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ANOTR: open your mind

Dutch duo ANOTR have amassed a huge audience with their emotional house music and incredible club events centred around art and human connection. Ahead of their appearance in Miami at the DJ Mag pool party, they tell Amy Fielding how risk-taking, open-mindedness and collaboration are at the heart of everything they do

ANOTR are all about emotions. Enhancing them, recalling them, changing them, understanding them. Everything the Dutch duo do is intentional, produced to share how they’re feeling at that moment in time, and to bring you along on the trip with them. As a creative duo, Oguzhan Guney and Jesse van der Heijden are continually innovating and striving to create new experiences, but with the emotion and charmed energy they held right at the very start of their journey, as excited 17-year-old friends Jesse and Oz.

“A lot of the stuff we’re doing right now feels surrealistic,” Jesse tells DJ Mag. “It’s almost like we’re living in a dream, but then, also... I don’t know. It’s still the same feelings we had right at the start of all this. That happiness.” Jesse and Oz are happy right now. After taking some time at the start of this year to spend with family and loved ones back home and in Thailand respectively, they’re dialling in from one of the writing retreats that they periodically host before they embark on their next tour.

Settled in comfy hoodies and nestled in lean-back chairs, the vibes couldn’t be more relaxed, and the duo radiate an aura of familiarity and naturalness that Jesse labels “living room energy” — something ANOTR want everyone who is a part of their No Art project’s journey to experience, be that crowd or collaborator. People mill around in the background of a room filled with kit, and he spins the monitor to show us the view from the house they’ve hired to turn into this particular pop-up studio — it looks out onto a lake, with nothing in sight for miles. They are alert and engaged, despite their eyes being a telltale red from their afternoon high, and they smile hazily at each other and at us as Jesse affirms their love of being off grid. “The plan is to have our own retreat house like this one day, like a creative hub set up in the middle of nowhere in nature, where we ourselves can disconnect, but invite others to disconnect too.”

Photo of ANOTR seemingly flying through the air against a sunset background

“We’re challenging people to interact with each other and become part of that bigger thing.” – Oz 

“Organic” and “natural” are two words that appear frequently during our conversation with ANOTR. From music making with psychedelics to relationship building, to where they choose to produce their tracks and play their favourite shows, ANOTR’s foundations are firmly rooted in hard work, but letting the universe do its bit too. Since making their “commercial” debut on Defected Records back in 2015, they’ve followed their hearts, and as a result, it’s hard to pigeonhole their sound.

During vibrant sets at clubs like Ibiza’s DC-10, Club Space in Miami, and Toronto club CODA, euphoric house cuts, rolling tech-house and classic dancefloor bangers make up the majority of ANOTR’s selections. The same can be said for their own festival and headline performances at Burning Man, Kappa FuturFestival, and Solid Grooves Open Air. They love the sound, and they love to play it. But alongside their imprint and brand No Art, the studio is where Jesse and Oz are still discovering what it is they really connect with, and it’s also where their story started.

Both raised on the north side of Amsterdam, Jesse and Oz met at a birthday party in their early teens, recalling an instant connection that formed over edibles. “I just remembered we laughed a lot,” Jesse says, smiling at Oz, who laughs and nods. “And then we just started hanging out more. I was already making music, Oz was getting into it, so we just decided to make some together.”

“I just wanted to learn more about music production initially,” Oz says, “but the vibe and energy between us was just super good when we were doing it together.” Growing up on a diet of what Jesse describes as “pre-EDM Dutch house”, illegal downloads and underage club nights — which Jesse was running and DJing at in his young teens — is where they found new music, and the sounds that first inspired them would be on early online mix series, like Nope Is Dope. “We’d download sets that you’d find on LimeWire, and put them on an MP3 that had, like, 500MB of memory,” Oz remembers. “We’d listen to that on repeat until the next mixtape dropped, then we’d delete it and upload the new one.”

“This was before even going to real clubs,” Jesse adds, “and then we were 17/18, and introduced to drugs like ecstasy, and then we really started understanding club music on a different level.” Inspired by the deeper house scene that was on the rise, Oz cites the likes of Amine Edge & DANCE, David August and Solomun as influences on their earlier sound. In their late teens, they took over a shipping container in Amsterdam to work on that music further. With no running water or heating, they were doing their best work, shut off from the world, but inspired by the emotions and memories they were now themselves experiencing at festivals and on dancefloors.

“There was this little furnace that kept us warm during the winter,” Oz says, smiling as he shares the memory. It’s clearly a fond one, as Jesse’s face lights up too. “We were throwing wood in this fire, making music, and then going home smelling like fire. But it was our own space, where we could make music 24/7.”

Photo of ANOTR seemingly flying through the air against a sunset background with individual profile shots layered on top

“Being there, doing that, and having a good time,” Jesse says, “we were already embracing the happiness we found in making music. It’s still the same now because of those experiences.” ANOTR were making their music under a different alias then, too, Piotr & Zhan (ANOTR is actually made from the name), but the shipping container studio was an early sign of their organic creative connection — that personal, intimate feeling in what they create and do.

Their aforementioned first EP on Defected, ‘Strobe’, was a hit, and the follow-up, ‘Mighty Kingdom’, was just as bold, bursting onto the house circuit with Floorplan-esque vocal chops, thunderous drums and fat, chunky basslines. Alongside their DJing career, they were making popular, driving dance music, exactly the sound to get a fresh-faced duo noticed on the scene beyond Amsterdam. “I think we already believed in ourselves back then anyway,” Jesse says of those early releases. “We didn’t have anything, but we knew we wanted to grow outside of the scene in Amsterdam.” 

“We were two of the young ones that were doing shows abroad from the very beginning,” Oz adds. “It gave us confidence, like, ‘Ok, we’re doing something right, because people like our music outside of Amsterdam as well’. There were people who were following us from the start, and I’d see familiar faces in places where we’d go back to play, and I just thought, ‘Hey — we’re winning’.” He continues earnestly: “I wouldn’t even say they were fans, but these people just believed in us and wanted to grab onto our energy. We used to look at each other and just think... ‘How did we get here?’”

After more releases on imprints like Snatch! and sharing their music via their own label, ANOTR officially launched No Art in 2018 as a solo entity, after a brief spell with Dutch titans Armada Music as distributors. It was originally ANOTR’s place to release their music without the constraints of a major label, or having to make adjustments in a way that left them feeling like they lacked creative control. They wanted to translate their connection into something tangible, a way to connect people through art and music the way they had done themselves, while pushing the message: broaden your minds.

Like the shipping container, No Art outgrew its confines as just a label, and became a collective, fashion line, label and family unit alongside friends Bora, Ruud and Omid, who still make up part of the label’s core creative team today. “If it could come down to one sentence, No Art really is ‘connecting people through art and music’,” Oz says. “It’s exposing people who love our music to art they wouldn’t be exposed to on a regular basis. It’s a way to broaden their minds, and not just see our music or events as a place to escape, but also to be inspired.”

It was during the pandemic that the initial vision for No Art first evolved on that bigger scale, growing in line with ANOTR, who were undergoing a personal and professional transition themselves. The world had stopped, but so had Jesse and Oz for the first time in a long time. They had a chance to think about ANOTR and No Art, and what they wanted next. They were touring and being noticed, a whirlwind of bigger and bigger gigs and releases under their belts, but something felt off.

Photos of ANOTR in the studio recording music

“No Art really is exposing people who love our music to art they wouldn’t be exposed to on a regular basis. It’s a way to broaden their minds, and not just see our music or events as a place to escape, but also to be inspired.” – Oz

It was during the downtime, and after their first retreat into nature, that Jesse suggested the duo go back to school to study music. Oz took a little convincing. “I was actually pretty resistant at the beginning,” Oz says. “I had a bad experience when I studied Law before. But I went and spoke to one of the teachers and he explained that they support you and help you focus on specific things, rather than doing loads of writing or unnecessary stuff.”

“I’d already studied at Conservatorium [van Amsterdam], but this was only two days a week, so it was super chill already,” Jesse adds. “And the people, the teachers themselves, they were so inspiring alone. Really giving us different insights, different ways to approach music and approach being artists.” After touring as ANOTR and running No Art with a certain image, sound and ethos, they were urged to dig deeper by tutors.

Alongside a practical curriculum, which gave the duo more freedom with the tools and gear they could use to record and produce music, the theory pushed the duo outside of their comfort zone — but it soon became the most comfortable place they’d been as artists. “It just helped us a lot, all those different approaches,” Jesse says, before Oz interjects: “It wasn’t like school. You’re surrounded by peers, and you have to really explain why you’re making certain choices and decisions in projects you’re working on. Why you think it represents you as an artist. Talking about it just made us realise who we are as artists.

“We were basically telling a story that we’ve always been feeling inside, but we’ve never written it down, because we were never challenged to write it down and speak about it in front of a class,” he continues. “I remember being asked why I made a certain choice by four professors, and I didn’t know what to say. I just said it was more fun this way. And that was the right answer — there is no right or wrong way.”

Jesse recalls an anecdote about a section of the course when the duo had to speak about their press shots. “We just had those typical artist shots, you know, arms crossed and looking cool,” he laughs, while Oz breaks into a wide grin and does an impression of those early pictures. “And the teachers were just like... ‘Why? Why are you standing like this? Is this who you are?’ And it wasn’t.

“That was just one small part of the course, but I think it captures the essence of the whole thing, and the type of questions we were asked that now make us create the best type of music we can. The best work, for us, could only be made if we really understood who we were. Then the music would follow.”

Photo of ANOTR seemingly flying through the air against a sunset background

While the duo are adamant on remaining true to themselves, they also like to take risks. After learning and understanding more about themselves through studying and spending time together, they wanted to share it. During the pandemic, Jesse and Oz took on their most ambitious project as No Art to date, with a completely unique and seemingly unbelievable concept — No Art Hotel. With a loyal following in the Netherlands, and staying true to their ethos of connecting people through art and music, the duo held an ambitious 24-hour event, adhering to strict social distancing rules in Amsterdam’s Sir Adam hotel, offering room parties, art installations, activations and performances by the likes of ANOTR, Chris Stussy, Toman, Prunk and more. “That all started with just asking ourselves questions again,” Oz says. “We knew we couldn’t legally throw a party, there’s all these certain rules, and we wanted to find ways to bring people together again in a time where we couldn’t.”

“The hotel was something that was really nice for that moment in time,” Jesse agrees. “We had to innovate. We had to give people the opportunity to come together, while still showing the outside world that we can still make something happen even in those circumstances. It’s a feeling we still try to translate now, like the creativity we put behind everything we’re doing. It was the starting point of the more creative ideas we’re having right now. It just made us feel like, ‘If this is possible, we can do even more’.”

It was two years ago that ANOTR took an even bigger risk. With an instilled sense of confidence from the faith that their fans had in them and their journey to date, Jesse and Oz, alongside the rest of the wider No Art team, decided it was time for another levelling up. They’d been continually dropping well-received EPs periodically, like 2020’s ‘Don’t Mind Ya Weight’ and ‘Paint A Picture’, alluding to a funkier, groovier sound in the pipeline, and throwing No Art events for some time. They decided to host the first No Art festival — in true, all-in ANOTR fashion.

Opting not to announce a line-up, and imploring attendees to come with open minds, it was the biggest test of the duo’s self-belief up to that point. They’d even designed the stage concept on a retreat with jenga bricks, and were determined to bring it to life. “We went all in,” Jesse affirms. “If it was shit weather, or if half the people only bought tickets we would be —” Oz cuts in laughing: “Bankrupt! No more No Art!”

“Exactly that,” Jesse continues, “we didn’t even really make any money on it selling out. The risks were super high, but we just knew if there’s going to be a moment to do it, there was no better moment than now. I think if you really strive for these things — Oz and I and the team pushed for it, and put all of our love and dedication into it — the opportunities create themselves for you. Then with all the luck, it turns out the way it did.”

Photo of Oz and Jesse from ANOTR laughing together in the booth

“We just had those typical artist shots, you know, arms crossed and looking cool and the teachers were just like... ‘Why? Why are you standing like this? Is this who you are?’ And it wasn’t.” – Jesse

The day was a success at the city’s NDSM-Werf, with artists like Anthea, Chris Stussy, Dyed Soundorom and Rossko performing to a sold-out and elated crowd. “I think Amsterdam was really ready for a new concept on a festival scale,” Oz says. “There were already lots of good party concepts but we just knew, ‘This is our time. It’s now or never’. It would have been the most stupid decision ever if it went wrong, but also, where the risk is, is where the rewards are. So yeah, we just rolled the dice.” 

The No Art festival is now a behemoth, alongside its smaller branded events. There’s also the year-on-year, sold-out ADE showcases, which take place at the city’s De Hollandsche Manege riding school. Unique flourishes, including poets, live instrumentalists, such as harpists and drummers, and art installations, plus unannounced line-ups keep No Art events fresh and exciting.

ANOTR are keen to keep alive that “living room energy” that Jesse described, even as the stages and crowds grow bigger. It’s important that they feel connected to the crowd — keeping stages low and barriers close, with crowds in a 360-degree swell around the booth where possible. By offering that sense of intimacy and connection between the crowd and themselves — their parents are even often in attendance, among the fans — the duo create a safe space to test out new tracks, concepts and ideas, hoping the open-mindedness will be reciprocated.

While we speak with Jesse and Oz, they momentarily pause the conversation to roll and smoke a joint, and say bye to some friends and collaborators that they invited on this particular retreat. They’re smoking a homegrown strain, one that Oz says allows them to “be really present, and really listen to each other when we’re making music”. The proof is in the statement, as Jesse sings some lyrics and hums a melody while the pair smoke offscreen, and they speak animatedly in Dutch.

On their return, the duo also admit that they are fans of making music on varying doses of magic mushrooms, and consider them more of a tool that can be used in the process. “It’s not even a drug, it’s like medicine. I take them because I want to create,” Jesse says, “I want to really embrace that feeling of being in that creative mode.” “You definitely come up with weirder ideas,” Oz adds. “I like to try to make the music work in a way where people who aren’t on drugs can resonate with it.” “Yeah, it’s like something you make can be super weird on mushrooms, but then it still touches something inside of you even when you’re not high,” Jesse says.

It was on a number of these hazy retreats that Jesse and Oz created their debut LP, ‘The Reset’, which was released into the world in late 2022. They’d been road-testing the tracks for some time — with fans singing the words to ‘Relax My Eyes’ (which Oz reveals was actually a last-minute addition to the tracklist), and ‘Vertigo’ months before they even had track names, people scrambling for IDs in Facebook groups and r/House Reddit threads, and radio plays on constant rotation. Utilising the music theory they’d studied during lockdown, the duo began to explore different avenues of sound and collaboration in the studio, hosting “organic” recording sessions with album collaborators Abel Balder, Sebastian Kamae, Willem Mulder, and Jesse’s father, King Wonder Bread.

Photo of ANOTR DJing with a palm tree behind them

Invested with jazz, funk and groove, and brimming with catchy basslines and psychedelic songwriting, ‘The Reset’ stepped away from the club, and into the world that the duo experience when they’re on their retreats, in nature, embracing the space. Right now, they’re fully back in that headspace, working on their next big project. “We just loved it ourselves, but also, we didn’t really expect anybody from the underground to fuck with it,” Jesse says, speaking about the reception to ‘The Reset’, and how the confidence they gained from that has carried through into their current studio sessions. “It was scary in the beginning,” Oz agrees. “I thought maybe this might not be [as] accepted as stuff we’ve done previously, because it was a complete change for us and what we were doing as well. I was worried it wouldn’t work with cooler artists, or it might drive us away from the underground scene but... it just made us accepted for who we were.”

“No risk, no reward, again,” Jesse adds. “We went in not knowing what it’d do, but just having that feeling that it was right for us at that moment. We wanted to share who we are, instead of sharing who the industry wanted us to be. It comes with a lot of insecurity, because you’re opening yourself up and putting your soul on the table.” Oz grins, “I listened back to it high on mushrooms the other day from beginning to end, and I thought to myself, ‘Hey, this is still something I would be proud of 20 years from now’ as well, just knowing this was our first album.”

With all of ANOTR’s music and projects a product of conversation and real, emotional connection, and the proven track record of a process that works, the work on the new album picks up where ‘The Reset’ ended. Not the end of the book by any means, they stress, just another chapter. “‘The Reset’ was a translation of who we were in that time, and the new album takes off from where we started, just with a lot more confidence,” Jesse says. “We can try so many more different directions, but if we fuck with it, we know now that there’s probably a chance that everyone else is going to enjoy it as well.”

They say the message with the new album will be to open your mind, but the details are deliberately scarce. “Just be open to new stuff and experimenting, because that’s what we’re doing,” Jesse says. “We’re still in between worlds of making club music and other music too, and we’re just going with the flow. We’re starting things at random BPMs, and opening up new possibilities.”

“The structure of an album invites you to do just that,” Oz says of pushing the limits to ANOTR’s sound further. “You can show all these different sides to you in the longer frame of time. There’s no pressure of, like, one track needs to stand out anymore. It’s just a bunch of tracks gathered together to give you a feeling about why and how it’s composed and put together as it is; it has a start and a finish.” Jesse nods in agreement. “We’re just really telling a story, and in that story sharing the phase we are in musically and what we are feeling as artists right now. The progress and the process of what we’ve got going on.”

Photo of Jesse and Oz from ANOTR hugging against a background of a strobing club

“We’re just really telling a story, and in that story sharing the phase we are in musically and what we are feeling as artists right now.” – Jesse

While they both converse and agree there’s no real narrative when it comes to the upcoming album — “it’s still a work in progress” — it is agreed that broadening their minds has opened up more doors for collaboration. With confidence now as musicians and songwriters, not just DJs and producers, after their lyrics resonated globally, ANOTR are recruiting even more collaborators this time around, inviting people to experience that “living room energy”. “We just feel more confident to invite people from overseas to our retreats and be like, ‘Ok, I don’t know you, but we resonate with each other’s music or each other’s work in some way — so what happens when we mix these worlds together?’” Jesse says.

“Before, we were house producers, now we have a resume as songwriters, so we’re reaching out to people we wouldn’t have worked with before. We’re inviting them to come into nature with us, cook with us and have conversation. Exploring a different space with artists, having wholesome moments where you smoke together and make music together. It’s still a story in the making for us right now.”

With stops in South America coming up  — “our favourite place to play, in the jungle, where the parties don’t stop and we play until the sun comes up” — as well as DJ Mag’s Miami Music Week pool party, their own no-phones event at Space Miami, plus the first preview of the album in the form of a new single in March, it’s all systems go. They’re scheduled for Boiler Room Milan, and the ANOTR Expo event series is also set to go global, with stops planned for New York, Brazil and the UK. It’ll be ANOTR’s biggest undertaking to date, and the duo radiate nothing but positivity and excitement for what’s ahead, ready for new opportunities to ask for one thing from their fans: open your mind and embrace the art and music.

“We’re not just creating art, but we’re facilitating it at events like Expo,” Oz says. “Even if you’re just a dancer in the crowd, you’ll feel like you’re part of something bigger. We’re challenging people to interact with each other and become part of that bigger thing. It encourages us to become part of something bigger too.”