Guido is a music DJ, a selfless promoter and an engineer who works with intuition. By most books he probably shouldn’t exist. And yet, he is one of the most important figures in Rotterdam’s music scene. Someone you can meet, talk to and get inspired by. Because wherever he stands in the booking game, Guido bets on people and strong relationships.
His dream party is a multicultural sweatbox where music is the goal, the glue and the reason. If you go to one of his parties, you will understand what he means by “real music – real people” and either he’s on the decks or in the crowd, Guido will greet you with a big smile and good music. So when your dancing shoes wear off again, he most probably has something to do with it.
Guido doesn’t chase a goal; he follows a path which he builds with much patience and natural determination. It is a path which leads itself because it is built together with people who share the same unconditional love for music. For him, all people are the same and he is the same with all the other people. Fame, hype and money are just obstacles in the way of the next big thing. That’s why he is part of today as much as he is part of tomorrow.
Do you think your record collection determines the selection of artists you choose to promote?
Yeah, it shows my view of music. There is a lot of hip-hop in my record shelves and it’s certainly influencing the choices. Many of the artists I book are really soulful American and British DJs with a background in soul, funk, disco, hip-hop, house, broken beats and because of that, our parties sound a little different perhaps.
Did your music journey begin with hip-hop or did it start somewhere else?
I guess it started with pop music when I was 8 years old. I was buying the Top 40 records. To hip-hop I got in early 90s when it was slowly heading towards what many people [now] call “the golden era of hip-hop”.
What is “the golden era of hip-hop”?
It’s the period hip-hop became more adult and the productions became more complex and better worked out. Most people say it was around ’94. And I personally feel more the jazzy and soulful 90s than the raw 80s.
Would you like to share some of the names that inspired you?
There was a guy named Guru who brought out Jazzmatazz – it’s a fusion of hip-hop and live jazz. The group had renowned jazz musicians like Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers. Around the same time Jamiroquai came up on Acid Jazz, a label co-founded by Gilles Peterson. Aside from managing the label and doing pirate shows, Peterson was also organizing a party series (That’s How It Is) with a very eclectic music selection. It eventually became an inspiration for my own events.
Later on, as I discovered Masters at Work (MAW), I went from jazz to house. Nuyorican Soul is one the most important albums for my discovery of house music. They work together with George Benson, Tito Puente, Jazzy Jeff and many other great musicians. So it’s like an All Star album. MAW also helped me discover Afrobeat when they brought out the 12” – A tribute to Fella. From there on I started to move more towards electronic music.
So you didn’t get stuck on hip-hop…
No, I never believed in the “keep it real” movement which said you should only listen to hip-hop because it’s the only good music. Same goes for those who are only into house for example. I never believed it because, in my opinion, every style is born from different pre-existing ones; therefore, all music is connected. And in the end, good music is good music.
As you have a broad musical taste, do you also have a particular way of searching for records?
A lot of the records that I get just pass me by. I’m not really the kind of digger who has a list of records he is looking for. For me, it has to come organically. Probably that is why my music taste changes in time. Nowadays I don’t buy music specifically for DJ-ing anymore; I just buy music which I like. Sometimes I can play it on the dance floor, sometimes I can not. I think I always did that. If you buy a lot of music there is always enough of it to DJ from.
How did you get interested in DJ-ing in the first place?
Dance moves and Yo! MTV Raps at first. Later I began making music tapes for friends. I was always picky with the track order; I would make a tape, then listen to it and think: “Hmmm... the fifth song should’ve been third”. So I would start the tape again, sometimes even four, five times. At that point I realized that I liked the selecting part of music. And then I just started with DJ-ing. There was nobody doing it in my environment to be honest. So I learnt it by myself.
One or two years after I have bought my own turntables, I thought about playing in a club. But it was too difficult - of course - because I was just a beginner. So I went to Bijenkorf where there was a clothing shop called The Chill Out and they had DJs playing inside. The fun thing was that people really liked my music. It was not about mixing – I’m not even sure if I was good at that – but they liked the selection. Even there, I was trying to build a vibe thinking what I would like to hear if I was shopping in that place.
Next step was playing in Nighttown, which was one of the most important clubs in Rotterdam at that time. I asked if I could play there and they offered me to play in the restaurant part. A lot of young DJs started there. I think it’s very important for every city to have such a place.
From that moment on, as I moved further into the scene, I got to meet a lot of people. But I still played mostly in the second room or in the warmup. People always saw me there and they thought I only had that kind of music. Which was not true but once you have a stamp on you it’s hard to get rid of it.
So you got labelled in the process. What sort of “stamps” did you carry?
I’ve been labelled a few things in my life. Back in the day people saw me as a hip-hop DJ; at some point people saw me as a lounge DJ and now they see me as the guy who does the Theo Parrish house-disco kind of stuff. I also have a totally different side but people label you. And I must admit I am also doing this to myself because of the artists I book and the style of my events – I get the stamp of my party [on myself].
How would you label yourself nowadays?
I like to be a music DJ. I like to be in the part of the chain where new things happen. It’s a difficult part to earn money from, but sometimes it’s the part that lasts longer because you keep yourself up to date. When a sound is over, you are still there. That’s the good thing about being interested in a large variety of music. You can always find your way with what you have and what you like.
But even this has become kind of a format. Nowadays many DJs play disco, with a bit of tropical and a bit of house. Everybody is doing it so it’s becoming a format. Probably there’s going to be a tipping point when something else turns out to be “the new thing”. And that’s what interests me. I really like independent people because their sound comes from themselves. Maybe that’s why I really like Theo [Parrish]. He’s an easy guy. He plays, for instance, hip-hop in his house sets. And I rarely see anyone doing that. While everyone is playing disco and afro he would play something totally different and that’s what makes his style unique. It’s hard, only a few can do that. But the more music variety you go through, the more likely it is to develop your own style, because you pick up something from every single experience.
When did you start organising your own parties?
Quite late, I was already 30 and most of the people in my group had already stopped going out. The reason I started the parties was quite simple: I couldn’t find gigs where I could play what I liked; I wanted to DJ and have some artistic freedom as well. I wanted to play but I didn’t want to do all the networking. I didn’t like that. I never did.
Who were the first artists you booked?
Before I booked the first international artists I had already organised two parties where I played together with a few local DJs. We had about 20 people attending so I thought: “Hmmm... This is not the way”.
I eventually started a party series called Strange Fruit and soon booked my first international artist – Benji B. At that time he was somebody I really looked up to – he was one of my heroes. There was some money aside and I thought: „Let’s do this once and if it’s successful it can be the path”. I remember, I was sitting in a restaurant – which was a club every Friday and Saturday – with the organizer and some people from the scene and I told them what I wanted to do. They said “No, Rotterdam is too difficult” but I thought: “Well, if I lose 2000 euro, I lose 2000 euro and that’s that”. The first time it was quite ok, we had 300 people attending. I am not sure how it went financially but we certainly didn’t lose a lot of money. We also didn’t make a lot of money, but that was less important. We really enjoyed the parties so we eventually booked Benji B ten more times.
You often speak of we instead of me. Was there a partner in those early years as promoter and organiser?
I did the first Strange Fruit party by myself and afterwards I started working with Lucky Dubs. We had similar taste in music, plus he was an amazing graphic designer and I thought it would be a good idea to work together. So we became a team. He made the design for all the flyers and I took the role of the promoter. We both played and we both invested in those parties. We did that for five or six years. Not everybody who came to our parties knew the artists, because some of them were really unknown back then – some became famous later, like Flying Lotus – but the events were successful because us, as a team, worked well.
However, at some point, our partnership didn’t work out anymore; there was a lot of tension between us. When it didn’t feel workable anymore we both quit the party and had a break for a few years. Now we see each other more and more. In a different way, a better way I would say. I am glad the friendship is still there.
What made the partnership break?
We had hard times; there were parties with 4-500 people but also parties with 10 people. We did too much and sometimes the artists were so unknown and so “far forward” for Rotterdam that people didn’t understand us. So financially it became unfeasible and raised the tension between me and my partner. On top of that I wanted to go further in music, while Lucky wanted to focus on his family and his job as a designer. But I am really looking back with a proud feeling now. We did amazing stuff together, as music lovers with a mission.
We decided to part ways and discontinue the Strange Fruit parties. That name was about us working together so once we split there was no point in continuing with it. I decided to go on with my own event, All Eyes On and soon afterwards I started another one called 360 Degrees. The first one is focused on beats, hip-hop, soul and funk, with artists such as Lefto, Mr. Scruff, and Jay Rock. The second is more on the house side – Floating Points, Theo Parrish – with all sorts of influences: Disco, Latino, Afro.
When booking, do you get in touch directly with the artist or with the booking agency?
Most of the time is via a booking agency. If there is a sort of management, I prefer going through them. They are there for a reason. A lot of people think they’re there just to earn money, but it’s really not the case. Many times, when lacking good management things don’t go very well: their promo is not good enough, the flights get messed up and what not.
The booker has to get good and fitting gigs for the artist. He has to make sure everything is paid and arranged on time. It makes things easier for me as a promoter. At the same time, if the booker is also the artist’s manager, they build together a plan for his career, figuring out important steps that need to be taken. And of course they earn some money for that, but there are a lot of things to do. If you have a good booker, you should keep him.
What is the most rewarding thing in your experience as a promoter?
It’s always rewarding if we have a good show. Even without a full house, if the music is very good then I am happy. For many promoters having a full house is the most important aspect, but for me music comes first. If I lose money on a musically good night, I’m OK with it. I would have to work a little harder, do a few extra DJ gigs myself to cover it but I wouldn’t regret it.
As a promoter you are involved with both live bands and DJs. Do you approach them differently?
For live events, because it’s my job, I book the artists mainly for the music quality, even though it may not always fit my taste. As for the parties, since they’re my events and investment, the choice of artists becomes a bit more personal.
When booking live bands (especially) you need some tactics, and that’s the game I like. At the beginning some bookers don’t want their artists in your venue because you don’t have a name yet and they don’t know what to expect from you. So you have to work it out together. Sometimes you book an artist that you know is not going to bring a full house but it’s a good thing to do for building your first relationship with the booker. You know there’s going to be 50 or 100 people there and you are going to lose money on it, but it’s a first step to start a relationship.
As a promoter, your life is not only about booking the bands you like. You need to develop a strategy and that requires good planning, sometimes years in advance. You have to get in touch with artists early on and start building a relationship with them, like we did with Floating Points – maybe that’s the reason why we could book him again later on, when he became a big name. Many times you start that relationship with an early gig which may cost only 150 euro, but there’s an investment into the future.
Talking about the future, what are your plans for it?
After the month of April we are going to take a break for a short period. We want to go further but we're looking into new ways to continue and that will require some planning and preparations. Sometimes it's important to pause and evaluate your experience so you can find the smart and sustainable ways to head into the future. At some point you owe it to yourself as well as to your crowd and partners.
But thinking further, I would like to make a 360 Degrees Festival on my own, something totally independent, next to DJ-ing. But I am not really a fan of big festivals. I would love to have a smaller one that goes deeper into the culture, with a bit of live music, movies, Q&A. However, I believe that eventually festivals won’t sell out anymore because there are too many of them. There’s a point when it’s too much and we are getting close to it.
Personally, I always preferred the club atmosphere. Maybe because there’s less distraction than at a festival; it’s just you, the crowd and the DJ going through the night, so you are much more immersed in music and dancing. I’d rather have a monthly night where the club is full, even if it takes a lot of effort to make it happen. And in the end, I think a DJ fits better in a club and live music in a festival. And in the end, I think a DJ fits better in a club while live music fits better in a festival.
Does a club night pay off financially?
You can earn money with a club night but best is to do a party with local DJs. The fees are lower and with a full house you can make good money. If you get Theo Parrish for example and your event isn’t sold out, you don’t make anything. So it depends on what you want. You can earn money in club life but it’s hard. I find it especially hard in Rotterdam because the scene that I am working in is quite small.
I am sure the big names you bring here can inspire, as well as educate the public.
It’s always good to hear that people are influenced by your work; it’s a compliment. It makes me happy when people have a good time. We hope to do it with all our parties. It’s probably the nicest thing about what we do. We don’t really earn money but somehow we are influencing the scene. Not with a purpose though; it’s just something that happens because we are doing what we like. We never really think about what other people are doing or whether there is a market for it; we just do what we do.
Do you think your actions are shaping the sound of Rotterdam?
I believe our sound has become more popular in the past years. It is difficult to see exactly what role we play in Rotterdam. Shaping the sound of a city is of course something too big for a fast change so, although we are bigger now, we are still a niche. But I like this city because the public we have is really dedicated. We are not necessarily the hip party everybody is talking about but we are a good party and it attracts a particular public, the music lovers.
What do you think the music environment lacks in this city? What do you believe is lacking in Rotterdam’s music scene today?
I think Rotterdam is missing a good pop venue. There is no Paradiso or Tivoli in Rotterdam. So if you want to go to a concert, you often have to go to a different city. There are concerts in Rotterdam as well, but perhaps only 30 in a year. So there’s no venue for that yet, but I believe it’s slowly coming back; it’s not something you build in [just] one year.
It would also be good to have more non-establishment places, clubs that are a bit more punk and a bit raw, where people start up, grow and eventually get to a bigger venue. There is a chain and it needs all the links. As for the bigger, established places I think they are enough at the moment, they just need to stabilize.
Since you are booking big names and you are DJ-ing together, you get to meet the person behind the name as well. What’s your experience with that? What kind of people do you meet behind Theo Parrish, Sadar Bahar, Hunee, Black Madonna, and the rest?
The thing is I always approach the artists like I approach my friends. If you do that, you easily get close to them and see who they are. And in the end they are just people like you and I, with their own ideas and beliefs – some of them with very strong opinions – trying to make a living off what they do.
You have to keep in mind that DJ-ing is not an easy job; it’s a struggle. It’s quite heavy on your mind and body, especially with travelling. But we always try to offer them a home, and because they feel it, we easily get to know the person behind the name.
Do you also bounce into strong egos?
Not really. Maybe also because we don’t have strong egos ourselves, so I guess you get back what you give. Most people are just nice people in the end, some of them earning a lot of money, some not; some are here just for a few years and some of them make a lifetime career out of it.
You are most of the time opening for the artists you book. How do you prepare your music for the evening?
I don’t really have a plan. I adapt to the head-liner but if I book a disco DJ, for example, it doesn’t mean I have to open with disco only. I like to keep my set broad so the DJ playing after me knows that everything is possible and doesn’t feel limited. That’s the importance of the opener. To a certain extent, as an opening DJ, you give the direction of the night.
It might seem that the role of the opener is more for beginners but in fact, it carries a big responsbility.
Yes, you are a team together with the headliner. Sure, the main act gets paid more, but in the end every headliner is happy to have a good opener. For me, it’s a compliment if the next DJ picks up from where I left and builds his own vibe upon that.
Opening is not for beginners. But people think you’re not a good DJ if you’re an opener. They think you have to start low, then do opening sets and then become a headliner. But that’s one opinion, and I don’t think it’s the correct way to see things. A good DJ feels what is needed in that moment and that’s maybe the art of opening or perhaps the art of DJ-ing itself.
Like most businesses, there must be an unpleasant side to promoting as well. Would you like to share a thought on that?
I don’t like to speak about bad deals, about the negative side. There is always one but that’s not what concerns me. I like to put things together, have a plan and work towards a goal even if it’s four years away. In fact 360 Degrees works like that. Our main goal now is to break even and not lose momentum. We are working towards that by being consistent and we hope that more people will discover the party.
The way we are doing it takes a lot of time; it can be done faster but it requires a different approach. I like small steps and it’s also the way I got into this business - just by keeping the quality high, not by pushing people or kissing ass. It’s a long term approach.
It seems there is no end to it. Will you ever quit?
Yes, of course. It will probably come a time when I do less DJ-ing or booking and I will have a different position, more of a director. I can also imagine that at some age that’s the most fun part to do. Perhaps when I am 60 I won’t have the same relationship with the crowd anymore, so things can change. But you never know. I like to leave a lot of things to the feeling.
As for now, I am trying to organise things in a way that I get a bit more time for DJ-ing again, while still keeping the jobs that I have and which consume so much of my time. That’s why I am looking to find some people to work together with. But that of course depends on money as well. If I really want to work with someone, I want to be able to pay for it; free work doesn’t bring people further in their development. And I like to grow young people, teach them the tools of the trade and even if they go somewhere else after a few years, I’d rather know I brought them a little bit further than they where they were the beginning.