The Netherlands has become a hub that churns out dancefloor-dominating DJ-producers the likes of Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, and Hardwell, so it should come as no surprise that Sick Individuals are fast becoming the emerging “To Watch” talent of the EDM scene. Ray and Jim, whose respective real names are too Dutch for the mainstream – Rinze Hofstee and Joep Smeele, had their friendship burgeon into a professional relationship after they met in art school studying music composition. After a successful stint working on major corporate commercials, they decided to go down a road well-paved by their countrymen as music producers. The vitality of the Dutch music industry, however, did not make it any less difficult for unknowns to shine amidst the murky abyss of those similarly inclined. Ray and Jim made the clever move of making the loudest noise by producing 22 remixes within 12 months. The exhausting abundance of remixed pop songs by the likes of Icona Pop and Rihanna perked the ears of industry heavyweights from records labels to Axwell, whom collaborated with them on the Beatport No. 1 hit ‘I Am’. Though they are humble about their DJing skills, they are not sheepish in regards to their production ability that’s both diverse and distinctly “sick”. JUICE had a chat with Ray — who has a sickness for chuckling — about their music education, making a sh!t tonne of remixes, and how Shanghai was the place where Sick Individuals’ DJing career really began.
You and Jim seem to work really well together as a team, but do you sometimes clash ideas?
(Laughs) No, actually we don’t. Normally, we can work really well together and we’re like yin and yang – sometimes we’re like complete opposites, but because of that we connect really well together.
Has studying music composition given you guys an edge in making music that stands out from the pool of similar DJ-producers?
Definitely, definitely. I think because we did art school, it just gives us a different vision about a lot of things that makes you look at everything in a different perspective. And sometimes I feel that when you don’t go to that kind of school where you learn about all kinds of music and learn about history and everything, you get really narrow-minded in what you’re doing and we’ve always been looking around and doing different things. We worked on TV commercials, we’ve worked on radio shows, you know? It just makes you look differently at whatever, everything you’re doing right now.
So, would you say that having this is better than having a practical DJing experience?
Well, they are both different things. I think nowadays for DJs, you can… Ahh! It’s weird we call them DJs, it’s funny we call ourselves DJs, ‘cause the real DJs are Chuckie and Laidback Luke, those guys are technically super skilled in whatever they play. But nowadays, the DJs that play right now, they have different skills; they are really good producers. And if you go to an art school like we did, you get a lot of training in that and that’s really helpful.
You guys did almost two dozen remixes in a year, was it difficult to maintain a level of creativity and variety?
Hell yes, it was really hard (laughs). One of the reasons why we don’t do that many remixes anymore right now. For us, in the beginning, it was important that we get our sound out there; to get our name out there. Because you can attach your name like a sticker on an artiste or DJ that you are remixing and say, “Hey, Sick Individuals did this!” And people may like it or not, but they know us from that and they use their network and stuff. So, we did a lot of those remixes – too much (laughs). But it worked really well because finally after that we could release our own music, because in the beginning, [for] producers that just start, that’s really hard you know, to release your own music because labels are not as interested as they are after you’ve done 22 remixes in a year.
Is there a creative difference in the process of making remixes versus original tracks?
Yeah, because when you make an original track, everything is possible. There are so many options you can do and what you can make. So sometimes that’s even more difficult. When you get a remix, you get a vocal, most of the times of the artiste and that’s the first thing you have, so you have to make something of that that is catchy or weird when you play it out live. I think remixing is definitely easier, the way how you treat a remix as well. But we’ve always worked on remixes as if they were our own originals and we’ve put so much effort in it because we want to make them sound really, really cool. I know for a fact that some artistes, some DJs, they work on remixes as well but they put in a lot less effort – and you will hear that eventually – and they put more effort in their originals. We’ve never done that. For the remixes that we’re doing right now, they are mostly really big artistes and we put as much effort into it as we do on our originals.
We’re curious about your history: You were into jazz and Jim went through a police internship, did that have any effect on your individual work ethic as Sick Individuals?
(Laughs) Good question! Well, my mother is a singing teacher, so when I was young, she always gave lessons to people at home. She was homeschooling. I was always upstairs after school and listening to what she was doing with those people – like singing “la-la-la-la-la-la” (laughs), they were training. I was always doing that myself. After everyone went home, I went to my mother and did [the lesson for] half an hour as well. I got the training through all those years, I was always singing. So, I was a singer originally. I always had a jazz heart for Frank Sinatra, all those guys. I just love that kind of music. I was singing in a jazz band but next to that, I wanted to do something cool. I was making hip hop beats and with those hip hop beats and the singing I did, I went to art school and that was where I met Jim. He always wanted to be the producer behind the DJ (laughs) – he told me when he was young he said, “Ah, I don’t wanna be a DJ, but I wanna be the guy behind it.” One day he went to school and then we met and he played his trance music and all his creative stuff… and yeah, we became friends.
You guys identify yourselves as producers and see DJing as a way to communicate your music to the masses. Do you still feel the same way after playing at big festivals and touring the world?
It’s absolutely amazing that we can do these festivals this year, like we’ve done so many great things. It’s great and I still see myself as a producer, Jim as well. And, it’s true. We’re making music and playing out for the masses because that’s what we wanna do – that’s the reason why we’re doing this. If the whole DJ thing were to disappear, we’ll think up something different to play out for the people. So, we love to DJ and it’s a great way to express yourself. But I think it is different for us than for DJs like Laidback Luke or Chuckie, those guys are super, super technically skilled and they have been DJing for years and years and years. They’ve created something so different than what we’re doing. We are… If you come to our show, we’ll DJ the hell out of it (laughs), we’ll be great, but it’ll be all Sick Individuals music and all Sick Individuals experience. That’s what we’re going for.
Did the early experience of composing TV commercials influence the way you guys produce music as Sick Individuals?
No, actually it didn’t. But it made us decide to go 100% as Sick Individuals because before, we were in Shanghai for three months, and that was where we started our DJing career actually. We made TV commercials in Shanghai for McDonalds, Volkswagen, and it all got aired and we saw all those TV commercials. I was actually singing on one (laughs) and that was super, super cool. Because we did that together, we decided next to that we wanna make music as Sick Individuals. Because we felt like [TV commercials aren’t] what we wanna do right now at this age. We wanna do something fun, we wanna party, have a good time.
Film scoring is not in the cards then?
No, not for now. Maybe at some point we will, if it’s cool, something would come up. But I think we are capable of doing something different and that’s what we’ve been showing for a long time. We have a Sick Individuals sound, we don’t like to make a track that sounds, every time, almost exactly the same (laughs) like some DJs do. So, that’s what we love. Maybe we’ll get bored and do something like that I can imagine.
What is installed for Sick Individuals in the next year?
We have a lot of good music coming up, and that’s like the best thing in the world for us (laughs). Because finally we are at the point where we can decide what kind of vocal we want that we can go to the studio with people and work on vocals, work on new tracks. We have a lot of progressive tracks. We really feel that there is a need for more progressive sound right now and besides that we are also doing some club bangers – don’t worry (laughs). There’s also a lot of partying as well. The music side is absolutely great, and also, we’re gonna do great festivals. I’m super excited.
As excited as playing on a cruise ship?
Hell yeah! Some of my buddies are coming there, so it’s amazing. D-Block & S-te-fan are coming down as well, and yeah, Dash Berlin.
Sick Individuals are among the international acts lined up to play at It’s The Ship, which starts tomorrow and ends on Tuesday 25 November ‘14.