Orlando Voorn: I Make TechnoSoul Music

Words by: Peter Adkins
Posted: 13/8/14 9:55

Orlando Voorn: I Make TechnoSoul MusicOrlando Voorn is a man of few words. In fact, when I Voice initially got in touch with Voorn he appeared to be a man of no words – our Skype date for whatever reason turned out to be a no-show. But then, perhaps that’s understandable when you consider Voorn’s self-imposed schedule running six (yes, SIX) labels and all the while continuing to put out his own records and remixes on a jaw-dropping monthly basis.

It’s perhaps a surprise to find such prolificacy and consistency in a techno producer who has been in the game for more than twenty-five years, but then again Voorn is nothing but the exception to most rules. Currently based in Seattle, he was raised and cut his teeth as a DJ in Amsterdam before moving to Detroit in the early ‘00s to work with Underground Resistance’s Mike Banks. Moreover, his sound is just as transatlantic. His records are a blend of the synth-kissed machine funk sounds of Detroit techno, the optimism of Chicago house and the steely knife-edged beats of the Netherlands.

Yet, such a description of Voorn’s sound is to bracket his output far too neatly. Go back through his back catalogue, including the dozens of different aliases that he released under in the 90s, and you won’t find a genre of dance-music that he left untouched. From house to breakbeat to tribal, Voorn has seemingly been in the thick of every twist and turn that dance-music has taken from its early days to its later incarnations. It’s no wonder then that when Red Bull Music Academy decamped to the West Coast of the USA they made him one of their lecturers - a position of seniority which Voorn clearly takes very seriously, having spent the last few years working on his labels with young producers and future ‘techno legends’.

When I Voice does finally get in touch with Voorn via a volley of back-and-forth emails, the producer continues to be reticent when it comes to talking about his work. Yet, the laconic responses that we get to our questions don’t present a brusque or guarded personality so much as someone who sees the ‘questions’ we ask about his work as offering self-apparent responses. When we ask, for example, what he looks for in the young techno artists that he signs, his answer “good tracks” belies both a shrugging truthfulness and an incredulity that anyone would ask a question with such an obvious answer.

Like other producers known for their wry reticence when it comes to interviews – Omar S, for instance – there is a sense that Voorn is a producer who is interested in ‘doing’ rather than ‘explaining’. That, furthermore, ‘explaining’ might come at the cost of unravelling the body of work he has amassed over the year. Listen to Voorn’s music – whether that be his new album Black Diamond or one of his very first productions as a young man working under the name of Frequency – and you can hear that intensity of vision at work. And that, as they say, speaks for itself.

I want to begin by asking where you are based at the moment, are you still based in the US?
Yes, I’ve been in the States for over 12 years now. Originally, I moved to Detroit and joined UR [Underground Resistance] and Submerge Records, and ran the label Ignitor. Then, after about 2 years I moved to Washington State, where I remarried .

When was it that you moved to Detroit?

What informed that decision to move?
I always wanted to go to the USA and the music in Amsterdam was in an incredibly disappointing state.  Everything [in Amsterdam] was the total opposite from what I had in mind and so I decided it was time for me to step up and go [somewhere] where I would be understood music-wise. It was a blessing to be around musicians like Mike Banks, Gerald Mitchell and to be recognized by them as one of the best Europe producers.

Did you find that you were welcomed into folds of the city’s techno scene?
I [had been producing] since the early 90s and yes the connection and mutual respect was there from the start.

There’s a strong political aspect to what people like Mike Banks were (and are) doing. Are you tuned into that?
Everybody got his or her way of working and some people are looking [to do] different things than others, and this is the case with Mike Banks. I have great admiration for him, he stands his groundon his belief of how things should be and he won't budge for anything or anyone. Mike Banks is not for sale.

Although I haven’t released a lot of albums in the past the time felt right now, what with [the increase] of electronic music fans from a younger generation who are hungry for this type of material...Why did you leave UR and Submerge?
The reason I left Submerge is because I met my wife Emily and moved in with her.

Are you still in touch with your contemporaries from that time?
Yes I am, but not as much as [I was back then]. I still have love for all my Detroit Peeps. But right now I’m focusing on my labels, putting out other artists and remixing them.

What labels are you focusing and what are you looking for in the new artist?
I am releasing on Nightvision, Nighttripper Records, Divine, Soul Survivor, New Heroes & OV Records. I sign artists that have good tracks and I remix them. I am looking for great music in general.

I once read a review that described you as one of ‘Europe’s most overlooked producers’. Obviously, it’s compliment, but how do you feel about statements like that?
I don’t think I have been overlooked. Instead, perhaps people have not realised that I was behind certain projects where I used different names, like Complex, Basic, Bastard, The Nighttripper or Format #1 to name a few.

I did that because of my high [volume of] output and to give each project a different music vibe. It was a good idea, but at the same time confusing for other people. When my Discogs page began to grow, people began to understand that all those different names were in fact one person, or else collaborations between myself and people like Blake Baxter or Juan Atkins.

Orlando Voorn: I Make TechnoSoul MusicOK, let’s talk about your records. You’ve just released your first album for over a decade last year and now another one. What has informed this sudden return to the LP format?
Although I haven’t released a lot of albums in the past the time felt right now, what with [the increase] of electronic music fans from a younger generation who are hungry for this type of material.

Is the album the result of a spurt of creativity or are these tracks that you’ve been sitting on for a while?
There is newer work, older work and older work that has been rearranged on Black Diamond. My creativity is always at a high level.

What’s your approach when you’re in the studio, do you tend to have a specific idea that you’re trying to realize?
I mostly just start with a [single] sound and then build a rhythm around it.

Or it can be the other way around where I start with the rhythm section first and then build up.

Are you someone who is in the studio all night, or a 9am, cup-of-coffee in hand kind of guy?
Depends on the situation but mostly I am up early in the morning and close shop at late night. It works better for me that way.

I call it the ‘classic sound’, and the Juan Atkins influence is big, especially on tracks like Ravers Of The Love Funk. I think you could classify the entire album as being TechnoSoul music...Tell me about the influences that informed the album. I get the impression that Black Diamond is a record that looks back to your involvement with early techno and electro?
Yes, that is correct. I call it the ‘classic sound’, and the Juan Atkins influence is big, especially on tracks like Ravers Of The Love Funk. I think you could classify the entire album as being TechnoSoul music.

Do you still listen to a lot of the techno that’s coming out? What do you think of the current crop of techno artists?
There are some new producers that definitely need to be heard. I don’t follow everything that is going on, or else I would not have any time left to be productive. Instead, I have made a system in which  [my label] is starting to create new legends, by offering cats a chance to put their music on vinyl accompanied by a remix by me.

Are you still DJing as much as you used to? Does performing still excite you as it used to?
I don’t DJ as much as I did, but I’m about to pick that up with the release of the new album. DJing is exciting when I’m playing for the right crowd. That feeling never gets old. It’s the give and take energy game and when the energy is great, the entire vibe is wonderful. There’s time, when I still feel like a little kid on the decks.

You used the words ‘the right crowd’, do you see techno as attracting an increasingly fractured audience? Do you prefer to play to a more mature crowd?
DJing can be fun as well as a hell, depending on the situation. I like to interact with a crowd [because] once you have established that it's then more fun to make your set into a journey and pull people in. My ideal crowd is an open minded crowd.

Robert Hood said in a recent interview that he felt that much of the techno industry had lost its way spiritually. I was wondering what take you have on a comment like that, and to what extent do you agree?
I believe that the integrity [of techno] was lost at some point, but that has many different reasons and is far more complex than what Rob states. People also been spoiled with loads of music and DJ sets over the years; the internet totally changed everything. Right now [listeners] need to know what they like and need to [search] out this music for themselves and block out anything that irks. Just ignore stuff that is not suited to your needs.

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