zaterdag 18 juli 2015

Interview: Robert Smit talks about Poptrash and Pitchphase

"I love the freedom I have right now."

Next Friday the 24th of July marks the return of Poptrash. Those in the know will probably remember those wonderful nights at the Melkweg years ago, when Poptrash was one of the most fun nights out with a group of friends. The founder of Poptrash is Robert Smit and he also happens to be working at releasing new music under a new moniker: Pitchpase. More than enough reason to have a chat with the lad!

Poptrash Origins
I talk to Robert about those early Poptrash nights at the Melkweg, back when there still were fun nights at that club. I ask him about the early beginnings of Poptrash. “It all started when I was sitting at Leidseplein with a friend and we were chatting about music. We both went to places like Korsakoff, where alternative music got played, but also to Noodlanding in Paradiso, which is more pop music orientated. We were thinking: we need a night where this stuff gets combined! I already worked at the Melkweg as a dj on concert nights, and asked them if I could start a night there where people can dance to both Marilyn Manson and Britney Spears, and everything in between. Luckily, they agreed!”

Poptrash back in the days
The nights under the name Poptrash quickly were a huge success and Robert extended its reach to other places like the Mezz in Breda and the Waterfront in Rotterdam. After a few years though, Robert decided to lay Poptrash to rest for a bit. “Up until 2009 the parties were a great success, then you noticed the influence of the recession making it too expensive for some clubs to keep continuing in the same manner. Also, I got busier with making and playing my own music as well, so it was hard to keep the focus on both at that time. It felt like a good time to focus more on my own productions and do something new.”

Robert has always been very musical and has been writing and playing music since he was a kid. “I’ve played in lots of bands, from 1995 onwards. Punk, noise, rock, you name it. The thing with playing in a band is though that it always costs so much time. All the practicing together, the logistics of every one being available all the time. I had been working on some solo material for a while, on cassettedecks and Garageband and stuff like that, when I was working on Poptrash. During that time I got in touch with a lot of acts and labels and different kinds of music, and I thought: maybe I should just focus on producing and releasing some solo stuff. I already was always the arrogant prick and the big ego of the band, so I thought let’s put my money where my mouth is and try to make it work on my own.”

Robert Smit as Sick Boy
Sick Boy
Pretty soon Robert started to make a name for himself and he even landed a high profile collaboration. “I started releasing music and to dj as Sick Boy. It was really great for a while, but after a couple of years I started to become a bit fed up with the type of music I was making. Elektro, fidget, the style of Bloody Beetroots and Steve Aoki. There’s still some really great stuff in that scene, but a lot of the arrangements were starting to become the same. I wanted to challenge myself more as a musician. The last thing I did as Sick Boy was the release of a single together with Steve Aoki. I thought to myself: alright, this can either make me or break me. The reviews were very positive, but somehow I couldn’t manage to get myself a good booking agency here in Holland. While the shows I did do always went great, with lots of people showing up and going mental. I played shows in Germany, France and Spain, on the website I got mentioned as one of the highlights of the Steve Aoki album. It was kind of frustrating that there was such a lack of interest from booking agencies in the Netherlands.”

Robert can now say that that frustrating time might have been a blessing in disguise. “I confronted myself with the question: what is it you really want to do? I had already been working for a long time on more classical orientated compositions, soundscapes and industrial, but I never really went all the way with it. But then I decided to start Pitchphase and delve more into those musical worlds. With Sick Boy I got stuck within a genre, and now under this new name it felt like I had all the freedom of the world again. The first things I made as Pitchphase got great reviews from people and that strengthened the idea that what I was doing was the right thing. I no longer felt like Sick Boy anymore, I am a different person than the one I was a couple of years ago and it feels wonderful to now really focus on this music that comes from within me. It is interesting though, because with my previous music the focus has always been on dancing, on making people dance. Now with Pitchphase, it is much more music to listen to. Music for an open air space where I can hopefully pull people into a trance.”

Repetition and difference
The music that Robert makes as Pitchphase sounds contemplative, yet emotional. When he talks about his production process, both elements seem to be present. “Inspiration works in mysterious ways with me. I could come home and then just start playing a few notes, and as soon as I have recorded those first new notes, I could just go on and on. I really love repetition in music, but with little additions in every repetition. Kind of like krautrock, but also like Nine Inch Nails. I mostly work at night, or after 9pm. During the day I find it much harder to create. Also, rain and dark skies really help to get myself in the right mood.”

“I love the freedom I have right now,” Robert continues. “The only thing that could become a problem is the question of pushing things too far, in the sense of how to keep a right balance in the tracks. I don’t use many beats in my songs, but when I do I have to refrain from turning an ambient song halfway into a speed metal song. I use a lot of guitars in my songs, in a kind of prog rock style like Pink Floyd, and I sometimes wonder if I should put that in every song. Same goes for piano pieces. But I don’t want elements to become a gimmick, everything has to be in favour of the song.”

One thing that is still heavily on Robert’s mind, is how to translate his music to a live setting. “It is very important to me that I can play my music live in a way that really shows the music. I really want to play it live, and I will need some extra multi instrumentalists around me to do that. I’m talking to Ben Spaanders of Cosmic Force and Aller Aalders, who have a studio, Sonar Traffic, in Kytopia. They both have an enormous understanding of analog synthesizers. I want to have synthesizers, electronic drums, guitar and laptops all to work together and really perform as a band. Also, I love working with imagery with my music. I want to have great visuals that accompany the music. All in all still quite some stuff to delve into before I can hit the stage. But I would also love to do something on a smaller scale, like doing something solo live at an art exhibit, where I could do more textural jams for example.”

Robert has been very productive and already has music ready to be released as Pitchphase. “In September my first ep will be released, on 9G Records. Normally they focus more on dance, so I think it’s a cool and bold decision to release my music. There will also be a free track for people to get acquainted with Pitchphase. That track has a Blade Runner reference, because it is the main source of inspiration for it. The ep will have 5 tracks, and after that there will be a few remixes, for Hanin Elias for example, among others. I am also talking to some other labels, more in the industrial and avant-garde areas, so we will see what comes of that. In a way it’s scary, it feels like I’m walking into uncharted territory. Like I said, I’ve always focused more on dance music, and now more on careful listening. But it is good to confront yourself with something new and daring to take a step in an unknown direction. I’m optimistic and excited about it all!”

Poptrash 2015
Back to Poptrash for a bit. Next week will see another rebirth of the by now classic night. Initially, there will be more of a focus on live artists than on dance parties. “Originally Poptrash was all about the combination of alternative and pop music, of live artists and dj’s. I want to go into that direction again. Poptrash has turned into a small company now: Poptrash Productions. We want to do several things under that umbrella. At De Nieuwe Anita on July 24th, we will host the first ‘new’ Poptrash and from then on every month. The next one will be August 28th. There will be a wide variety of artists on these nights, ranging from singer-songwriters to Nintendo punk. We really want to focus on Amsterdam, on supporting the local scene. I’ve always aimed at getting local acts involved.” Besides the live artists, Robert also plans to get the oldschool Poptrash dance parties back. “In the future we will also include other venues that can stay open till late, where we will do the real dance parties. With music ranging from the Prodigy to Taylor Swift, from Rage Against the Machine to classic Madonna. And we will keep the entrance fee low, so it’ll be very accessible. We just want to throw some fun fucking parties.”

Check Pitchphase on Facebook and Soundcloud.

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