If you’re yet to witness a Joris Voorn set, let me paint a picture for you. It’s the kind of set where you can’t go to the bar or to the toilet because every time you try to leave, Voorn will drop yet another brilliant song. Where you’ll find a pair of middle-aged women who apparently haven’t been out in five years but broke that dry spell to come and see Voorn live, losing themselves in a room full of young people. Where fans are so absorbed by the atmosphere that they’ll throw their arms about, and you don’t even mind if someone accidentally catches you in the face because the music makes you feel so good.

Joris Voorn is one of the greatest DJs and producers out there because he has this ability to create such a special energy in everything he does. His recent event series, Spectrum, was exemplary of that, fusing together musical and visual influences and bringing the result to four different cities: Amsterdam, Manchester, Paris, and London. His home city of Amsterdam was an obvious starting point, meanwhile despite the small scene in Paris, he notes that “still, it’s a very important city. We were able to work with Faust club, which is I would say is probably the best in Paris. We had some very hardcore fans there. It was heart-warming to say the least.”

“You know, people are always asking me, where do you prefer to play the most? And the UK has been, for almost ten years, one of my favourite places,” he continues. In fact, Voorn is so experienced on the circuit that he’s well aware of the differences in the UK crowds depending on where in the country he is. “Every city has its own crowd and the way they listen to music. Actually, Manchester for instance is pretty full-on, you know with the Warehouse Projects and everything. It’s very high energy. So there also I don’t mind playing slightly shorter sets and putting all my energy into shorter sets. And here, London… London’s such a big city which has such a musical history, and so many DJs are playing. Even today, there’s so much happening, so many things going on, but people don’t get blasé about it. They’re still very eager to go out and listen to music. Sometimes you see that in a city: where there’s too much happening, people are like, ‘Yeah it’s cool, you know…’. In London, I feel like people are always up for something, and they really choose where they’re going to go.”

The decision to close London’s most iconic venue, fabric, shook the electronic music community last year – Voorn included. “It was hard to believe,” he says quietly, conscious of the tragedy surrounding the closure of the club which reopened in January and where he will be playing on 1st April. “I think we’re all super happy that they’re back in business and that they can continue their legacy.”

Not only is Voorn adept at working with the individual nuances of different crowds, but also at pulling music from all corners to conjure his unique sound. In fact, Voorn’s musical tastes span such a breadth of genres that it feels like the Spectrum concept was only a matter of time. Driven by a desire to have more free reign in booking DJs and in his own sets, the first question for Voorn and his team was what to call the event. “We were talking about my music and the way I appreciate music, and I was talking about the wide spectrum of music that I play, and then everyone was like, ‘Wait a minute’. So I was like, ‘You know what? [Spectrum] is quite a generic word, but it’s a beautiful word.’ It really represents what I believe in musically. It’s basically about celebrating the wide spectrum of music that is out there and that should be played. So it’s not just focusing on one thing, not just house music or one genre of house music or one genre of techno music. It’s everything going from I would say disco to hard, minimal techno.”

When I ask whether he actually played a George Michael track in the middle of the Manchester night – I can confirm that he did in fact drop ‘Flawless (Go to the City)’ – he points out that diverse yet tailored music is at the core of his vision: “I think everything goes. That’s kind of how it goes. But at the same time it has to make sense, it has to work. When I was younger I was listening to DJs like Derrick May who were playing everything back then, going from disco to house to techno and back to disco again, and everything in quite a small town. So it was very diverse, but it all made sense. I think that that’s kind of the key to it. It has to be a story that works.”

People may be surprised to hear, then, that he doesn’t actually listen to much music in his spare time anymore, something that has ironically come as a result of a career in music. “The one thing I kind of regret about making my music my work is that I’m not as fascinated…” He corrects himself: “Perhaps fascinated isn’t the right word, but music plays a different role in my life now. Now it’s my profession rather than when I was doing something else. I was waking up with music. The first thing I would do is put on a CD and make myself a coffee. Nowadays I just like silence in the morning, because I know I’m going to be surrounded by music for the rest of the day. So I’m not listening to other people’s music as much, other than obviously the music that I play and that I make.” However, that’s not to say that the enjoyment of listening to music has been removed entirely from his life. He tells me that he’s always been a big fan of the Warp label and IDM (“intelligent dance music – it’s more like a 90s term. I don’t know if they still call it that”), citing Autechre, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and Orbital. “I mean, there’s something in that music. It’s rhythm based on the one hand, but it’s very atmospheric and very much about the melody as well, and I’ve always really loved listening to that. Lately, probably a lot of ambient music.” He then mentions Scandinavian piano players like Nils Frahm who “also make beautiful music” and rock music, which he used to listen to a lot of and sometimes still does. “I’ve discovered another band recently called Nothing from the US. It’s very of Wall of Sound, like Shoegaze stuff, which is a musical style that I used to listen to like 20 years ago. I kind of still like it, actually. I guess it’s going back to my childhood memories.”

 “I think it’s very important – and nice for me personally as well – to have that connection to the audience.” – Joris Voorn

This brings us onto his experience of music when he was younger, which he agrees must be different to how young people begin their journey into music these days. “When I started listening to music, I was listening to literally anything I could get my hands on. It was going from jungle – it was called jungle before it was called drum and bass – [to being] really big into trip-hop. Like the Portishead kind of thing, the Mo’ Wax label, which was really fantastic – very futuristic. Basically hip-hop without vocals. I listened to trance a little bit… Trance, acid, techno, literally everything. I think nowadays, people listen to sub-genres, and they quite quickly get into a musical direction. I mean, to be honest, I don’t know what you would listen to if you were 18. I wonder that actually sometimes…” What is clear is the difference in the availability of music between then and now. Before, he affirms that “you really had to look for it, and the music that you did have, you were cherishing it and listening to it over and over again.”

When I ask whether this meant that music has lost its specialness, he concedes that perhaps, somewhere along the line, the sheer mass of music available right now has devalued it somewhat. “There is a lot more of it! I do feel that it’s lost a bit of its value, though I’m sure people still listen to music that they really like over and over again, but I guess it goes in a different way.” As we all know, discovering new music can at times feel like the most overwhelming of tasks – a feeling shared by Voorn himself, who we can thank for delving into the deep unknown to bring us the hidden gems amongst the rubble by way of his DJ sets. “Sometimes like if I’m sitting in my studio and I have to do something else than making music, I have to do some administration or some press or whatever, and I’m like ‘Oh let’s go to Spotify and see what I’m going to listen to’… I just don’t know. I’m sitting there frozen, like I don’t know where to start! There’s like a trillion new songs here and like 500 new albums coming out today. What’s good, you know? Back in the day you just picked it! You’ve got everything in front of you and that’s it.” However, he’s quick to point out he wouldn’t “go as far as saying that one thing is better than the other,” rather “it’s a different mentality.”

I’m interested to know why he picks and chooses from different genres, and it seems the answer lies somewhere between instinct and choice. “I think that it’s always kind of come naturally,” he explains. “I’ve always liked a very wide range of music – even my first album from 2004, it went from electro to techno to house to ambient to pretty much everything… Broken beats, even. I’m just too impatient to make only one thing – I can’t really just stick to one sound and one groove.” He highlights that there is some consciousness behind his varied music: “I mean for me, it’s a personal decision; a state of mind with which I make music where I just love the diversity. It’s sometimes a curse as well. Sometimes I don’t know if it makes sense to release one track because it’s so different from the other ones – then, sometimes more of a direction would be kind of easier. Then again, I just have to accept that that’s how it is.”

Voorn’s creative inclinations go beyond piecing together unusual tracks with impressive ease and fluidity. He also has an artistic eye, having gone to art academy, trained in architecture, and photographed the artwork for most of his albums. “I’ve actually been taking photos for as long as I’ve been DJing, which is a long time,” he tells me. “It’s always been a hobby I guess – or not necessarily a hobby, but I was just always taking pictures of everything. Even when I started touring, I always had my camera with me to capture the world around me. ” I ask whether his music is influenced by visual stimuli: “It’s a bit hard to say that the photos represent the music or the other way around, however I do believe that as an artist, I think you have a vision of the world and I think it comes out in one way or another, and I think for me I guess it comes out through the music, but also through the photography that I do and the artwork of my albums.”

Spectrum

 

This passion for imagery carried over into the Spectrum concept, where Voorn and photographer Jos Kottmann got up close and personal with the fans by turning the lens onto them – something he was keen to do in order to give back something to the crowd after all these years. “I think it’s so important. Going back to the amount of music that’s out there, there’s an equal amount of DJs around nowadays and I’m so thankful to my fans for supporting me through all this time. There’s new ones hopefully every day that listen to my music. I think that it’s really important to incorporate them, not just in a ‘high castle looking down on them playing the music that I like’ [way]. I think it’s very important – and nice for me personally as well – to have that connection to the audience.” The photographic side of the series was also something of an evolutionary process in collaboration with photographer Jos Kottmann. It began as a search for some artwork, and before they knew it, people from all over the world – Mexico, New York, the UK among others – were reacting. “It already felt almost like a community. We had all these people sitting in front of the camera, shooting them in the same way as we shot myself for the posters, and they all looked really amazing.” The next step was to bring Kottmann on tour and shoot as many pictures as they could – a logical marketing step, Voorn acknowledges, but the merit was far greater than that. “Seeing all these people here, everyone being so eager to have their picture taken, lining [the photos] up, looking at them afterwards, and being very excited about it. That in itself – besides them being able to use it as a profile picture – really creates an extra dimension to a party. It’s kind of lifting the audience on a pedestal.”

It is spontaneity that adds an elevated quality to his sets – he selects a lot of his tracks on the flight to whichever city he’s playing in, or even during the night itself – and which he has enhanced through the photography project. “The spontaneity is amazing. Even in Manchester last week, we had so many different faces, different people. Even if the night kind of moves on people start looking a bit different…” he laughs. “And sometimes the people just don’t really know what to do, you know, because not everyone has their picture taken every day, and not everyone’s a model. You can really see something in people’s faces. It’s really cool. It’s literally shining a light on the audience. That’s an extra dimension that I didn’t really think of before.”

Voorn clearly has an affinity for his fans and he comes across as chatty and personable, happily offering me his suggestion of which IPA to drink and tips on where to go in his home city of Amsterdam. This is perhaps why he’s surprised to hear that some people assume him to be so orderly meticulous. “Meticulous about what?” he asks, partly laughing, partly intrigued. I explain that his music is so well put together and he nails his sets so consistently that some people imagine him to very orderly. “I didn’t know people thought of me like that!” He concedes that he is “100% a perfectionist, which is super annoying and very time consuming.” But, he continues: “I don’t have everything set out – I can play with my eyes closed, and I think that that’s very important about the set up that you have and that you’re comfortable with it. So it’s important not to change it too much. Sometimes you have to shake things up a little to get some inspiration. But it’s also looking for new music constantly that’s very, very important. And I also get very motivated by making my own music.”

Throughout our conversation we’ve discussed his role as a producer and as a DJ with equal weighting, but I ask whether he sees himself as one more than the other at all. “No I don’t think so. I think for me it’s the perfect marriage between the two.” This, in retrospect, is totally self-explanatory when looking at his work as a whole unit. “I couldn’t be a DJ without playing my own music. These are my favourite parts of the DJ set, and to not have these moments – I think that would be very hard for me. I couldn’t be playing a set without playing my own music. Which, back in the days, was different – I never thought my music sounded good enough, and it didn’t really fit the music that I was playing, but nowadays, I guess I play a lot broader than I used to. On the other hand, I couldn’t really make the music that I make in the studio, or at least dance tracks, techno, without being able to play them out, because I wouldn’t know how they work. I always play a lot of my sketches and go back to the studio and change whatever I feel I have to change based on how it sounded when I was playing it.”

Voorn’s relationship with the crowd not only allows him to test new sounds for his own production work – their response also adds meaning and sentiment to his music. “I made a track for my second son recently this summer, and the first time I played it was such an overwhelming experience. People loved it immediately. They started asking what it was. Also, for some reason, whenever I have a recording of a set of mine and I put a new track in there and people are always like, ‘Is that a new track of yours?’ I don’t think I play music everyone knows, but they always pick out the one that I [had made].”

“That’s kind of the secret of music. Where does it really come from?” – Joris Voorn

His ability to communicate with so many people makes Voorn such a stand-out: the energy during his sets is palpable throughout the room. The crowd clearly resonates with him, taking them on a journey right from the dark lows to the euphoric highs. “Usually I like my longer sets, when I really have the opportunity to take people on a journey. There was this club called Trouw in Amsterdam and I did so many all-nighters there. A lot of memories have been made there, I think. On the other hand, there’s places like fabric as well where there are so many memorable nights, when it’s dark, you’re really in a zone with everyone on the dancefloor.”

I ask him whether he sees music as more than a journey, but beyond that, an escape. “Oh yeah, it totally is,” he replies instinctively, without the question even having time to settle. “Music is very obviously escapism in every possible way. I think it always has been. I mean, the best way to listen to music is basically on your headphones, closing yourself off from the world around you and letting yourself into the world that the music creates for you. So in that sense, yes 100% escapism. And that’s also why I like clubs to be quite dark usually. I know that with Spectrum we have a big light show, but it’s especially the dark moments that I think are very impressive.”

Escapism from what? I wonder. I teeter on the edge of mentioning politics – Voorn tells me that people never like it when he’s being political on social media – but ask him whether he feels that the oscillating moods in his production and during his sets reflect what’s going on in the outside world. He ponders for a moment. “I think inevitably it reflects a taste in music first and foremost, but I think the taste in music comes with – I mean, it sounds a bit big – but with a view of the world, a perception of the world around you. It’s funny that you say euphoric and dark at the same time – I just love these two extremes as well, which I think is also something that the whole Spectrum concept is based on. It’s really about euphoric moments but also some moments it’s about a slightly deeper side of dance music. I think music is something where there’s not really a lot of thought behind it. It just comes within. That’s kind of the secret of music. Where does it really come from?”

Follow Joris Voorn for updates here. Buy event tickets here.