Instead of traveling abroad & learning about different cultures, the past year Dijf was constrained to his studio. In the past few years he released albums for which he traveled to Nepal & Java to record, interact & learn from local musicians & cultures. For his latest EP 'Lichen' he explores forgotten sounds from the depths of his hard drive, some he made for performances & theatre, others are unused gems he forgot about.
J.D For your previous album ‘Puja’ you traveled to Nepal & for ‘Java’ you traveled to Indonesia where you recorded traditional folk artists, instruments & other sounds. How much do these experiences shape you as a musician?
DijfWhat changes me the most is the connection between man & music, and the meaning of music. Mostly when you go to Eastern & Southern countries, music has a completely different role in life than here. I mean, they have similar roles, but they have a more sacramental & divine role. They have the purpose of gratitude, they have a more humble approach to music. So they really delete the ‘me’ out of the artist, the ego trip that Western music is thriving on. So this is really nice, there’s no such thing as people saying ‘Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t play very well!’. If you fuck up, it doesn’t matter, you’re just the messenger of music & they don’t expect you to be a genius. This approach is something that I like a lot & that I take with me to Belgium when I get back. But these feelings & thoughts have a tendency to evaporate after a while & so you become a normal Western musician again. And there’s nothing wrong with being ego focussed on music, because you can be your own medium, but there it’s just a different approach.
J.DWhat are some of your key influences from the past or present for you as a musician?
DijfWhat influences me the most is really just the environment & my own mental health. A lot of musicians can work on songs when they’re very sad & then they make sad songs, but for me it’s just the opposite. When I’m sad, I’m really blocked, so I write when I’m at ease. And when I’m at ease I let the world pour in & that can be anything: a little thing I saw on Youtube, it can be the rain pouring on the window, it can be birds, it can be somebody saying words or just me fooling around on synths.
I mostly get triggered, I’m not looking for anything.
Every piece of gear can be very inspiring as long as you approach it from a different angle.
J.DHow do you approach a new album or song?
DijfI do like concepts, the Puja & Java albums are actually concepts. They focus on a specific area and those kinds of instruments, so it’s a crossfit between concept & just letting go. I usually start with a concept ‘Oh, I would very much like to do these tracks with this construction, this synth, with this thing & that’ so it makes it a tight sound concept, but where it goes, I don’t know. I don’t write music in my head. I don’t write things down, I just try to explore the sound that I chose before & see where it goes. So I do think in concepts, but they’re just a feeling & I’m just exploring that feeling, I guess.
I need a frame to work in, I used to do this before and I kind of felt overwhelmed by the choices there are in life. Especially in an artistic direction, so for me it helps a lot to create a frame. I can go out of the frame, but it’s the mental starting point.
J.DCould you tell me why you chose these particular songs to work on & release them?
DijfI wanted to go to a new destination, I already made plans & had a concept ready, but of course because of COVID I wasn’t able to do this. I still wanted to make a new album & I didn’t have the inspiration to do so. I was considering travelling through Flanders & do a Flanders type album, but then I got a bit drawn back by the idea. And then I thought there is a whole exotic world I forgot about & that was my hard drive. My hard drive is actually full of these things that I didn’t even remember I made, because for instance I was improvising one night while I was drunk, saved it and forgot about it. My hard drive is full of these little crevices where I can go to, so I thought of exploring that. I realized there were a lot of exiled tracks, deleted darlings & just tracks I made for dance & performance. I made those tracks for a performance, now that performance is over & now they're doomed to eternal exile on hard drives, it’s so sad. I was looking for a coherent subject & I found it in these six tracks. They’re very different, but they have a certain atmosphere that I found coherent, so I’m glad I found a new subject on my hard drive.
These productions are becoming too big to do it live on my own & also it’s fucking boring to play alone.
J.DIn your previous liveshows you were supported by Nathan Daems, Mathias De Craene & Simon Segers, how do these collaborations come about?
DijfActually the way I approach it is very easy, they’re my friends! Simon is my neighbour, Mathias lives a street further, we all know each other, we’re friends. Nathan actually was introduced to me when I made ‘Moonlit Planetarium’, because I asked Jon Birdsong, the trumpet player who was on previous albums. I wanted him to play new improvisations on the album. He told me “Okay, but can I bring my friend Nathan Daems? He’s a great saxophone player, we play in Black Flower together!”. And then Nathan kind of took over, from that moment he was an obvious choice to work with. He worked on two albums & then for the third I just chose another saxophone friend. Everybody told me during the liveshows of ‘Java’: “It’s cool, but live percussion would be so nice!”. I asked Simon then, because who else would be better for this than Simon Segers? And it’s easy because he lives next door.
I had a little drawback of forming bands, because there’s a lot of rehearsals & appointments & agendas being cleared. But then it was this or performing on my own again, which doesn’t deliver for me. These productions are becoming too big to do it live on my own & also it’s fucking boring to play alone. I did this with ‘Moonlit Planetarium’ & it was really boring, sometimes I was just sitting alone in the backstage, waiting & then going back home alone. It’s great to have company & they’re great musicians & you feel that they are actually better than you. I’m more of a producer & they’re ‘real musicians’. It’s only value.
J.DYou also worked with Wim Vandekeybus & worked as a musician on various theatre & dance productions. Could you tell me a bit about those experiences?
DijfWell I like the format of theater a lot, for my music it’s a very nice medium, because I can go places where people mostly get turned off because they don’t want my ‘experiments’ in their home. But in theater, this visual medium enhances these experiments & there’s also collaboration, it’s ‘pingponging’ ideas. I can do about anything musically & if the creator of the piece adapts to it, then it enforces it. So actually you can make a very shitty piece & then if you make something that’s working in the opposite direction it can suddenly become a really cool thing. But if you delete the visual part, you just have a shitty song. It’s all relative & that’s what I like about it, the one can enhance the other. You’re only as good as your environment reacts to you. And that’s the same with music & performance. There’s no such thing as a bad piece, there’s only a bad collaboration.
You don’t want to be a tourist, but actually you always kind of are.
J.DYou do some ‘Gear Roulette’ videos on your Facebook, what is your favorite piece of gear at the moment?
DijfEvery piece has been a favorite piece of gear once, but I’m really into oldschool samplers & the latest one I bought was this Roland S750. It’s like the biggest workhorse & best sounding sampler I’ve had, it sounds huge & very cool. It has this oldschool monitor & mouse, it’s a real workstation & I really like working with it. It’s wayback like MS DOS style & the sound is hugely creative, whenever you sample something, it delivers! The Gear Roulette shows me that every piece of gear can be very inspiring as long as you approach it from a different angle it just becomes a new instrument. So no, there’s no favorite, there’s only a favorite approach of some instrument. It’s actually the approach that makes some gear worthwhile or not. In the beginning when I had my Prophet 600 I played on it & thought I shouldn’t have bought it. Then after six months I start to sneak up from behind & jump on it & try something new that I didn’t expect & then it really delivers!
It’s difficult for me to stay focussed & leave the things other people are good at with these people.
J.DLet’s go back to your travels around the world. It can be a challenge to find the right way to approach these different cultures. How do you place yourself as a European man in the other cultures where you record & work in?
DijfThis is a very delicate question & it needs a very delicate answer as well, because I know that, if I want to or not, I’m a very privileged white European male. There are a lot of questions around this, ‘Is it cultural appropriation, as a white European male travelling there & looking into their heritage & bringing it back?’. Europeans think they have all this cultural back knowledge of the world & how they see it & how it’s done. They go there with some kind of cultural dominance or something ‘We know how it’s done & how we treat people’, but from the moment you get there, you’re very humbled. You get there alone, in a new world, with completely different habits & how you approach people. There are a lot more gestures & sacred behaviours. You can’t just walk in there and not pay attention to this, otherwise you won’t accomplish that much. Or if you have a whole lot of money you can do whatever you want, but then you don’t have the respect or intimacy.
That’s why I always need a guide, I can’t go there alone. I need a guide to show me how they do it, how to approach them. To show me the casual way & how they expect me to behave.
So after a few days you get more acquainted with the casual habits. Then you start to feel a bit more introduced, but also out of place, & you forget your Western position. It’s something that grows on you the longer you’re there. It’s still a hard exercise to delete your cultural baggage & your position.
It’s all about position.
Because we’re very hard here in Belgium, we have a very dominant way of thinking about how things are done. We can have a bit of a condescending way of thinking of other cultures, in general. Even people that don’t, they do. It’s hard to fight against this prejudice, even it’s not hardcore bad prejudice. It’s just an attitude, it’s not always easy. It’s easier to be a fly on the wall over there, but you need to interact as well. I hope not to be offensive. Also, overcompensating with gratitude is also a typical Western thing to do, almost positive discrimination. It’s also nice just to be a normal man. Without trying your best not to offend & then do the opposite of that.
To be a normal person, someone who’s just there. Who’s one of them. Even saying ‘one of them’, it’s so impossible to delete your position in the world, where you come from.
You take it with you, always. You don’t want to be a tourist, but actually you always kind of are.
J.DAnd then to close things off, what are some of your future plans you would like to work on?
DijfWell, I always have future ideas of countries or heritages I want to explore, I always have some in my mind. But I also wanted to make some electronic sound design records that really go deep into synthesis. I’m still working on this idea, maybe under another name, I don’t know.
And for the rest some concept records, I’m busy working on records.
It’s always the same, when I listen to an urban album, I want to make an urban album. When I listen to a guitar album, I want to make a guitar album. So it’s difficult for me to stay focussed & leave the things other people are good at with these people. I just try to be honest with myself & think where I’m good at. Everybody please stop me from making a singer-songwriter album, because I want to do it, but it’s a bad idea.
To accompany this interview Dijf also made a mixtape filled with wonderful sounds & artists. Check it out here.