Interview: Bontan

Along his first footsteps on the journey to global recognition, is Andrew (Bontan), a North England local lad. His affection for the original melodic house sound, exerted in his tracks mixed with pulling-off beats, caught the ear of renowned names within the dance music scene, as well as superstar Grammy winners. But what is more, the love for his most favourite home crowd will now be recited at newly announced residency at Manhenchester’s long loved venue Sankeys; The so called North West’s very own dance mecca for the post-Hacienda generation has a new home boy Bontan.

Bontan’s dedication to music was manifested at the age of 16, when he decided to quit school and get into music on a full gear. Taking this step that takes a lot of courage so far has claimed to have been the right one. His love for the original house sound was born at one of the first parties he attended, while he was still 17. Having heard an unforgettable set by the Grammy nominees, Masters At Work, then 15 minutes from his house at the Southport Weekender – boom! He was caught up.

Who would have thought, Andrew would be working on​ a collaboration with the house master Kenny Dope just 10 years from that party. Plus another remix coming out at the start of next year for Roger Sanchez on Stealth. And if that wouldn’t be enough, midway through his ‘Be True’ tour with his pal Josh Butler, the multi Grammy award-winning music legend Nile Rodgers came across the their music and asked them to warm-up for him and CHIC during their UK tour. And nevertheless, be certain, none of this success Andrew has taken for granted.

This time we got him to talk on the concept of ‘true’ house music, quitting school for music, handling the harshest criticism (especially from his girlfriend) and name his best audiences of UK. All from the man himself, Bontan.

See also: MIX #008 BY BONTAN + EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

So while you were doing the “Be True” tour, I found interesting that you mentioned it is based on what you call “the true house”. Could you define what is true house vs. the non true house to you?
The concept of the ‘Be True’ was the old house sounds from the USA that originated house music. I am not going to say that anyone’s wrong, everyone has got their own opinions, we could be wrong they could be right.

It is just what we believe to be House Music, that original raw house sounds like Kerri Chandler and Dennis Ferrer, Masters At Work… People like these guys sort of introduced me and Josh to what is house. So, we just wanted to share that with everyone.

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Why is it important to show these origins?
I feel the new generation ain’t getting to show that side of house music. We are not going to try and preach to people, though. We just want to take everyone on a journey and show that sound.

Since this tour is around the UK, I have to ask, do you think UK is particularly missing the old school side of house?
It’s not necessarily just the English, it’s just that this soulful sound from the US of real melodies and really nice vocals is missing. Sometimes, not all the time, though. Kerri (Chandler) and Dennis (Ferrer) or The Martinez Brothers – they still do that thing. So we just wanted to show the people of the UK what got us into house. For us, it was just a blessing to do, because we don’t get to play that as much anymore.

Did the reactions differ around the various parts of England?
In general, people everywhere understood that we just wanted to take them on a different journey of house music, then what they were seeing us do before, and everyone seemed to go down really, really well.

Which crowds did you enjoy playing most in England?
I always find that Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, are the crazy crowds, Dublin and Glasgow were really good ones.

Why in particular?
I don’t know (ed. Andrew laughs shyly), it’s just the energy in the North of England. ‘Cause me and Josh are from the North and we really enjoy playing there, it’s our favourite crowd. All our friends come and it’s a one big party.

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How often do you play in Amsterdam?
I have been here several times. I’ve been going to ADE for 7 years so far. I love playing in Amsterdam. The crowd is not like ‘go crazy’, but they love a good vibe and people would just stay get locked for the whole night and dance.

I have heard before that Master’s at Work has been the reason you got into playing in general. How did the collaboration with Kenny Dope come about?
It’s crazy, actually! Masters at Work got me into house music. When I was 17, I saw them live. Actually, I am friends with Kenny’s manager, but I didn’t even realise he was his manager at the time. I was just chatting with him and he was like Do you want to do some work with Kenny?, and I was like Kenny? Who’s Kenny?, when he said Kenny Dope. I was like Whaaat? Yes! I’d like to do work with him!.

…and how is the process of working with Kenny going so far?
So we have been sending some ideas forwards and backwards. It’s tough to work with him because he lives in New York so we are on completely different time zones. And also, he’s got a family. And it’s tough. Tough to work quickly, but we got some ideas down and no doubt we’ll get there. We actually met up in Amsterdam this year. He played with Louie Vega. I went to the party and met everyone. That’s the first time I actually met him in person. But I think I’m going to fly to New York for the next few months and try to get work done there.

See also: INTERVIEW: KENNY DOPE

So we are working on three ideas now that we’re sending forth and back. It’s going to take a while to get the works finished because we are so far away, but they do sound really good at the moment. But oh, yes, it’s a dream come true!

I’ve see your tracks are on numerous of different labels, besides you are working on many collaborations, which probably influences the reasons of the label switches. How does that affect your style?
It’s good, because everyone has got their own separate market. Every label has their own place and fans, and you switch between various different fan bases. In 2016, I won’t be releasing on too many labels, I just want to find three homes that I’m happy with for my music. I’ll probably cut down on the amount of collaborations as well and focus on the solo material. In 2016, I’ll probably keep up to two or three labels, I think. Which ones? I’ll always do work on Suara, of course. I’m going to release some material on Circus.

“I like critique, because people are just being honest. If they don’t like something that you do, it’s the truth, they don’t like it, they are not saying that just to be nasty. “

Which one is the one you feel the most at home with?
Yeah, I’ve released a lot of material on Suara and Circus also. I’ve done a lot of work with Yousef, remix on the label and an EP with that we released together. I’ve also got another track coming along next year on Circus. A recent mix on Suara done as well. Coyu’s a good friend of mine. We are going to always be working with these guys.

And, Josh. You’re friends with him for a long time aren’t you?
Yes, years before we started making music together! We’ve been friends for years.

See also: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: JOSH BUTLER

How has being such good friends influenced your work process?
It’s fun. Actually, if you work with friend, it’s not work, it doesn’t feel like work. So, when we are making music together, I can just go to Josh’s house and we can just chill for a couple of days and there is no pressure. Because we are friends and we can just literally tell each other what we are thinking. It’s just a laugh!

You started playing very early. What actually lead you into DJing?
I’ve got my first vinyl decks when I was 16 for Christmas, and then it was just… I wasn’t really into school. I didn’t really go to school much. I stayed at home, practiced DJ’ing then I got into music production and then, I just left school at 16. I just thought there was no point.

I’ve been practicing playing piano for years and years, and then I was playing violin and drums, so I was always interested in music and then I didn’t really want to be a pianist or an actual musician, I thought I’d just rather be an electronic music producer. Being trained in music theory really helped when I started producing music, at 19.

I just feel like, if you are a DJ before you start producing it is a lot easier to make the transition from DJ’ing in your bedroom to DJ’ing your own music in clubs. Cause you already got that sort of training behind you. So for years and years, I was DJ’ing and picked up producing afterwards.

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When you are creating music, do you think about the crowd?
Yes, a hundred percent. But it’s also nice to make music that you love rather than focus on the crowd so much. Every now and again it is nice to make records that you love and you want to put out there. But if you are making a club record, that you want to rock the dance floor, then you need to put your mindset as if you were on the dance floor. You make music as if you were dancing to it and if you get bored of it or it’s plain, you need to see if you would enjoy the music in the club. I always play it to all my friends first and I will always send it to you know, Josh, and loads of other DJ’s and friends before I send it to the labels.

Who do you send your tracks to listen to before you release them?
Always Josh. I send them to Yousef, because he’s got a great ear for music. And he is one of my favourite DJ’s to go and see now. He is also from where I grew up and he is helping all the local DJ’s. I was watching him years and years, and he’s still one of my favourites. So, when he sends me feedback, it’s the right feedback. Also my management, friends… and my girlfriend comes and listens. And she’s like “oh no, that’s rubbish, that’s good, that’s not good”. Yeah, you’ve got to play it to all your friends and DJ’s you know. But my girlfriend is the harshest critic, I think (laughs).

How do you react to critique?
I like it because people are just being honest. If they don’t like something that you do, it’s the truth, they don’t like it, they are not saying that just to be nasty. You’ve got to take all seats back on board.

But everyone will have an opinion. How do you choose the feedback to react to?
You just got to I trust your own ears as well. You know, if you really believe in some music that you produce, believe in a record, you just have to stay firm.

What is the record of yours you like most?
It probably will be the remix that I did for Noir, the remix “Eagles and Butterflies”. It got nice melodies in it, and I don’t know it’s just something about the record. And then it got a lot of DJ support from lot of big DJ’s from the actual underground circuit. I’m not bored of it. And I liked listening to that record just as making it.

And maybe the remix I did for Circus as well, which came out at the start of this year. Its got nice melodies to it, the vocals are really cool and a nice long break down. Yeah I think those two are the best that I’ve done.

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And your girlfriend?
Oh she loves it as well, otherwise it wouldn’t be coming out.

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