Music Interviews

Interview: Sander Kleinenberg



Sander Kleinenberg is nervous. It’s an unusual situation for an interviewee to be in, but he has good reason. “I read a review on musicOMH that was very negative about my album, and I thought this might be a difficult interview,” he explains.

As we squirm just a little, he continues with admirable positivity. “I can relate to half the comments. I think they’re very constructive. I think though that (the album 5K) is obviously a little further away from being a Saturday night house DJ. I’m trying to do other things with this record. If you stick your neck out, some people will say ‘I loved him between Saturday 12 and 5, but not when he tries to move away’. There’s going to be positive and negative comments, I guess.”

The record in question, 5K, Kleinenberg’s first artist album proper after a string of well received mix sets for the likes of Renaissance and Little Mountain. “What I’ve tried to do is make a blueprint of the sounds I’ve had over the last 20 years,” he explains, “and mould them into a listening experience. I think an album should have personality, and not just be 11 tracks from a sound you know. An album should tell you a little bit about someone, otherwise people will not necessarily get the message with it.”

“I have been trying to figure out if there is a big ambivalence, a difference between who I am as a human being and a DJ”
– Sander Kleinenberg on searching for his creative muse

The record sees the Dutch producer and DJ form an unlikely alliance with, of all people, Jamie Cullum, the two recording Remember When together. “We ran into each other,” says Kleinenberg, “and I had heard he was in to dance music. I thought it would be great to put him on a dance record.”

Beneath his softly spoken exterior, he’s fiercely passionate about his first studio record. “I have been trying to figure out if there is a big ambivalence, a difference between who I am as a human being and a DJ. I find that I can’t just go along with the next hype or phase; it’s got to have substance! Every track on this album has a little bit of depth. From the surface it’s ‘DJ hooks up with so and so’, but that is only the surface.”

He talks about his music with studied intensity. “This is about where I am as a human being, where I’ve come from, and what I’ve overcome in the last 10 years.” Events such as the death of his mother. “Yeah. She died two years ago, and she would always say, ‘Have fun’. And when you make the record, the last song is for your mum who loves you so much.” A slight pause. “She said it jokingly, but I thought, why not put it on there?”

The result was Wish I Said, featuring Miss Montreal. “The lyrics are simple,” explains Kleinenberg, “but I wanted to put it across. The first time we recorded it in the studio someone said, “I understand this feeling, but are you sure you want this Boyzone-type thing?” At least they’re honest! So we thought we could repackage it, and make the instruments sparse and understated. Originally the demo was more acoustic with strings, but we decided to take the pretty things out of it. Putting a record like that on an album, it was like, ‘not sure someone in Pacha would go for that’, but it’s very important to me.”

“It’s almost as if the world is in a mass psychosis, and can’t wake up”
– Sander Kleinenberg perceives an outbreak of apathy in today’s society

As a DJ, he is well established as a purveyor of strong, sometimes progressive house. “I got picked up by some big shots,” he explains. “Sasha and Pete Tong embraced me, and helped put me in this position. Then I felt I had to work out of that to show who I am, and I feel I’ve done that in a way I’m proud of. I’m not a closet Erol Alkan, and I’m not tough enough to have made this decision instantly. I appreciated the challenges and benefits I had; progressive house and what that meant. It has been a challenge to establish who I am and what I am, and it’s been tough because of the preconceptions, although some of those are self-inflicted. I have embraced some of those beautiful moments, and am very fortunate to have been able to put this record out there the way I have.”

Not many DJs would have had the balls to perform such a manoeuvre mid-career, but Kleinenberg wishes more would take the plunge. “I find joy in following someone’s progression. Unfortunately we live in a world where things are very complex, and it’s a big thing to ask from people, but it keeps me creative and moving forward. It’s the only way I can go. I didn’t make a folk album, but what it has done is shown a broader horizon. An album should have personality. Most DJ albums are an excuse to get more gigs and money. I did this because I wouldn’t know what else to do!”

A reflection of himself, perhaps? “Exactly. I wish more people would do this. Whenever I’m in England I’m sad, as it has the most brilliant music ever made, but then I think what is Radio 1 trying to teach these kids? I’m not trying to be a moral entity, but sometimes at the moment it seems a far cry from that.”

Dissatisfaction is brewing. “We live in one of the richest places in the world but people complain about what they don’t have. On the album, on Disko Riot, John Fugler talks about standing up more. On a social level we’ve been robbed by banks but no one stands up and says ‘fuck this’. It’s almost as if the world is in a mass psychosis, and can’t wake up. There are more pressing matters around us, but Doomsday seems almost inevitable. We need to wake the fuck up again.”

Sander Kleinenberg’s album, 5K, is out now through This Is. More from the world of Sander Kleinenberg can be found at his MySpace.


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