Interview: San Holo

Despite only recently brushing with success, Dutch producer San Holo has already reached higher heights than many longtime producers.

Since making a splash with his remix of the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg classic “The Next Episode” in 2014, Holo has put out a slew of releases on several labels, with Spinnin’ Records, Skrillex’s OWSLA, and Monstercat being among them. All the while, he has somehow found the time to found his own, BitBird.

Born Sander van Dijck in Zoetermeer, a city in the Netherlands, the 25 year old has kept busy by traveling the world since his rise to fame. His most recent tour, meant to promote his recent two song EP “New Sky,” has taken him across North America with six dates in Florida, including the Miami-based electronic music mecca Ultra Music Festival.

Last Saturday saw van Dijck playing to a sold-out room at Gaineville’s Rain Nightclub last weekend. Even before the artist took stage, the room was filled with an unmistakable tinge of energy and anticipation. Like his audience, Holo’s set jumped around, bouncing from his own joints such as “We Rise” to crowd pleasers like Kanye West’s “Power” and Purity Ring’s “Hold Fast,” with remixed classics such as Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again” and Blur’s “Song 2” ensuring there was never a dull moment.

We had the opportunity to hang out with van Dijck before his set and discuss his origins as a producer, the exciting transition into fame, and his opinions on artistry and finding success in a competitive field.

First off, welcome to Gainesville – how are you liking Florida? I just found out you guys haven’t flown anywhere, you’ve only been driving.

No, this guy has been driving us everywhere. Actually, the flights were booked but starting this week I had a really bad cold, and when I fly when I have a cold my ears go crazy, so he was like “Yo, I’m driving anyway,” so we just had road trips and it was awesome. It’s been a fun week.

You’re at the tail end of your tour now, with only a few dates left. How would you say it’s been?

Oh man, the tour has been crazy. I learned so much and I played like twenty shows this month, which is a lot. I learned so much about my set, my music, about how people react to it, what people like to hear and what I want people to hear, you know? This kind of feels like the end of the tour but actually there is quite some dates left in April, like Coachella.

Have you been to Coachella before?


Are you excited?

Yeah, I don’t know what to expect honestly. It’s quite cool and the first time I’m going there is to actually play there. I’m really happy I get to play there because it’s such a step up for me, so certified, you know?

Definitely. Speaking of that, you’ve only just risen to fame recently, starting around the end of 2014. How has that felt, moving so quickly?

It’s been crazy– to be honest, I never really wanted to be a DJ. I just wanted to make music and I just started remixing classic hip-hop tracks with my own sound and people really liked that, so I started producing more. And the originals came and– I guess people just really liked the sound I was putting out. And they told me I got booked for DJing and I was like, woah, I have to actually learn how to DJ.

I’ve heard that from all types of producers: you know how to make music just fine, but you never learn or teach yourself how to DJ until you actually have to.

Most producers care about making music, and DJing is like this extra thing that comes with it at some point. But my art is still making music.

So I know you went to school for music, starting on guitar and then moving into music production. How did you transition into electronic music?

Well it was very natural, I started playing guitar when I was like twelve or thirteen years old. And I played for a year or so, and I decided that I wanted to do something in music so I studied guitar at a music academy.

At some point I was in all these bands, and the thing I loved most about playing guitar was creating songs and writing music – making something, and you have to go to the studio every time you do this. So I was like, I should be able to do something myself.

So I got this MacBook, and I started to learn about Logic and Ableton and I was able create stuff by myself. I learned about drum programming and just started making songs on my own.

What’s your work ethic like? Do you make music on the road?

Well I used to go to the studio, but now I go off of my laptop in the plane, in the car or in the train, whatever works. I try to innovate, I try to do new stuff all the time.

I hear people say that I should make another song like one I did 2 years ago. I’m like, I’m done with that already, why would I? I want to make stuff that people will listen to in a year. Which is sometimes hard, because not everyone understands.

My last release on Monstercat music,“They Just Haven’t Seen It,”not everyone got it ‘cause it was kind of different; the drop is so weird and there’s people that love it and hate it. That’s the key I think, people that are never in the middle.

So, you’re from Holland. Netherlands is known in the electronic music community as the birthplace of many talented and famous producers despite its relatively small size. Why do you think that is?

I think that Holland has a very rich history of electronic music, with the hardcore gabber movement that started in the 90s– have you ever heard about gabber music?

Yeah, I have.

Yeah, it’s like this cult that started in Holland, and I don’t if it has anything to do with it, but there seems to be a lot of producers right now, like Martin Garrix and Armin van Buuren, you know, super-big EDM acts, and Holland seems to be like this factory for like those artists. What I’m doing is something different but I do think about why there are so many Dutch producers.

You’ve spoken in the past about not assigning yourself a single genre, and there’s a lot of other producers now who feel the same. Why do you think that is?

It’s kind of an artist thing, I think, like classical pianists who don’t like being pinned down to expressionism or impressionism.

I believe most artists see themselves as creators: they create something that’s inside them, and what’s inside them doesn’t have a name on it. Like, my inspiration, it’s not called future bass, it’s called music, you know? Artists create those genres, and once you put a name on it, you feel like you’re in a cage.

I just want to make music. For me, future bass, it’s not just synths and 808 snares and hi-hats… it’s about making futuristic music and doing new things.

You recently made a song with Yellow Claw – one of my favorite Dutch acts – called “Alright.” You’re also putting out a remix of “In My Room” from their album on April 8. How did you get involved with them? Did they approach you, or you them?

Jim from Yellow Claw was interested in my music from an early start, like “We Rise.” He liked my music, and “Alright” happened after I created the song and needed some vocals, so I contacted them asking for a human touch. They sent some vocals, I worked to put them in… it was very collaborative.

So from there they asked you to do the remix because you guys had the preexisting relationship?

Yeah; I like staying close to them even though I don’t release music [on Yellow Claw’s Barong Family label]. I really want to focus on my own label and not pressing on the Barong Family, because I feel like my universe is quite different from their own.

I know you used to teach music – I don’t know if you still do – but from that perspective, and from one of an artist with their own label as well, what do you think are good things to look for when identifying talent and potential in a producer? What would you say to someone looking to find the same sort of success that you’ve achieved

In music, it’s not about a certain genre, it’s like, when you hear that sound, you think, you feel “Ah this feels good,” you know? It’s that kind of thing that you learn to develop over the years as an artist.

When I started I was not good at all. It took me years and years to get at this point and develop some taste. I think artists need a kind of a vision as to where they want to go, and that can take years to realize.

It has to sound fresh – if I want to put it in easy words – and should not sound like they’re trying to be something or someone else, which happens a lot.

There should be a signature. With singers they should listen to the vocals, their sound. Producers and singers need to have their own sound as well, their own fingerprint.

What can we expect from San Holo next? Do you have stuff you’re working on now?

I’m going to release a lot of music on Bitbird, my label, and do some compilations soon with tracks from artists we believe in. That’s going to be the big start of Bitbird; even though we’ve been working on it for for a year now, this compilation is kinda like the big grand opening.

You put a sample of the word “Swirl” in all of your songs. I don’t think you’re going to be able to tell me why, but, I’m curious: Is there a reason? Is it just something that you do?

It’s definitely for a reason, I just cannot talk about it. It’s like a secret thing (laughs). Maybe one day we will find out. I’ll stay secretive about it.

- Joel Ramos

This article was originally published online at the Swamp Records blog. 

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