Joris Voorn is the tech house king who's risen to become one of Ibiza's biggest DJs in a matter of years. His restless work ethic, fluid mixing between house, techno, Chicago and Detroit, and killer productions put him a step ahead of the pack. Before gigs at We Love... Space and Ushuaia this season, we met the enigmatic Dutch DJ to learn more...
“Before I came to Ibiza, I just thought it was girls in bikinis, guys in stupid sunglasses and a load of other crazy shit,” admits Dutch tech house maverick Joris Voorn. “That's all cool, but it was never really a scene that I thought would fit my music, which I sort of felt was too serious for all that. When I did finally end up coming, I had to cancel my gig at Privilege because I was struck down with some really bad migraines. So it wasn't the best start!”
Fast-forward seven years, and both Ibiza and Joris Voorn occupy a very different place. Directly after our chat, Voorn will be rubbing shoulders with some of electronic music's most prominent players, as he joins fellow A-listers Sven Väth, Luciano, Loco Dice and Maya Jane Coles at Ushuaïa's Opening Party; proof if needed that he's now rightly up there among Ibiza's elite DJs. Indeed, Voorn's relationship with the White Isle has become increasingly reciprocal too: just as he has embraced the island's charms, so too has the island embraced his melody-laden, groove-soaked sound. It's an overused cliche in electronic music but the Rejected boss' rise really has been little short of meteoric over the past few years.
Born in the Netherlands in 1977 to musically obsessive parents (his father a composer, his mother a music teacher), Voorn's own career trajectory started in earnest when he first picked up the violin as a child. Obsessed by the mechanics of the instrument, the precocious youngster soon began to write his own compositions, a trait he explored with gusto by the time he graduated to the “more rebellious” guitar in his early teens. It wasn't until his late teenage years, however, that he found his true calling in life: electronic music.
“Once I discovered live bands such as Orbital, Underworld and The Chemical Brothers,” he tells us, “I was blown away. Dave Clarke was another huge influence, and soon after that came Chicago house and Detroit techno. It really was unlike anything I'd heard before.” Soon afterwards, Voorn found himself fully immersed in the local scene in nearby Enschede, and — almost before he knew it — he'd ditched the guitar in favour of a set of decks, taking the first steps in a DJ career that's grown exponentially since.
During his university years (where Voorn was savvy enough to earn a degree in architecture before he embarked on a full-time music career), he spent any free time he had playing records, collecting vinyl and making music.
“Architecture and electronic music have more in common than people realise,” says Voorn. “For a start, they're both about creating something new. In architecture, you're building something up with a scheme in mind, and it's very similar to music. Whereas you use say, bricks in architecture, you might use beats or a bassline in music production. I don't think it's a coincidence that lots of people in my class were into techno.”
Voorn's formative years arrived when he moved to Rotterdam, an industrial Dutch city that's
always embraced techno, in 2000. Free from the constraints of a full-time university degree and further influenced by the sounds of his adopted home, he spent hour-upon-hour honing his production craft, until he eventually felt confident enough to release his first EP, with the dub techno-styled 'Muted Trax Part 1' proving an unlikely battle weapon for the likes of Carl Craig, Laurent Garnier and Technasia. Several releases followed in quick succession, most notably 'Lost Memories Part 2', released, incidentally, on Charles 'Technasia' Siegling's Sino imprint. It was the EP that gave rise to one of the most seminal — and influential — offerings in Voorn's back catalogue, the manic thrills of 'Incident'.
With a sound that veered between house, techno and Balearic, 'Incident' expectedly made its way to Ibiza, where DJs such as Sven Väth played the record on rotation all summer long. Listen back to the record now, and — BPM aside — it's hard to believe it's nearly 10-years-old. Unlike many tracks from the same time period, it maintains a classic, upbeat and energetic outlook that's tough to find fault with. Arriving at a time when electronic music was painfully uptight and almost in danger of swallowing itself whole, here was a record that was as industrial-sounding as it was fun — and a potent party-starter that appealed to fans of techno, minimal and house music alike.
“I was always really into groovy techno, stuff guys like Carl Craig and Derrick May would make,” says Voorn. “I wanted to make that kind of music, music with melody, music that gives the listener something to latch on to. Back in the early 2000s, I found the music that was playing in the clubs was good — but it was missing something that really made an impression.”
Voorn's way of working, on the other hand, has done exactly that. With momentum firmly on his side, he soon embarked on a full-time music career, and alongside his good friend — and sometime studio partner — Edwin Oosterwal, he established the first of his labels, Green, in 2005. The imprint soon became renowned for its emphasis on quality, with releases by Dosem, Pitto, Ripperton and Stimming, proving Voorn to be every bit as shrewd an A&R man as he is a talented musician. If 'Incident' was the track that propelled Voorn onto the international stage, it was his slow and measured approach with Green — coupled with his remix of Robert Babicz's 'Dark Flower', a career-defining mix for Australian mix compilation series, Balance, and his later work for his other label, Rejected — that soon made him a regular fixture in Ibiza. As with so many other trailblazing acts, We Love... Space boss Mark Broadbent was among the first to spot the Dutchman's prowess, singling out the precocious Dutchman as one to watch from the very beginning.
“We first started booking Joris in 2008,” Broadbent tells DJ Mag. “We booked him to play live, as at the time I wanted to ramp up the number of live acts we had on the summer programming schedule. I'd seen Joris the year before and was really impressed by his sound. He manages to keep one foot in the crossover camp and another in a place that has a less commercial approach, which pretty much sums up what we do at We Love... I suppose. He is a great fit for us musically, and is a great guy to boot."
Joris concedes that We Love... has played a major role in his success, and is just as effusive about the party as they are about him. “We Love... were some of the first people to bring me over here, so I owe them a lot. I feel totally comfortable playing there, and I think the crowd know what to expect with the venue. I did two back-to-back gigs with Nic Fanciulli last year that will go down as two of my favourite ever. Crazy atmosphere, great energy and very diverse people. As I said before, I never thought Ibiza was my kind of place to be, so the fact that I love it so much — and now have a residency at Space — is a real treat.”
With so much going on, Voorn could be forgiven for letting his hair down a bit — but that's simply not how the man operates.
“I'm very persistent when it comes to my music. I think you have to be, because all musicians want success and want their music to be heard. With the advances in technology, it's become even more important to work hard, as there's suddenly this new, massive surge of producers that keep you on your toes.” So what's next for Joris Voorn?
“Well, I've been working on my album for the past four years, and have been keeping productive with my releases. I hope to release the album this year, but I'm so busy with touring that it's just a case of finding the time. But honestly, I think it's gonna be better than anything I've ever done. It's not necessarily groundbreaking — but it's gonna be groundbreaking in my mind. Musically, it'll be quite a raw album, bringing in loads of different sounds and instruments. The tracks are really more like songs. This album now is the biggest challenge I've ever faced as a musician.”
At the Ushuaïa Opening Party, 7,000-or-so sun-kissed ravers are dancing in unison to Voorn's every move. Confetti spills out from the stage, giant ice cannons react to every breakdown, and numerous dancers are doing their utmost in their quest for attention.
Up on stage, it's business as usual for Joris Voorn. Looking cool, calm and collected, he's practically the antithesis to the manic scene he's helped stir up below. Unleashing a set that's in keeping with the occasion, he effortlessly juggles between classic techno records and contemporary house jams, all the while keeping the crowd guessing, with twists and turns a prominent feature of his set. Right after, he's due to jet to Milan, where he'll headline Amnesia Milan's Closing Party. An Opening Party and a Closing Party within hours of one another — and in different countries — isn't the sort of feat most DJs would even consider attempting. But then, as you've probably noticed by now, Joris Voorn is far from your average DJ.