In Conversation with…Charlotte De Witte
Charlotte de Witte might not be a name familiar to most. But take our word for it, the ambitious Belgian DJ/producer is set to gatecrash the big league. More eagle-eyed readers will recognise her name from the stacked Junction 2 line-up, but she can be found playing all across Europe this summer including at EXIT Festival and Dour Festival. Her abrasive, unflinching brand of techno sits in the same vein as Len Faki and Chris Liebing.
Fresh from playing the Junction 2 pre-party at Boxpark, we caught up with her to discuss her busy summer schedule and get to know her a bit better. Charlotte de Witte: if you don’t already know, then get to know.
So what have you been up to?
April was such a hectic month! I went to the US. To Canada. Plus, I played all over Western Europe. And with all the national holidays it was a busy month!
My summer is looking great – lots of cool festivals! I’ll be playing out in Ibiza as well in July.
But my plan for May & June is basically to get back in the studio and start producing. Because I was so busy last month I didn’t get much done. So now I’ve got lots to catch-up on.
Is that what you’re doing after we’re finished here?
After lunch, I’ll be recording my weekly radio show for Studio Brussel.
And how long have you been doing the show for now?
Well I became a general presenter there back in 2011. I won a DJ contest that the station had put on, together with Tomorrowland. In the competition, I had to play a live set. By winning I got a contract as resident and also got to open up the Tomorrowland mainstage. But I’ve been doing my own weekly show for a little over three years now. Before that it was just a couple of times a month – it didn’t use to be so regular.
Is the show always pre-recorded? Or do you sometimes air live?
The show is pre-recorded but the mixing is live in the recording, if that makes sense? It broadcasts from 2300-midnight on a Saturday, so quite a lot of the time I am just unavailable as you can imagine! It’s usually recorded the day before it airs on the Friday. It’s a bit weird, as I have to pretend it’s a Saturday! It would be cool to be able to broadcast live, but unfortunately, it is not an option in this line of work!
I guess having the show lets you showcase music you wouldn’t necessarily be able to play in a set?
It can be quite challenging to find good, new techno music every single week. You don’t want to play the same set twice. I’m always looking for new music. For the radio show, I spend more time digging. It can be more melodic. It can even be deep house. But usually still 95% techno, in the wide sense of the word. When I’m playing in a club I prefer my sets to be a bit more dynamic. So there is a distinction between playing on the radio and playing in a club.
If you could pick three tracks right now which are doing the business for you, what would your choices be?
Wow. The first one is Cosmin TRG ‘In Your Body’ which is on the Sportiv label. I could marry this track! I absolutely love it. It’s super stripped-back, and just highly functional. And it contains this vocal sample of a woman explaining yoga techniques – how to relax your body and stuff like that, over a techno beat. The other two are Avgusto ‘0009’ and Flug & Miki Craven ‘Signals’ for the same reasons – they are stripped-back and raw. They’re just endless fascinating to me, as they just keep subconsciously changing. These three are by far my favourite tracks at the moment.
Release wise, on June 2nd I’ve also got a remix release on Turbo Recordings and then at the end of the month I’ve a new E.P. coming out on Sleaze Records, which will contain four original tracks. I’m been waiting for them to be released for a long while!
We’ve read that a lot of the vocals in your tracks are your own. Are you a trained vocalist?
Well, actually, I did try it once. But I don’t think it was my thing! And I don’t think I will ever get to a point where I will want to actually sing on my own techno tracks. I just mainly use spoken words. So it’s not something you need vocal lessons for, you know. If I can find the time.. I will maybe do it. Because I think it’s an interesting thing to do. But it wouldn’t necessarily be to enhance vocals in my own productions.
So you wouldn’t consider singing on your track in the future? Never say never, right?
I just think that spoken word is more stripped. It adds a layer of depth. It creates a loop. For me that is better than using any melodies. It’s catchy. It identifies it as techno.
Tell us through the early days of your career – when did you start DJing?
Well I started DJing 7-years ago – I was 17. I had actually just changed college from a small community to Ghent. So it was a bigger city. After I moved there I started going out more, and really got in touch with underground club culture. I just fell in love with the music. At the time it was electro. Music of Crookers, The Bloody Beetroots & MSTRKRFT.
I didn’t know such a world existed! And from there I started to discover new music for myself. At some point I decided to download Virtual DJ. Initially I was only making mixes for myself to listen during college. Eventually I thought that other people might be interested in hearing them, so I put them online. Then I bought a set of decks so I could learn to mix live and ditch the computer. I started sending emails to every local bar or small club, all overBelgium. And that’s how it all started!
So when you started out you were primarily listening to electro. At what point did you transition to techno?
I guess curiosity – by digging deeper. And also simply by growing older. With electro music there is a lot going on. Big build-ups, big breakdowns. I felt more at ease with music which was less chaotic, but more dramatic. I was going out more and more often, and my taste began to evolve. At that point electro was kind of on the decline. After the wave of electro house it morphed into EDM. And a lot of DJs went in the other direction – to techno.
Lots of our readers will be familiar with the scenes in Germany and the Netherland, but not necessarily Belgium. What can you tell us about it.
Right now I think it’s really healthy. I guess the same kind of thing happens here that happens all over the world, that clubs sometimes struggle in the summer competing against festivals. Belgium is a really big festival country – which doesn’t always make things easy for the clubs. But lots of cool things are happening here.
Fuse in Brussels has been around for over 20 years. It’s Belgium’s main institution of techno. Then we have a new club which has just opened its doors in Ghent called Kompass which is a massive warehouse. Perfect for techno music. It’s doing really well. They’ve invited down a lot of cool artists and hosting some really big parties. And in Antwerp lots of clubs have been opening up. Café d’Anvers has also been around for quite a long time. So despite the fact we are renowned for being a festival destination, the clubs are actually doing very well.
And you’re a resident at Fuse, right?
Yes, yes. I’ve been hosting the KNTXT parties for a little over two years. We started in February 2015. This year we’ve decided to visit other cities in Belgium. Tonight we’re headed to Antwerp. It’s a really cool thing to do. It great to see it expanding. I’m very grateful we’ve had the opportunity to do it. Belgium is such a small country. You can easily get from Ghent to Brussels to Antwerp – it’s all so close. But people tend to stick to their own city. It’s so well connected, yet people don’t tend to travel. So each city has their own party crowd, and they don’t really have the urge to go elsewhere. It’s funny. It means that each city has its own unique vibe. I would say Brussels is more raw than Antwerp. Maybe it’s because you have the French-speaking people, the Flemish speaking people… But of course we have regulars. People who keep coming back!
Last summer you supplied us with a mix for our podcast series. To this day it’s still one of the hardest mixes we’ve hosted. Your style of DJing is pretty uncompromising. It’s like blunt trauma!
Yes, yes. And when people ask you to do a podcast, you always want to show them what you are about. How you would play in a club. It has to be representable. But on the other hand, you want to give it a build-up. It can be quite challenging. What path do you chose? I think it’s important for listeners to know what you’re gonna be like inside a club.
We’ve discussed attitudes of sexism within the industry quite a bit. Are people still surprised when they hear this brutal sound and then realise it’s a young women playing?
Hmmm, I’m not sure. I recently invited Rebekah to play at a KNTXT party. She’s just the nicest person. And a beautiful woman as well. I think it’s funny to see these people – male DJs as well – who are super friendly people, but then play really dark, aggressive music. I don’t think it’s something which is restricted to only female DJs. So no, not really.
You recently played the Junction 2 warm-up party at Boxpark in Shoreditch. What did you think of the venue? Quite unique, isn’t it?
It is unique! And I absolutely loved it! There was this guy playing before me, and he was playing disco and disco-house. So I was a bit scared. I was like, “Shit!” What’s gonna happen when I start playing techno?! I was worried the people might leave as it was such a change of pace. But as soon as I started I knew it was gonna be okay. People were shouting like crazy! And they just kept coming closer to the booth. It’s such a cool venue – small, cosy. But with an open-air feeling. I thought it was very unique, and I really enjoyed it. And the people… it was really one of the coolest things I’ve done in a while.
And I’m very much looking forward to the festival now. Especially because the venue is quite unique. It’s gonna be under a bridge, is that right? I think the entire vibe there is gonna be humungous. In awe. And if you look at the line-up, it’s insane! I’m honoured to be standing on it. I’ll be playing with Chris Liebing for the first time in my life. I think it’s going to be massive fun! Definitely.
You’ve already mentioned Chris Liebing. And you’re certainly playing alongside some other big-hitters – Daniel Avery, Rodhad – it’s a well curated stage. Your styles are well matched.
Yeah. It’s a super cool stage where I’m playing. A couple of weeks ago I actually played alongside Alan Fitzpatrick at a KNTXT party in Ghent. But I’ve never been on the same line-up as Liebing, as Avery. So it’s cool. Very cool.
And you’re playing Awakenings on the Sunday this year, too. You’ve a busy summer ahead!
Yes, I’m making my Awakenings debut! It’s going to be quite a month, you know! Junction 2, Awakenings – massive, massive festivals! I’m very excited.
And let’s not forget Exit festival coming-up too! That medieval fortress is pretty much the perfect environment for dark techno, isn’t it? The ideal setting for your sound.
Yes. Yeah, it’s another very cool thing to do. Actually Fuse are hosting a stage there. So I will be alongside friends. So it’s gonna be great. I don’t have a problem travelling alone, as you always get to meet so many nice people. But I am looking forward to having some friends around. I think it will add to the fun!
I’m gonna play stripped. Not chaotic at all. It’s gonna be functional – made for dancing. Basically I’m just gonna create a great party-vibe!