Photo credit: Wouter Maeckelberghe
One87 is a prolific figure. DJ, producer and promotor, as the founder of the renowned Star Warz-shows in Ghent, Jurgen Vanhessche has been leveraging forward-thinking drum & bass onto the Belgian scene for more than two decades.
For now, the symbolic wheels of steel have ground to a worrying halt for many involved. Star Warz, too, had to call off shows and postpone hosting stages at festivals like Outlook, Rampage Open Air and Tomorrowland. Alas. We’re still in the middle of the shitestorm sadly enough, so perhaps it’s not the ideal time to catch up with a promotor. But is it?
One87 has been putting in the extra hours in the studio during this unforeseen break. Three tracks have landed from Jurgen on Flexout in the last two months: New One / Ten Sound in October and The One on the label’s recent Conspiracies VA. To mark these dispatches we called him up to discuss his studio work, his legacy and journey and, most importantly, what to expect from Star Warz, once this inertia ends!
How are you doing?
I’m fine! Little bit disappointed that we don’t have any drum & bass events, DJ-gigs or anything like that. But besides that, I’m pretty much okay.
Despite the lack of events, how has this extra studio time been working out for you lately?
When you have more time to do something, you’re more relaxed. Being relaxed is important to making good music. Not being relaxed and focused results in doing a half job and this is true for any kind of work. I have to say it’s a nice feeling. It’s not that I made so much more music, because I was already making quite a lot of music. But now I had more time and it was great on a personal level: a better vibe while doing it.
How’s your studio setup? Are you more of a traditional, analogue-guy, or is everything mostly digital?
In between. I use Logic in the studio combined with a powerful iMac and a decent soundcard. Mostly I use Logic and plugins obviously, but also the analogue Virus synthesizer. I love that and use it on every tune.
Usually I start with samples for the break and for the bassline I use my Virus. It’s a good combination, the Virus adds a specific drum & bass-sound and brings some weight to the production. If you mix the level of the breaks and everything else up to that analogue level, you get a proper sounding tune.
Are you someone who starts with a certain idea or do you go where your inspiration takes you?
I don’t work with ideas, that doesn’t work. I tried in the past, but prefer to start with building a break. Once it has a certain character, I look for a bassline which fits with that break. When you have that – hook or flow – you can build everything else around it. This usually is the way I work and it’s always a surprise. I never have any idea where the tune is going to take me. I just start with the break, go through some folders and samples until I hear a bit that suits my mood for the day, and I take it from there.
You don’t force things
Exactly. This is why you can hear similarity in my music because of the Virus synth, but on the other hand, every tune I’ve released in the last years, sounds different in a way. It’s one of the benefits. I make a lot of music, let’s say one or two tunes each week. A lot of tunes aren’t made to be released. I send these to a label, mostly Flexout Audio at the moment, and they pick the tunes they dig. It’s nice to have their input and selection. Sometimes, they take a tune which didn’t feel so important, but then I listen again and think: ‘that tune is actually special in that way’. Working like this is fine.
For me, there’s no point in being in the studio if you don’t have time or aren’t fully focussed, because you will get frustrated. I could sign music on other labels while doing it differently, but that’s not really me. Of course I’m still DJ’ing and promoting (not now) so I’m in touch with what’s alive. I won’t make music that’s totally weird, but sometimes I get promo’s and they all sound a bit the same. Everybody trying to copy that one tune, trying to prove their skills. It’s nice of course, but I prefer a different approach.
Any upcoming releases that you would like to talk about?
I just signed a tune to a new and promising Belgian label, called Midas Touch Recordings. I also talked to Flexout Audio and there’s probably going to be a release in the first half of 2021. We’re still working on that. If you look back at the last couple of years, there’s been one or two releases on Flexout each year. I’m comfortable with this and don’t try to release too much, because I think there’s already so much music being released.
How did your journey start? A pretty big question, but give us something to go with please
I started in ’92. First of all, I bought some records, played at home and got my first gigs. Then I realized it’s difficult to buy this music in Belgium, because I always had to go to London to buy my records. I decided to open my own record store and I did that for about four years. During the first anniversary of my record shop, I did a party to celebrate and this is actually how I became a promotor.
We (because I had partners for this) invited Ed Rush, like a small birthday-bash with friends. 700 people showed up and it was sold out. I was pretty good at promoting parties, so I decided to keep going. This was in ’97. It went fast from there and I got to play a lot a gigs with big names in the nineties. After that, Star Warz came.
What or who was influential for you in those days?
I listened to all kinds of music. Like pop in the eighties, when I was really young. I remember listening to hip-hop when I was twelve years old and tried to scratch a bit and stuff like that. And then, obviously drum & bass labels like Metalheadz came along, but also Virus Recordings and Renegade Hardware, and it was so exciting.
For them it was new, for me too, so I actually helped to build the scene in Belgium by promoting these events. It was a bit difficult in the beginning. I remember playing jungle and drum & bass during my DJ- first gigs, and people were looking at me, like: ‘what the fuck is this?’ (laughs). But I got inspired all the time, like I still get now. I get promo’s and record a new podcast for Flexout. All the selections I make, still inspires me. The feeling is still there and it’s hard to pinpoint specific tunes or labels. It’s about all of it in general.
Even soul music, reggae or dub: just everything. I wouldn’t be doing this, if it wasn’t for that. I’m gonna be honest. Every time I do a mix or podcast, I get really excited about combining songs and listening to the result afterwards. It’s the same with making music or doing events. I promote very underground stuff lately, you cannot really do that if you don’t love it anymore.
From the moment I’m not feeling it anymore, I will be asking myself the question: Why am I doing this? Why am I sitting twenty hours in the studio or going out at night to play somewhere? Same goes for throwing a big event, and putting three months of energy into it, without knowing if it’s going to be a success. You know what I mean?
You are doing it for the love! Let’s talk about Star Warz. It’s been around some twenty years and has played a crucial role in the Belgian drum & bass movement. When looking back, could you share three memories that really stand out?
Uhm…. Twenty years… Believe me, that’s a lot of moments. First of all: the start. It was a success from the beginning, a really good feeling that it worked! And then, seeing that it stayed like that is also a great feeling. Having all these artists over that I (still) look up to, booking them many times, and getting to know them personally – having a good time and offering them a good gig, sending them home with satisfaction – these kind of things in general. Also, the first time that I booked Goldie, around 2005 – it was a wicked time getting to hang out and talk to him. It’s like ‘meeting your heroes’-thing.
Trying to push smaller labels and seeing it working is great too. Pushing new artists and seeing that people trust the Star Warz name so much, that they come and see them for the first time and are excited about a great set. Things like this. There were definitely also some rock-n-roll moments, but I will keep those to myself (laughs).
You’ve once stated on social media that you’ve been sober for quite a while now
I’ve been sober now since 2016, but before that, I was always in the mood for a good party… To be honest, the sober thing is also important for me to keep the studio thing going. I have a lot of work going on all the time obviously. When you lose a complete Sunday to a hangover… after 25 years of hangovers, you’ve pretty much seen it. Eventually, you will get hangovers for three days for just looking at a bottle, without even drinking from it (laughs). I wanted to move on and not waste anymore time. For me it was a really good thing and I really enjoy my Sundays in the studio.
How’s it going with Star Warz during this forced hiatus?
We’re just waiting, on standby. The moment we can go, we do. The first half of 2021 won’t be realistic for bigger events. I hope festivals can happen, but that will be hard and a bit tricky too. But I think, you never know with the vaccine, I hope we can still host our stage at Tomorrowland and other festivals we work with. And I hope that we can do a club show after the summer, this will be kind of realistic – I hope so. I have some ideas, not planning to stop and will move ahead as soon as we get the green light.
I’m not really into promoting smaller parties, Star Warz is about thousand people or more together – drum & bass-vibes, so that’s what I want to do. You never know, maybe we will never go back to normal (laughs) and then we’ll have to adapt someway. But the way I feel it now: we’re on standby, ready to go and drop another date when we get the green light, and continue on like this whole corona bullshit never happened.
What’s your personal view on this situation?
You really have to stay positive about it, there’s no alternative. Obviously, it’s not going to last forever. It’s a matter of hanging in there and keeping your mind sane – by focusing on the good times that will come, or the good times you already had. Be patient, that’s the most important thing. People are a lot stronger, than they think they are. I’m pretty sure we will get out of this in a good way and the first parties will be really really wicked. We have something to look forward to.
It’s a big change for a lot of people, nobody saw this coming. But we have to deal with it. I’m sometimes also a bit worried, but this is a minor part of the time. Most times I’m like: fuck this, we’re gonna get through this. Whatever comes next, we’re going to be ready. I hope everybody, especially in the drum & bass-scene, stays that way too and is good to go. It’s not gonna be ten years from now, maybe one more year and we can move.
Do you think that despite the apparent negative impact of COVID-19, there’s also positive change possible for the as well?
Every experience, even a really bad one like this, brings change. Maybe people will get stronger or have a different perspective. We were just going and going, a bit too much on cruise control. If this enables people to rethink their approach to life, it’s a good thing. I haven’t really thought about it like that, but I always believe that if something happens, there’s something to be learned that makes you stronger.
I don’t know the precise impact in the long run, but perhaps we will be able to look back and say: this happened, and this was the result. I’m not saying drum & bass will drastically change, but possibly people will take a break and become more inspired again to make better music. It’s easy to take things for granted once you get used to them, but maybe people will realize this isn’t given. This might further improve the vibe.
Anything you would like to add to conclude?
I’m really thankful for people who come out and check my DJ-sets to have a good time, or listen to my music and enjoy it. It’s great to have feedback or messages from people. I don’t want to thank anyone in particular. Except maybe Flexout Audio, for supporting me and my music. Also the people who work with me, and also those who book me… I’m actually starting to make a whole list now! (laughs) I am very thankful for the drum & bass community and the people who go out there and are supportive. Not only to me, but to everybody. Thank you for that!