Like many music fans, Rene Engel isn’t bothered by genre descriptors. Good music is good regardless. Brought up on a mish mash of styles means that Rene has an encyclopedic sonic palette and it’s this thirst for new sounds which has catapulted him into the upper echelons of the Dutch music scene. Signed to Affkt’s excellent Sincopat label, Rene has also had successful releases (with Kid Culture) on Skint Records and City LIfe. He recently closed the Queensday celebrations in Holland to a rapturous 5000 strong crowd. WE caught up with Rene to chat about his career, the future of the scene in Holland and beyond and how he balances fatherhood with raving.
Hi Rene, its a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for sparing the time to chat. So lets jump right in, what’s 2014 got in store for you?
The year started great for me, I had a great gig at De Etage in Groningen on NYE and I was playing b2b with Kid Culture. Also I play at Doka and ‘De Toren’ in the coming months which I’m looking forward to a lot! I hope I get to play a few festivals and more cool club shows in this year. And I go back to the studio and make some more music.
Tell us how you started out. Didn’t you used to be called ‘De Nachtwacht’? Why did you change the name?
I started playing about 16 years ago; the first couple of years were just small birthday parties with a few friends. Later I began working in Amsterdam and got to know a lot of people there and sometimes I could play vile venues like the Winston or other places around the red light district on Tuesday nights. I really loved those nights. I was at a party in the village I live now and I saw Dennis Koolaard play and I was sold immediately to his sound. Back then I used to play more techno and grooving records and he introduced me to the more musical side of house music like Innervisions. After that we played together and it clicked right away and that’s when ‘De Nachtwacht’ started. We played a lot at the Cue Bar in Amsterdam and after a while became residents at the 3Gram parties. After four years Dennis had to go abroad for his studies and I continued solo and under my own name. About two years ago things really picked up, I got signed by Misc Agency and started to play more regularly. Since then I moved to We Are E and I have some great gigs lined up but I still a long road to travel.
Im glad you mentioned 3Gram, do you still play a lot in Alkmaar or is it more Amsterdam and Groningen nowadays?
Yes I still play in Alkmaar, maybe little less than a few years ago but I always love gigs in Alkmaar, and it´s nice that you know the crowd. They really want to party but the scene is very young so I always want to let them taste a little bit of the old sound.
I love Groningen as well and play there quite often same as Amsterdam. I lived in Amsterdam for a few years so it also feels as my hometown. A month ago I had the chance to play the warm up set at WEITER in the legendary Paradiso. This was a dream come true for me, the night was sold out and in about 10 minutes the place was packed, you can imagine the goose bumps I had.
Has the Dutch scene changed over the years?
The Dutch scene changed a lot over the years, especially for the more rural parts of the Netherlands. For instance in my case when I was growing up and I wanted to go to a good party I had to go to Amsterdam, Utrecht or Rotterdam. Nowadays there are so many house and techno parties across the country that it’s easy to find. I wish I was ten years younger because now there are semi legal parties in warehouses and local bars and most of them are organized quite professionally. A good sound system, good logistics and good bars, these thing matter when it comes to having a memorable evening and are key ingredients to making people lose their mind.
How do you prepare a set or do you just go in blank?
Usually I have an opening track in my head all day long and then the last minute before I start I completely change my mind. I once tried making a set list and preparing each record but I found out this really doesn’t work for me. I need to feel the energy of the crowd to see what I want to play, this works for me. I see an immediate response to what I play and sometimes magic happens and then I can truly play everything I like and the people go crazy.
What is the hardest city to play in, where is the audience the toughest to crack and did you ever had a gig where you just couldn’t please the crowd?
I don’t know which city has the most difficult audience but I depends on the party I guess. I can remember being booked in Belgium to play at a party for students a few years ago and had to stop after just three records. The people were asking me if I was going to play house music all night long and if that was the case I’d better quit, they wanted to hear typical Dutch sing a long music. So I quit. But this was the only time.
Sometimes it’s harder to capture the crowd or sometimes I’m not at my best but luckily these occasions come by less nowadays.
What’s you current top 10?
Moderat – Bad Kingdom (Hat Hi remix) [50 Weapons]
SCNTST – Percee Scan [Boysnoize]
Xosar – Vodoo Castle [L.I.E.S. Records]
Ame – Den Ratta feat. Vulcano [Innervisions]
Thor – Yellow sky over Reykjavik (Baikal rmx) [Connoisseur Records]
Matthew Jonson – Level 7 [Crosstown Rebels]
Isolee – Dennis [Tamed Musiq]
Calisto – Get House l[Definitive Recordings]
DJ Yellow, Flowers and Sea Creatures – No One Gets Left Behind (Konstantin Sibold Remix) [Compost]
Pachanga Boys – Poem for the Youth l[Hippie Dance]
At what point did you start to make your own tracks and what software/hardware were you using? Has the studio changed much?
Too be honest I’m not that great with the technical side of producing. I know how it’s done but I don’t have my own studio yet (I’m building it as we speak). I started out with my brother he is quite the expert with Ableton and he has his own studio. He started teaching me the basics and we messed around in his studio.
Do you change your approach to a track if it’s a remix or original? Where do you like to start the process, drums or melodies?
When it comes to an original we (me and my brother – Kid Culture) just start messing around and see what comes out, before hand I have a feeling of the direction I would like to go to but it depends on the mood we’re in at that particular moment.
When it comes to remixes or edits I have a clear idea in my head on what would work and where the emphasis of the track should be, for instance the Rino’s Prayer remix of Leftfield we did. I always wanted to remix this record, the intro of the track is so beautiful and I knew it would make a special opening record. Like this, I have about another 200 records which I would love to remix. Kid Culture and I always work together very close either with DJing or producing. I have loads of respect for him as an artist and I think we have great chemistry. There will be more music from us together in the future for sure.
We see your signed to Affkt’s Sincopat label. How did that come about? What advice would you give to producers looking to get signed?
Sincopat happened because of Kid Culture. He released there previously and is really close with Affkt. So after we made the ‘ Visions Ep’ we sent it to Affkt and he loved them. He did a remix himself and the other remix was done by the legendary duo X-press 2.
As far as advice, I’m just starting out so I’m not really in a position to be an authority on this. But If had could give on advice, it would be to work hard and be patient. You can’t make a masterpiece within the first day, week, month or year you start producing. Just be patient and focus on what you feel.
We understand you have a 7 year old son, how do you balance fatherhood with the pressures of the music industry?
I have the luck that I have the best girl and family in the world man. They let me follow my dream but I always try to plan my schedule so I can be with him. And if that’s not possible and I don’t get a lot of sleep, I’m a very tired dad but I still kick his ass with pro evolution soccer hehe
Will you actively encourage him to follow you into music/DJing?
Music is one of the most beautiful things on earth and if he has some kind of talent, sure I will help him and encourage him. But only when he instigates it, I don’t want to pressure him into it, it has to be his idea.
Do you still have a day job as well as the music business? Do you ever see a time when music will support your family completely?
Yes unfortunately I still have to work a couple of days a week. This is just to keep a float. I really hope I can work towards making a living out of music and being surrounded by it all day, every day.
It seems now that the EDM explosion is here to stay (for a while at least). Recently Afrojack closed the NASDAQ stock exchange amid clapping and firing of confetti cannons to mark the first day of trading of SFX Entertainment, the company buying up large portions of music industry stock to become the world leader. There are fears that this kind of action will stagnate the scene and cause a downturn in creativity and development of new talent. How do you think it will affect the underground scene on a local scale and globally?
To be honest, I really don’t know anything about that kind of music. Only what my son let’s me hear and what I hear on the radio, but I don’t mind. Let them do whatever they want. I don’t think it will affect the underground scene because that music is just too different or too deep for the mainstream. And if it happens, then there will be a new kind of underground music. That’s how it always goes. Bring it on!
– Hobo – South Endian
– Recondite – Haptic
– Malbetrieb – Streetlove
– Downtown Party Network – Space me out (Mario Bosanov rmx )
– Hunter/Game ft Bajka – The Island (Baikal rmx)
– Tale of Us – Obscure Promises
– XCoast – I Feel Fire (Donato Dozzy & Modern Heads rmx)
– Petar Dundov – Superconducteur
– Gregor Tresher & Petar Dundov – Sirius
– Ame – Tatischeff
– Thor – Yellow Sky Over Reykjavik (Baikal rmx)
– Switch – Get On Downz (Henrik Schwarz rmx)
– Love Over Entropy – Off The Grid