Interview with Aroy Dee


23-05-2014 | 14.27

When Aroy Dee calls up for the interview, he is playing in the park with his daughter as Steven, the architect. He warns me that his alter ego might have to cut the interview short if fatherly duties call. I learn later that Aroy Dee is generally a creature of the night, and when the architect is put to bed, he has time to immerse himself completely in the music. He has however made an exception for us to answer some questions in the light of day. His debut album, Sketches is the latest instalment in the producer’s already immense catalogue, and showcases Aroy Dee’s ability to tie a story together through music. Largo rhythmic pads and synths are densely packed around energetic house beats, as textures personify emotive states of mind. It took two years to put together and this Saturday he will introduce it to the world through the Planet Delsin showcase at Trouw. I was fortunate enough to get a sneak preview and talk the producer about the new album ahead of his upcoming appearance at De Verdieping. 

The title Sketches, I personally associate with extemporized musical ideas. What does the title mean to you?
Well, the title Sketches is two-dimensional, because I’m also an architect and I like to sketch my music in a similar way. When I’m making music and I’m in a certain mood, the easiest way to describe that mood is to put it down in music. The cover of the album will also be filled with my architectural sketches. It has a double meaning. 

So it’s about translating emotions into music?
Yes, and the fastest way to do that in my experience is when you start working on music and you are tuned in to a certain emotion. It comes together really fast. Sometimes I’ll change things after the initial recording, but that first session, with all its little imperfections, is almost always the best. 

Do you hope to conjure the same emotion in the listener?
Yeah, certainly! That’s also why I think it’s not really a club album. I like to party and DJ, but listening to music goes beyond that. And that’s what I tried to project through the album: to transmit that emotion of what I feel and like in music. 

This is your debut album, but you’ve had over a decade’s experience making and releasing music. Why did you feel this was the right time to make an album?
I actually regret never doing it before. The music I make does not always have the dance floor as its primary goal at heart. I released a lot of tracks on 12” earlier, that when I listened back to them, I thought; “Hey it’s a pity I didn’t make a sequence or a story, like a film out of it.” That was the personal reason I started focussing everything I do on the perspective of a longer story and slowly collect tracks that form a rounded compilation. 

I believe it took two years to put together?
Not two years of full work. It was an assembly process. I would make a track and think; “this is typically a track that would fit a longer story”. And then, over the course of those two years, I tried to combine tracks in a way that would work for an album.

You were also releasing EP’s during that time. How did you decide what was going to work for an upcoming EP or the album? 
It wasn’t a rational decision really. It was just a matter of feeling of which tracks worked well together. I listened to it a lot, because sometimes I make music that is immediately great, but becomes boring after a while. So the songs I put on the album, are songs I listened to over and over again without getting bored of them myself. 

This album, like so much of your output, was released on your own label M>O>S. Do you find you can retain more creative control this way?
Yes, because my first release was in 2001 on Rush Hour as M>O>S feat Aroy Dee (RH 003). I really loved that Rush Hour wanted to release my stuff, since not many other labels in that time would release the form of classic house, I made. After several releases on Rush Hour and Delsin I thought it was time to retain complete control over my own music.  Releasing your music on other labels meant there's always a kind of negotiation process of which tracks to put on a 12”. That's why I started my own label M>O>S recordings.  At the time Marsel van der Wielen, aka Mr. Delsin, wanted to help me with running the label.  I think his input is one the reasons M>O>S still exists today.
FACT Mag just ran an article this week about 15 unknown house albums. In it, they outlined the difficulties of making a house album. Why do you think it might be difficult to capture house in the full-length format?
When you make a good and effective house track, it’s an aesthetic five minutes, but when you want to make an album that’s worth listening all the way through, being coherent and surprising for a full hour, it can be very difficult. A good album keeps you focussed from beginning to end, and that's very different from creating an ecstatic five minutes. 

What was the secret ingredient to tying your album together?
I think the "secret ingredient", at least for myself, is the melodic, melancholic vibe running from beginning to end in different intensities. The way my album came out was just me throwing myself into the world in a very personal way, the listening audience can decide for themselves if they want to listen to it or not. It’s just the music and me. I would listen to it over and over again until I decided the album was interesting enough. 

That’s a very logical conclusion.
Yes. I never work with deadlines when it comes to music. When it comes to architecture, my 9-5, there’s always a deadline, but when it comes to music there's no hurry. Outstanding music has no expiration date and sticks around much longer than any fad.  

I’m intrigued by this duality of your personality and how you balance these two sides to your creativity. When does Aroy Dee come out and Steven, the architect, go to bed?
Aroy Dee comes out at night. For me it is rather a fruitful combination. Architecture is really cool and I enjoy designing buildings, but it is also steeped in bureaucracy. It’s about money, regulations and meeting demands and the nice thing about music is that those rules don’t exist. It’s just me with some synthesisers trying to catch the emotion of the moment. For me it’s a really good balance and I love them both. I could never do without one or the other.

There are quite a few contrasting titles like ‘Blossom’ or ‘Decay’ to ‘Until the music dies’ …
Which I hope will take rather long by the way. I think the titles I choose are as life itself, in where blossom and decay exist simultaneously.

I find that the same contrast is in the music, where you have largo rhythmic pad and synth movements working on top of jacking house beats. Is this something you intentionally were working towards?
Not, per definition, but I did think it was nice for the dynamic of the album that some parts are more uplifting while others are calm and moody, all tied together by a melancholic vibe running through all of the tracks. There is always a lush warm emotional aspect to all the tracks and that's also what I look for in dance music when I go out: a relentless boost of energy combined with the warmth and deepness of a touching melody.

The music in the club situation has certainly become a lot more functional. 
Yes, which is nice if the moment is there on the dance floor, but for my own musical tastes, I love melody. When I play, I always grab a lot of old tunes, because at the end of the eighties most house music used to have bucket loads of melodies next to the fact that it was danceable and energetic. Like much of Derrick May and Carl Craig’s catalogue. Fortunately this kind of sound is still being made.  Recently I bought many records sharing that same melancholic vibe with beautiful pads and deep strings. A recent record I really love is "Breaker 2" on "Forbidden Planet" for instance; I bought this record some months ago and can’t stop playing it. 

It’s nice to hear people are still exploring this melodic aspect, since I’ve definitely experienced a saturation of this functional house and techno sound. 
Yes, how many house records would there have been made in the last 30 years? It approaches an endless figure. Every month, there is a huge amount of new tracks being released, and many of those are kind of disposable; you will play them once or twice and probably never grab them again. That’s why I think it’s better to be a bit sparse in the things I release. As an artist you are judged on the peak of what you can do, and even if you are really good and can make 30 records a year, only one or two of them will stand out amongst the rest. My opinion is that; ‘why shouldn’t artists only release those tunes that really stand out’. 

Which brings me back to your work, because that’s what we are here to talk about. Ashes to Ashes stands out as one of the more racier tracks. It seems that the album still had an eye on the dance floor. 
What I believe is that there is no distinction between the dance floor and other listening experiences, because when I’m at home, I still want to hear some music with energy in it. Ashes to Ashes, for instance is useable on the dance floor but it is not its primary objective. For me, it fits in the series, but it’s also slightly more energetic and heavy. 

Is that where your experience as DJ comes in?
That’s a difficult one. Like I said, for me there isn’t really a difference between DJing and me being at home listening to music. The only difference is that you have to catch a lot more people in your personal vibe. So if you look at it like that, there is no difference between a track I made for the dance floor and a track I made for myself. That’s also why I love the fact that we are doing the album launch in De Verdieping. I think the best parties happen on a smaller scale. I enjoy the more personal and intimate atmosphere De Verdieping has to offer, there’s an instant and direct communication with everybody there. There is not a big difference between me putting on music for myself at home, and playing to a crowd in De Verdieping.  

Later I received an email from Aroy Dee, sharing some of the music that will be making its way into his record bag for Saturday. Here’s a taste…
Daywalker - Supersonic Transport (L.I.E.S.)
Gesloten Circel - Zombie Acid
D'Marc Cantu - Long Weekend

Aroy Dee's debut album preview can be listened over at the Delsin website.

Text: Mischa Mathys