ANOTR: a family affair
ANOTR, the Dutch house duo comprised of Oguzhan Guney and Jesse van der Heijden, have made the globe a stage for their high-energy DJ sets and their No Art brand. DJ Mag’s Amy Fielding speaks with them about trust, big ideas and sharing their emotions through music
De Hollandsche Manege in the west of Amsterdam is the oldest riding school in the Netherlands, dating back to as early as 1744. Declared a rijksmonument (national monument) by the Dutch city, it still functions today as one of the finest inner city riding schools in the world. But, for one weekend in October during Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), the Manege will transform into an immersive music venue for Dutch duo ANOTR, and their event, label, fashion brand and creative unit, No Art.
“It’s just got character, right?” Oguzhan Guney says, gesturing at the school’s ornate interior, which is designed to resemble the regal interior of the Spanish Riding School, with the exception of its industrial domed roof of glass and iron. “We’re so happy to be back again.”
Oguzhan, or Oz as he’s known to those closest to him, makes up one half of ANOTR alongside DJ, producer and best friend, Jesse van der Heijden. It’s Friday 21st October, and the duo are arriving at the Hollandsche Menge for their first big event of ADE. It’s their second time at the venue, and they’ve assembled a stacked line-up, featuring Australian No Art label affiliate Litmus, Antwerp’s Bibi Seck, Jackmaster, a special unannounced guest in the form of Seth Troxler, plus the duo themselves, and it’s been one of the most in-demand events of recent ADE programming — with two more events set to follow.
From the moment DJ Mag arrives, it’s clear that something special is about to transpire. The entrance through the stables — sans horses, of course, which were transported to a meadow nearby for the weekender — adds to the anticipation, and seems to already be delivering on the promise that No Art sets out to deliver each time: unique, innovative experiences that can still uphold a feeling of intimacy.
With sunlight pouring through the riding hall’s windows, and the room drenched in No Art’s signature ambience of red lights and minimal decor, it’s hard not to be impressed. The room is full and buzzing, with the speaker stacks expertly placed for the best acoustics, and Oz and Jesse are beaming.
They move from friend to friend backstage, greeting everyone warmly, thanking friends for being at their party, and speaking animatedly about the venue. It’s hard to deny the sense of family and togetherness that ANOTR create purely with their presence and cadence, and that positivity seeps through from the stage — which is at floor level, purposefully — and out into the crowd of loyal No Art fans surrounding them. The energy is consistent from open to close in the room, with ANOTR closing out their set with a full sing-a-long from the crowd to their anthem, ‘Relax My Eyes’, which at the time wasn’t even released.
"It’s a really strong community, some people come to our events three, four, five times a year. And every time we want to impress them."
Family is a word that Oz and Jesse use for each and every person involved in No Art, as well as their fans and followers, and it’s a genuine sentiment that’s seen them build trust with their crowds in a way that other artists haven’t. The ADE weekender has taken place in the biggest year of ANOTR’s careers to date, hosting their own events across the world, as well as joining party crews like Circoloco and Solid Grooves.
2022 also marked ANOTR’s own biggest event to date, their debut sold-out festival at Amsterdam’s NDSM-Werf in Amsterdam this July, which, like their other events, did not announce a line-up, with the No Art followers trusting ANOTR’s judgement to curate an expert experience. “I think what we stand for first is that we want to make sure every single No Art experience is going to be the best No Art experience you’re ever going to get,” Oz explains. DJ Mag is catching up with Oz and Jesse a few weeks later at No Art’s Amsterdam HQ; they’ve had some time to decompress from the marathon weekender, but it’s only brief before they head back out on the road, taking in dates in Peru and Buenos Aires, as well as Switzerland and North America.
“We’re now at a point where people want to play for us too," he adds, "we aren’t just booking them, and we always try and curate the best line-ups and musical experience for each crowd.”
“At the events we do in Amsterdam, we feel the most pressure,” Jesse adds. “We just did the No Art festival before, and now it’s like, ‘Okay, what are they [ANOTR] going to come up with next?’ It’s a really strong community, some people come to our events three, four, five times a year. And every time we want to impress them, and ask ourselves, ‘what are we going to do to bring you that No Art feeling?’ It sets the bar high, for the event and ourselves, but it’s nice to keep that pressure.”
The debut No Art festival, at the NDSM-Werf, included a line-up featuring the duo alongside Anthea, Dyed Soundorom, Jeremy Underground, Litmus and more, and again, stemmed from a dedication to the fans and No Art followers. It was on one of No Art’s “retreats”, where the five core members of the crew go away to create new ideas and concepts, that the festival was born.
“We had a date in mind for the festival, and we were brainstorming, and we just thought, ‘fuck it’,” Jesse says. “Ruud [co-owner of No Art] came up with the original concept, and when we smoked and reflected at the end of the night, we were just like, ‘Wow, this works’. We knew we had all the trust of the people that we were going to pull it off in a way that we did.”
“I remember we had this Jenga set that we’d brought to the retreat to play with,” Oz interjects, with an anecdote that affirms the duo’s creativity and belief in big ideas. “And we built the stage from the Jenga bricks. We were looking at it like, ‘This is the sickest thing ever!’, and we brought that stage to life at the festival.”
Away from a year that saw ANOTR celebrate their biggest achievements to date in terms of events, when we speak with the duo, it’s also a few days off the release of their debut LP, ‘The Reset’. The highly-anticipated 12-track release, incoming via No Art, marks the start of a new chapter for Jesse and Oz, after a string of releases on labels like Defected, PIV and Solid Grooves. Work began on the project during the pandemic, and saw ANOTR begin to fuse the house sound they played in their club sets with the influence of the sounds they listened to at home, like disco, funk, jazz and indie music. Littered with samples from live instrumentalists and vocal cuts from singer Abel Balder, and traversing a huge range of depth and tempo, it’s an incredibly refined debut, and echoes the same energy and sense of familiarity that No Art aims to distill.
“We knew we wanted to make an album, but we knew we wanted to work with other people too,” Oz says. “That’s when we met up with our collaborators, and just started jamming. From those moments, we knew that was the sound we wanted to go for. We went away and spent time in nature, and went back to university to learn how to record instruments, because of the pandemic and not touring — we had that time. We made incredible use of it, and went deep into theory.”
“It helped us learn who we were as artists, too,” Jesse adds. “We realised that, with the help of our tutors, our press shots didn’t resemble us. We had to step back and look deeper and think, ‘who do you want to listen to your music?’, ‘what do you want them to feel?’... all these things gave us a fundamental understanding of how to represent ourselves in what we do.”
‘The Reset’, the duo both explain, is hyper-personal. They recognise that their social media presence and what the fans see outside of events is just a snapshot of their lives, and with the LP, it’s a chance to be vulnerable, and share more of themselves with their followers. “It’s more scary, because it’s very close to the heart,” Oz says, reflecting on the experience of sharing the project, as opposed to curating a festival or club night. “But to see people supporting anything that’s really part of you, it’s the best feeling, and gives us confidence to keep on exploring that.”
“The idea of No Art is that everybody has to be equal. Those vibes of moodiness and wanting to look good, that comes from a sense of inequality."
Looking to the future, ANOTR and No Art are constantly looking for ways to connect and grow together with their team and fanbase alike. ‘The Reset’ has quite literally been that of its namesake, a new beginning for the duo and their team. After a period of uncertainty followed by growth, they understand what they want to deliver.
“The idea of No Art is that everybody has to be equal,” Jesse says. “Those vibes of moodiness and wanting to look good, that comes from a sense of inequality. That’s why the DJ booth is on floor level, why our friends really helped us put a frame around what No Art is, why we held our festival back where No Art all started as a whole family.”
“I think Covid has been a big part of it too,” Oz says. “but I now appreciate partying and playing for people in a way where I don’t have control over my emotions now, you know? Jumping around, laughing, hugging. People go out to have fun, and it’s just made me realise that this is what people want, and that’s one of the key things that’s really stuck with me throughout the last few years.”