Frits Wentink has garnered some serious success over the last several years with releases on imprints such as WOLF Music, Heist Recordings and more recently his own Bobby Donny label. His real name is Steve Mensink but he’s gone by pseudonyms such as Felix Lenferink, Urkelle, Kuhlmannmensink, Frederik Eisink and one half of Will & Ink which doubles as a record label, also run by the man himself. The Dutch native had a well received debut album called “Rarely Pure, Never Simple” released in early 2015 which showcased his signature lo-fi house sound as well as his hip-hop influences. With a consistent output of quality releases Frits and his live show have become a very in demand booking. Ahead of his North American debut this weekend at Mutek Festival in Montréal, we managed to catch up with the busy producer and ask him some questions.
You’re a man of many aliases but this one seems to have garnered the most success. Is there something different you tried with Frits Wentink that maybe you didn’t do with some of your other pseudonyms? Do you plan on primarily releasing under Frits for a while?
At the time I started doing records as Frits my main focus was actually Felix Lenferink. But now only actually release as Frits, its the project I feel most confident about. I still do music under some other names that nobody knows about, yet. I still decline all bookings for those other names, but at some point it might be nice to take the offers on, and I guess people will then quickly find out.
Your production process seems to stem from a series of loops that you create over a period of time and then put together, almost like small puzzles. Are these loops primarily sample based or do you prefer to create a lot of your own melodies and rhythms?
I sometimes take a 2 bar sample, and then jam on top of that on rhodes or piano. Then delete the sample and replace the rhodes parts with synth. I find it very hard to start with an empty screen. I can be so much more creative working on an existing thing, adding and replacing things along the way until its something completely different from where I started. So I still use samples, but I do put an effort in to make it my own.
We would love to know what kind of gear you use in the studio. Are there any particular pieces that you use more than others? Do you have any musical training or are you self taught?
Something I used in almost all my tracks is the Juno-60. I had it in my studio for 3 years, sort of forgot I actually borrowed from one of my friends. He picked it up last month :-(. I was so used to the thing that I treated it as my own. Last month the producer Malin Genie moved in with me in the studio. He brought a shitload of gear. For instance the Roland Chorus Echo, and a fabulous modular rack. So past few weeks i’ve just been busy fiddling with that.
I have a piano and Rhodes in my studio which i play on regularly. I did have someone explaining me a few times in my life how to play a piano. But I still don’t really know what a scale is. I do it by ears, at least try to. I just don’t have the patience to first learn how it should be done, and then secondly de-learn it to mold that theory into my own style again.
How about your live set up? You have some really cool homemade gear and you like to experiment a lot. Would you say that your live set up is based on a lot of improvisation and trial and error?
I tried to do this live setup without a laptop, but I failed. A laptop running Ableton is just to damn convenient. Especially for playing the beat parts, all nicely bounced in different channels and put in drum racks for extra control and live adaptation. On top of that I play the keys and do the effects.
I consider what I do live is basically a dub version of the real tracks. In that way, yes more experimenting, but very organically.
Does your process in the studio greatly differ from what you do live?
Yes, absolutely. To be clear, I don’t think that what I do in the studio is in anyway possible live. And I guess thats true for a lot of electronic music/musicians.
I recently saw a documentary on the Beatles. One of the chapters was about how George Martin got involved and started producing the songs in such a way that it was impossible to perform/recreate live. An electronic live set is, for me, basically reversed engineering. However, I did manage to create a setup now where I’m free to improvise and therefor making it worth presenting as a live set.
How and when did you get into making your own controllers? Were you not feeling challenged enough with the products out in the market currently?
I started doing this in art school. My first one was a resoldered evolution UC33e. After that I quickly changed to Arduino boards. My aim was never to compete with the current market of controllers. I never actually sold one, and my own controllers failed so many times that I switched back to the standard plastic stuff.
I felt that the project was more about making objects. Objects that tempt you to look at existing things in a different way. I made some very experimental ones, without knobs and only VU meters for instance. But, I never finished those…
You run two labels, Bobby Donny and Will & Ink. Combine that with your own productions and touring schedule, how do you manage to fit it all in?
I sometimes ask myself the same question haha. No its alright actually. I work a lot, and I feel I need to. This is what keeps me going, and I would be absolutely devastated if I will lose all of what I have build up now because of my own neglect. Besides that I’m well aware of not doing the same same all over again means I have to put double the effort in to make it run smoothly. Since recently Sonja, manager of Detroit Swindle, is helping me out a few days a month.
With your upcoming gigs at Mutek in Montréal and in Toronto, this will be your first time playing in North America, correct? Are you excited?
That is correct. I will actually play on 3 new continents this year, 5 in total. Something I would not have dared to dream of a year ago. Very excited for all this. And Mutek is something me and all my classmates from art school used to pay close attention to. So having the honor to play there this year is mad.
You’re releasing a two side 20 track EP spanning 25 minutes with no pauses. Can you tell us a little bit about this project?
Ow yes. There’s this record shop in Amsterdam called Mary Go Wild and they set up a Vinyl Club. You pay a yearly fee and receive an exclusive record every month. But, you never know what you get in advance. Mary Go Wild asked me if I wanted to contribute to this. I loved the idea and I took the opportunity to make something special. For instance, the artist San2 (Dobby Bonny) was supposed to contribute, but he didn’t manage to finish. So I took the phone, had conversation with him, and included that on the record. Besides that there is some featuring from Malin Genie and Loes Jongerling on this as well. I’m currently putting some ideas together for a follow up EP.
Catch Frits Wentink (DJset) on Thursday 02 June on Experience Scene for our event with MUTEK Festival and on Sunday 05 June at MAC for his live. More info on MUTEK.
Interview by Igor