Few who are engaged in the modern underground techno scene has have missed out on Charlotte de Witte, still only in her early twenties she has made a massive impact as a DJ and techno producer, releasing her own material in collaboration with major techno contributors, such as Cari Lekebusch and TWR72. Her style of music mixes up traditional techno beats with ambient voices and choirs, generating an enchanting experience for the con formative crowd of techno fans across Europe. On her new EP Charlotte takes us on a moody journey into the dark. As the drums draw you in, her vocal intertwines itself with some great synths that seem to add a feel of uneasiness to everything. The use of vocals is not very common in minimal techno, where we normally are at best treated with singled out words, repetitive one lines or radiophonic sounds and soundscapes, here Charlotte takes this to the next level.
With her home base in Belgium it is quite clear that the local club music scene has influenced her choices going forward. Just one good example can be found in the documentary “The Sound of Belgium” and we know from previous encounters that the love of Belgium is mutual, as stated earlier by Charlotte – Belgium had a major impact on the rise of electronic music with the New Beat in the 80s , we had one of the scenes most famous clubbing, attracting a new wave of fans of this style here; and laid the foundation for the manufacture of vinyl. And although we know that this love remains although from a DJ point of view we know that are other key regions to keep an eye on, like UK or Germany. Charlotte’s first release was the critically acclaimed EP Obverse released in 2013, and from that point onward her music ambitions has taken her in many directions and collaborations, even though the distinct sound she created at that point has remained intact.
With her new EP out we caught up with Charlotte, in between her busy touring schedule, to ask some questions concerning her work as a DJ, the art of making music, and really understand what keeps the tribe going on the dance floor. And not only that, we also get the chance to have a sneak peek into her computer to find out how she build up her tracks in Logic.
Can you briefly let us know about your background, how you got into DJing and at what point you decided to make your own music?
At the age of 16 or 17, I started exploring the underground clubs in Ghent, the city where I was born and raised and where I attended school. I fell in love with the music, which were the typical electro tunes back then, so I decided to download a basic mixing program called Virtual DJ to start making mixtapes, initially for myself. After a while, and after noticing that some friends were digging the tapes, I decided to create my own MySpace channel and buy some basic DJ decks and a mixer. That was the beginning of my DJ career. That was nearly seven years ago.
In those seven years, things changed dramatically. DJing wasn’t just a hobby anymore and was turning into something very serious. I never expected this to become anything more than me goofing around in my bedroom on my shitty decks, sending tons of e-mails to bars in the neighborhood with the question if they would want to book me or give me a slot in their bar night. It all changed so rapidly. I quickly got in touch with the right people who guided the naive young me and helped me make the right decisions.
About four years ago, I started making music. I kind of felt the need to do it. Since I was feeling so much joy when playing other people’s music in front of a crowd, I started wondering what I would feel like to play your own music. I wanted to explore other aspects of this music business, which I fell so much in love with. I wanted to understand how a track was made and how you can influence several elements, structures and sound to create a track that speaks to people.
Your music is surrounded by dark energy – where do you find the darkness and the inspiration for your music?
Hm. That’s a tough question. Especially because I don’t consider myself as a dark or unhappy person. It’s just that melancholic, repetitive and monotonous music gets me more. I think it’s rather fascinating how stripped music can guide your attention to the specific elements present in a track. You can focus on one element without feeling distracted, which can create a sort of trip while dancing or listening to music. I’ve never been a fan of music that’s very chaotic because to me, that type of music contains less emotion. It doesn’t touch me. I don’t necessarily want to feel happy when I’m dancing or listening to music at home, in a club or at a festival. I want to feel emotionally enhanced and such a thing can only happen when I’m challenged in a way by the music I’m hearing.
Inspiration comes from everywhere. It’s so hard to explain where I find my inspiration. Everywhere and nowhere I guess. Definitely music in general, all types of music, interaction, movies, art, architecture, travelling…
Image credit: Picture by Marie Wynants
Would you say that you as a DJ and a composer are one and the same, or are there other areas in your own music creation process that you want to express on your own tracks?
I think I could say it’s quite the same but the creative process is different and so is the intention. When you’re DJing, you’re standing in front of a crowd that you eventually will have to please in some way. I don’t want to sound arrogant here, but I’m not the kind of DJ who brings tons of tracks in different genres and switches style depending on the expectations of the crowd. I’m so deeply in love with the kind of music I play, that it wouldn’t make sense for me to try and adapt styles. I simply wouldn’t pull it off. So, I bring a selection of my favorite tracks, released and unreleased, and try and tell a story with the limited amount of time there’s available.
As a producer, things are different. You don’t have to please anyone but yourself. It gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself en drive yourself to try new things, to think outside the box. I don’t want to limit myself to only making techno music at 127 BPM since, to me, there really are no limits when it comes to making music. I love making music at a slow pace as well and I even tried composing a sort of piano-ish track, even though I never learned how to read music. The options you have nowadays with these modern VST’s are endless. So why would you ever limit yourself?
Your latest mixtape on Mixcloud Thump is a really massive experience; what would you say are the key ingredients in a successful mixtape, what emotions do you want to bring forward, and would you say that you have any signature sounds or elements that characterizes your DJ sets?
Thank you! This might sound very boring and theoretical but I try to have a nice build up for these sort of podcasts. You can increase your BPM and level of intensity throughout the tape and you can choose to start very melodic or with a long introduction, since it’s not necessarily meant for clubs anyway.
I’m a big fan of the less is more principle so I often play tracks that are quite stripped but aggressive. Not too fast, not too slow. A steady, slowly evolving coherent sum of the parts.
You have mentioned before that you get a lot of inspiration from your surroundings and of course by going clubbing, but how do you transfer these impressions into music, and once back in the studio how do you go about building your tracks?
I don’t really know how to answer this question. It just happens. You start making a track from the beginning, with a kickdrum, bassline, some background texture… And then you move on and look for the other perfect element. Producing used to be quite frustrating for me but it isn’t anymore. Not that much. It still can be a massive pain in the ass when you’re staring yourself blind on details and when you just can’t find the right element, but once you get a hang of the process, everything happens more fluently, organically and naturally.
When you have a look at the screenshots you’ll see that I’m quite a neurotic person. Everything needs to clean and organised. I work very robotic or mechanic, which isn’t a very good thing to be to be honest. I’m thinking with my eyes sometimes while I should be thinking with my ears.
In the studio we understand that you are both using VSTs but that you have also moved more and more into real instrumentations like the MS20, Analog Four and 909s etc – how has this come to change your approach to music, and what is it that you find intriguing in analog gear and vintage synths? And which synth/drum machine, other is most important to you?
I have some phases when I use analog synths but to be honest, I’m mostly a collector. I love watching, holding and goofing around with these things without necessarily plugging them in at that moment. They’re just insanely inspiring. Mostly I prefer working with VST’s. They’re easier to work with compared the analog stuff and I know my way around them better.
I’m a huge fan of all the Native Instruments plug ins. Especially Kontakt for samples or Git Rig for putting several effects on samples. The crazier the better. They can create a complete other dimension in your track. I also work a lot with Soundtoys and Waves bundles.
Man has been dancing together in groups ever since she stopped being an ape more or less, probably several hundreds of thousands years. What does club dancing mean to people today? And what is your part in that event as a DJ and musician?
Dancing is and will always remain very important as a way to lose yourself in the music. Because in my experience, dancing can also be introvert. Especially with techno music, you don’t witness the same crowd as you would with EDM music. We’re not constantly jumping or fist pumping. The experience is much more individual and personal. You shouldn’t only focus on people’s movements when you’re judging whether you’re doing a good job or not, but you should also watch their facial expressions. When you’re watching some of the live videos of some of the greatest techno artists you can have the impression that people are standing still, but that doesn’t mean they’re not having fun.
One things we feel stand out in the music you make is the use of vocals, both choirs, whispers, dreamy voices etc – this is quite far from a lot of the mainstream underground techno scene. Is this a way of distance yourself from your work as a DJ, or even do you have ambitions to explore vocals more going forward?
I never really thought of it that way. I simply love working with vocals since I think they can add more depth to a track. Plus, you can apply so many different effects on vocals of which the outcome might surprise you in the end. I do have quite a specific taste in vocals. I don’t like “obvious” cheesy, female vocals, unless I pitch them of course, but I’m more into male, melancholic ones. There are just so many options. On one of my latest tracks, I tried using my own voice for once, which turned out ok. Maybe because I have quite a low voice and I’m hoarse all the time.
That track hasn’t been released yet. The vocals are based on a conversation I’ve heard in a restaurant in Brussels between two people about a guy who was super wasted at a party.
On your latest EP you have been working with Cari Lekebusch and TWR72 what is that these two have brought to your sound and music? Howcome did these two work on remixing the EP – was it your choice? What’s your relationship to Cari’s music – being a legend in minimal techno scene.
I met Cari about two years ago when I invited him for the first edition of my concept KNTXT in Fuse, Brussels. He’s a very nice guy, very sympathetic and we basically kept in touch throughout the years. I’m a huge fan of his percussive approach to techno music so after sending him the remix request, I was delighted that he was willing to remix one of my tracks. It’s the best selling track of the EP on Beatport and keeps on climbing the charts.
I met the guys from TWR72 years ago. We played together several times on parties, invited each other over and became friends. At that time, they were connected with Henzel & Disco Nova and NT89, playing a lot together with their Rara Aves concept. Nima from NT89 is one of my best friends so that’s how we all got connected. Their remix got massive support from guys such as Ben Klock and Truncate who are all a huge fan of dry, stomping techno music. It’s also quite insane to see how well their own label Float Records is doing!
You have a new project going KNTXT can you let us know more about this project; what is all about and your plans for this going forward?
The guys from Fuse, one of the most (if not the most) legendary clubs in Brussels contacted me about two years ago, inviting me to start hosting a Friday night there and that’s when KNTXT was born. For KNTXT, I get to invite my favourite techno artist from all over the world. We’ve had artist such as Cari Lekebusch, Clouds, Hans Bouffmyhre, Johannes Heil, Jonas Kopp, Keith Carnal, Lewis Fautzi, Markus Suckut, Monoloc, Rebekah, Paula Temple, Pfirter, Sam Paganini, Scuba, Stephan Bodzin, The Advent…
I’m very happy to have to chance to invite all these wonderful people and to meet them in person. The KNTXT nights are always some of the highlights of my month.
- Our next edition is coming up on November 4th with Mikael Jonasson B2B Alex Bau, Brian Sanhaji and local opener Lucas Caroso. I’ll take care of the closing hours.https://www.facebook.com/events/296565964050871/
- Our next edition will be our two year anniversary for which we’re throwing a Sleaze Records label night to celebrate my upcoming EP on their label.