Bertran van den Hoff is in a good place right now. Everything in his life is balanced: his studio, his music, his other sonic occupations, his work life, the labels he’s aligned with, his facial hair. Fre4knc is a happy man.
Not that you’d be able to tell musically; the Groningen-based artist’s records never instantly smack with happiness. Like many who were first inspired by drum & bass in the late 90s, Bertran is happiest writhing around the gritty, raw original neurofunk sound that completely rewrote the D&B script 20 years ago. Smitten since he first heard tracks like Alien Girl through a big club soundsystem, his heavy and dark foundations run deep in everything he’s done on a plethora of the most respected labels in the genre right up to the cheeky techno track he’s included on his new EP.
Released this month on Flexout, Alein is one of Fre4knc’s most comprehensive and explorative EPs to date and represents more shades of his musical psyche than we’ve seen before. Deep amid cuts like the swaggering two-step hammerhead title track Alein, and the pranged-out monster revs of Zeker, we find a collaboration with famed industrial techno artist The Futurist that flips any expectations you have of the Dutch darksmith.
Don’t worry, he’s not about ditch D&B; he’s just spent the last year remembering why he got into this music in the first place and how he can keep himself inspired, creatively motivated and remain in that good place he’s found himself in. Here’s why…
I’m getting alien vibes from this EP…
So was I. I actually came up with Alein because I had an Alien title in mind but made a typo and kept it like that. There’s some alien in the mix for sure. Also, Alone in German is Allein, which fits as well as I’m in the studio by myself quite often and also during making this EP.
If aliens landed and you had to play them just one drum & bass tune to represent the whole sound, what would it be?
I would play an old Konflict tune. I’m not sure which one, though. There are too many to choose. Alien Girl by Ed Rush, Optical and Fierce would be another one. That was actually the first ever MP3 I illegally downloaded! I’ll never forget the first time I heard it on a soundsystem. It was unreal. Life changing, I think. My music is still influenced by that song to this day. I like the dark heavy vibes. They’ve stayed with me forever.
Your new EP is dark and heavy. This is your biggest EP since Chapter 4 isn’t it?
Very true. In the meanwhile, I’ve done remixes and single tracks on V/A EPs on Flexout and Invisible. I’m happy to be doing this EP on Flexout. I love what they are doing. There’s never an EP that I’m unsure about and there are never any B-sides. Every release has been great.
You go way back with Flexout don’t you?
Oh yes. Me and Tom Bassi have been in touch for eight years. We’ve talked about a release for a long time but I was always busy on other labels like Dispatch and Invisible. But this time I wanted to support Flexout just as much as they’re supporting me. I have so much time for what they’re doing.
I like that. It’s a two-way street isn’t it? Labels don’t support the artists, artists support the labels too..
Like a relationship, right? I like affiliations with labels and working with the right people. I’m sitting in the studio on my own a lot of the time. I love this but it can be lonely and the music is my only companion, so it’s nice to talk to someone like Tom and discuss releases and ideas and have a fresh perspective.
And set up collabs with Klinical!
Yes I really like his output. Around Me on Overview was really impressive and there have been a few dark and heavy tracks of his I’ve enjoyed in the past. Then one day Bassi sent me a track of Dan’s which needed a little extra touch to it. The minute I heard it I love it, so I worked on the progression a lot and smaller details of it and I’m really happy with the result. I still play it every set today.
Nice. The last interview we did you talked about scaring your friends with your basslines. Are you still doing that?
No not really, they’re all used to what I do now. Nothing can scare them anymore. But doing a techno track has surprised my friends.
Yes let’s talk about Apophenia and your connection with The Futurist.
The Futurist is an industrial techno DJ and producer, he lives one street away from mine. We were talking a lot and got in the studio together and this was the result. When Tom came to the studio I showed him what I made and played it to him. He called me up the next week and told me he wanted it along with the other tracks on the EP. I was shocked. I’m not sure how it’s going to go down.
Do you make techno often to cleans the palette or take your head out of drum & bass for a moment?
Maybe a little with house music. I’ve made some funk tracks too. I’ve made a horrible trap horn thing which is absolute jokes and disgusting. I do a lot of sound design for companies as well. I would say that’s my ‘out of the zone of drum & bass’ thing. I’ve been working on a sound design project for a friend of mine. He’s an amazing visual artist and he wanted to music and sound effects for things. That’s my side project to get a fresh ear on things. It’s fun to do but also a bit of business of course.
There’s a mad dark art to that side of sound design isn’t there?
Yes it’s fascinating. You have to think about things in every tiny detail. Like imagine a car driving into a hall. You have to find a sound of a car but then tweak the reverb to make it sound like it echoes in that space. Then you have the footsteps. What are they walking on? Are they getting closer or further away? How long does the sound last for? Every possible detail needs to be thought about. It’s very time consuming but it’s very satisfying. It’s fun, it’s just as much of a hobby as music is in a way.
I think you said you were pursuing sound design a lot more because you’d left your job in our last interview…
I actually work for them again now, but not full time. It’s a nice balance. I have to think a lot and talk to factories about product development and design. It’s good for your brain to have those two things.
Definitely. And it takes the pressure off you. You’re not worried about each track having to pop…
Yes there are lots of pros. It’s good for the mind, you’re not so eager chasing gigs and it does give you freedom. I’m actually very happy about this. I have moved into this studio, I have my job, my sound design, my music. It is a great balance.
And hopefully conducive to lots of wicked forthcoming music?
Oh yes. There’s another Amoss and Fre4knc EP on Dispatch, Watermark Vol 2. Vol 1 was released a year ago. There’ll be watermark 3 and eventually it will be an album. I also have a remix coming out on Delta 9 and I have something forthcoming on Noisia’s Vision.
Oh hello! One of those albums over an EP series but done over a really long time!
Exactly. It’s quality over quantity for me. If I wanted to, I could make a tune a day but it would not be very good. What I want with every song I release is to be able to play it five years and still be happy. I don’t want to make anything I can’t stand behind. I’m happy with every release I’ve done and I think a lot of it is down to variation in the tracks. Not just copy and pasting. Nowadays DJs play less and less of a track and sometimes I wonder why I make progression in tracks, but I still do. And it means the tracks can be enjoyed in other scenarios away from the club.
Amen. So what’s coming up?
I’m actually playing New Years Eve with Flexout in Bristol. I’m heading over to Columbia for Re.set. We’re also heading to Fabric in January where the plan is to go b2b2b with Arkaik and QZB. But mainly right now I’m happy to have released this EP and I’m curious what people are thinking. What’s your favourite?
I enjoying it all but it’s techno track Apophenia that stands out because it threw me! They don’t play only 32 bars before they mix out in techno…
Yes sometimes they let the tune play for five minutes. I think that’s why they need variation. That’s what we tried in the track. In drum & bass it’s all quick quick quick. But I do like quick mixing, too. It’s how it’s done. Times are always changing, right?
Always. Have you made any transition tools to help you mix the techno into your sets?
I’ve been working on a track with Ground which has the first drop as drum & bass and the second as techno so I kind of have. Maybe we should do a version which does the opposite too? I’ve not played the tune on a system yet but I’ve heard Futurist drop it on a system and it sounded great. It’s all about fun, right and keeping the passion, right?
Definitely! It’s about keeping yourself excited and inspired!
I was missing it for a bit. Sometimes business and selfish things can get in the way of the path, but I’ve made some different choices. I’m in a nice studio with great acoustics. I’m not annoying my neighbours any more. I’m enjoying life. And I have a moustache now too!