This year is the 20th anniversary of Dutch label Creme Organization. Its consistent compilations of sounds from West Holland and beyond have won it a reputation for high quality, innovative techno, among other genres. To commemorate, we caught up with its boss, DJ TLR, and asked him some questions. And, of course, he provided us an exclusive mix to match!DJ TLR, thanks for taking some time to answer some of our questions and for sending us this killer mix!
Let’s start with a perhaps trite but still relevant question: how are you spending your time right now? Are you managing to keep productive and sane?
Well not a bad question. I’m a bit isolated at the moment as we all are. But everyone is pretty connected these days and also with extra time so you end up talking to a lot of people online. Work wise it’s not so different since I am a free agent anyway. I can still go to the office to do some mailorder and stuff and I dragged the Gamecube out of the mothballs to spend some quality time with Mario and Link. On a more constructive note I’m trying to learn some new skills that I’ve been putting off to have more options outside of the dj arena next time the big one hits.
This year is the 20th anniversary of your label, Creme Organization. You put out a fantastic, 20-track release available as a free download to commemorate. Can you tell us a bit about how this release came together? How did you decide which artists to include?
It’s always a very simple process. Our think-thank correlated the shifts in taste and music consumption over the past four decades with the spending patterns and global mobility of a targeted cultural minority and came up with an algorithm to predict the ideal price point, which was 0. Our marketing team in the meantime considered appropriate artwork from a large representative group of contemporary artists and graphic designers. A select few of them were asked to present their work at our office in Bern (the rumors are true, Banksy was declined). Once the artwork was finalised our web and social media team designed a suite of interactive tools and apps to streamline the online experience. So with that in the pocket I asked some people if they wanted to be involved and they sent me some tracks. Which I then put on Bandcamp. Most of them are people I’ve known and worked with for years. That last bit took about a week.
Do you have anything else planned to celebrate your 20 years? Or, have you perhaps had to cancel or change some plans?
We had a whole tour planned and I should have been in Osaka right now. The first leg of about 16 dates was supposed to be in April/May, right in the Corona peak, in about 10 countries. So that’s all cancelled now. And it’s also not really possible to book a second leg or even rebook these dates yet since no one has a clue about the future. Obviously events and parties will be the last things to restart in the post-Corona world and we also have to see who will be left standing after this and how it affects their policies. I’m focusing more on doing online stuff and mail order now and will make some special merchandise, but production options are also a bit more limited atm so yeah, vague is all we got now.
What is it about specifically “west coast” Netherlands that you think is worth emphasising in your label’s output? Is there a particular sound of that area that you are drawn to? If so, can you describe it?
Yeah that’s a hard one, since there is no short answer. This scene has been around forever now in Holland. West Coast is the area I grew up in and lived in for most of my life. It covers part of the South Holland province. To numb your mind a bit, Holland is a part of the Netherlands and divided into North (Amsterdam, Haarlem etc) and South (Rotterdam, The Hague, Leiden, Zoetermeer etc). South Holland also has the famous bulb fields, next to Leiden where I’m from, which inadvertently played a big role. In the 90’s when I got more involved it was different from the normal dance scene. It was very underground and in part evolved out of the punk scene. It came up in the mid nineties during the British crusty wave, notably Spiral Tribe. The Uk had just banned dance parties with the Criminal Justice Act so it moved over here, more so than any other area because of the seasonal work in the flower industry and there was a large squat scene to support it. Suddenly we had a few hundred British squatters mixing with the locals and they were heavy into raves. There was illegal stuff going on almost every weekend, sometimes for days on end, free parties without any door policy or anything in old school buildings or factories. I guess it could only work because ecstasy and lsd were popular and not so much alcohol, so there was very little violence. Also because of the squats it was very easy to do your own parties without much bureaucracy. We could get away with stuff that wouldn’t have worked anywhere else with our level of disorganization. The west coast scene had a very strong identity and sound that you couldn’t find anywhere else, simple but not simplistic, dark and ominous and not very pretentious, with labels like Bunker, Acidplanet, Viewlexx, Murder Capital, Clone. I’m part of the second wave in that, from the late 90’s. After these Bunker West Coast Sound of Holland compilations came out we all started repping that so it seems like a movement. It is in a way, but a very loose one at that.
Reflecting on these 20 years, how has Creme Organization changed?
It’s grown much more international and also musically it has become broader over the years. It’s odd but I never really thought about that, it all runs parallel with my own life and tastes so it kinda changes but stays the same always. There was never a plan really, but looking back I can see some waves or eras in it, from a more local Electro oriented beginning to disco, italo and housey stuff, into a bit darker Jakkin territory side stepping with R-Zone into a bit of Jungle Techno, breakbeat and ultimately into Techno and House (in a broad sense). It also depends on what’s around you you know.. What are the people making and what feels cool or fresh at any given time. Some artists have been around quite long and you can also see that in their output. Someone like Legowelt for instance has always been evolving and reinventing stuff, but it’s always him. I don’t really consider myself as creative as him, but it’s more or less the same with the label.
And what do you hope for your label in the future? Do you have any specific goals or aspirations?
I’ve gotten so much from the label that I don’t really look for anything specific anymore. I’ve travelled almost everywhere and met so many people over the years and made so many friends it’s crazy to think of. It’s been a mad trip and I don’t feel there’s a lot I haven’t done yet. My main thing is to keep it going. It’s a weird time now, Covid aside. The landscape has always been changing and over the years I’ve seen some really radical shifts in the music industry. I came in the CD era when vinyl was a fringe thing (but still much bigger than now ironically in it’s “resurgence”) and it’s changed from a bit of digital on the side to almost all digital and currently it’s disintegrating even further into streaming. The physical side has all but disappeared now and the shelf life of a release is nada. Also the social media side is a bit overwhelming now, it was a bit cooler to have your own site and forum back in the days, tucked away in a corner with a bunch of nerds. Now we have a constant race for attention and an endless stream of content, mostly without context. It’s easy to get lost in. I don’t really connect with that tbh, so there’s a little challenge. Also I’m curious to see how we will get out of this crisis. Some things are bound to change, major events have that effect on society, but how I don’t know.
And what about you? How have you evolved as a DJ, label owner and general player in the music industry?
Haha I would hope so but it’s hard for me to say as I always jojo between confidence and hysteria. I’ve picked up a few things here and there I guess. It’s not really for me to be a good player in the music industry since I don’t really care much for the game and how people play it. I know just enough to get by. Running the label has been an act of perseverance, but I do like the hustle of it. As for DJ-ing, I just follow what I think works when I do mixes, It’s more intuitive than anything else. Your brain has a way to connect things sometimes but you don’t always know why until you hear it. When I play out I try to do the same, but more with the dancefloor in mind so it’s a balance. I think my interaction has gotten better in general. It doesn’t always work in bigger places since I am a bit too fringe for a lot of people and I can be a bit belligerent but when it does it’s great. I try not to let them rattle my cage or take it personal, I’ve learned that much over the years.
Do you have any aspirations for yourself, musically or otherwise, that you can share with us?
I just want a decent life for me and the people I care about, that’s a pretty big aspiration already.
And lastly, tell us about this mix! What do you imagine is the ideal setting in which to listen to it?
I thought I’d do an all Creme mix and keep it a bit light, but as usual I drifted more towards the moody side. It’s overly ambitious as well, since there is so much stuff to choose from and a lot of it’s very different. So to call this a 20 years Creme mix wouldn’t do the label much justice, but it’s still a little selection of tracks that are dear to me and work well together. I like sensory deprivation myself when I listen to stuff, in the dark with headphones on. But it doesn’t really matter as long as you listen.
Is it representative of what you’re mostly listening to at the moment?
Not really to be honest. I’ve heard those tracks so much that they’re always a part of me but I don’t necessarily play that a lot at home anymore. I listen to a lot of different things, but lately I’ve been really into UK Drill (different than the Chicago stuff mind you). Musically it’s pretty fresh and exciting, obviously very UK influenced. It’s by the kids for the kids and hard to understand for everyone else as it should be. I also like how it’s controversial and scares and shocks authority figures. I haven’t seen that for a while, but I think it’s a hallmark of any good youth movement. The whole gang thing is pretty depressing ofcourse plus the fact most of them are in and out of jail all the time, but it’s a nihilism reminiscent of early punk and hardcore, and pretty much stems from the same type of social climate as the early 80’s. Austerity being the key word. There are some really cool producers on top of their game right now like Ghosty, M1onthebeat, 808melo, SKBeats, Yamaica, Moneyevery, Sebzbeats.. Loads of others.
DJ TLR, thanks again and stay safe!