Belgian DJ Gratts is what you might call a fanatic. He simply lives and breathes digging for and collecting vinyl and is a highly respected DJ and party promoter in Brussels and throughout Belgium and Holland.
He’s been selecting music for 22tracks Brussels and throwing blistering parties as part of ensemble, both of which he programs with fellow Brussels DJ and radio host Kong. Early last year Gratts and his childhood buddy San Soda from We Play House created the ultra-serious Het Collectief Deruyter moniker, which has seen them invite the likes of Will Smith, Justin Bieber, Dutch croquettes and even the Queen of England to play alongside them. Famously the HCD guys played a 12 hour ‘live chop set’ at Chalet club in Berlin alongside Hunee, where they chopped and served fresh fruit to people on the dancefloor whilst taking turns mixing records.
Gratts is currently on tour playing throughout Asia and is due to land in Australia for a few gigs and hopefully some live fruit chopping in May. We fired him a few questions so you can all get to know him a little better..
You’re currently on tour in Asia for the first time and about to land in Australia in a couple of weeks, how has the ‘oriental express’ been received so far?
It’s been a fantastic experience to get out there for a couple of months. The first few weeks I was on the road with my buddy Nicolas (San Soda), who went to Asia for the first time and also played a couple of gigs. He loved it so much that he’s already made plans to come back east soon. We have met some great people on the way. When Nico returned to Europe for gigs I travelled to Jogjakarta on my own and spent a few weeks there. I totally fell in love with the city and its residents and played at a beautiful place in town called Oxen Free, made some trips to the mountains and the beach, had some great food and went drinking in the streets (ask anyone in Jogja and they will show you where to go). I could have stayed there for much longer but when you realise that, it’s mostly the best time to leave.
The fun part of the travelling is that it’s been a good mix between staying at shitty hostels and “backpacking” and playing music and staying at nicer places or peoples houses. Especially meeting a lot of folks that each have their story has been inspiring. Then I brought this audio recorder on the trip that I’ve been recording various stuff with, like the traffic in Hanoi, the waves of the South Sea, drunken conversations, goats, vulcano sounds, Bahasa Indonesian chatter, the prayers broadcasted by the mosques at five in the morning, jazz jams, ice cream cars, etc.
My camera was broken at the time I left and since it seems the people I hang out with are always taking millions of photos anyway, I figured I’d just record sounds. I’m planning to make a podcast using those, and possibly a selection of music that I discovered travelling. I find audio works better than photos to bring back memories: are you really going to look at that bland photo of a great waterfall again? But when you listen back to a certain sound, eyes closed, it totally brings you back to that place.
We know you’ve been DJing consistently since your mid teens and have a pretty dangerous vinyl addiction, give us a short history of how that all started and the evolution of DJ Gratts up until now..
When I was about twelve years old, I had a neighbour aged 16 who was a DJ, mixing cheesy stuff from the charts. When he gave my brother and I this mixtape he did one day, that was the first time I heard two songs being blended into each other. One of the songs was “Take My Love” by Goodshape if I recall correctly, probably the cheesiest tune ever released on planet earth. (Google it!) But it still flabbergasted me how he mixed the tunes together. Then I started buying records when I was about fifteen, so around ‘99. At the time I was totally into drum & bass, saving my weekly money to buy the newest releases at the local shop in my home town Leuven.
Another landmark for me, and probably a lot of people my age, was Daft Punk’s Homework, probably the first house music I heard (except maybe for MAW’s Bucketheads hit record since it was in the charts, but we hadn’t heard the term house then). Later I discovered slower break beats (“nu-breaks” is what they called it in the past), techno, Ninja Tune related stuff, triphop and what not and started making trips to the capital to buy records. There was this magazine in Belgium called Plastiks back then that came with free compilation cds, that made me discover a lot of great music too.
Today I am still into a lot of different stuff but I have never stopped loving house music, because I like the tempo and because it’s so versatile: it can be raw, melodic, hard, soft, whatever. I don’t even really consider it a genre, let alone that one should devide it into all these subgenres. It’s mostly about a mood or a feeling, playing music that you think makes sense together. Which I still try to do. And throughout the years I’ve dj’ed at quite some places and had some residencies, and here we are now and I’m almost thirty and still playing records, who would have thought?
You are quite well known in your home town of Brussels for throwing big parties with carefully chosen underground house DJs as part of “ensemble”, can you tell us a bit more about “ensemble” and where it’s currently at?
ensemble is the result of my collaborations with Koen Galle aka DJ Kong, who started the 22tracks.com platform in Brussels. 22tracks.com is an online jukebox that was originally started in Amsterdam. The idea is simple: to discover new music by streaming charts by people that know their shit (djs, journalists, musicians, etc.). This way we try to put the sound of a city into 22 specific genres. So far 22tracks exists in Amsterdam, Brussels, London and Paris with Berlin coming up next. In the future the plan is to cover 22 cities all over the world. It’s been a great way to connect with people through music. I would suggest to check out the website as it’s quite straightforward.
Anyways, my mate Koen had set up the Brussels platform and asked me to curate the house section with him, which we have been doing since. He also works for national radio in Belgium and had just like me been DJing for a long time, so it’s a lot of fun to do it together. Through digging for fresh house music together every week we started getting booked together too which led us to organising our own nights with some of our favourite DJs.
“ensemble” means “together” in French, so it’s about people coming together to dance and have a good time as well as us presenting the dancers a musical “ensemble” that makes sense. So far we’ve had San Soda, Gerd (Clone), moomin, Xosar and Fred P as guests. Our friend Eklektiker from Antwerp, one of our favourite djs in Belgium, is the third resident. Just this past Saturday ensemble was actually collaborating with our friends from We Play House, the first night I had to miss since I was playing in Bali. We’d booked Young Marco for the occasion so I’m sure it was a great night at our basement. In the future we’ll do more events big or small, depending on the guest and the vibe. We’re also going to get some records pressed (not to be confused with “starting our own label”) so watch out for that soon!
Around this time last year a difficult to pronounce name (for us English folk) came to life called Het Collectief Deruyter, which features you and San Soda DJing with masks and often serving fruit and other exotic refreshments, what have been the highlights and what else do you guys have in the pipeline?
Het Collect-ief Deruyter is quite a serious project where we mix art, poetry, opera, religion and house music together. Except that it’s not really. San Soda and I are good friends first and foremost so I think that’s why we first started playing records together at some occasions. But there would have been no point in just doing the same thing as we normally do alone, and then it quickly got out of hand.
The fact that we have too many silly ideas is a plus. First we started playing out with jingles, then there were the masks somehow, then there was a well known Belgian television dog that became our mascott, we then started handing out feedback forms to the crowd after our dj-sets, and so on. Apparently Belgian absurdism seems to appeal to the Dutch (oh how much we love the Dutch!) so we ended up playing across Holland the most.
Being Belgian and speaking the same language as them but with a funny accent, I’m sure you can see how exotic they find us. Which became our baseline: Belgian, exotic. Last year when we played at Doornroosje in Nijmegen, the main room (where a certain Dutch techno legend was playing boring techno) was getting empty as we were playing fun stuff in the second room. So we had to quit playing because they wanted to keep the main room open.
I think that’s when we met Darko Esser, alround great guy and the daddy of the scene in Nijmegen, and he later called us to ask if we would be interested in doing an artist in residence there. So Nicolas and I ended up living in a huge, old house in town for a couple of months, where we set up his studio. We made a list of special missions to finish, collaborated with local people, broadcasted dj sets from the living room, made our own version of the Dutch “croquette”, did some events with people we like and had the city poet in our improvised studio.
The final event was held at Planet Rose where we also invited our friend Hunee from Berlin. I’m not too sure what’s in the pipeline, since I’ll be away for a few months, and then also San Soda’s turned into a big star in the meantime, only by releasing a house track with no kick drums. It’s a crazy world.
What can you tell us about this mix? What’s the idea behind the mix?
When preparing for this trip, I had to clear my apartment in Brussels that I share with my friends, since we are subrenting it now I’m out of town. That’s always a good moment to go through old boxes of records and all that, and in the nostalgia I found a lot of stuff I had not played out for a while, pretty sunny house music I guess you could call it, but hopefully not in a handbag Hedkandi way.
Stuff I associated with my trip to Asia, Indonesia and Australia. I then did the mix at a local radio station called FM Brussel, the day before I left, in one take, all vinyl, the way I always like to do it. It may be a bit rough around the edges that’s the way we party. I enjoy hearing a human touch in djing, I think that’s what keeps it interesting.
As much as I love vinyl though, this is the first ever series of dj gigs that I’ve been only bringing cds since I couldn’t bring a record bag travelling for so long and through so many countries. So a lot of the old favourites I dug out for this mix ended up in my digital record bag for this trip. It’s never really mattered to me if a tune is new or old. And then generally everywhere I land people give me music so that’s cool, like the Darker Than Wax boys in Singapore. Thanks again!
Where and when can we catch you playing in Australia?
I play at Maiko. at Geisha in Perth on the 27th of April, New Guernica and Killing Time in Melbourne (25th and 26th of May) and Soft & Slow at Spice in Sydney on May 31st. Maybe some other house parties or something too, who knows! The past few weeks I’ve played in Hong Kong, Jogjakarta, Jakarta and Bali which was a lot of fun every time so I’m totally looking forward to coming down under! I hope to meet you on the way.