To most, the name Maarten Smeets is synonymous with ‘Dam Swindle’, the duo that have been dominating the underground electronic music landscape over the past decade. However, over the past 12 months, Maarten has been exploring a more adventurous and refined sound under his solo project ‘Wanderist’.
Fresh from his second release on the mighty AUS, we caught up with him as part of the Bolting Bits ‘Mixed By’ series…
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Maarten! I guess we’re all still in somewhat of a strange place, but how are things with you right now?
Well, after more than a year of life with Covid, I’m not sure it’s strange anymore. It’s just different. A new reality we’re all dealing with in our own way. I’m ok and even though the virus really changed the practical way my life was organized in terms of touring, it has also given me loads of new creative opportunities and life lessons in general. For the first time in almost 10 years, I actually have a properly functioning biorhythm and the time to do more with my family than just have dinner and do the basics. So even though this was not actively my choice, I’m really happy with where I’m at right now.
You’ve put out 2 releases to date under the ‘Wanderist’ alias; have you been working on the project behind the scenes for a while or is it something that you’ve only recently conceived?
The idea to start a solo project had been on my mind for a long time. Every once in a while’, I’d make a sketch that would be too hard or electronic for me to put out as Dam Swindle and I noticed myself struggling at times to fit some of my ideas into the mold of a DS track. When I decided to release music as Wanderist, things really fell into place and I suddenly had a long list of sketches to work out for my first releases. There’s still a lot I’ve got to revisit from my older sketches, but that dreamy / dubby electro and techno has really become my thing. It also made things easier for my work as part of Dam Swindle, where I really enjoy the interaction I have with Lars and that live / funk approach to house music.
The ‘Translucid Dreams’ EP that recently dropped on AUS is bubbling with nostalgic elements that throwback to the early days of electronic music. Is this a period that you have admiration for and take inspiration from?
I get that it sounds nostalgic, but it was never intended to be like that. This is just the music that comes up when I head into the studio, so It might be my age, my experience (or lack of) or something else. It could also be a workflow and technique thing that gives this feeling of nostalgia. I work in quite a stripped back way, use a lot of old synths and drums along with the samples I either record from field recordings, or find on old records so I guess that already does a lot for my sound. It also has a lot to do with mixing, where I seem to take an approach that connects my sound to the early days of electronic music. I like the clarity and straightforwardness in those mixes. Some of the best tracks I know are very basic in their mixing and that bluntness can sometimes be really compelling.
Does your approach differ in the studio when working alone as opposed to when you are working as a duo?
I think the biggest difference is in the conversations we have as a duo and the no- compromise direction I get to take as a solo artist. When I’m working as Wanderist, I get to explore every route that I see fit and make decisions purely based on what I want to do. It feels great to be able to produce music like that and I think this process is vital for me as an artist right now. Having both outlets for music means I get to have total creative control on the one end, as well as build on the interaction with my partner and create something that’s bigger than me on the other end.
What impact do you think Covid-19 has had on your creativity? Are you enjoying having more time to focus on writing in the studio?
I’ve been quite creative, although I’ve also had to more office work to do for the labels among others which meant less studio time than I’d normally have. The most important thing I’ve noticed is how much the mind benefits from a well rested and healthy body. In that sense, not DJ’ing for a while has given some interesting insights into how I work best and it will definitely impact the decisions I make when we’re heading back into the club.
Can you give us an insight into some of the artists out there that really inspired you at the beginning of your career, and are there any emerging artists out there that are really doing it for you right now?
One of the big inspirations for me as Wanderist is the legendary Detroit outfit Scan7. Their music has done a lot for me from both a house, as well as an electro – techno perspective. The purity of the sound, the brilliant simplicity in some of their tracks and the profound message really resonated with me. We’ve had the opportunity to work with them last year on our label Heist and I’m super proud to have them featured on the second release of my new label Transient Nature with an amazing electro EP that really breathes that classic Detroit sound.
On the other end, I’m also a huge fan of Forest Drive West with his dub approach to modern electronic music. Overmono is also a group I’m a huge fan of. Their UK techno sound is just so fresh and very recognizable, which I think is one the most important qualities you can have these days. My most recent connection and musical friendship is with the guys from Black Cadmium. They’ve been around for a while, but this project is really taking off. Their recent release on Violet’s label Naive is amazing and we’re now working on a release together for Transient Nature which is gonna full of that high energy tech sound they’ve been showcasing over the last years.
I’m also really into all the output on Central Processing Unit and Cultivated electronics. Their contemporary take on electro and the way they showcase it is amazing and they’re both real gems for the scene. I could go on forever with this, which is a good thing: there’s a lot of great music out the waiting to get heard.
You’re stranded on a desert island, and can only take 1 record, 1 piece of studio gear, and 1 other artist to collaborate with. What are your choices and why?
I’d take the Korg Monopoly, just because it’s such an amazing machine that can do lush chords, bleepy arpeggios, boomy basslines, and everything in between. Then, I’d ask Yussef Dayes to come along and bring his drum kit and I’d take Herbie Hancock’s album Sextant. It’s full of bleepy outer space ambient jazz that I could listen to over and over again, or just use some improvised Island style sticky tape to create loops and I’d have everything I need to produce a record that’s 100% Wanderist: spaced out jazz meets electro on a tropical island. I’m liking it already.
Where does the ‘Wanderist’ project go next? Are we likely to see you playing gigs sometime in the near future, and what is on the horizon regarding your release schedule?
I’ve got some more music coming up this year, with a remix for Cinthie’s track City Lights coming up in June on Aus, and a track on a compilation for this amazing Dutch boutique label called SoHaSo (Something Happening Somewhere). Then, end of the year, I’ll have a release on Transient Nature that goes from warm electro, to dub-meets-jazz techno to ambient with my friend and amazing Trumpet player Bo Floor from Jungle by Night. I’m
sure there will be some gigs at some point and I’m looking forward to that just as much as I am to get back into the studio to produce my next record.
Thanks for taking the time to chat to us! Just one final question; what direction are you going to be taking the listeners in the mix that you have put together for us?
For this mix, I’ve put together a lot of the different styles that I am influenced by as Wanderist and have tried to blend it all in a compelling 1 hour (and a bit) story. So we’re going from dub techno to trippy electro to full techno with a lot of music by people I feel deserve a bigger audience like Jordan GCZ, Dukwa and Black Cadmium as well as a sneak peak of the new Scan7 record on Transient Nature which will come out in June. The final track is my upcoming remix for Cinthie on Aus Music.