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William Djoko

The whiplash effect

2018 Dec 19     
2 Bit Thugs

With the launch of his Djoko Records label, this Dutch house stalwart is going from strength to strength

"I like this conversation," William Djoko chuckles down the phone from his Amsterdam home. "One minute we're talking about Brexit, the next we're getting really existential." 

Here in the UK, it's been another one of those days that have been all too common of late. The government is in the midst of another constitutional crisis and the public is split on what should happen next. In the words of Djoko's most famous track to date, OMG...

"We are actively being divided," Djoko opines. "There's an agenda to divide us. The media are just playing a role, saying: 'This is happening and we're reporting on it'. No, it happened because you're reporting on it and it isn't really happening. Now, everything is like, 'You're either with us, or you're against us' the whole time. We need to start taking a more empathetic stance, rather than just going, 'You are wrong, we are right and if you don't see that fuck you!' That's not going to get us anywhere."

If our conversation is anything to go by, this is typical of Djoko. While he thinks deeply about the world around him and the issues facing our society - not a sentence that can be applied to all in the dance music industry - he's also blessed with an unshakable positivity. You can hear it in his music, which even at its toughest and most percussive remains unflinchingly joyous and exuberant. It's a reflection of his outgoing personality, something that was evident from an early age.

"Performing is something I've always liked to do - it's inherently inside of my being," he enthuses. "When I was three or four my parents used to go shopping for groceries at a Saturday market. There was also a street organ that ran at certain times, and they would plan their trips around when it wasn't on, because if I heard the organ I'd run into the middle of the street and start dancing!"

He laughs at the memory, though few who have seen him on stage will be all that surprised: he's never been one of those DJs who stands stony-faced, methodically mixing in track after track in a linear fashion. He dances a lot while he's DJing, as well as grabbing the mic to talk or sing to the crowd. The fact that he can do all this while simultaneously playing incredibly creative DJ sets is, frankly, mind-blowing.

"It's a constant barrage of sound," he says of his sets, not entirely seriously. "I'll take a couple of loops or bars, mix them on top of each other, throw in a vocal, create a highlight and then go back. It's changing constantly. All the while I'll be dancing and expressing myself. This weekend, I was doing a dance move and half way through I realized that I wasn't facing the crowd. I was just dancing by myself, lost in the music."

Djoko's talk of "creating highlights" is key. For all his exuberance on stage, we should never forget that he's an experienced DJ who has not only honed his craft over the last decade and a half, but also held residencies at some iconic clubs - most notably sadly departed Amsterdam institution Trouw and London's Printworks.

"You have to keep sharpening that blade, otherwise it gets blunt," he says cheerily. "I think I've just got better at what I've always been doing. I'll look at crowds and I'll read the energy in the room. I'm aware that I can generate my own energy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I'm not afraid of taking any risks. Ultimately, risk-takers are the ones that are successful... but risk takers are also the ones that die and get the Darwin Awards!"

Djoko laughs heartily, before suggesting that his experiences of how dancefloors work - and, more crucially, how they respond to his music - has benefited his productions in recent years. He illustrates the point by talking at length about the title track of his brilliant new EP, Whiplash, which unusually features a sweaty jazz drum solo midway through.

"What it basically does is, it resets the dancefloor," he says. "If people have forgotten to dance, the drum solo will definitely make sure they have to stop talking and focus on what's important, which is coming back together again and dancing. At one point it also goes quiet and then comes back in. It's working with energy and how people react to something."

Whiplash could well go the same way as OMG and become a sizeable anthem when it's released in the new year. As well as the aforementioned drum solo, it also boasts another spoken word vocal from the man himself, and a hypnotic groove reminiscent of mid-'90s NYC house (think Junior Vasquez remixes or Danny Tenaglia productions circa 1995, with a little bit of David Morales's Red Zone dubs thrown in).

"Wow, what a cool way of describing it!" Djoko enthuses. "When I got to the studio to make it I actually had a very particular club in mind: Circo Loco in Ibiza. Playing it there in the summer was pretty special."

There are plenty of other treats elsewhere across the four-track EP, too, from the layered tropical drums, rich bass and mangled electronics of Panic Is A Pheeling to the slamming peak-time disco-house power of Bernice, another cut we may well hear rather a lot of next summer. It all adds up to a very strong debut for the producer's freshly minted label, Djoko Records.

"Things have progressed to the point where I'm in the lucky position that launching a label was the logical next step," Djoko says. "It was a chance I gladly took. It's funny, because when I was younger, when I played football, all the parents would chant 'Djoko, Djoko', but the way they used it did not have a nice ring. I was the one of the few black kids at football. So for me, for a long time there was a weird tension going on with the word. But now, to be able to have grown out of that period and to be able to look back with a smile, that's... satisfying. This is me in my purest form."

Words: Matt Anniss

The Whiplash EP will be released by Djoko Records in early 2019

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Tags: William Djoko, Djoko Records, OMG, house