Tuesday, November 26, 2013

HIS RULES: An interview with Justin van der Volgen

After 11 years as bassist for !!! and the last 6 years building a reputation as a killer DJ and remixer, JUSTIN VAN DER VOLGEN brings his show to Melbourne Music Week. ANDY HAZEL pulls on his dancing shoes.

‘Do I dance in my studio? Yes! For sure!’ Justin Van Der Volgen expounds enthusiastically from his home in Brooklyn. ‘I’m a fan of dance music in general so I try to go out a lot. I still enjoy being in the club and hearing stuff I’ve never heard before; I want to dance!’
As bassist for !!!, member of renown underground electro band Out Hud, and currently one half of production/label outfit TBD with Doug Lee, van der Volgen has been working far harder than his output would suggest. ‘I try to do lots of remixes however I only release the ones I feel come out very well,’ he explains. ‘That’s why I only release maybe two a year. I don’t want to do stuff that is ‘just OK’. I want it to be really good, or at least the best I can do. I try to make it special and have a good feeling about it’.
Plainly, others agree. In an incredibly crowded marketplace for dance music, this quality control lends a buzz to what he chooses to be associated with. As a result, when van der Volgen thinks something works, it usually does. ‘I get good responses from my friends. If they tell me they are playing the stuff or sometimes I hear people playing my stuff out, I think it works.’
Though he’s never stopped going to clubs, van der Volgen doesn’t find it hard to switch off and have fun when he’s out. When we chat, he’s on his way to see friend and collaborator Eric Duncan (aka Dr Dunks) play a show at their beloved A1 Record Store, a source for much of van der Volgen’s legendarily large record collection. ‘I’m always trying to learn from what other people are doing,’ he explains. ‘Sometimes I’ll hear a song and think about the arrangement and how I would change it, and then I do! I edit new music for myself all the time. I only do a few mixes a year for blogs and zines,’ he says, reinforcing his quality over quantity manifesto. 
Striking out on his own and taking on greater responsibilities characterises the liberation that infuses his music. From the popping basslines that drove his work with !!! via the summery disco of his legendary Try To Find Me 2 mix and acclaimed reworking of Maserati’s pulsing Inventions, van der Volgen brings a hint of his underground electro upbringing in Sacramento to the ‘Brooklyn scene’ that he is most commonly associated with. ‘I was in !!! for eleven years and many things changed over that time,’ he explains. ‘I had achieved my adolescent dream of being in a band with friends and travelling the world, so really I left because it was time for me to do my own thing.’
After spending the years since leaving !!! jumping between labels for his releases, van Der Volgen decided now was the right time to start his own. It’s name? My Rules. ‘I’ve worked with many labels in the past, so it’s good to have that experience. Because it’s my label, I can do things as fast and slow as I want. I oversee the mastering and all the costs, so if it goes well I can keep all the profit - what little of it there is in making records now - or all the loss.’
No stranger to collaborations, van der Volgen’s individualistic take on naming his projects (Try to Find Me, My Rules) suggests a clear line between working on his own and with others. ‘I like to collaborate, but it’s really nice to have things you do on your own as well. With collaboration comes compromise but it can also get you to a place you may never have been able to go on your own, so I like both.’
The ‘Brooklyn scene’ of DJs and producers that van der Volgen often finds himself lumped in with isn’t something he thinks exists at all, but it’s also not an association that bugs him, given he plied his trade for years beforehand. ‘I think many artists here make a lot of music that sounds very different, which is a good thing! I moved to New York in the beginning of 2001, so I’ve been here a while, but I’m not sure if I’d be considered a native New Yorker. Sacramento, at least when I was there from the mid 90s to 2000, was cool in the sense that there isn’t much to do, so you have to find out for yourself what you’re into and go with it.’
While My Rules recently released its first 12” (van der Volgen’s own More Fry), with more to come and several buzzing projects on the go (though names are still secret at the moment), this an exciting time to catch van der Volgen live. ‘I’m doing a project with Eric Duncan, Pete Z, Johnny Sender and Aaaron Bondahoff. I’m also getting some more TBD stuff done in Berlin,’ he states effusively, ‘but really, I’m trying to focus on my own productions. All this stuff comes out in a show; all the good stuff!’

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