Exclusive Interview: ONNO
Just one look at ONNO’s discography and you know you’re dealing with a guy who knows how to bring the heat in the studio. After all, how many producers in the contemporary realm can say they’ve had their music licensed to Gey Physical, Inmotion, Souvenir, Saved, Remote Area, Moon Harbour and Gigolo. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the Dutch producer has only gone and released his latest EP on Adam Beyer’s Truesoul. True, it’s not like we needed a reminder of the man’s talents, but when they’re laid out bare like they are here it’s hard not to be impressed. So just wait until you hear the sounds of ‘Techno Jams’. Anyhow, with all this in mind we nabbed the man himself for a quick chat recently, and here’s what went down…
How’s life in the world of ONNO right now? What has been keeping you busy and interested?
Life is good at the moment! Three months ago I returned to Amsterdam after spending seven months in Ibiza, so it feels good to hang out with friends I haven’t seen for a while and being in a proper studio again! Having said that, the weather kinda sucks here though.
So what are your hobbies away from music? Do you cook or play sports, for example?
I really love to travel and eat good food. But next to this I have and always have had a bit of a one-track mind to be honest. When I was a kid it was sports initially, then predominantly skating. For the past few years it’s been straight up music. It’s just the way my brain is wired I guess; I pick something and dedicate all my time and effort to it.
So, when did you first become interested in electronic music? And why?
As a small kid I was always into music already. My dad always used to give me these bootleg top 40 chart CDs and, even back then, it was the electronic stuff that really caught my ear. I think the fact it was so different from the other stuff on those CDs was what appealed me in the first place.
What do you find it is about electronic music that really appealed to you more than any other genres?
First of all, I am a big fan of all kinds of music too. Hip-hop, jazz, indie bands and so on… But to answer your question, one of the most interesting things about electronic music is that the whole creative process comes from one mind, instead of a band where everybody has a say, which often leads to a compromise in a way. Also the sonic possibilities are virtually endless in electronic music, as you are not tied to the limitations of certain instruments. This technological aspect of electronic music is one of the reasons it remains interesting as well. As long as technology moves forward the music will evolve. A lot of the bands that are relevant now are picking up on this as well, forging killer songwriting skills with an open minded attitude to technology and sound.
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How do you look back on your early years as a raver?
I started raving at a pretty young age, 15 or something, gradually going through what some might say was a reverse progression from big raves to smaller clubs. The whole clubbing thing has been great to me. Going to the city and seeing all this stuff I never experienced before. It opened my eyes to what’s out there in the world and made me more curious as a person. Also the whole personal, social thing of clubbing and meeting new people made me a better person I think, and gave me some friends I still have 15 years later.
How have your tastes changed since then?
I think I’ve gone through quite a common process, making a transition from the big raves into the clubs and getting into deeper, more experimental music. At some point I started visiting a club called Chemistry in Amsterdam, where they had a very cool but broad music policy. One week they would have Derrick May, the next it would be Mark Farina for example. This broadened my musical palette immensely and was very inspiring to me. When I became a resident there a few years later I was able to put all this knowledge into practice playing with guys like D’Julz or Paco Osuna in the early 2000s.
Music wise, what was the biggest moment for you over the past few years in terms of your style and sound?
I’m not sure. I am more of the evolving type when it comes to my sound, so there has not been a moment where I switched all of a sudden. I don’t care too much about genres anyway, for me it’s more of a vibe that I am after.
So what sort of music did you grow up with then?
I was a big hip-hop fan as a kid. Biggie, 2Pac, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang and that kinda stuff. You might still be able to hear this in my music I think.
And when did you realise you could be a full-time DJ? Was that a nervous step for you to take?
This came pretty naturally for me. I was already DJing in high school, and did the same during my communications study at the University of Amsterdam. After I finished this I knew I wanted to continue focusing on music, so in all honesty I never had a “real” job.
Were you producing a while at that stage? Why is it you think DJs have to produce these days and vice versa?
Yes, I was. I started pretty young, working with a more experienced friend at that time. This taught me a lot, especially about mixing. Now more than ever it’s vital you produce your own music, as it’s the way you present yourself to the world, and the gigs drive off the productions and the exposure that comes with them. Just being an amazing DJ isn’t enough anymore.
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Is that a pity in your eyes? Do you ever practice DJing at home, for example?
In a way it is, yeah. The way the music industry is now you have to gig in order to make money. First of all it’s a shame that excellent producers who prefer to be in the studio are forced on stage in order to keep doing what they love, simply because the thing they devoted their life to isn’t something considered worth paying for anymore. The second problem is that a good producer does not make a good DJ and the other way around. So instead of listening to an amazing DJ when in the club, you sometimes find line-ups that consist of very talented and therefore successful producers who lack the proper DJing skills. Me personally, I was and am a DJ first, but love being in the studio as well.
So how did you learn to make music? Did you take classes? Or just through trial and error on your laptop?
When I started making music there was no such thing are production courses. So it was a combination of trial and error, and the early years of working with someone who really helped me. I think it’s nice this way though. I know I do certain stuff “wrong” but it works for me and maybe even gives me a bit of a signature sound, instead of doing everything “right” and sounding the same as everyone else.
How long did it take until you got to a stage where you were pretty happy with your sound?
I am very critical of my own stuff, so although I am happy with the way my records are sounding, still I am always trying to push myself to get my mixes better and better.
When was the last time you heard a track that was really stunningly produced? What made it stick out for you?
I really love the new album by Guti. It’s not just the production, it’s a very emotional and personal album and in a way very “small” if that makes sense? With all the big production in music nowadays the vibe gets lost a bit, and Guti’s Rompecorazones album was exactly the opposite of this trend and focused on music and emotion.
And what’s your own favourite track that you’ve done through the years?
That’s a bit like asking a parent to pick their favorite child isn’t it?
So the Truesoul release – how did it come about? And can you tell us a bit about it?
I really dig the raw aesthetic of techno, and have been exploring how to incorporate this raw vibe into my own sound, which has been a lot of fun for me. The Truesoul EP is the outcome of this in a way. The tracks are a bit more raw than my previous stuff, but still a bit slower and more grooving than the typical techno stuff. I think it’s a good example of where I am at at the moment. It’s great to see that an artist who I look up to like Adam was into it straight away as well.
What do you see as the future for house and techno? Do you think it’ll ever get to a stage again where it’s not fashionable?
I think it’s looking good. A lot of people who got into the electronic music thing through EDM are starting to open their eyes to more interesting music, which is a good to see. The thing I like about techno and house is that despite all trends, it’s been there since forever. So even when the big hype that surrounding it now fades away, there will still be people doing interesting stuff, pushing the boundaries of the music that we love.
And what else have you coming up that’s exciting you now?
Next to the Truesoul EP I have records coming up for Upon.You and Inmotion in the next few months, plus remixes for friends like Francisco Allendes and H-Foundation. Enough to look forward to!
Words: Ian Fleming
ONNO’s Techno Jams is out soon on Adam Beyer’s Truesoul. Be sure to check it out here.