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A Sit Down With DJ Armand Van Helden

14:27 Dec/08/2017

Few DJs have ridden the wild waves of club-land as long as Armand Van Helden has and still survived with their careers intact. The New York spinner's anchor is soul, disco and hip-hop, and no matter how far dance music drifts from its roots, he's in the mix, a buoyant reminder of where it all comes from and what it all comes down to.

Armand Van Helden will preform alongside the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra this January 2018. Armand Van Helden and MSO’s 70-piece orchestra will breathe new life into his long list of house anthems, including the likes of “U Don’t Know Me,” “My My My,” “Bonkers” (feat. Dizzee Rascal), “I Want Your Soul,” his legendary remix of Tori Amos’ “Professional Widow,” and certified bangers as part of Duck Sauce including “Barbra Streisand.” This is not even touching on the dozen odd underground club anthems that Armand has to his name. Undoubtably, it will be an unforgettable experience.


"I don’t know music; how I have a career in it, I really don’t know. So when I say my songs are childlike, they are built in a childlike mind."


Where did you grow up?

My father was in the military. I lived in various bases in the States and in Europe. I was 18 when I moved to Boston, in 1988. I went there for college. I lived in Italy before Boston, and the nightclub scene in Italy was not that remarkable, at least in the area that I lived.

Do you prefer working with edits and bootlegs or do you like to build from the ground up?

Usually if I’m making music, which is rare these days, it’s either remixing or making an attempt at an original… but really… I don’t think I’ve released an original since Bonkers in 2008.

Did you play any raves?

I was going to the raves originally as a fan. I liked the music but I wasn’t a DJ of that sound. Tom Mellow booked me at my first rave. He was like, “The cool thing is to play House.” I was like, “They are not going to go for what I do.” His raves were called the Primary raves- Red, Blue, Yellow. I think it was Frankie Bones and Lenny Dee on the main floor of this big huge warehouse out in the middle of the suburbs of Massachusetts. He put me in a tented-off side room indoors. I played house a couple hundred people. It wasn’t the norm. He was one of the first guys to do house on the side, and that became the norm. Tom Mellow threw ten or so raves a year in the New England area. In the New England area, you get Providence, Rhode Island, all of Boston, New Hampshire, all the colleges, Hartford, Connecticut, and even Montreal. When I went to my first rave, the organization involved blew my mind. In hindsight, it was quite randomly thrown together by some kids – but they had people videotaping it, they had smart bars, people selling T-shirts. I had never seen people organizing so much, getting together and making it all work. I remember telling people, “This is the future.” The house people were more of-the-moment clubbers. Nobody was organizing it like the ravers were.

Are you tempted to revisit some of your own hip-house flavors?

When I make music, it's more of a flow with me. There is a subconscious template. I know better than to remake a 'Funk Phenomena' or a 'Witch Doktor,' or do speed garage. Once I've done it, I can't go back. People want that from you, but in your head, you're like, I can't do that. You have to go into experiment mode and come up with something fresh. It doesn't work all the time but occasionally you hit it right. I have the past templates in my head, and I try to avoid them.

What do you think about the 90s resurgence?

I mean fashion, music and art all roll through the same cycle and we’re in that cycle. It’s funny because we lived through that era and there were finite details that were really important and whenever something gets retro, there’s always these little things right that people that lived in that time can break down and be like ‘no, that’s wrong. Just because you put bell-bottoms on with those types of shoes, those are from two totally different eras. You’re thinking, ‘Hey, it’s all 70s, it must work,’ but it doesn’t. Every time there’s a resurgence from the past, a past that I have been through, it’s never exactly the same. There’s always a ton of details missed. Little things like you weren’t supposed to do that type of record with that section, because that section was three years late. They don’t know that because the kids making the records are just like it’s all 90s, it’s all good.

Do you still get the opportunity to bring your records with you to gigs?

I never want to bring records. I carried records for around 15 years, so I don’t need to carry them anymore. I love records, but I really don’t want to carry them all over the world. Back in the day the sets used to be a lot longer too. 3 hours minimum. So you’d have to bring like 4 record boxes which is just crazy.

Which studios did you use to record your tracks?

I’ve never used professional studios. The only time I did was on my very first release in ‘91, when Gladys Pizarro from Strictly Rhythm had heard my demo and was like, “You should come to New York and we’ll mix it at the studio we usually work out of and then we’ll release it.” I’ve always been the guy at home making the beats from start to finish. The only thing that I don’t do is mastering. I never learned keyboards, I don’t know how to play piano, but I play everything. If everything is just one note or two notes, you can make ten songs a day. The form of music I was making was meant to be primal, intuitive. That’s my connection with house music. It’s a very felt thing.

If music wasn't your priority, what would you be working on instead?

Honestly, music isn’t my priority lol, unless your talking about listening and enjoying music. I love having friends over and watching a wide variety old music videos. Outside of music entirely, I enjoy reading, archeology, conversations about ideas, inventions, theories, hidden truths, controversies and mysteries. So I guess my work these days is making sure I’m not working much lol.

What artists/movies/books/art inspires you the most when creating music?

Anything esoteric. Ancient Alien Theory, Theoretical Physics, Cryptology, Science Fiction, Spirituality and Intergalactic Councils. Since I was young I have always felt like there's a big universe out there yet to be discovered and anything is possible.

What would you advise the upcoming stars on our Talent Pool?

When making a track, keep it simple, all classics are simple, almost childlike and it should only take a few hours to complete, unmixed of course. Lastly, don’t fight it, if its not hitting you in the first hour or so, move on! drag it to a “folder of possibilities” and start fresh.


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