet,” says Thijs, as we discuss these milestones and the ensuing celebrations.
“It feels like, ‘Why would you even celebrate that?’, in a way. Maybe we’re more celebrating that we’re still doing it well, rather than that we were doing it 10 years ago.”
That’s not to say the group had dampened spirits on the European anniversary tour earlier this year; the floppy-haired producer appreciates the time he got to spend with his fellow DJs.
“At [one] point all the artists were on the same train from the west of South France to the east of South France; everyone was travelling together — that was really fun. We even tried to make a tune, which sounded shit… and it was never finished,” he recalls, chirpily.
The pair confess that although Noisia may be a job to them, it’s still a pretty easy-going one. Working as a trio allows them to take time off when needed, to spend with family or work on solo projects.
It’s clear to see this relaxed atmosphere has worked wonders for them, with not a hint of stress peeping through – but what did we expect, they are Dutch after all!
Almost as a parting gift, This leaves us with the knowledge that a second album is on the cards. “That is the most important thing for us,” he concedes. “That’s basically what’s next, but we have no idea when.” Well, they say there’s no rushing perfection.