Self-confessed audio nerds, NOISIA, are renowned globally for their bass heavy, sonically inspiring electronic music productions and live performances and their record labels. However it wasn’t until last week that the trio took their music event, NOISIA Invites, to North America. The event, which took place at Webster Hall in New York City, also marks the ten-year anniversary of their record label Vision Recordings and follows the first NOISIA Invites Festival. We caught up with Thijs de Vlieger of NOISIA before his set at Webster Hall.
What are your plans for Vision Recordings now that you have hit the decade mark? Has your A&R direction changed over the years, if so, what influenced those changes?
“I don’t think we’re going to change a whole lot, just going to do the same. I mean the vision has been steadily NOISIA releases but anyone is welcome to join the roster if we believe in the quality and yeah that is going to stay the same.”
How has the marketing strategy for Vision Recordings changed over the years? What do you think are some of the most effective marketing methods and how do you use them to position the label in the bass music space?
“Well it used to be Facebook but Facebook turned to shit so we’re at a loss. Basically we know we’re not reaching the people that we know are interested because Facebook charges so much money to get proper reach. You need to be like Spinnin Records or a proper big label to afford to pay Facebook and make it worth it. Its not worth it for us so we’re struggling we need to find a new platform where all the people that follow us on Facebook will follow us again where we can reach them without having to pay a third party. I’ve been talking about this to a couple different people in the scene and they are all saying the same. In the last couple months, something happened where Facebook changed its algorithm and now its shit. You’re not reaching the people that you know are interested in what you have to say, you have to pay Facebook for that communication. So this is kind of like a period of stress for the smaller labels that can’t really afford to pay Facebook this money. We’re musicians, not label professionals. Obviously we have a lot of years under the belt but we’re just talking to people like what do we do now? How do we reach the people that we used to be able to address quite easily. Its tricky.”
I see you’re also on Instagram, how effective do you think this works as a newer platform for connecting with your fans?
“Yeah we’re on Instagram but it isn’t the best platform for us. Instagram is really good if you are a celebrity and post a lot of pictures of yourself in cool situations. Instagram isn’t the greatest for a nerd producer. We make tunes and we makes sounds but posting that on Instagram is weird because it cuts out all the bass and usually you have to go through your phones speakers. There are a lot of people on there but it isn’t our medium. Soundcloud would be great for us. If everybody would join Soundcloud and get our updates that would be great.”
With all the heated debate between mainstream and underground, how do you see yourselves positioned between the two ends of the spectrum? I know no on likes to be labeled but where do you see yourself as artists / performers? What are your views on the clash between mainstream and underground?
“Definitely not mainstream because then I wouldn’t drive a Volkswagon Polo (laughs). But definitely not super super underground because then we wouldn’t have these great studios that we have built. So we’re somewhere in the underground but we’ve received so much love over the years and it’s been so consistent that we’re doing quite well for ourselves without having to change our sound really. We still haven’t done the big vocal single with a happy melody sing-a-long thing. In some way I hope we can because I listen to a lot of vocal music I really like but it’s hard. Like Radiohead I love Radiohead and they are such accomplished songwriters I would love to merge that with Drum & Bass somehow. But a lot of the stuff I hear, this is not what I like in Drum & Bass and its not what I like in vocal music. So it’s not my thing. A lot of people do love it and its great for the scene that there is mainstream appeal from time to time and so far it has been able to coexist very well. People like Wilkinson doing more melodic tunes and then the whole Neurofunk sound design side hasn’t really suffered from it. It’s only really getting better for all of us. But I definitely say we are still underground.”
What inspired you to bring NOISIA Invites to the US? Why debut in New York and not Miami or Los Angeles or Vegas?
“Well 2015 really is the year that we’re taking NOISIA Invites out of Holland. We’ve been doing it in Amsterdam for around five years now. We’ve sold out a lot of shows and over the last three years we have hosted Saturday night at Melkweg, which is one of the better clubs in Amsterdam. We have hosted in both rooms on Saturday nights, always sold out, so we were onto something strong in Amsterdam and we were like ok let’s do Europe now. And then we got this offer for EDC Vegas, it’s the fourth time in a row now we get to be there which is awesome. Its really cool to walk around and to feel like yeah I’m a kid who does really nerdy sound design music and here I am at one of the biggest festivals in the world, representing what we do to people who usually like something else. So we got that offer for EDC and we were like cool what’s on the way, lets see if we can get a show at Webster Hall and they were interested. We wanted to debut NOISIA Invites in either New York or LA or Toronto. Those are the three Drum & Bass capitols of Northern America so yeah you want to make that start big and then branch out to all the other cool places.”
What is your live performance philosophy? Do you like to incorporate live elements / spontaneity into your sets or are you strictly about showcasing your music productions?
“When we started playing with Ableton we had a planned set, which was cool because we had a lot of tempos we wanted to go through. We wanted to play some Dubstep, some Electro House. Ableton allowed us to do that all in sync, so we could play a Drum & Bass tune and then an Electro tune and start it out at 170 and then pitch both down to 128 which was really cool but after a couple weeks or months of playing that set I was starting to feel like a robot. I don’t get to select tunes anymore. This has already been selected, anyone can do this. So then we brought it back to grouping tunes and then improvising within those groups. That’s the system we’re still in. I have a huge Drum & Bass section, they are all selected in key, so I mix in key mostly. I just go from group to group and I still have a lot of combinations that I just can’t let go of – this tune always goes with that tune because it just goes so nice together. But we do improvise now, we can go anywhere. A lot of times the set will follow the same patterns just because I like the safety of doing stuff that has already proven to be effective. If I’m in a very small club I’m going to experiment with new stuff but not if I’m in a place like when I was in New York two years ago at Electric Zoo. If you’re in a place only once every two years you shouldn’t really experiment you should give the people a good experience, do what represents you the best. The luxury of experimenting is great but not always, for some occasions you just have to bring your best.”
What are your favorite pieces of studio equipment?
“The favorite piece of studio equipment we have is the room and the speakers that we have because they allow us to hear with great precision. FM8 is great, Serum is also great. There are so many great synths about but if you can really hear what you are doing that really makes so much difference. With all the built in plug-ins that are now available, they sound better than any of the plug-ins that we had in 2003 when we were doing tunes. Everything is so much cheaper, so much better and so much more powerful. There really is no excuse in the software world for boring sounds. But the physical problems haven’t been overcome yet – you still need a great room that doesn’t reflect too much, that isn’t completely dead and you need great speakers with a lot of definition and an extended low-end. And we have that and I guess that’s my favorite piece of equipment.”
That’s the way it is in music, tastes move fast.
“Yeah I mean I have periods with everything. I had a Blues period, I had a Jazz period, I had a long classical music period and now I’m into beats and I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now. The good thing about electronic music is that I actually could play it if I would like to. Whereas I couldn’t really play classical or Jazz. I mean I would love to but no one would really appreciate it so it’s not a great idea (laughs).”
You ever tried mixing Classical or Jazz with Drum & Bass?
“I’m doing it. Its hard, its really hard. I’ve collaborated with an ensemble from an orchestra. I actually did two. The first time I just wanted to write a piece for the ensemble and I did that and it was ok. The second time everyone said now make some proper electronic music fused with classical music. I was like how? The only thing I could think of was Hollywood. Hollywood goes together with sound design. It’s all about the same things; intensity and atmosphere. Whereas Classical music is really about a really long melody intertwined with a harmony and then a melody that reacts with it. If you want to put sound design on that, it’s going to be detrimental to the melody. Something simple has to play the melody if it’s about the melody. So I’m still figuring that out.”
Do you prefer playing smaller more intimate parties or to thousands at festivals?
“In Europe we get to play a lot of smaller places because it isn’t a nine or ten hour time difference and nine or ten hour flight. In Europe it’s just a two-hour flight and the next day I’m back home. We play a lot of smaller capacity venues in Europe just for fun and for the scene. It definitely both has its merits. It is a great feeling playing for a huge crowd – huge being 8000 or more. But playing to a smaller crowd you get so much more personal connection, you see what people think. Its both great, it’s a great feeling playing to a massive crowd, it makes you feel like some weird ass king somehow (laughs) but with a small crowd you feel so much more part of them.”
Would you like to shout out any other labels / artists that you’re listening to right now?
“Oh so many. We just did a mix for Thump. It shows a lot of new music that I’ve been listening to and exploring mostly on SoundCloud actually. A lot of beats stuff, HipHop without vocals and a lot of Trap and EDM trap with big builds and a melody. I’ve been finding some really cool and imaginative Trap, and I might play it tonight if I feel like I can pull it off. I’ll listen to everything really but lately that has been it. If you had asked me six months it would have been a completely different answer.”