Exclusive Interview with Homework

“You need to challenge your crowd sometimes. Maybe even more if they’re not that into your set. The worst reaction is to just start playing cheesy hits. It’s too easy”

Earlier this week we treated you to their beauty of a mixtape and their new music video. Now it’s time to go toe to toe with Homework in an interview that was planned way too long. Read about the guys’ weirdest gig-moment ever, what they throw each other when they are in a fight and how they react to a bad crowd. Oh and Bert Smorenburg.

Over the past couple of years, the name Homework has become as popular as saying cheese in the Netherlands. The duo Tom and Zip have become one of Amsterdam’s highly appreciated DJ-acts. Together with Detroit Swindle they rejuvenated the expression of house music. Between playing in esteemed clubs like Amsterdam’s Studio 80, Berlin’s Watergate or London’s Cable, the duo was also part of larger events & festivals in their homespun country or outside its borders. Amsterdam Dance Event, Welcome To The Future Festival, The Warehouse Project or Straf_Werk Festival are just a few examples. The duo firstly merged onto Exploited in 2010 where they released their first EP and ever since they’ve become one of the labels most beloved artists, releasing over twenty tracks on the imprint up to this date. Their latest EP on Exploited just came out on February 3rd.

More than enough justification to finally have a serious rendezvous with the boys. And they too were looking forward to an in-depth interview, especially after all those times that they’ve had to answer the same goddamn questions, like: “How did Homework all start out for you?”.

I went over to meet them at their brand-new studio in the old Volkskrant building, which is ironically placed across the street from club Trouw. The semi-finished structure has now become a producer’s hub where nearly each and every relevant DJ/producer in Amsterdam is holding office. After seeing the studio, and coincidentally coming by Tom Trago along the way, we crossed the street to have a drink at the restaurant next-door to Amsterdam’s infamous nightclub.

Z: Zip

T: Tom

So guys: HOW did Homework all start out for you?
Z & T: …… [Tumbleweed rolling through the street]

Haha just kidding.

Z & T: Hahah!

But what I would like to know, even if we’re already a full month into the new year, what was your best moment in 2013?
T: There were multiple, but one particularly stands out. We were in some small town in Germany, and we arrived at the club, which was located in some kind of carnevalesque street that only Germans could have built. So we were playing in the second area, while the Diynamic boys were playing in the main room, and in that second area the technician had re-created the integral soundsystem of Paradise Garage. Just completely redid it the way it was back there in New York thirty years ago.

Z: He had hooked up special speakers and a rotary mixer for us. Of which they knew that we wanted them, which was very cool.

T: But with all disrespect, when we just entered this place our expectations couldn’t have been lower, and it turned out to be one of the most awesome nights of the year for us. The sound was huge, the crowd was going wild, and everything was kind of perfect.

Another highlight was the fact that we had a fully booked festival summer in 2013. We were all over the place and we think it helped to get our name more firmly grounded in the scene here.

Can you remember the moment when your realized that there was a financial/professional future in DJing for you?
T: That’s a tough one.. When we started DJing together, we didn’t immediately quit our weekend jobs at Concerto [the place where they met and where Homework was born]. But while we were getting more bookings it kind off drifted us away from our regular job.

Z: For instance we would come home Friday nights at six after a gig, and then a few hours later we had to work at Concerto, hung-over and without sleep. And at one point we said: This is it. We can come by with the money from our gigs and let’s push it take it to the next level”. A funny thing is that the actual recognition in the Netherlands, with appropriate higher fees, came later then the recognition abroad. Two years ago we had two gigs per weekend in another country, and we’d be making nickels and dimes after playing a set in a Dutch club compared to what we were getting elsewhere.

T: Yeah and that all really changed dramatically after this summer. Now our name has arrived in the Dutch public as well we think.

A moment that I will never forget was when you dropped the edit of “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, one of the first hits by Prince during the Exploited Label Night at ADE 2013. The place nearly exploded from all the energy the track received. Someone later told me that you play that track whenever a crowd has deserved, to close your set. Where does this relation with the song originate?
Z: Can’t really say how it started to appear in our sets. But we remember the first time that we realized the potential this tune has when you play it at the right time.

T: It was the 12/13 New Year’s Eve party of Dekmantel and the crowd was ridiculously awesome that night. Somewhere near the end of the set we thought we could pull this one off, so we played it and the reaction was indescribable. That’s when we knew that this was a very special one.

Z: But we often like to end our sets with some more loose tracks, mostly disco stuff. It just warms up the room, house does that too of course, but those old disco tracks many times prove to be the icing on the cake after playing more serious and rugged.

T: Yeah it’s an encore to the crowd. “We gave you deep house, house, a bit of techno, and now for the last half hour: here’s some disco to cool you off!”

So what is your response when the crowd sucks and isn’t digging your set?
T: We respond reeeaally badly to it.

Z: Yeah what we do mostly is just start playing tracks that we have never tried out on a crowd before. So we’re actually making it ourselves even harder.

Haha just turn them even more against you! I like it.
Z: Well you need to challenge your crowd sometimes. Maybe even more if they’re not that into your set. The worst reaction is to just start playing cheesy hits. It’s too easy.

Let’s talk a bit about your latest EP, “The Way I See It”. When you compare this one to “Hudson Square”, your first release, you can hear they’re miles apart in style and feel. Did you purposefully want to create something entirely different this time around, or was your approach more impromptu, and you kind of let the first note take you to wherever was possible?
T: To be honest, “The Way I See It” has always been kind of a misfit in our catalogue. We already made the title track a while back, when we were working on our album that we’ve put on hold at the moment. So while working on the album all of a sudden this sound came along, and it maybe surprised us a bit as well. But of course it’s not a complete surprise, because in the back of our heads we always wanted to do a sort of tribute track to dark, eighties new wave groups like Depeche Mode and the Cure. “The Way I See It” has that same ominous and melancholic connotation. You could say it’s our little ‘pop-excursion’.

Z: Our next EP, which will be released somewhere next summer, you can hear more of the ‘Homework sound’ again. Chicago/Detroit Housey stuff, a bit in line what Detroit Swindle is doing.

T: But coming back to your question: when we’re in the studio we just do whatever feels right and work from there. There’s no designated end goal when we start a production session and we’ll see where we ultimately arrive. The thing I really dislike is DJs that perform the same trick in the studio thirty times over and make themselves completely redundant in the process. You’re not selling a product; you’re creating music.

Allright, clear. And what about Exploited? Has it now become your family label-wise, or are there other imprints you would like to be releasing on in the future?
Z: Well there’s 2020Vision of course, on which we’ve released one EP and have plans for in the near future. And there are definitely a few labels that have sparked our interest over the years.

Which ones?
Z: Freerange, Wolf Music, Dirt Crew…

T: Futureboogie. We’ve got some lines running with them, but nothing is set in stone release-wise. The sound of these labels matches ours quite well, but you still have to have that specific track that gets them on board the full 100%. So we will see what happens in the studio when the time comes and what organization would be most appropriate to release it.

Z: But Exploited has meant a lot for us through our career. They have always done a lot, helped us out, and assisted us in looking for a booking agency etcetera. And Jan (Shir Khan) has always said, what I’ve personally always found too much of an honour, is that Homework turned the tide for Exploited as a label. He has always had the feeling that we played a big part in the early success of it. Before Hudson Square was brought out on the label, Exploited was mainly releasing electro stuff, and from Hudson Square on, the releases started to get more Disco-sampled and House-focused, which eventually brought it to the big leagues. Jan has always thanked us for being like the first page in that new chapter of Exploited. So I guess we will always have a firm connection with the imprint.

Something else: image. There’s an interview out with Seth Troxler’s at Red Bull Studios where he convincingly explains the huge importance of image building and image maintenance in the flooded DJ market of today. Is there a certain image or idea behind Homework that is portrayed to the public, whether it be intentional or unintentional?
T: I think we have always found it important to show people who we really are. I think that people really like to get more from you personally than just your music. Not that it reinforces your music or something, but to create a certain bond with your followers. And why wouldn’t you? It’s so easy nowadays with social media.

Z: It creates a window into our life, which keeps the DJ-public relation warm and keeps it from becoming to impersonal and cold.

And what are some of your recurring topics or types of content in the communication to your fans? Z: If you only post pictures of how well you are doing and bla bla then people will quickly start to lose interest. That’s why we always try to keep it light, with a nice dose of humour. Another thing tat always comes acorss I guess, is the way we dress. People start to recognise us by it.

T: A good example of how we would never do things are the guys from ‘DJs complaining’. Because these artists have a pretty big following and a great life where they get to travel the world, and then they just break down over something that’s a little disorganized during some gig. Other than the fact that it just looks really bad on you as a person, the public immediately punishes you for posting things like that and you hurt your own image in the process.

So never take yourself too seriously?
T Z: Exactly.

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This brings me to my next question: when you’re in a fight with each other, what objects do you usually throw at each other?
Z: Plants are one of our favourites.

T: Yeah, plants we throw even when we’re not fighting!

Z: Anvils are always popular items too.

T: Yes “ACME” anvils, and then I will try to drop a grand piano on your head, while you say “Meep Meep!” and run away just in time. Ow and ex-girlfriends, we both have a stack of ex-girlfriends lying around that we can hurl at each other when the moment is right!

Z: And Tom’s very first productions are also fine objects to throw at him.

T: NOOOO! I hate you so much! Here we go again.

AHA a weak spot! I want to hear more.
T: In the beginning when Zip was still a noob at producing and I was way ahead of him, I made some pretty horrendous edits. Like an edit of Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like it’s Hot”. And Zip sometimes wants to remind me of that one by singing the acapella, and I can just shoot him when he does that. Because I don’t have enough self-esteem, I can’t keep a tight face and start to laugh with him and all is good.

Haha thank God. So can we still find this one somewhere on the interwebs?
T: Yeah I think it’s still out there somewhere…

What has been your weirdest moment during a gig?
T: Hmm this was kind of a sad story, but nonetheless interesting: we were in Inglostadt, somewhere in Germany a few years back. And oddly enough, when we mixed in “Battle for Middle You” by Julio Bashmore, this huge fight broke out in the crowd. Punches were thrown left and right. When security had cleared the place there were small puddles of blood across the dance floor. Even in the toilets there were still traces of blood. It was a really rude awakening and a terrible end to the evening. Kind of the last thing that nightlife exists for, fighting. Although it did remind us of that song by Sophie Ellis Bextor…

Okay. One final question: how did your fascination with Bert Smorenburg come about?
T: Hahaha YES! Okay so Bert Smorenburg is a guy who is famous for two things: first of all he is the creative genius behind the opening tune to the children’s series “Bassie & Adriaan”, and second he’s the demonstrator for all new Yamaha products. What makes Bert so special is that he has this incredible musical talent, he’s a virtuoso in whatever genre you can think of. And he uses that talent for showcasing new synthesizers and keyboards.

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But that’s not all, because what makes it really funny is the dutch accent you hear through his nearly perfect English. You need to hear this for yourself to see what I mean. There was one day where I was just depressed and hung-over and I sort of ended up in a clicking frenzy of Bert Smorenburg videos on YouTube, and came across one where he’s actually in Russia, giving a tutorial of some new Yamaha gear. But because his audience doesn’t understand English there is a translator next to Bert, who needs to communicate all the technicalities and bad jokes from Bert to the public. The video is complete with delayed laughs and awkward silences. Amazing.

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Haha! I’m a fan already. Thanks guys, it was a pleasure! 

Homework can be seen twice this weekend in Amsterdam. Today during the Exploited label night at Dhoem Dhaam Warehouse and tomorrow you can shake to their tunes at Wonderland Festival, which takes place at the Westergasterrein. 

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Claptone | Kyodai | Homework | Shir Khan | The Close Up |

February 14 | Exploited Label Night | Tickets | Dhoem Dhaam Warehouse