Geee Wizz!! To have the privilege of interviewing arguably one of the most prolific and true innovators of the early dance music scene is such an incredible honour.
To anyone who isn’t familiar with the name CJ Bolland we may as well go way WAY back…. To the start of the explosion that was simply… RAVE.
Growing up as a teenager in Belgium, he received an early education in dance music with his parents running a club in Antwerp, and his mother DJing there! How sick is that? Love it!!
Obviously, this introduced him to the underground sounds of new wave and electro that was happening at the time, embodied by artists such as Jean-Michel Jarre, The Klinik and Neon Judgement. However, by the late 80’s Bolland was devoting most of his time to house and techno. His first productions were aired on Belgium's 'Liaisons Dangereuses' radio show, and Bolland was one of the first record producers to be signed to the fledgling and iconic Belgian techno record label R&S.
In 1989, his first release, "Do That Dance" was followed by several more under different aliases such as 'Space Opera', 'The Project', 'Cee-Jay' and 'Pulse'. Nonetheless, it was the release of his seminal track ‘Horsepower’ on 1991’s Ravesignal III EP that really earned him the respect of his industry peers and was played by Europe’s most influential techno DJs.
By 1993, Bolland had garnered further acclaim with his hugely successful debut album, 4thSign, which included the now legendary singles ‘Camargue’ and ‘Nightbreed’. Bolland’s second album for R&S, Electronic Highway, was released in 1995.
In late 1994 Bolland left R&S to sign a mammoth five album recording contract with Internal/Polygram Records. The first album being, The Analogue Theatre, which was released in late 1996 to critical praise and dance-chart success, thanks to the single "Sugar Is Sweeter’ hitting the United States Hot Dance Club Chart at #1. Further UK hits followed with "The Prophet" and "It Ain't Gonna Be Me".
Bolland is also extremely well known for his remixing résumé, including work with Orbital, Depeche Mode, Moby, The Prodigy and Tori Amos. His track "The Prophet", sampling Willem Dafoe in Martin Scorsese's 1990 film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ was an underground club hit as well as ‘It Ain’t Gonna Be Me’ being featured in the soundtrack of cult dance music film ‘Human Traffic’.
I could go on and on about the accomplishments of one of technos true pioneers however, I will now turn the ‘mic’ over to the man himself, to tell us a little about how it all started and what his plans for the future hold.
Over to you CJ…..
CJ in his element
Full Name: Christian Jay Bolland
Nationality: British Labels: R&S, FFRR, Mole, Harthouse, Universal.
Current Releases: as CJ Bolland - The Fire (Harthouse) as Magnus - Where neon goes to die (Universal) Musical Mentors: List is endless but here are some of the biggies, Juan Atkins, Dave Angel, Cisco Ferreira, Dirk Da Davo, Tom Ellard, Richard James, Plaid, “Mad” Mike Banks, Jeff Mills.
G’day CJ. Thank you so much for taking time out to have a chat with us all today. Where are you right now and how are you feeling under these crazy circumstances?
I’m on my sofa at home in Antwerp. We just got word that we are locking down again for at least 6 weeks, so yeah, bummer. It is very much needed as our hospitals are totally overrun so we’ll have to stick it out and hope the situation betters soon.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
So, I’m a middle-aged Brit, our family moved to Antwerp, Belgium in ’74 when I was 3. I live with my girlfriend and our annoying but sometimes adorable cat, Ro. I grew up in a musical family and that clearly rubbed off. I have a broad taste in music though I do favour the electronic approach. I love techno and all of its spin offs but when I’m not working I listen to more jazz, classical, some rock and reggae too.
I signed to R&S records in 1989 and worked under loads of pseudonyms, Sonic Solution, Space Opera, The Project, Ravesignal etc….
In the noughties I formed a band with Tom Barman, the lead singer of the rock band dEUS (a band I often produce), we called ourselves Magnus.
Magnus is an electro based song project, with wide influences from rock, pop, wave and electro. A Belgian magazine once described it as “JJ Cale meets Kraftwerk” which I kinda liked.
What music did your parents listen to when you were growing up and do you think they have influenced your productions?
My mum loves soul, especially Sam Cooke but is a fan of many genres, she used to play a lot of Kate Bush too which my sister and I really enjoyed as kids. Dad is more of a rock ’n roll dude but will also listen to anything as long as it’s from the 60’s :) In the 80’s , we had a bar/nightclub and mum was the dj, playing anything from disco, pop, rock to new wave and even some early electro.
We were always a musical family, everybody was always humming, singing or tapping on something noisily. My mum would always notice when me or my sister would react to music on the radio or TV and she would go and by us the record. She got me the 7 inch of the Doctor Who theme when I was 2 cause I would get my boogie on every time it came on the telly and Jean Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’ album after watching him perform it on a tv show and just being in awe of the sounds he was creating and the machines he was using.
So, yes all very influential in many ways.
What was the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself and how old were you?
Because we had the club, I had access to a huge record collection so didn’t need to blow my hard earned pocket money on expensive vinyl ’til I was about 12 when I started digging deeper and wanted to hear more surprising material. The first 12 inch I bought myself in ’83 was ‘Hashim - Al Naafiysh’ arguably the first big electro hit and I think my first album was ‘The neon judgement titled ‘1981 - 1984’ one of Belgium’s finest examples of what we called cold Wave, a darker interpretation of new wave.
Instantly I got hooked on record shops, scouting for electro and obscure cold wave almost daily after school.
Do you remember your first rave? What was it called and who was playing? Tell us about it.
I don’t remember exactly which rave I went to first but the first one that really stood out was the ‘Mayday’ series, especially the second one in 1992 in Cologne, Germany. I played live as Sonic Solution and shared the stage with Aphex twin, Joey Beltram, Sven Vath, DJ Hell, Outlander, G.T.O., Marusha, Cosmic Baby, Lenny Dee and many more. At that time, it was the biggest event I’d ever seen let alone perform at. Mark Spoon (Jam & Spoon) was singing over Sven’s set and the atmosphere was just indescribable.
After that came many more unforgettable ones, Tribal gathering in the UK, Rainbow 2000 Japan at the Fuji Q amusement park right beside the volcano, Dance Valley in The Netherlands and of course Hardware in Aussieland are just some of the greats! Most memorable one down under for me was Welcome 2000, NYE 1999 at the docks in Melbourne.
Welcome2000 flyer…. and what a party it was !!
By the early ‘90’s you really were at the pinnacle of the European techno scene, especially after the release of ‘Horsepower’ and ‘Mantra’. How did you eventually get signed to R&S considering they were not based in Antwerp?
In the mid 80’s, I was a frequent guest on ‘Radio Centraal’ a pirate radio in Antwerp where I would play tapes of my new tracks, then listeners could call the station and we would discuss how it was produced on air. What machines were used, what samples and how they were processed etc….
One day someone played a cassette recording of one of the broadcasts to Renaat (the R in R&S) who then invited me to his studio in Gent. I walked through the door and my jaw hit the floor. There were machines that I could only dream of… A big room full of synths, modulars, a huge mixing desk, tons of drum machines and an Emulator 3 (that was the sampler I knew Depeche mode were using).
There was another 17 year old kid in the room (Cisco Ferreira who later became ‘The Advent’ tweaking synths that day and Renaat left us alone to get acquainted. We spent the next 30 hours caning the shit out of everything we got hold of until I eventually fell asleep on the Emulator :) Renaat showed up again the next day with a record deal and I didn’t hesitate for a second.
What was your first home set-up as a producer like? How different is your set up now and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I’ve had many different set ups over the years and gear cost a fortune back then so when you needed something new you would usually have to sell something first in order to afford it. But I loved every stage of it and not having a lot to play with was always the best way to get the most out of what you did have.
My very first set up was an Ensoniq Mirage sampler, a Korg MS20, TR808, TR606, TB303 and finally a Korg M1. No computer as music software didn’t even exist yet :) The Ensoniq had a 333 free event sequencer, the M1 had a quantizable step sequencer and I used the trigger of the 808 and the cv gate of the 303 to sequence the MS 20.
I would record 30 minute jam sessions on reel to reel tape and then edit it down with razor blades and sticky tape to 5 minute tracks. Editing took hours but was fun as hell!
My Macbook pro today with Cubase, Pro tools, Ableton Live and a zillion plug ins installed is infinitely superior in every conceivable way but the cheer joy of trying to sync up two totally incompatible analog sequencers and then finding a working solution is priceless.
My favourite hardware synth at the moment is Arturia’s Matrixbrute but it really depends what I’m working on. Some days I require a warmer approach and then I prefer the Moog voyager XL. I love my software too though, I use NI Reaktor more than anything else and I’m a big fan of Arturia’s V Collection.
You have shared the studio with the likes of Dave Clarke, Jeff Mills, Laurent Garnier and Richie Hawtin. Did you ever envision that you would be such an influential figure in the techno scene? How does it feel knowing you are?!
I never really think about it, I just get on with it. The four you mention above are obviously massive influences on me too. Once you’re out there anybody can be an influence, consciously or subconsciously across all art forms.
Spending most of your youth around the revolutionary Detroit sound, what was your inspiration to start making a darker, almost heavier sound?
Yes, I spent some time in Detroit early 90’s and got to hang out with some of the legends and those guys really are something else. My first deep impressions however came from the 80’s cold war Belgian industrial/cold wave scene sometimes referred to as EBM or Electronic body music .
I loved the opposing moods this music often brought, compassionately aggressive, beautifully dark, depressingly hopeful :) Front 242, The Neon Judgement, The Klinik, to name a few, were my teenage bands. Raw, dirty fat analog with a glimmer of sunshine.
Later that decade Chicago brought us Acid house which to a certain extent had a similar feel but was way more dance floor orientated, add to that the luscious melodic rhythmical complexity of the Detroit sound and you end up somewhere quite special. The emotional contrasts made it all very exciting to me, a bit like the big drops of now, small - big, dark - hopeful, angel - devil, angry yet forgiving.
There are a lot more female techno DJs today making a massive impact on the techno scene. What are your thoughts on this and the general state of the scene in general right now?
There’s so much great music happening at the moment and the girls are indeed rocking it. I’m a big fan of Helena Hauff, Volvox, Rebekah etc… the underground scene is thriving again with plenty of awesome venues with cool policies like ‘no mobile phones’, offering great music to an open-minded audience. That’s the circle I move in so I’m a happy bunny ;)
There is of course a huge mainstream scene too with its aptly dubbed ‘business techno’ where huge amounts of dosh changes hands for interchangeable DJ’s to play each other’s top ten hits of the week. That’s all I really know about that side, there’s not much interesting happening there so I pay it little attention.
It’s not that different from 30 years ago except it’s way more in the spotlight now and easy to swallow techno is just another form of pop music.
The innovative end of the scene is very alive and kicking, you just need to go to the right party!
If you want it from the underground, you gotta dig deeper!
Your discography is literally mind blowing with over 27thEP’s if I’m not mistaken? Do you have a personal favourite release and if so, which one? ** my favourite is ‘Camargue’ so thank you for that one x
I never counted, so no clue :) My favourites shift around, I like when I stumble across an old tune I forgot about and get excited by again. Someone posted an oldie of mine on FB the other day called ‘Starship universe’ that got me tingling again :)
Oh, and you’re welcome ;)
What is the one track that never gets old for you no matter how many times you hear it?
There are many that fit that description but the one I probably listened the most since I bought it in 1984 is Newcleus - Automan. If you don’t know it, it might sound strangely familiar, especially if you slow it down. Snap sampled the whole synth riff early in the 90’s with Rhythm is a cheesy dancer but when you compare that to the original, you’ll be like GODDAMN!
So, let’s clear this up once and for all…. Where did techno originate? Some say Germany, some say Belgium? Your thoughts on this? haha
House and Acid - Chicago Techno – Detroit ‘Bangin’ techno - Belgium Sausage trance - Germany Nutcase gabber - The Netherlands! :) :)
Away from music, how do you relax? What hobbies etc do you enjoy?
My bicycle! I love to cycle back to nature (Fad Gadget pun intended). After all the airports, hotel rooms, dark sweaty clubs and the cabin fever of long studio days I just like being outside away from the noise!
Thinking of the future, what is coming up in the forthcoming months for you and your music? Anything you would like to let our readers know before we say goodbye? New releases etc….
I set up a new label, ‘Afterdark’ with my old pal Fly (the man behind Bonzai records) just before the pandemic but the planning is all muddled now due to restrictions so not sure about new release dates yet.
I am currently working on a new release for Harthouse and I’m also talking with R&S about future collaborations. In the meantime, as all gigs are off, I’m producing another album for dEUS.
That concludes our interview this month with the legendary CJ Bolland. For all up&coming new on what’s coming up for him on the music front please follow him below at:
Our next interview will be published on Friday the 4th of December.