Interview by Helena Markos
Hendrik van Boetzelaer, half Egyptian and half Dutch, (formerly known as OPUSWERK) has been a significant energy in Geneva’s techno scene. His work as producer, dj and event planner has shaped paths and influenced the night life in this European city, with the very unique idiosyncrasy. A man of many talents, he has recently joined forces with François X, releasing on his Dement3d an EP with an exquisitely deep character; “Mémoire Du Présent”.
Hendrik talked to Helena Markos (Tales of Psychofonia) about his views on music production and the rave scene. His musical and life influences, the boiling Geneva scene, his collaboration with François X and the current challenges regarding the modern dance-floors.
This is definitely a thought – triggering content, that is worth reading and it certainly reflects Hendrik’s knowledge and deep understanding of the music scene, its forces and evolution.
“Bigger is not always better. As much as I understand the financial constraints at play, I feel clubs have failed in their goal and have to become clubs again. We (as in all actors of the “scene”) need to bring it back the true meaning of the club, e.g.: “an association dedicated to a particular interest or activity.” Where the interest is the music and its impact on our innerselves is of higher value than who is playing.” Hendrik Van Boetzalaer
T.O.P: Hi Hendrik, thanks for accepting our invitation. I want to ask you how has your journey into the music started and how do you feel about your “now”?
HvB: Hello Helena, thank you for reaching out and the interesting questions. My journey in music was a long one, and the result of discovering I’m very receptive to it, rather than a musical upbringing. In hindsight, I’ve got to thank my parents for pushing me to learn the basics of music theory early, I’m sure it allowed me to better refine my understanding of the organization of sound in time and space.
Starting when I was 16-17, music’s importance in my life grew has just kept on growing. That moment coincides with me discovering “underground” music via an extremely healthy UK dub and Drum and Bass scene in the very numerous squats of Geneva (at that time). From then on, I strive to dig and discover new music every day, as much as getting inspired to make some.
As to “now”, it feels great! I’ve learned to enjoy the present for what it simply is. More generally, I feel I’ve reached a point in life where the dynamics and challenges in place are exciting and ever changing. I’m very grateful to be in the position I’m at.
T.O.P.: Is there any specific person, moment or experience that you feel they have played a significant role for you and your work?
HvB: There are many moments, that had different, yet profound impacts. Musically, discovering Drum and Bass while hitch-hiking my way home late at night was one that changed everything. Combined with the opportunity to experience it in the squats, it really made me understand how profound of a communal experience music and clubs can be. Having a flatmate with a laptop with Cubase installed on it, was the starting point of my dabbling in producing. Meeting François X, which came way later was something special, too. His encyclopaedic knowledge of techno and house was a real ear-opener for me. Having the opportunity to exchange ideas with him daily, about music production, new music and life in general is. Life-wise, becoming a parent has been the most impactful experience I’ve ever had. As cliché as it sounds, it is something that changes your life for the best, the worst and beyond the unexpected.
T.O.P: While producing, would you say that you are influenced by relationships with other people or you are more focused on your internal wandering?
HvB: Making music is a highly emotional process for me, so of course external life will have an impact on my current moods and as such on my wanderings. However, it is something I do in a vacuum of time and space, where my brain disconnects from the world around me. So the connection between my emotions and my internal wanderings isn’t direct, it’s part of a whole. Ultimately, it is something that makes me feel better, and a daily necessity.
T.O.P: You have a wide range of releases, on very prominent labels, such as Semantica, ARTS, Bipolar Disorder and Dement3d where you collaborated with François X as HISS:1292. You also curate your own OPUS parties in Switzerland. How challenging is to combine the organisation of your parties as well as producing and playing music at some of the best European venues?
HvB: I came to music at a time when you had to find ways to get involved in the scene to enjoy it. Being a party goer meant to hunt for flyers, go to places they would have them, etc. I never disconnect it from its social aspect of getting people together. I’m highly convinced one shouldn’t stop at producing it or playing it. Music is one of the many elements of a bigger whole that is “the club”.
In a new-age kind of way, can bring love, peace, unity and even a form of human transcendence, an extremely contemporary form of communion, a holy grail of how people can get together and connect. The “club scene”, and in hindsight many years as a skateboarder which shares the same kind of values, has played a major role in shaping what I am today, and I have fallen in love with it.
Geneva squats back then were extremely inclusive, you ended up partying or having lunch next to bankers, anarchists, parents of friends, older siblings or your former school teacher. It was really about being part of a “club” of like and open-minded people, getting together for a good fun.
Since the early days, I fantasized about being able to take a more active role in it. I started as a shy dancer, then a fanatic clubber, to a bedroom dj and producer and finally today combining all of this to support and push forward thinking club music.
There is no challenge in combining the production of music, of parties, the djing, it’s all part of a whole where each element is a building block of a bigger picture. To me they are the foundation of the club and can’t be separated.
T.O.P: We have noticed that there is an increased wave of strong parties with top quality line ups in Geneva the last decade. How does it feel being part of the scene? How does the city influence you?
HvB: Despite its image, Geneva has a strong history of high quality line-ups. When you look back at flyers of the squat era (1991-2001), you will see it was crazy, thanks to actors like Dimitri of Weetamix, Oliver of Mental Groove, Le Zoo among others.
There was a big slow-down when they were all closed down at the beginning of the 00s and for a while it felt like too much needed to be rebuilt. It was during that time that I got more involved in it, both on a political level and musical one, among many other actors and dedicated people (shout out to Bongo Joe, Motel Campo, le Zoo, among others for their hard work). Thanks to the actions of everyone, it’s grown to something different than it was, and it is an exciting platform to be a part of. I feel blessed to be able to take an active part to it. On a day to day basis, the city in itself is pretty much like a swiss postcard: calm and un-eventful. It doesn’t have the energy of bigger cities like Paris, London, Berlin, Tokyo. This has the perks of forcing me to delve inside of myself to find the sources for my work.
T.O.P: In a post-rave era, what do you think are the biggest challenges for the contemporary electronic music scene?
HvB: I feel like we are beyond the post-rave era and are entered something new. The autonomous and temporary zones offered by raves, have transformed into the big festival machine where it’s not really autonomous or free anymore. That was the post-rave, or how I understand it. Discussing with peers, I feel there is a slowdown in the attraction of those, as they’ve become more like rock concerts rather than raves, pure entertainment consumption, very. Seeing pictures of the aftermath left by festival-goers is very remote from how ravers helped clean up a site after a party…
At the same time, there is 24h entertainment at our fingertips. Allowing thousands to “live” post-rave events by proxies. You don’t even need to be there to see it… It has the side effect of disconnecting humans from their basic need of going out to gather together to share and have new experiences; which is what “rave” is an extension of.
I strongly believe that clubs are a way to fight this phenomenon, and a meaningful way of doing so. The smaller ones especially offer a hot bed for more experimentation, and more connections to be built within the persons attending (from the light technician, to the djs and the crowd).
Many clubs have been taken in by this media storm led by festivals and have followed them in becoming venues and not clubs anymore. Bigger is not always better. As much as I understand the financial constraints at play, I feel clubs have failed in their goal and have to become clubs again. We (as in all actors of the “scene”) need to bring it back the true meaning of the club, ie: “an association dedicated to a particular interest or activity.” Where the interest is the music and its impact on our innerselves is of higher value than who is playing.
This is in my eyes the current challenge: to bring the focus back on this getting together/sharing experiences.
T.O.P: Would you tell us few things about your recent release on Francois X´s Dement3d? How did this story with the Russian spy go? What led you to present it under your own name rather than Opuswerk?
HvB: The EP project started a long time ago. After having collaborated with François X as Hiss:1292, I always had the plan to do something solo on Dement3d. However, I needed it to be something special musically. For this I had to learn how to get out of my comfort zone, which FX gladly helped me get to and pushed me a LOT. I cannot remember how many times the tracklist changed. Even until the very last moment, when we were about to send it for mastering, the 4th track was swapped for one made the evening before. In the end all tracks presented are the result of jams made on the spot, with no forethoughts and are true testimonies of moments of my life.
As mentioned in the press release, the life process around this EP has involved me learning how to juggle family life and teaching myself what being an “artist” meant to me. Those two concepts were fundamental in the result.
I’m a lover for release notes, as I find they allow to discover music in a context that closely relates to what the artist and label wanted to do with the record. Being blessed with quite a multi-cultural background, where Egypt and Russia are a big part of my identity, I wanted to create a story tying both and to accompany the imaginary of the EP, using the folklore of both countries. As to the Russian spy, she did reappear and decided to stay. She should be mentioned above as she did turn my life upside down too, as much as being a fantastic partner 🙂
Releasing this EP under my own name, is the result of long thoughts, which I’ll try to summarize here. During the writing time, I had been exchanging many ideas about music, its role and what it means to be an artist today. This led to an epiphany, which is the result of a very long brewing time started even before. It became too obvious to me that i had out-grown the need for a pseudonym: my musical tastes had spread wider, my knowledge more in-depth and my vision was much clearer than when the moniker was chosen at random one night in a basement with my partner at the time.
More generally, the need for pseudonyms has faded away with the integration of social media and the internet. It’s become impossible to hide, more-so if you make a living as a public figure, so why use another name than your own, especially if you plan on doing many things?
T.O.P: There is also a sense of deepness and a hint of spirituality, as it is transmitted by the track “L´Esprit de L´Ecoute”. Is there anything you are trying to express through this release?
HvM: Despite growing up with lots of religions around me (Islam, protestantism, catholicism, orthodoxism and buddism are all present in my family), I’ve never been spiritual per se. I would consider myself more of an agnostic than anything. Coming back to the title of the EP, I believe in the power of now, which I’ve learned to appreciate with parenting. This had me teach myself some form of Zen and meditation in order to be sure I’m giving my best as a father and partner. What I’ve found most vital for me is this notion of being here, be grateful for what is around you and learn to enjoy it.
I am very happy that this inner process ends up peering through the record, as it is highly related to what music does to me. It also comes back to this notion of the club, which in itself is a spiritual place, where one is just there surrounded by the pumping sound. In those moments you don’t really know whether what you’re hearing originates from the speakers or from your mind. If the music that I make can get you there I feel I have reached part of my objectives with it.
T.O.P: Any plans and collaborations for the near future?
HvB: I have a lot of music that I need to go through to see what to do with it. Despite having a couple of ideas, and being currently in planning, i don’t want to say more yet.
T.O.P: Finally, which album or tune would you suggest as mind/soul healer?
HvB: Alice Coltrane – “Turiyasangitananda” album has been played a lot in the living room, also Jonny Nash’s “Eden LP”, or anything on his excellent Melody As Truth label.
Full EP Stream: https://soundcloud.com/dement3d/sets/hendrik-van-boetzelaer-memoire-du-present-dm3dxxx002