This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)
To be able to sit down for an interview on an Amsterdam terrace in October, is as well for me as for Flemish techno hero Tom Hades (39) an unexpected gift. Just like the following conversation. Not one but four red threads determinedly find their way: Wim Vanoeveren loves experimenting, he still dares to dream, prefers people with passion and, last but not least, he cherishes a deep disgust for ‘fakers’ or ‘actors’. Who knew what the game console of the across-the-door-neighbor’s son would cause?
An average person sleeps at least seven or eight hours per night, right? Hearing this, Tom barely refrains from disdainfully raising his eye-brows. The past year and a half three to four hours suffice for him. It’s a professional hazard. That’s what all the travelling does to a person.
The past years he has seen the globe practically from up till down and from left to right. Airplane in, airplane out. “I recognize some cities by the airport”, he smiles. Living this globetrotter lifestyle is easy for him, ‘as long as I can do sports’. His mind never stops. He sees inspiration everywhere. “Travelling often is physically tiring, but mentally I just don’t stop. Sometimes I like to be tired in a different way, tired in my thinking. With working out, I can achieve this.”
How well he’s accustomed to his irregular existence became painfully clear when his wife Leen, who works in marketing, joined him on an Indian tour. “By the time we got home, she was utterly exhausted, while I eased into the order of the day.” Whenever possible Leen accompanies him on his gigs. Tom himself also had a forty-hour-job: he started out as helpdesk employee and is now general ICT-manager – ‘Shit-solver’ in his words – at a company that deals with electronic medical records. This day job is no longer a financial must but a deliberate choice. “This work is also my hobby.” Children haven’t presented themselves yet, and the option of having them, had not been ruled out, Tom says with a sheepish laugh.
Despite his impressive climb on the corporate ladder, this rising star finds himself in the pleasant position that his employer offers him ample opportunity to take up unpaid leave any time in order to work on his other successful career, read: bring clubs all over the world under his spell. The Belgian man is perfectly aware of his privileged positive, one he worked his ass off for. Tom is the personification of persistence paying off.
It all started a quarter of a century ago. Tom’s neighbor from across the street in the Flemish country town Tienen, was the proud owner of an Amiga game console, on which Tom often played. One day the father brought a new game for his son, a music program with the name Octamed Pro, tracker software. The neighbor’s son was zero interested in this game but in combination with Octamed Pro the Amiga in no time did honor to her name and became Tom’s best ‘girlfriend’. Tom is sure of it: “This is where my attraction to producing started.”
Talent is something you are born with and the Amiga and Octamed Pro touched his creative energy and his attraction to (computer)technology. Talking about it brings back pleasant memories. “When I was sixteen I was already the regular DJ in the area of my birth town. I’m a child of the new wave and played Front 242, DAF, Neo Judgement and Art of Noise. Of course, I also started smoking pot. And my love for experimenting was already pretty clear by then, hehehehe. Although they were hallucinogenic in those days. My life was quite different from that of the average inhabitant of Tienen.” He stresses that it’s important to reach ‘the wisdom years’ at a certain point: “You can’t drown yourself in drugs all your life.”
His parents witnessed with sorrow how their son emerged in the, for them incomprehensible, music scene, that would never lead to a normal, good job. Tom’s five-year older, well-adjusted sister, – “We differ 180% – was supposed to be an example, but blood is thicker than water and Tom surrendered to his musical creative urges. From new wave to new beat to techno. The law also helped a bit in those days. “We were allowed to drive at seventeen. As soon as I hit that age, I literally saw the complete Belgian club scene.” With minimal effort and on the skin of his teeth, he graduated from high-school and when he studied computer science for one year, his family felt shortly relieved. At that point though, Tom was done with the bourgeois existence.
Eel and sugar sound
Just like the Dutch musicians Jan Smit, Nick & Simon and BZN share the so-called ‘eel-sound’ from Volendam, you would almost wonder if they put something special in the food in Tienen as well. Looking at the above-average high number of techno talents born in this town, that is worldwide known as ‘sugar city’, appears to be beneficial for a congenital ‘sugar sound’ (not per definition sweet). Volendam and Tienen are both provincial towns, in the case of Tienen one that is built up of many tiny villages that you’ve passed in a heartbeat. This is where Marco Bailey, Redhead, Danny Casseau and Tom grew up and as teenagers together explored alternative music genres. By now, Tom and Marco have made many tracks together, shared for a while ownership of the label Rhythm Convert and enjoy loads of musical recognition.
Tom actually played his ‘sugar sound’ at one occasion in the eel-village. “I was walking across De Dijk (the main street) and when I noticed al the and tourists, for a moment I wondered whether they made a mistake booking me. But you know what? It was fantastic. Those people in Volendam rocked the place!”
What Tom ‘Hates’?
The sun has disappeared and the amiable, forthright Belgian takes his sunglasses of and puts them in front of him on the table. Two clear blue eyes happily look into the world. Although in certain scenes he has definitely reached a stardom-status, Tom himself shies away from a starlike attitude. With his characteristic Flemish soft pronunciation: “I am and will always be a regular guy.” Even more so, he detests ‘colleagues’ who are only in the dance scene to for money, fame and adoration. Those by whom the essential word ‘passion’ seems to have disappeared, if it was ever there in the first place. “Those guys got into the scene for the wrong reasons and killed the scene.”
‘Actors’, is what he calls the people, just like some of his former class-mates who he ran into at a class-reunion when he was 27. “They were married, had kids and sometimes were having a divorce already. Pff, it seemed like they had stopped living. This went against my whole being. I almost wanted to scream: ‘Live!’ Lots of people are constantly playing a role.
Until this very day, dishonest people, superficial people who are not themselves, disgust him. “You only have one life. What a waste if you just throw that away. After my death, no-one will be able to say: ‘He didn’t live!’” And with these words he answered the funny-meant question unexpectedly from the bottom of his soul.
Tom is mostly driven by his passion. Last year, his debut album The Missing Touch was released. The album emerged from a starting point of sixty tracks. Fifteen survived. This has to do with his own particular work-style: he always produces complete tracks which he puts to rest for a while. Finally, he listens to them again and then immediately deletes the ones that aren’t up to his standard. The Missing Touch was of course released on vinyl. “That’s where my roots are, my basis.” Besides this, vinyl is experiencing a revival, he recognizes.
On the other hand: however much he liked to play with vinyl and sometimes still does, in the end he’s not negative about so-called ‘laptop-DJs’ who can do ‘look, no hands’ because their set is prerecorded. “It’s all about what and how you play, prerecorded or not. The tool you use to accomplish that, is completely uninteresting. Whatever!” Okay, there’s one exception: “With Guetta all that counts, is how loud the cash register rings! He hasn’t cared about the music and the passion in a long time!”
Being a pragmatic, in Tom’s view, it’s completely unrealistic that some DJs and producers speak with disdain about their driven yet completely digitalized colleagues. Or generally speak in general about the present generation that grows up in a digital world. “I mean, come on, it’s not like we’re returning to the time of cassette tapes?!”
With some proud he acknowledges the fact that he had to invent his own techno-wheel, with rather ‘primitive tools’, compared to this day and age. Sometimes he asks aspiring producers to make an 8-second-track (!), after which they stare at him in disbelief, because, ehhh, how? Tom realizes that the number of available loops, samples and sounds is endless these days. How to choose from them? “This can be difficult, especially for beginning producers. My own experience is: the simpler my tracks, the more successful they are.” Talking about good tips!
Creating a basis track is not hard for Tom. Now how knows that this is called ‘experience’. And although he never had the privilege of being mentored himself, he generously mentors someone himself. Danish DJ/producer Sören Aalberg aka Koen Vanlangendonck can profit form Tom’s special input and directions. “I provide him with tips and tricks and indicate his strong and weaker points”, Tom modestly says about this attention for Sören, attention that many aspiring (techno)producers can only dream of. He does have a general tip voor upcoming producers. “Try to step out of your comfort zone.” I like to call it the ‘Tomfort zone’.
However well life is going, Tom has decided to take a sabbatical next year. The upcoming weeks of Amsterdam Dance Event for now dominate his agenda. After that a few gigs here and there… But then he’s done with bookings and releases, at least for a while. “I am so ready for a sabbatical. I want to make music. Go back into the studio. I want to prevent that feeling of ‘been there, seen it, done that’. The time is right that my music, my experience and my private life after fifteen years finally get the spot the deserve. Of course, if something special comes along, an event, party or label, I might be persuaded. It won’t be about the size or the money, whether the gig is paid or not. It’s about the unique aspect, the emotions that arise.”
Something that every creative mind will recognize, is his urge to produce, to create. The studio is calling his name. Top of the priority list is a new album. Because really, those almost fifty rejected tracks will not be recycled. To guarantees fresh and new. “In my view: when a track just isn’t right, you can’t bend it into something that is. I throw those tracks in the bin.” And who knows, maybe from these creative urges even a new Tommy or Leentje will be born.
Quite achievable are the fulfillment of two of his dreams: working in the studio with Gary Beck and with Slam. It isn’t far-fetched to imagine what beautiful ménage-a-trois this could yield. That’s now what he wants though. Tom sees himself with each of these techno-heroes separately in the studio behind the mixer. Whether their personalities click, is not of great importance. Because, as is often the case in the dance scene, experience has taught that with a shared passion for techno and layered, high-quality dance music in general, the click generally is self-evident. “I’ve been in the studio several times with artists of whom I wasn’t sure on beforehand as far as our compatibility was concerned. In the end we blended fabulously. Because these guys are passionate!”
He pictures, eh hears, already almost a variety of completely different tracks he will produce with his intended studio-partners. His admiration for Gary Beck, who in posture doesn’t differ that much from Tom, lies in Gary’s drive, ‘which is incredible’. It’s clear that Tom has been dwelling on the idea for quite some time. “Gary grabs you, makes you move forward! It would be an amazing challenge to combine his energy, his characteristic catch with my, called it warmth, my melody, and together create the track of the year!”
From a broad perspective, Slam is also to be placed in the techno-category, but is incomparable with Gary Beck’s deep, almost dark techno with the incredibly well-timed vocal. Tom describes: “As far as I’m concerned, The Slam-guys are the most universal men in the world. One by one, their tracks have a typical Slam-signature. Whatever they do – hard, mellow, pounding – every single one of their productions contains the ‘Slam-stamp’. Their signature is always present in their broad spectrum. I deeply respect people who make music with character.”
Frank de Wulff
And even celebrated techno-heroes have their own heroes, people they’ve admired for a long time. Therefore, Tom got the surprise of his life, when, a little while ago, he picked up the phone and heard Frank de Wulff on the other side of the line. “Frank has been my icon since as long as I can remember! In disbelief, stuttering – ‘this isn’t possible!” I thought – I made sure that it was truly frank himself. And yes, he was. He called me! Pfff. He wanted to hit the studio with me! It felt completely surreal.”
But it’s not that he’s holding his breath for a request to remix a song by Mick Jagger, Sting, Madonna or a star of that caliber. If someone would want to flatter his ego by wanting to make use of his talents, he’d prefer it would be Underworld. His response to our suggestion that, with his new wave background he’s perhaps the perfect person to respectfully restyle Doot Doot by Freur (then Underworld’s Karl Hyde and Rick Smith), or perhaps Der Mussolini by DAF, clearly indicated that this former new waver has played with that thought before. Maybe another challenge for his sabbatical?
A quiet evening on the couch with friends is something that Tom can only achieve for a few hours. “Then it just doesn’t feel right anymore and I start yearning for my drum-computer.” If he’s not spending valuable time with Leen, the love of his life, with whom he’s been happy and to whom he’s been devoted for such a long time that none of them can actually remember how long they’ve been together – “My name was still simply Wim” -, the tablet, laptop and studio beckon him. He indulges his beloved Leen with exquisite dishes from cooking books, with – obviously another creative expression that is part of Tom’s drive – whatever is available in the fridge. “When Leen asks me if I want to cook dinner, I just ask what she feels like eating. Or I tell her to name only one ingredient that I have to use. I love it! She gets stressed from cooking but for me it’s the perfect way to relax.”
Tom’s passion and catchy enthusiasm are almost hypnotizing. Unfortunately, all good times come to an end. The Flemish DJ has plenty more anecdotes to tell and if he didn’t have to play in Zwolle later on, we would probably have ended the day with an inspiring dinner together. Luckily, Leen is also present today to accompany him and enthusiastic manager Joost Veerman to the east of our small country.
This feature interview is originally published in October 2014 on DJMag.nl.