Michel De Hey stays focused

Rotterdam’s Michel de Hey is in no small part responsible for the city’s now vibrant house and techno scene. For over a decade he has championed the best the genre has to offer through his own tight DJ sets, radio shows, skilled productions and, of course, courtesy of his own labels including EC Records and HEY! Records.

Over the years Michel has picked up a number of awards for his contribution to the scene, as well as the odd US Billboard Dance Chart hit early in his career. Meanwhile, the tech house, techno and minimal music he has released on his own labels has been championed by modern day talents like Josh Wink, Adam Beyer and Paul Kalkbrenner… without Michel, then, the sonic landscape would sound very different.

His own productions in that time have joined the dots between sleek and stripped back techno, groove laden minimal and more propulsive tech house. Labels to have released these sounds include EC Records, Circle Music as well as Noir and Lilith Recordings, with in-the-know DJs always playing Michel’s records all over the world.

So too does the man himself tour the world, regularly playing top clubs and festivals like Womb, Japan, Circo Loco and Space in Ibiza, Weekend in Berlin and many others across Europe and the Middle East. Given Michel’s ability to thread together so many styles and sounds on dance floors everywhere (he is widely schooled in playing small, sweaty and intimate gigs as much as he is large festivals) it’s now wonder he has mixed many compilation CDs (including No Nonsense, Technological Elements, Impulz, Dance Valley on Ibiza and many more) in his time. From funky house to big rolling techno via everything in between, de Hey can do it all.

More recently, Michel has teamed up with Floris Regoort for a new release on his own Hey! imprint, and plans are afoot for another tour of South America this summer. He is also currently celebrating 5 years of his Hey! Muzik radio show (aired on Fresh FM every Friday) with a tour of Belgium and the Netherlands every weekend until September, plus a special mix CD featuring 19 exclusive and remastered tracks from the likes of Joris Voorn, Gregor Tresher and Steve Rachmad was released in February. That his own Hey! club nights continue to bring the crème de la crème of EDM (think Karotte, Ricardo Villalobos and more) to key Dutch clubs like Amsterdam’s Studio 80, Rotterdam’s Catwalk and Utrecht’s Poema, also confirm Michel to be as tireless and forward facing as ever.

Hi Michel, thanks for taking the time out to chat. Hope all is well with you. How was your weekend?

Pfffffff what a weekend it was! Friday I played at the new Tivoli in Utrecht where the sound is magnificent. I played for the guys from Kranck and they always throw wicked parties. Saturday was Paradiso Amsterdam which is a legandary popstage where every big artist imaginable have performed over the past 40(!) years, it was great to be a part of that history again. However the cherry on the pie was our HEY! beach party at Karavaan Scheveningen where I played a 9 hour set, it was crazy… And that is how my legs feel now as well:)

That sounds like a pretty busy weekend! So musically, what have you been up to lately? Have you any projects, remixes or collaborations in the pipeline?

I have been doing quite a few things, such as a remix for Tomy de Clerque and another remix with Rauwkost for Wende Snijders. This remix with Rauwkost is definitely one of my favourites that I have done for a while. Also Im working on an ep for Hey! Records and more recently released a project with Mulder for Defected Digital records. I assume I can tell by now my next release will be one for John Digweed’s mighty Bedrock Records.

(Full review of EP here)

Rotterdam is a city synonymous with techno. Can you tell us when you were growing up how you broke into the music scene?

I grew up in Rijswijk next to Den Haag, then I moved to Rotterdam where I started to work in a record store. I got my first few gigs in Nighttown Rotterdam. I had been around for a few years, so I was there when the whole house thing exploded. I was the first Dutch house act to make the USA Billboard top 10 dance charts with a track called 1-2-3break, so I was probably 20 years to early. In the early days, it was more about being a resident in a club and working from there. Roland Molendijk had the idea that, I was potentially a good DJ, so he gave me my first break by playing in Nighttown. I already played several clubs and parties, but that was my first big chance to play in one of the best clubs in Holland in those days. Like now, you still have to work to get things rolling and I worked hard and a lot for it. But getting a chance to play in a cool club, because somebody thinks you are a good DJ is also one of the reasons, I started Kweekvijver. With this night I help new upcoming DJs to play in a cool club they have never played at and where they get their chance to get things rolling for them.

You have been on the scene for a long time now. What do you think is essential to keep the people wanting to come and see you play and also buy you records?

You have to stay focused and do not take things for granted. The people who are going out now are different from the ones from 10 or 15 years ago. So it is very important to connect with a new audience who will like you as a DJ and a producer. You have to find a balance between keeping your regular fan base, but also attract new ones, to come out and hear you play. And that is what I always liked about the people who come to hear me play, the variety in the crowd, from lawyers to party heads to students to idlers to chief executives to cashiers, there is not one crowd but a great mix, which can make a night differ from the rest.

Your label EC/Hey! has been around since 92. In that time you have helped launch the careers of some artist. This must be a very satisfying feeling. So in keeping with this can you explain the concept of ‘Kweekvijver’? From what I hear it is not a DJ contest as such but sounds very interesting.

Ec is one of the oldest house labels in Holland, but nowadays I focus now on HEY! which I started in the early 2000’s. With both labels, I always have been keens to sign new artists, with maybe 1 or 2 releases behind them. Kweekvijver is more about guys and girls who are more focused on being a DJ, than a producer. If you are both it is great, but this night is more mixing cool music. I review upto 50 sets for each edition of Kweekvijver, then I pick out the 4 or 5 of the best ones. They all then come to play with me on a night out in Toffler, Lux , Karavaan or Studio 80 etc. The focus is on having a set which intrigues me and makes me want to hear you play out live as a DJ. So far, we had two editions and I already picked out a few to return to play on other events.

It seems with so little money is been made from music releases today, why are you keeping the label going? It is a lot of work and effort I can only imagine.

I still like the idea that I can give people an opportunity to release new music especially when I spot new talent also I am a bit nostalgic. It still makes me happy when I hear a cool demo and when I test it out in a club. If I really like it and lay it out a lot why not release it, so more people can enjoy it the way I enjoy it and the people on the dancefloor enjoy it.

For aspiring producers out there, trying to make a name for themselves; Is there any point sending demos to the bigger labels unless you are an established artist? I would also like to add for arguments sake that the tracks are of a very high standard.
Well when you send me 3 tracks that I like and play, I release them without a doubt, however the standard has to be high. Ferreck Dwan has just released an EP on HEY! I had never heard of the guy before. I liked one track, but still was not super sure about. I played it out a bit and decided I did like it. So I went back to him saying, I need another 2 or 3 track to make a release. And he released a fantastic EP with me.

Do you think there’s a moment, where you stop releasing music, obviously at some stage but will it be sooner rather than later?

No I will always release music. I work closely with NEWS in Belgium and of course we cannot buy houses from the profits, not even carton boards ones. But every now and then, we have a record, which does well, so we take it from there. I release music that I like and I know, there is not an EDM market for it. Not everything in life has to be a million dollar thing. I still feel happy when I DJ and I like and respect anyone who plays one of the releases on Hey!

When you see some artists do live shows, like Plastikman or Jeff mills playing with an orchestra for example. Is there anything you would like to experiment with?

I had some offers with orchestras, but it was too time consuming, to get it fixed in a certain period for me. I played live with several musicians, which was a cool experience. But for now I would like to make a track for singers like the remix i did with Wende Snijders, which is different, but is amazing to work with artist like that.

So touring wise, have you been ramping up or down these days, to spend more time at home and do you feel it has taken its toll over the years. I am curious as it is an intense lifestyle and not everyone can handle it.

Well I did make a move to Amsterdam, so I had more time for my family. But nothing in life is forever, so I am back on the road again as often as possible and I am extremely happy with this. The bottom line is I am a DJ and I am truly happy playing out for people. Of course the nightlife has its dark sides, but I avoid them to keep my life and my work healthy and productive. So far it has not taken its toll on me, I feel fit and in shape to keep going for another 25 years.

So many festivals are on in Europe. Is there any off the mainstream you would advise our readers to check out this year?

Well I keep it limited to Holland otherwise I need an extra page. Boothstock festival in rotterdam of course, In the Cloud in Zandvoort, where we have a HEY! stage, For the techno heads there is Awakenings & Dekmantel. Loveland is another big one for the big techno names. For a more eclectic ones Mysteryland , Indian summer or Ultrasonic are all worth a visit. But there are several festivals each weekend in Holland, so enough to choose one which suits you.

Finally this is in relation to Rotterdam. I have never been there. What would you advise someone to see or to eat at if they have never been?

Of course rotterdam will always be super special for me, but also will be special who go there for the first time. Going out, the best place is Toffler, a club which is a sort of a DJ mecca. But there are more clubs for all styles of music. Perron, Club Vie, Factory 010. There are loads of places to eat, la pizza, indonesia, zeezout, fg restaurant, hsuon, angelo betti, kleine ondeug to name a few. Guess I am a little obsessed with food.