Charlotte de Witte has confidently carved a reputation as a no-nonsense selector with a keen ear for the darker side of dance music. The Belgium-based artist is conquering the scene with her blistering techno sets, one sweaty basement and epic festival stage at a time.
A dab hand in the studio as well as behind the decks, the 24-year-old's release on Tiga’s Turbo Recordings “Weltschmerz EP” catapulted her into the spotlight and she's secured tracks on the likes of Off Recording and Coyu's Suara imprint.
Her taste for uncompromising, aggressive techno has landed her gigs at huge showcases like Awakenings and Tomorrowland, plus a few key dates in the UK. We caught up with her ahead of this year's Junction 2 festival to find out more about her musical background and style.
What were you early clubbing experiences like? Where did you get introduced to dance music?
When I was 16 years old, I changed schools from Evergem (a small community school I used to go to) to Ghent. That’s where I discovered an entire new world of underground electronic music. Discovering that scene was quite the revelation for me and it fascinated me from the start. My first love was Electro music. Think The Bloody Beetroots, Crookers and MSTRKRFT. By growing up, digging deeper and getting to know my musical preferences better, I gradually started leaning towards techno music.
What are the three best club spaces in Belgium?
Fuse in Brussels has been around for over 20 years and I’m feeling very fortunate I’m able to host my concept “KNTXT” there for a little over two years now. Kompass also recently opened its doors in my hometown Ghent. It’s a huge warehouse so it’s an insanely good venue for techno music. Great things are happening in Antwerp as well with clubs like Vaag and Ampere.
You've said that you love the darkness found in electronic music and you can't understand the commercial/happy stuff played at festivals. What could we expect from a Charlotte de Witte festival set?
I do understand other people are into that kind of music but it’s very distant from what I personally prefer. During my set, I try to make the people dance which is your job as a DJ, you have to try and entertain the people who’re standing in front of you, but I try to do so with music that isn’t necessarily happy. I find stripped techno much more interesting.
It’s less chaotic and there’s room to let all the individual elements sink in. It’s hard to explain, but melancholic and somewhat unsettling music grabs my attention. It’s much more intense to me than the “easy” commercial EDM music. To me, it doesn’t contain by far as much emotion as techno music.
Is there a genre of music outside of techno which we would be surprised to know you enjoy?
I’m actually quite open minded to all sorts of music. I do have a strong preference for electronic music (in the wide sense of the word) such as Howling, James Blake, Bob Moses and so on, but I might as well enjoy me some Ray Charles or The Beatles.
You have your own Saturday night radio show, how important do you think these type of broadcast platforms are to the dance music scene?
Quite important.. I think it’s a very cool thing that Studio Brussel offers these types of music too and not only focuses on what’s commercial, which would be, to be honest, an easier thing to do. It’s a great way to showcase the different types of music that live in a country, day- and nighttime, and if you ask me, it truly contributes to a country’s nightlife music scene.
I’ve been doing these shows for a couple of years now and it really taught me how to DJ properly. I was forced to think outside the box and dig deeper to find good music. It truly got me out of my comfort zone and thank to these shows, I still discover the most amazing (new) music that’s out there nowadays.
Talk us through your creative process, from getting the idea to making it in the studio...
It’s quite hard to explain where the idea comes from but when I’m touring for instance, I get inspired by loads of things and I especially feel the lack of not being able to make music, so when I’m back home and sitting in my studio, my head is usually full of ideas and I’m eager to get started.
I start with making a loop containing all the low end elements. A good kick is essential to a techno track, especially in my productions since they’re rather stripped, hence every single elements has to be 100% functional. Then I add a bass line (or not, depending on the kick and general feel of the track) and a texture. Usually the textures are some weird sounds that are looped during the entire track, with some subtle delays, reverb or a pitch on it to make it less dry. It’s important to subconsciously feel something is changing throughout the track to stay fascinated when listening to it.
I usually don’t like using claps too much since these every two count elements don’t add value to the loopy effect of the track. Instead, I start layering hi hats. Open ones, closed ones, cymbals, crashes, 1/16th ones and so on. I layer up to seven different sorts in general.
I love working with vocals, my own or sampled ones. I look for a good one, add it to the track, put some effects on it and depending on where this all leaves me, I go look for a lead element or melody.
What track is without fail making its way into your sets at the moment?
I’m totally in love with Cosmin TRG – 'In Your Body' (Original Mix). It contains everything I look for in a techno track. A hypnotising vocal, an aggressive and functional base of the track and a general vibe of weirdness. I absolutely adore that track and I play it in every single set at the moment.
If you could go back to back with any other DJ, who would it be?
Difficult question. If I would really choose whoever, I’d probably go for Len Faki.
What do you aim to achieve by the end of 2017?
Producing new tracks is still the main focus. I have a couple of nice releases lined up for 2017 but it’s important to keep on working in the studio and improve myself. I love touring and I love travelling to other countries to play in different clubs, meet new people and try local food, but all of the things I’ve been able to do so far wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for the tracks I’ve made up until now.
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