When you think about drum & bass, you probably think about NOISIA too. But after 20 years of making music together, they decided to go their own ways… and that’s when Thys discovered how fun and joy can play a part in bass music, while still using the sounds and influences from the dark bass music that attracted him to this genre in the first place.

When listening to Thys, you’ll find that a lot of his tracks are collaborations, and this isn’t going to change anytime soon. “When you work with somebody, it sets a chain reaction; to me, it just makes work easier and fun.” One of his most recent collaborations was a show with the orchestra in Basel, which he just returned from. He’s preparing for his next show at the ERA festival on May 31. Time to have a chat! 

Thys posing outside happy
Thys posing outside happy

Hi Thys! How are you doing?

I’m great! I just got the recording of Saturday’s show in Switzerland, in Basel, and I’m really happy with the result and how it went. Going into the process, I felt nervous about the sound. We only had one day of rehearsals in the venue, I felt like that was not going to be enough, but we did an extra long rehearsal during which we tweaked the sound and I’m really happy we did that. Everyone in the audience enjoyed the electronic and jazzy parts of the show. I’m happy they got both parts of the collaboration. Returning to the recording, you hear how much the crowd likes it. It was nice to listen to all of the applause again.

How was it to work on this project?

The people I worked with play in an orchestra, but they also are amazing composers, as most jazz musicians are. It was a real pleasure to work with them. We just sat down and thought of a mood to work around, and sometimes I wrote the main melody. Most of the time, though, I talked with them about the mood I wanted to create, and let them compose the music. All the arranging of what instrument plays what melody… I didn’t do that. I let the composers do their thing because they’re much better at it than I am. It’s very difficult to arrange a score for 18 musicians and even more to do seven of those. I focussed on the mood, the direction, and the big picture of these seven tracks, and all of the electronics. I let them take care of all the details and I gave them feedback along the way. It was like a project managing plus composing plus producing project.

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This is not the first time an orchestra has worked with a bass artist. Why do you think those two go so well together?

I actually don’t think they go very well together. A lot of electronic genres are very hermetic. Drum & bass doesn’t sound the same if it’s performed live with a drummer and a band. To me, it’s very difficult to reproduce with live instruments and would also be pretty boring for live performers to reproduce perfectly because it is all about the minimal more intricate little details in the sound quality and the rhythm and very little about harmony and melody. A lot of live musicians want to play with the music and have some freedom with it, which is great, but then it doesn’t sound like drum & bass anymore to me. When I’m producing I’ve got so much control over every little millisecond and I had to let that go working on this project. I tried to not force my agenda of “I want this to sound like electronic music.” No, my background lies in electronic music, that’s the way my brain is wired, it influences everything that I do and I choose. I just started to write music and didn’t worry if it sounded electronic enough.

Electronic music is mostly played in a club, whereas orchestral music is mostly played in ballrooms. How did you make this work?

Exactly, a big band or an orchestra wants to be in a big room that gives them some atmosphere where the sound doesn’t immediately die out when they stop playing. Those rooms are bigger and the reverbs they have are bigger too. An orchestra is built to play a specific kind of acoustic and electronic music is specifically built to play in a different acoustic. You physically cannot have both unless everyone wears headphones and you start faking both acoustics so they’re neither physically present but all virtual. Then you can have both. We’ve reached a happy medium during our project. Our room had a low ceiling um but it was a ship so there was still a lot of metal in the ceiling and the side, so you got a lot of reflection. It worked. 

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It was a huge challenge to combine acoustic instruments and electronic elements because you want the electronic elements to bang like club music does. Then you have to make compromises and that makes both parties a bit less efficient than when you have them solo. For me, electronic music is always going to sound better and harder when you don’t have to worry about feedback and amplifying instruments, or making them sound physically rooted in the space. The sound guy, Daniel Somaroo did an amazing job on the day of the concert. He made it all sound really well. 

That sounds like an amazing project to have been a part of! Another thing you did recently was go on holiday. Is that where you get your inspiration from? 

Yes, I remember going to Bali just about a year ago. I was teaching a master class for a week and after that, I had 12 days off. I was away from home, by myself, with an empty schedule. That’s when I started writing a lot of music, some of them are only now coming out now on my EP which will be released on June 7 on Fool’s Gold. 

A lot of the music on this EP is music I started in Bali. I’m productive on holiday because I try not to push myself or have any expectations of productivity. I always bring video games and I have Ableton open as well. I treat them as the same. If I choose to play the video game I don’t see that as a loss but as an expression of the same freedom that makes me want to make music in Ableton. This way, making music becomes completely free and an unpressured form of expression, of having fun with a program, with sound and creativity. Somehow that’s a lot easier for me to do when I’m away from my studio and house. 

I’m most productive when I don’t have deadlines, interviews, or other things to worry about. That way, when I make music, it is completely out of my choosing, and that brings the best out of me. That’s when I feel free and fun. If I came to Italy, Bali, or wherever with the idea of, “I’m going to write so much music, I’m going to write an album,” I think I would procrastinate a lot more. I would feel bad about it. Now, the way I structure it is knowing that the time is free and you can make music if you want to. In the end, this leads to more productivity. The goal of not being productive is paradoxically leading to more productivity. 

You were talking about your EP coming out soon on Fool’s Gold. Recently you released a remix of ‘Set The Roof’ by Nikki Nair and Hudson Mohawke and ‘Poppit’, a collaboration with Nikki Nair. What’s the biggest difference in making a remix versus working on a collaboration track?

I find there is a smaller difference between making a remix and a collaboration track, than between a solo track and a collaboration. I can struggle with making a solo track sometimes because I like to react to input I didn’t make myself. Working with remix stems is already giving me a certain mood and a certain grind that I have to get into. To make something out of nothing myself is not. This is why I prefer collaborating because then you work with somebody and they give you things, and then you react to that… This sets a chain reaction, and, to me, it just makes work easier. 

I’m really happy I can release this music on Fool’s Record. I like the label, they release a lot of cool house music, but also hip-hop. Killer Mike and Run The Jewels have released on the label, so I’m proud to be one of the artists on that imprint. I released a second single recently, the first one was a collaboration with Nikki Nair. 

What’s the story behind the EP?

The concept of this EP is about the fun, the joy, and the togetherness that club music facilitates. It’s about the shared experience of dancing. Something I wanted to steer away from this time was dark elements in the music. With NOISIA, we got really famous for that, but it also attracts a certain kind of crowd that I don’t identify with so much anymore. I don’t have a problem with the music they want to hear over and over because I used to be like them, but I’m not like that anymore. With this EP, I’m accentuating fun, joy, and happiness that still has that dark background. I just want to present it in the context of happier music. It’s staying away from the complete darkness and angriness that NOISIA could evoke, and as an EP, it’s it’s about togetherness. There are a lot of collaborations on it as well because I just love collaborations. 

How have you evolved since NOISIA?

I’m still processing all the differences and I’m not yet super comfortable as a solo artist. I’m using the room that I get now in my Thys sets to play more 140 and 160. I like that I don’t have to play 170, but it’s something that I would have loved to do as NOISIA too. I would have loved to play a lot of sets where no one needs us to play drum & bass. All the music I play now as Thys, I could have also played as NOISIA. The only reason I didn’t, is because we had a certain identity, and some of the music I wanted to play didn’t fit into that. Sometimes I didn’t like that, because I was supposed to be there on stage, expressing my joy, creativity, and craft of DJing. To then have these limits of, “We don’t like that part”… it always got to me, because I had to edit myself. I felt censored in a way. There was nothing wrong with Nick and Martijn telling me what they’re comfortable with but I wasn’t able to translate all the joy that I found in DJing within those constraints. I don’t blame anyone, because after 20 years together it’s normal that our tastes would start evolving a little. We used to be excited about pretty much the same music, but over the years this changed. During the farewell tour of NOISIA, I was able to let a lot of these things go, and really celebrate what we had worked on for all these years. 

The last Noisia Invites party in Groningen
The last Noisia Invites event in Groningen

In those 20 years you have worked in music, have you seen a rise in bass music? 

It has seen a rise, but I think it’s already declining too, in another way. It’s definitely bigger on festivals, but I feel like the Gen-Z and Gen-A kids are listening to a lot of weird 90s-inspired trance-y music, fast 4×4… These things have nothing to do with bass music. We’re at the end of a popularity cycle for bass music. I have a feeling that the next generations of ravers will listen to bass music less, and more to hyper pop, 90’s euphoric ecstatic, completely over-the-top kind of music. I do see that bass music has seen a rise all over the world, though, and it makes me feel proud of what NOISIA contributed to that. Especially in America, to see how drum & bass is doing now, after years of struggling there. We always flew the flag and we always thanked the promoters who kept believing in us, even though they were struggling too. But they loved D&B so much that they kept programming us and some of our friends in America are now doing great. It’s so much more accepted there now which is just fantastic. It was always a dream to make it happen in America and that happened.

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Noisia (Thys) closing their Farewell US Tour

That’s amazing! Now, I’ve got a more personal question to ask. When you go to your social media there are a lot of personal thoughts. How do you choose what to post and how to present yourself? 

I wish I was a better storyteller. I get into this hyper-focus which doesn’t work for social media because you basically have to tell stories. When I was a child I would sometimes go to summer camp. When I came back, my mom or my dad would ask me, “How was it?” and I just couldn’t tell the story. It’s the same for social media. I treat it in a very impulsive way, without any storytelling. There’s no plan, brand strategy, or awareness. Obviously, I am aware that what I do on social media is pretty much the story that people know about me, including my history. I’m not great at manipulating that story. With NOISIA, it was nice to have management because there was a plan behind what we posted on social media, about how we portrayed ourselves. 

Now, being a solo artist, it’s completely impulsive. I’m also really disenchanted by the way the algorithm requires you to do certain things if you want things to be seen at all. Sometimes there are a few months in between posts, but that’s not what the algorithm wants you to do. I don’t have any kind of strategy or plan. So one thing I’m considering is maybe getting a management or a social media manager, just to have some structure in there. When I do have something to say, or music to share, I’m super grateful for my platform because I’m not posting it on an account with two followers. It is nice that, when I have thoughts to share, people read them and they can agree or disagree and express that in comments and discussions. But when I’m trying to promote music… I have no idea how to do it! All the ways I used to do it don’t work anymore, and that’s not something that I like discovering. My drive is making music and finding new music and then having that influence me. 

Unless I discover a way that feels true to myself and a way that works with the algorithm, I’m not interested in figuring it out. If the algorithm isn’t interested in me the way I am, then it’s going to be such an uphill battle to change who I am and to find a way to be myself that does fit in. But at the same time, I hate the feeling of fitting in. I’ve always hated that. I always wanted to be an outsider. The thought of doing what everyone else is doing to look like everyone else… it’s so horrifying to me. Then I’d rather retire or do things on a much lower level. 

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To end things positively… You’re playing ERA Festival soon. How are you preparing for this, going to France?

It’s been a long time since I played a show, I’ve collected a lot of emails from Bandcamp. It’s where I find a lot of music. Almost all of the music I play at shows I buy on Bandcamp, get it from my friends, or I make it myself. For now, I have a lot of new music to go through, and I have some new music to play that I made myself. I like STUDIO, the organizers because they host a lot of my favorite artists in that niche where I find myself now, in between bass music and all these different things. There are people who lean a little bit more toward techno, but there’s also glitchy EDM… Kind of where Ivy Lab is now [Read our interview with them here]… I’m a big fan of their new music because it’s what I’ve been trying doing to. I’ve also seen Coido playing and getting premiered by STUDIO, so I’m excited about playing for that crowd. Plus, it’s in a castle. What’s not to love! 

Thys posing outside happy
ERA Festival’s line-up

Thanks to Thijs for the in-depth chat. Catch him on Friday, 31st of May at ERA Festival. Tickets are available here.

Don’t forget to follow Thys on socials so you don’t miss any of his upcoming work.