Almost 6 months in the making and surviving countless ups and downs, we proudly present you our first interview of 2015 and one that comes after quite the absence from our part. For this special edition of our in-depth Q&A sessions we reached to the highly creative and innovative Dutch artist, producer, DJ and performer Frits Wentink. Known for his numerous aliases and quirky approach to making house music, Frits has released countless records on some of the most forward-thinking labels of the moment. His highly anticipated album dropped recently on Wolf Music and it exceeded everyone's expectations with its innovative approach, impeccable productions skills and an acquired taste for all sounds acoustic. So go on and make yourself a cup of joe, brew some ginger root tea or roll a nice fat spliff and dig into one of the most complete interviews we managed to pull off so far. Enjoy!
Let’s start with your musical background. Do you come from an artistic family, was there a lot of music being played in your home while you grew up, or was it your own curiosity that got you interested in music in general?
There was a lot of music being played in my home, but nobody in my family plays an instrument. My dad was a pretty active record collector, he played a lot of weird stuff at home. He listened to a lot of classical music, especially Beethoven, but most of the time his tendency was to discover newer and even weirder stuff like minimal and avant-garde electronic music. So yeah, you can say I listened to that a lot when I was younger.
Minimal and avant-garde... Is that what led you to discover electronic music as we know it today?
No, not really. Before I discovered house and techno music I listened to hip-hop. I’m still into hip-hop, but at some point I got into buying vinyl and that quickly led me to buying more underground stuff, mostly techno, so that’s when I really started getting into electronic music.
Oh that’s interesting, so you made the jump from hip hop to techno?
No house in-between?
No, not really. I mean, I’ve always done techno and I’ve only been doing house and UK for the past 5 years. I used to hate melodic stuff to be honest, I only liked the kind of techno that was really monotonous. Melodies came in later. I think this is also because in the town that I was raised there was a very good club that had a lot of great techno DJs playing there and it was because I really enjoyed the atmosphere there that I got into that kind of music.
Is clubbing still a big part in your life now?
No, not really. I seldom go to clubs just for my own pleasure. I do go to a lot of parties, but that’s more because I need to play there as a DJ or I need to see people in order to do networking, but I rarely go to parties just for my own fun to be honest. It’s just that at the moment I find most of the nights’ program a bit boring. I’m kind of hesitant to say this because, to some people, this might show me as being disconnected to the scene in a way, and I understand that argument, but I just don’t feel like going to clubs that often anymore. Maybe that comes with age as well [laughs].
So it’s more of a quality over quantity choice or do you prefer to spend time in the studio instead?
Yeah, but when I lived in Berlin last year there were a lot of new clubs to see. That’s when I really enjoy going somewhere for the first time and see what it’s like there, but if I go to the same club for 5 or more times, then I’m probably going to be bored with it.
You mentioned earlier that you started DJ-ing first. How did you end up making your own music?
It was actually a gradual process. I was already making music, but not that seriously and after I started DJing I had a better feel for what kind of tracks to produce because I was playing them to an audience, so it was kind of a gradual process of both of them at the same time. Looking back I think I put more effort into DJing at first.
Do you still remember the first ever tracks you made and the gear that was used?
Yeah, I had a Korg Electribe Sampler, a really old one. I still have it in my studio actually.
Do you still use it?
No, I never use it anymore. I connected it last year and the sound memory is only 128 MB and I can’t upgrade it because the flash cards are not produced anymore so it’s pretty useless now, but for that time it served its purpose very well. Besides the Electribe I used Cubase as my DAW and then I switched to Ableton really quickly, which I still use to this day.
Speaking of your music, let’s talk about your monikers. So far there’s: Steve Mensink, Frits Wentink, Felix Lenferink, Frederik Eisink, Urkelle and also Will & Ink. Lately only a couple of them have been active lately so I have to ask, what’s in store for the others?
Well, at the moment I use only 3 monikers, I killed the rest. My focus lies on: Will & Ink and Frits Wentink. These are the monikers I can be most expressive with right now. I did put out a release under Felix Lenferink recently, but that’s just because I wanted to do some different stuff. There will be a follow up to that one tho. With Will & Ink or Frits Wentink it’s different because I need to be productive in order to get the name manifested and to get booked. I don’t want to get booked under as Felix Lenferink, but if I make music that I think it’s good enough to release under it, I will certainly do it again.
So did you have cases when promoters asked you to play under a certain moniker because they liked that music in particular?
Yeah, but I think that’s the case for every gig. They only ask for a specific moniker, I never get booked as Steve Mensink for example.
What about Will & Ink?
Will is Pieter Willems, better known as Presk. He released on Fourth Wave where I also released as Felix Lenferink. We started a label together which is called Will & Ink. Things have been shifting a bit after the second release. Pieter was to busy with his other job, and I took over.
Was it hard landing your first release? How did that happen, did it come naturally, was it destiny that brought you and the label together or a lot of work, patience and persuasion that landed you the EP?
Oh yeah, it was pretty hard actually. I already had some offers when I was making music for a year, but that got delayed every time. From the moment I got an offer to release something, until the actual release came out it took about 6 years. I remember Wolfskuil, the label on which I released ‘Fluffy Tit’ last January contacted me about 12 years ago to do a release, but then they delayed and delayed it and eventually never got released. I had a few more offers like that and even if everything was set and the premasters were done, it got delayed and eventually it never came out.
Let’s talk about gear for a moment. I noticed that you are using some rather beautiful and unique controllers in your performance. Is it true that you craft them yourself?
Yes. Although I have make clear that I used to do that, I haven’t made a midi controller in about a year or so. I don’t really use them anymore because I stopped doing livesets for now and I don’t use them to DJ. But I used to make a lot of them and indeed, everything is hand-crafted: from the woodwork to the soldering, to writing the firmware and the software in order to be working properly with the laptop.
How did you come to do this in the first place? How many did you built and why not just buy the latest piece of overpriced branded gear instead?
The controllers I build cost way more then the standard ones. Mainly because all the materials are very expensive. I’m not sure about that, it’s not a very logical thing to do in that way because it’s more expensive, less reliable and it’s heavier to travel around with. But I just like the idea of doing it, of making something different. It’s an important part of the process.
So being built using Arduino, which is an open-source programming platform, do you see a future where music production is also open-source, user-made and fully customisable? Would you spend the time, effort and resources to build your own synth or drum machine instead of stalking ebay auctions for good old vintage gear?
Some of them are built on Arduino, some of them are built on Livid. They are a company from Texas that released their own boards. But to answer your question: yes, I had a look around the internet into that as I was trying to make my own filter and that’s how I stumbled upon open source communities that hacked the Moog filters. These are the filters that are used into Moog synths and they just completely rebuilt the filters and offered free diagrams and schematics how to make them. And I thought that was really interesting because that way you can make your own filters by simply changing the Moog diagram a bit, so that’s open source in a way.
In the modern social media networking world, do you think artist is becoming less of an artist and more of a PR, agent and brand manager, all at the same time? Do you believe all this social marketing is a waste of time better spent expressing yourself as an artist? Let’s take Steve Mensink for example: how much is he music and how much is he social networking?
It depends. I must say I can’t do without social marketing. Sometimes when I put out a certain releases, people get really enthusiastic about it by them selves. No extra promotion needed. In that case I only have to post once per week and people seem to dig that. I don’t have to push it. That’s when social marketing gets a bit secondary, and that’s the best case.
Attention for a release only lasts about 2 months I think and after that people sort of forget the latest release that you’ve done. Apart from that, if the release isn’t that catchy in terms of cliché but is still a good record, that’s when I need to push it more.
But then you can also post some funny pictures or memes or some crazy selfies in the meantime, right? It seems to be working great for fellow artists...
[Laughs] Right, yeah! I’m not that guy, it’s just not me. I think that when you are only posting random stuff like memes and funny pictures you lose the ability to speak to your fans, to really tell them something or educate them music-wise. I don’t think they will take you seriously when you make a record with more character to it then just a meme. They will get bored more easy because they expect you to post funny stuff.
Let’s talk a bit about your releases now. From Triphouse Rotterdam, Wolfskuil and Heist to Wolf Music, Borg, Shipwrec, Fourth Wave and Will & Ink, in under 4 years of activity you managed to land your music on some of the most forward-thinking labels in the house scene at the moment. How does it feel to have your name next to some of the biggest artists of the moment?
A lot of the labels are very different, and I stopped working with half of them. Right now, for Frits Wentink I only work with 3 labels. WOLF Music, that’s like my mother label and I will continue to work with them, hopefully for a long time. Then I sometimes do stuff with Heist Recordings. And I’m starting a label which will release a lot of the Frits Wentink material in the next year.
Between Wolf and Heist, their style is somewhat the same but their approach is very different. The approach of Detroit Swindle is a bit more temporary, has a bit less direction and character than WOLF has, but their exposure and output is really good, they are really getting popular. So it’s good to present some Frits Wentink material once in a while on their label, but I want most of the stuff to be released on WOLF Music. There are some exceptions, I am doing some tracks on other labels because they are Various Artists releases. I think that’s a good way to work with another label, just one track or a remix but no full EPs.
Do you think the difference between Wolf and Heist is due to the fact that Matt & Stu from Wolf Music are acting as frontmen to their imprint, they are always in the middle of their parties, unlike Lars and Maarten who don’t have the time to personally take care of Heist.
Detroit Swindle have a manager that takes care after the label. A great one I have to say, and I still speak to Lars and Maarten personally of course. I mean, they did set it up themselves for the first 2 releases I think, but then they got someone to help them out with the label and now basically someone else runs the label and they just give it artistic direction. But it also has to do with taste. I think Detroit Swindle are doing really well, but not everything they are doing is my cup of tea and that’s different with Matt & Stu, their taste is just closer to my own. How I work with WOLF is, they say ”just make something that you are comfortable with” and then I will produce something I really feel good with as a musician. With Heist, that’s a little bit different, they like a specific sound that they think will fit their strategy or niche in the scene, but that doesn’t necessarily fits my own views. Which has its advantage. I will be pointed in a direction that I would not have taken by myself.
One fact worth mentioning about your releases is that most, if not all of them, are pressed on vinyl. Tell me about your history with records, do you still buy them, do you still play them? What does vinyl mean to you?
I really want to release my music on vinyl because otherwise it feels only temporary. I have to be honest with you here, I don’t really buy that much vinyl anymore. When I started DJing I bought a lot of vinyl and I still have all my collection, but I think around 4 years ago I stopped buying a lot of newer stuff. At that time I stopped playing as a DJ and I only did livesets for 2 years because I was really confident that I didn’t want to DJ anymore, but later I started playing again as a DJ and stopped playing livesets. I also stopped vinyl because I started getting into different kinds of music and I find it really hard to build a collection in a different kind of music again.
If I think about it, buying records at a young age, thats why I really got into playing techno music: the magic of vinyl, the feeling when you got to a record shop and listen to vinyl, you really hear tracks in a different way and that’s what really motivated me to see that this music is really different from what you hear on radio and I that’s still the case actually.
You also collaborated a lot with Loes Jongerling in the past. Will we get to hear her beautiful voice again on your future releases or do you have other collaborations and featurings planned out?
I just released an album under Frits Wentink on Wolf Music that has 13 tracks on it and Loes is on 5 of the songs so she is really a part of the album. The album only has 4 house tracks, the rest is very hip-hop downtempo based. I have been into down tempo music for a long time now and I’ve been making hip-hop tracks as well. So I thought the album was a good moment to present that type of music to the world. Maybe it’s a bit different from what people expect from me though, but I’m not really worried.
So besides that, any other collaborations going one, wouldn’t you like to work with a different vocalist or maybe and instrumentalist?
I’m working with 2 people right now, just done via email and skype. One lives in Scandinavia and the other lives in Chicago so I’m sending tunes once in a while and they try to record some stuff on there, but that’s nothing too serious at this moment. I mean I do hope to make a good track and release it, but that will probably take a year or so. With Loes I always work towards a release, but with them I’m just trying to do new things and see where that leads me.
I’m not that much of a collab guy in the true sense of the word to be honest. I like to work by myself and then maybe present the stuff I did to someone who can really be different with it, a singer for instance. I find it really hard to work with producers that are the same thing is I am. I think a track needs to have identity, 2 producers trying to do a completely different thing just doesn’t work for me. For instance, when I am making music with Loes Jongerling I try to make a track that has a story of its own and then she lays a vocal with lyrics on top of that that has its own story so you can really hear the separate layers of what we’ve both tried to do and I think that is very different when you work with another electronic producer.
I got a feeling this is only the beginning and that you are keeping the best stuff for when the time is right. Will 2015 be the Frits Wentink year? 2014 surely was one hell of a teaser!
As mentioned earlier, I’m going to launch a new label for which I’ve got 2 releases ready. The first one will hopefully release around end of June. The label is called Bobby Donny, and will be full colour artwork and 180 grams vinyl. And around June I will finally start doing live sets again. I’m working with a drummer at the moment, and I’m going to look after the Rhodes and the Juno. Really excited for this, but for now there is still a lot of work to be done.
Apart from that I will be doing a lot of new tracks on Will & Ink. I just delivered the 7th ep of the label, release date around June. And I’m working on new tracks together with Malin Genie. These will be raw loopy cuts.
Thank you from all our hearts!