Undercover with Nosedrip & CJ Bolland

One of the most anticipated events at this year’s Listen Festival is, without a doubt, the daytime rave at the tunnel-complex beneath the Louiza-square, usually dominated by cars. At this important thoroughfare, one of the festival's most eagerly awaited DJ performances will be held. For the first time two of Belgium’s most skilled rave DJs will join forces for a 120-minute sensory onslaught: the celebrated CJ Bolland, a British-born, Belgian DJ and hit producer, alongside the native Belgian DJ and Stroom label head, Nosedrip.

What unites these two DJs and music nerds? Ziggy Devriendt aka Nosedrip inhabits a world of his own. As a DJ and a label boss, he’s less into genres than he is into moods. Standout DJ performances all around the world - he just got back from a tour in India - have cemented his reputation as a revered curator in the underground music community. Always light years ahead of trends, he remains an enigmatic figure whose relationship with Listen Festival has been deepening for many years now.

CJ Bolland is what we like to call a legend in the game. Recruited by the acclaimed record label R&S Records in the early nineties, Christian Jay Bolland emerged as a pioneering force in Belgium's techno scene. His midas touch in the studio led to gold, from the early Ravesignal series to his debut album 'The 4th Sign' on R&S, and later signings with British labels Internal and FFRR. His legacy boasts some of Belgium's finest rave and techno tracks, including 'Camargue,' 'The Prophet,' and 'Sugar Is Sweeter.' Bolland transitioned away from the techno scene just after the turn of the millennium to form the jazzy electro band Magnus with rock singer Tom Barman. Fortunately, he never ceased DJing, continuing to connect with new generations of club-goers over the past decade at Europe’s most iconic venues, such as Berghain and De School.

Ahead of their back to back DJ session at Listen Festival, we were curious about where their paths intersect. So, we arranged a meeting in CJ Bolland’s studio, nestled in the suburbs around Antwerp, keen to explore the depths of Belgium’s electronic music history.

Dear Ziggy, what’s your motivation for this much anticipated back to back?

Ziggy: The main reason is straightforward: I'm a huge fan of CJ's music, and in alignment with my label Stroom's broader focus on Belgian music heritage, I'm soon going to re-release CJ's iconic track ‘Camargue’. Since the inception of the label, I've had two types of holy grails - club tracks made in Belgium that hold a special place in my heart: ‘The Attic’ by Lhasa and ‘Camargue’. I managed to re-release ‘The Attic’ in 2019, but ‘Camargue’ seemed like an unattainable dream. Originally released in 1992 on the legendary R&S Records, still owned by founder Renaat Vandepapeliere but now managed in London, the idea of re-releasing it felt nearly impossible. I gave up on the idea.

CJ: Little did you know I had reclaimed my rights.

Ziggy: Exactly! The breakthrough came after a series of unusual events. CJ's girlfriend was house-sitting at the apartment of friends of mine, Caroline Dumalin & Roman Hiele, when their cat Franky took a tumble from the fifth floor into the Brussels void. Following this incident, I received a text from my friend, who had just met CJ in the wake of the tragic accident, suggesting, 'Why don't you check with CJ, your Camargue dream might not be so impossible after all.' So, I reached out. To my astonishment, during our first phone call, CJ immediately responded with a 'sure, why not'. And, fortunately, the cat, who had brought us together, had survived her harrowing fall. 

So in the context of the release of Camargue on Stroom, the idea came to DJ a few shows together as well?

Ziggy: Yeah, it’s as simple as that. I'm eagerly anticipating our first show together, expecting an excellent dynamic between us. Hearing him talk about DJing, you can tell he's still deeply passionate about the craft. And historically, CJ has firsthand experience with everything I admire. Coming from different backgrounds, there's so much we can learn from each other.

CJ: I’m looking forward to the challenge Ziggy presents, which I hope will help me rediscover freedom behind the DJ booth. It’s an opportunity to break away from the so-called rules that, as a DJ, you try to avoid, but sometimes still find yourself bound by.

What do you mean by rules?

CJ: Well, there are times when, for one reason or another, you feel compelled to play heavier tracks or adjust your style in a certain direction—almost as if these mental traps prevent you from staying true to your own sound.

Ziggy: You should know that often, during my sets over the past few years, near the end, when I play a CJ Bolland track, that's when I see phones pop up everywhere in the audience, for people to capture the moment for TikTok or make a video to identify the track afterwards. That’s the new generation discovering music that is more than 30 years old. So CJ has been a significant part of my DJ life for the past few years, with his tracks generating quite a stir in my sets. To know that soon we'll be together in the DJ booth, means a lot to me!

CJ, take us back to the early nineties and the creation of Camargue. What can you tell us about it?

CJ: ‘Camargue’ was first released on R&S Records in 1992, as part of my album ‘The 4th Sign’, which followed my first three EPs—the ‘Ravesignal’ triptych—also with R&S Records. I was only seventeen when Renaat Vandepapeliere, the 'R' in R&S, called me. At that time, I was a regular on Pierre Elitair's weekly Sunday afternoon radio show on Antwerp's local station Radio Centraal, where I presented some of my latest homemade tracks. The show allowed listeners to call in and discuss the music, often leading to lively and hilarious on-air discussions. Although Radio Centraal’s broadcast range was only a few miles, somehow a recording of one of the shows made its way to Ghent and into Renaat's hands.

So you immediately started working for R&S?

CJ: My journey to Ghent began with my parents driving me there, as I hadn't yet reached adulthood. It was there that Renaat introduced me to their studio and I first met Cisco Ferreira, with whom I would later collaborate on ‘Camargue’. Soon, my visits to Ghent became regular. The studio moved locations several times during those years, at one point settling in Renaat's small flat, where he lived with his wife Sabine, the 'S' in R&S. It must have been quite a scene for them, hosting young musicians day and night, all busily producing loud electronic music. Cisco and I were far from the only ones frequenting the studio; it was a hub for artists like Dave Clarke, Joey Beltram, Dave Angel, Aphex Twin, Marcos Salon, and David Morley, among others. It wasn't uncommon for us to end up sleeping on the couch or floor, with Sabine kindly preparing eggs in the morning. Despite the cramped conditions, there was a sense of something magical unfolding, which made all the inconveniences seem trivial.

But you were one of the most regular visitors, weren’t you?

CJ: Yes indeed. I swiftly grew to become an expert of the studio, enabling me to assist other producers who visited and needed a collaborator to bring their ideas to life.

So that’s when, around 1990, you created ‘Camargue’?

Dave Angel had once given me a record: ‘Sonic EP’ by Underground Resistance. It completely blew my mind. At that time, we were all heavily influenced by New Beat music, a genre that was gradually fading out, having become a monotonous and straightforward type of dance music. Hearing Detroit techno from Underground Resistance for the first time left me astonished. I was captivated by how its elements clashed with each other, opening up an entirely new world to me. Inspired by these fresh sounds, Cisco Ferreira and I crafted a beat with a similarly clashing, somewhat anxious tone, which I named ‘Nightbreed’. This track eventually made its way onto 'The 4th Sign'. I was so pleased with the beat we had created that I decided to reuse it for a track with a more serene, mellow atmosphere. That very day, I began reworking it, employing organ tones and various machines and filters, which resulted in ‘Camargue’ just a few hours later. It wasn't the result of a complex string arrangement; it simply happened in the moment.

Ziggy: For me, the drums are crucial; they appear to be a millisecond offbeat, creating a unique syncopation. However, it's not exactly breakbeat, either. 

CJ: Indeed, the approach to the kick drum was unconventional; we experimented by placing it just slightly off the first beat, adding a unique twist to the rhythm. The snare tone, sampled from ‘Normenausschuss’, a track on Carlos Peron's remarkable album ‘Nothing Is True’, originates from a heavily distorted and reverberated 808 snare, which I then reversed, filtered, and processed to fit the track's aesthetic, enhancing the groove's dynamics. Cisco Ferreira, with his innate understanding of rhythm as if he's a living embodiment of the 909, programmed the hi-hats. He also laid down the bassline, utilizing a basic bass tone from the Korg M1, yet it was his precision with the distorted Hammond organ tones that truly made the chords shine.

We were just two kids having fun, yet in retrospect, it's clear we had two secret weapons at our disposal. Firstly, in the R&S studio we had the Emulator 3 for sampling, a piece of hardware far more advanced than the Akai S1000, which most others were using at the time. Secondly, we had a backdoor pass to Boccaccio, allowing us to hand our freshly made demos directly to the DJ in the middle of the night.
CJ Bolland

Wait, let me get this straight. You gave your tracks to the DJ of one of the biggest and most popular night clubs at the time, Boccaccio in Destelbergen, who tested them for you?

CJ: Absolutely. We recorded a track onto a 19" reel-to-reel tape and drove it over to Boccaccio, just a 10-minute trip from our studio. By using the backdoor, conveniently located right behind the club's DJ booth, we managed to hand it directly to Olivier Pieters, the resident DJ. Without a moment's hesitation, he slotted it into the system and played it to over 1000 clubbers on the dance floor. Their immediate response was invaluable, guiding us to fine-tune the track by beefing up the kick or reworking the break or whatever was needed to improve it. We found ourselves driving back and forth between the studio and the club, tweaking the track until we achieved perfection.

So you went back and forth multiple times during one night?

CJ: The initial test took place around 2 AM, followed by another round at about 4:30 AM, and the final attempt around 9 AM. We always had to knock on the door very loudly and for quite some time, as Olivier didn't always hear us knocking. Eric Beysens, who typically covered the final DJ shift, also let us in and played our tracks. All of my tracks underwent testing there.

What a wonderful story. One final question for you, CJ. I read that you grew up in a club, where your mother was DJing?

CJ: Well, it wasn't exactly a club but more of a bar with a dance floor, known as “Brighton” and situated in Antwerp. My mother was indeed the DJ there. The bar happened during the late seventies and early eighties. Her sets mostly included disco, sixties, and soul music, but she also ventured into new wave and early electronic music. My bedroom was located directly above the dance floor, so there were times when I'd dash downstairs to inquire about the track she was playing. On one occasion, it turned out to be ‘Los Ninos Del Parque’ by Liaisons Dangereuses, after which she handed me the record to take back to my room. Truly, those were good times!

The start of it all! Have you got anything to add to this, Ziggy?

Ziggy: No! I actually mostly wanted to listen to CJ’s stories, so I’m all good. 

Lovely. Looking forward to seeing you both in the Louiza Tunnel.

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