DJ, electronic producer, and label co-founder. Those are among the labels predominantly associated with Sander van Dijck, aka San Holo. Although a good question is, what’s next?
Throughout San Holo's career, innovation and transformation have been pivotal forces that have contributed towards his achievements in music – and if you’ve heard Album 1 (Commentary), it becomes clear that the Dutch native is also dedicated to personal growth by virtue of the thought-provoking ideas we’re acquainted with.
On the latest project stay vibrant, the evolution of San Holo continues to the point where he once again escapes the confines of genre and provides his fans with a wholesome listening experience. In the following interview, we chat with the Holland native about the creation of stay vibrant, his “No Rules, No Boundaries” approach for running his label bitbird, and of course, we chat about some of the decisions he’s made for the advancement of his career.
During these times of uncertainty and chaos, what are you doing right now to cultivate a sense of clarity and calm?
I’ve made a lot of new songs which I’ve been putting out every Monday on the “stay vibrant collection”. It’s been a good way for me to keep busy and try out different things. I also wanted it to be something for fans to enjoy in these weird times. Other than that I’m working on some other projects and trying to refine my new band show I had just premiered before this all went down.
When you first started to create music, you were predominantly a guitarist in a number of bands - and then you switched to music production. What made you so drawn to electronic music and pursue a career as a producer instead of primarily playing in bands?
A lot of the bands I played in my teens would usually break up after a while because of all the different opinions and I got tired of that happening all the time. I wanted to create a project for myself where I could create whatever I want, whenever I wanted to. I’ve always been a fan of electronic and hip hop music. So I started making remixes as San Holo and it all went from there.
What are your thoughts about going to an institution to study music production vs being in a room for years and teaching yourself?
I think there’s something to be said for both. I studied guitar at the Rotterdam Conservatory and gained a lot of knowledge about music theory and songwriting and so forth. With production, I sat in on a few classes in music school but for the most part, I ended up teaching myself or learning from friends. Studying guitar and classical training gave me a good enough foundation to learn production initially and the rest was just a lot of practice.
You've frequently been hailed as one of the pioneers of Future Bass music, I'm curious if you still feel as if you have a connection with the genre?
It’s nice to hear those things for sure but I don’t know if I’d consider my music today as ‘future bass’. I think I definitely was part of the future bass realm from the beginning when I started San Holo but I don’t like sticking to one particular genre and I think my music has evolved a lot since then. I like mixing things up and seeing how far I can push the boundary of genres like we do with our label bitbird.
It's been nearly 2 years since the release of your debut full length 'album1' and looking back, what lessons did you learn from the creation process and the release that you apply to your current projects?
I was very much a perfectionist with that project. It was a scary thing for me, releasing my first email. I wanted everything to be perfect and I would constantly second guess all my decisions. I would change the smallest things in the mix that I’m sure nobody else would have noticed but me. I think I’m still a perfectionist in that sense, but I’ve definitely learned to let go of some of the small things and just focus on the bigger picture and not drive myself insane.
'stay vibrant' is certainly the most calming and atmospheric out of the projects that you've dropped. What were some of the key life events which shaped the sound of the playlist?
It’s a project where I just wanted to make music, try out new things and not think about it too much. The songs to me feel like a moment in time. A time where I get to truly try out new things.
How did the emotionally charged 'idk anything (demo)' come about and what story were you trying to convey when you were writing the lyrics?
For me, it’s about we’re all just human beings on this thing called planet Earth trying to make the best out of life. It doesn’t matter if you have more money or more power or more fame or whatever. We’re all just here together. I don’t know anything more than you do and vice versa.
Does it concern you that the change of sound may be polarizing to some of your die-hard fans?
Haha I get that for sure! I get a lot of comments saying “I miss the old San Holo before he played guitar” and I get that. But the thing is, that I need to evolve for myself and try out new things all the time or I wouldn’t be able to do this for very long. Like they say, art is divisive. Some people like what I do, some don’t. And that’s the way it should be. I totally get that someone who’s an early fan of my stuff might not like what I do today. Listen to the music that you want to. In the end, I just want you to be happy!
What is the most courageous thing you've ever done for the advancement of your career?
I think starting the whole San Holo project to be honest. I was still playing in bands when I started making music as San Holo and I would show my bandmates my new songs and they’d be like: “What the hell is this?” They didn’t get it at all that I was making electronic stuff and not ‘real music’. It was scary to show my stuff to the world at first, but it has been one of the most rewarding things in life.
How is your music received in Holland compared to the rest of the world?
It’s not as big in Holland as it in the US. But I definitely started gaining some support after the release of album1. I was able to play some major dutch festivals like ESNS, Pinkpop and Lowlands. And I played a sold-out Paradiso in Amsterdam last year, which is a venue I love and where I’ve seen some of my favorite bands play for years. I also won an Edison Award, which is like a Dutch version of the Grammys. I’m very thankful for all the support I’ve been getting back here, it feels very rewarding.
Words/Quote you'd put on a billboard?
It's been 7 years since you founded bitbird and you guys have put out some great releases. Do you "switch" somehow when you work on your music and on the label?
Thank you! No, it’s very intertwined with each other. I don’t really have a set schedule for when I work on San Holo or when I work on bitbird. But there’s a very natural flow for both which I enjoy a lot.
How do you envision bitbird in 5 years? Is there something beyond the music aspects of it?
I think working the way we do has been something that has worked well for us over the past years and I definitely want to continue moving forward like that. We’d love to tap into events more but that’s obviously on hold for now.
What are your biggest successes and failures since starting it?
I think our biggest successes have been building a platform for guys like DROELOE, Taska Black, Duskus, EASTGHOST, Analogue Dear, Flaws, etc. to be heard. We don’t like thinking in genres and we just want to release music that touches us. No rules, no boundaries. I think that’s what the fans like most about the music we release. It’s all real and straight from the heart. I think we’ve been fortunate enough to have our failures be very small in comparison to what we have achieved.
There are tons of discussions nowadays when it comes to the value labels do bring for artists in a world where everyone has the tools to grow on their own. What are the key things a label should be focusing on when working with artists in order to bring value?
It’s definitely true that artists can grow their own fan bases. What I think a record label can offer a new group of listeners/fans for the artist to tap in to. I also think it allows the artist to just focus on the creative side of making music and not have to worry about pitching songs to Spotify playlists or making artwork or coming up with a press plan or whatever. It makes it a group effort to make it the best possible release for the artists we work with. Which is something I absolutely love about running a record label.
So… 1) An artist/band you would have a D.M.C (Deep Meaningful Conversion), 2) An artist/band you’d love to party with. 3) Artist/band you would like to be within the studio for a week.
1) Spinvis. He’s a dutch artist that has been such an influence to what I do. I met him briefly at a Dutch festival once but would love to talk about life with him.
2) Chet Porter. Have partied with before. 10/10 can recommend.
3) Either Bon Iver or Kanye West. Both have been of equal importance to me. They’re music has no boundaries in my opinion and I think it’d be super fun to work with them. On the other hand I’d also be pretty intimidated since they’re essentially THE artists of our generation for me.
Listen to the latest EP titled vibrant from San Holo below.