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The Sound Of: Nous’klaer Audio

Rotterdam label Nous’klaer Audio has become a vital source for original and forward-thinking dance music and more. Alongside a mix of upcoming tracks on its catalogue, Ben Murphy speaks with label founder Sjoerd Oberman about how the label avoids being pigeonholed and elevates local talent

In the last 10 years, Dutch label Nous’klaer Audio has released a steady stream of highly original dance records, railing against rigid genre orthodoxy, and pushing electronic music forwards. Based in Rotterdam, a city famous for its techno and electro output, the imprint has envisioned a freer form of underground dance, one that isn’t always bound to typical beat structures. Sjoerd Oberman, who runs the label, has made it his focus to discover and promote new artists. Nous’klaer Audio has released records by now-established producers like upsammy, Konduku and Mary Lake, always healthily balancing club savvy with experimentalism. A former employee of Clone, the Rotterdam record shop, label and distributor, Oberman has a fine-tuned sense of what makes a tune stand out. 

“I just always think, if I didn’t know the artist and I heard it in a record shop, would I buy it?” Oberman says. “Then I would also release it. I choose a track for the story it tells, how it touches me.”

A Nous’klaer Audio track always stands out from the crowd. Konduku’s ‘Emerald Island’ is a minimalist mix of electro rhythms and loose percussion with twinkling auroras of synth cloaking the drums, while upsammy’s mystical ’09-06’ has echoing broken beats that cascade into a mesmeric dancefloor mix of Autechre effects and Detroit techno basslines. Electronic outliers like Pugilist, Eversines and Tammo Hesselink have all contributed to its catalogue, and then there’s Oceanic (Sjoerd Oberman’s younger brother), who’s capable of everything from the thumping 4/4 kicks and vocal snips of ‘Lucie’s Love (Blond Edit)’ to the stepping, celestial atmospherics of ‘KxT’.

Photo of Sjoerd Oberman sitting on a bench in front of a green building a light blue background

The individual elements might be familiar, but they’re combined in a way that feels modern and fresh. Ask Oberman to define the label’s output, and he’s reticent to classify it. “In general, it’s just my taste,” he says. “My taste is really broad. I find it hard to say what it is exactly, because obviously there are a lot of melodies on the label too, but that is also not essential to me.”

That’s not to say that Nous’klaer Audio is shy of releasing a linear techno banger or two: Marcel Dettmann has been drafted in to remix some of the releases on the label. Nevertheless, there’s a consistent drive to do something new that separates the Rotterdam imprint from the rest. One of the ways that it stays original is by foregrounding upcoming producers, especially those from Rotterdam or the wider Dutch scene. This, says Oberman, is vital to the label’s ethos.

“Over the years, I wanted to keep that feeling of helping out a friend, or building something together is a better way to put it,” he says. “So I’ve tried to find at least one artist per year that hasn’t released before, and preferably locally in Rotterdam. If I don’t find them, then it’s not something I’ll force, but I’m constantly on the lookout, which keeps everything more fresh and surprising. There’s always an influx of new young artists that nobody knew about.”

Sjoerd Oberman grew up in the city of Goes, in the Netherlands province of Zeeland. Originally more of an indie kid, his gateway into dance music was through releases on DFA Records. His older brother, a hardstyle DJ, passed his decks onto Sjoerd, and he got hooked soon afterwards. “When you mix a record for the first time, it’s a bit of a magical feeling. I had friends who also started to DJ. Through that, you find people that make music, and it grows on you.”

The label started when he wanted to give a bigger platform to his friend Matthijs Verschuure, aka techno producer Mattheis, who hadn’t released on vinyl before. His ‘Isms’ EP launched the label at the end of 2013. “Matthijs and I were searching for a name for the label for half a year already and spending multiple nights brainstorming,” Oberman remembers. “One night, we thought, ‘Okay, let’s just get some hash, we’ll smoke and we must come up with a name then’. After five hours, still nothing! Then Matthijs said, ’cause he’s from an island close to Zeeland, ‘Okay, nous’klaer’. There’s a dialect there called Zeeuws, which is a bit different from normal Dutch. The name translates to ‘now it’s done’, and it kind of means ‘we’re ready’. And I was like, ‘Wow, okay, this is it. It’s just perfect.’”

Selection of press shots of artists on the Nous'klaer label on a light blue background

Ever since, the label has grown and evolved. As well as spotlighting local artists, it’s also begun to release music from established names with a similar ethos. Robert Dietz, who is best known for floor-filling house music, provided a recent highlight on the label with the emotive breakbeat track ‘Crop Circle’, while John Talabot released a dubbed-out album on the label under his Koraal guise, ‘La Casa del Volcán’. Nous’klaer Audio’s sound signature is also expanding beyond dance music, with Mathilde Nobel’s album ‘Founds On Land’ more in the electronic pop sphere. One way that Oberman helps to keep the label sounding cohesive is by mastering and mixing many of the releases himself. He learned the art by working with his hardstyle producing brother, and eventually became proficient in the studio too.

“You can really change bits, and how a song will be perceived,” Oberman says. “It definitely helps a lot, and doing the mix-downs actually even more. You can make it slightly more cohesive. The fact that we can do it ourselves also enables us to release more from young artists, because they can just send their stems and we can try to make it sound like a really good track. Maybe not every label would put that effort in.”

Looking ahead, Nous’klaer Audio is celebrating its decade in operation with a daytime festival on 8th June at Brutus in Rotterdam. It’s just released a new EP from Robert Dietz, ‘3 Mirrors’, while an album from Mattheis is slated for September. There will also be a third edition in its ‘Paerels’ compilation series, platforming more fresh Rotterdam faces, and consisting of, according to Sjoerd, “more outspoken party tracks”. As for the future beyond that? “I would love to be able to do more production in-house, like owning real recording studios, so that you can actually invite talents or bands to record an album together, that would be the dream,” concludes Oberman. “I don’t see that happening in the next two years, but maybe in the next 10.”

Oberman’s Nous’klaer Audio mix comprises 16 forthcoming cuts on the label from Mattheis, Elkan, Gaiko, Erik Luebs, Eversines, Oceanic, Mattias El Mansouri, Marie K, Martinou, Mathilde Nobel, Koraal, Softi and Mary Lake. Listen below.