[INTERVIEW] TOM HADES

[INTERVIEW] TOM HADES

It was a true pleasure to catch up with Belgian techno maestro, Tom Hades. We spoke via Skype where he was ensconced in his gorgeous studio, surrounded by a sea of keyboards, synths, drum machines and other electronic devices. With techno and tech house releases on esteemed labels Drumcode, Bedrock, UMEK's 1605 as well as long-time collaborator Marco Bailey’s MB Elektronics imprint, and with a career spanning over 20 years, I was excited to learn more about this remarkable DJ and producer. The conversation was inspiring and insightful as we covered his production process, great advice he’s received, playing live versus DJing and why he made the switch, as well as other compelling bits on the challenges and rewards of this path. So thrilled for you to meet Tom Hades! Enjoy:)

Thanks so much for being here and taking the time to talk today!

My pleasure!

You started early, producing back in your teen years, and you started more as a producer than a DJ?

Yes. At the age of 13 or 14 years old I was already experimenting. At the age of 17, I think I had my first release signed, but it was under a different name and it was different stuff, more new wave. And then, around age 19 or 20 I had my first releases together with Marco Bailey. Followed by solo releases and yes, this is how the train started. (Laughter)

And you just loved it and kept going with it..

Yes. I’ve always done a combination of two jobs, this and another one. I started as a developer in a company. It was about right place, right time, right moment, you know? I got the opportunity to buy myself into the company and eventually be the only owner, so I’m the owner of a software company now.

Amazing. Do you enjoy that just as much?

Actually, it never felt like a difficult task to do both. It’s actually a good thing for me personally because it’s kind of a switch in my head, from the week to the weekend.

So you’ve been doing that for just as long as the producing..

Yes, more than 20 years. 

Can you talk about your evolution as a producer creatively, as the gear has changed over two decades? What’s your process like now versus before, or is there a difference? 

There is actually no difference between what I did when I started in the first decade, and now. In between I changed, like a lot of guys who were really busy at that moment, where everything changed to more software. Hardware was not available anymore, not produced anymore, you know? It was done. Nowadays, hardware is back and I think even more than before with the only difference that it’s kind of affordable now. When I started you had a studio that you shared with a lot of other people because it was really too expensive. I never had doubts about the progress or the changes I did, because everything you do you always learn something new. Never too old to learn. But in the end, since I’ve bought a lot of new hardware again, I’m a hardware addict (laughter).

Awesome. Do you still have some from when you first started?

I still have some but I also sold so many things. I gave stuff away and don’t even remember who I gave it to (laughter). But it’s okay, it’s my own fault. This is how things went. I also sold a lot of things because I changed or moved houses. At the in-between house, there was not a lot of space to put everything, so I had to make decisions, either rent another one or.. So, circumstances, times, everything was part of the deal that I sold stuff. But eventually now, like I told you, I’m back with hardware that I like. Basically every element that I need to build a techno tune - drums, synths, basses, effects, whatever I need - I have and this is basically what I want to have. Because I like to do one-shot recordings.

So you do one take?

Yes, I have a multi-track of stuff running in Ableton, so it’s recording like 32 tracks at once and I have everything connected to a mixing desk, which is then connected through a multi-track. I can easily record everything and I do everything on the fly. So I literally make my drums… I prepare some stuff from before, then I do one take.

Really!

Yes. Of course, this one take is always way too long because you only have two hands and you can do a lot of things, but not all (laughter). So basically, let’s say it’s 12-15 minutes of recording. Then I will start to cut out stuff, so I have a normal track.

So you’d cut and maybe go back and layer?

No, the only thing I will do then is try to take the takes from the different tracks and then see what I can do with it. But I try to avoid to go back, because for me personally, building a track is a part of a moment. You’re in a kind of feel and it has to be done now. And it can be either very good, or very bad (laughter). But I don’t have problems with that. That’s the way I work. Then I make some basic structure or cut stuff out or whatever. Then I do basic mixing, then I leave it alone for a couple of days. And then when I come back, it’s D-Day - either it’s good or it’s bad. It’s also because I’m coming from a generation that had to do it like this before, because before it was only with a .dnt record. So, that’s basically how we’d record stuff. Or you’d have a sampler with say, 8 seconds mono-sampling. That’s it. Nowadays, I really hope sincerely that newer generations know what possibilities they have now, because before it was hell (laughter).

Is there any advice you’d give to up and coming DJs, or producers?

Find your own way. Find your own sound, find your own way and don’t follow too much hype, or what charts say, or whatever. Just do what you think is best. I have a really cool thing that I saw sometime ago, and it’s a nice sentence about this: In the beginning they will always laugh at whatever you do, but then they will start to copy. Actually, this is it. Just do your thing because everybody is always negative about new things because it’s possible competition for them, you know?

What’s the best advice you ever got?

One advice I got was ‘Don’t overdo things.’ It’s in a lot of ways, like production-wise - like how I told you I won’t go back. Why? Because you can destroy a good track by overdoing stuff. And in the same way, don’t overdo productions in releasing stuff. Don’t release and release and release and release. It’s not necessary. If you really want to release more than one track at once or build an album, make it cool, one coherent album with things that fit together and still are different.

Very cool. You started as a producer and you used to play live, and now you’re more DJing - can you talk about that process for you and the inspiration for that?

Yeah. When I started to do more experimental productions I was already DJing a bit but not professional, of course. More like small clubs in the region here. I liked it, but I liked the production process much more. And yeah, at a certain moment you come to this step that production is getting more serious but still you need to get out to show yourself so I had to make a decision. I thought, why not take a bunch of hardware and do live sets. I did this for about seven or eight years. I really loved it, the only problem was that it is very difficult to travel with a lot of hardware. I lost a lot of things, a lot of things were damaged or were not arriving the same night of the gig, you know? All those kinds of things you had in the past, and it was too difficult. Nowadays, if you see guys doing live, there are only a couple of them that really use a lot of hardware. The other ones have controllers and laptop and whatever. I don’t say it’s a bad thing, it’s just different. If you want to do a live thing it’s like, a guitarist will not bring a CD with him you know? He will bring his guitar, so.. Bring some stuff where at least you do something. When I did live, I never never never prepared something before, I built tracks on stage, always. But it’s hard. It’s stressful because you know, hardware is hardware and sometimes it works perfectly and sometimes it just doesn’t work - humidity in the club or whatever. And that’s not nice because then you’re actually more stressed about the technical part than you are in putting your creativity on stage, you know? So eventually I went back to DJing, and I’m pretty happy with it.

Very cool. What’s your greatest challenge been in your career trajectory?

To be successful or to have some kind of success there are a couple of factors that are really important. Of course, you need to know what you’re doing, that’s one. Second, you need to have the right people around you, in terms of contacts but also in terms of people who support you. And of course, the third and probably the biggest factor is the luck. So, has it been smooth? It has been smooth but it also has been very difficult at the same time. So, it’s never never think that you’re there. Stay with your two feet on the ground, no problem.

What has been the greatest reward for you? You have two careers, for all of it, what has been the greatest part for you for music and anything else?

For me, the biggest reward I get, in both actually, is that I can somehow satisfy people. In my daytime job I can satisfy people by giving them work that they can get a salary, that they can support a family. And in the other part, the music part, it’s so nice to have respect and support from all over the world. That’s one of the most important things for me, that also keeps me going  - that I can meet cultures, I can see people from all over the world. Probably 90% of the world will never have this possibility, or even more, I don’t know. So I sincerely notice, and I am very grateful about it that I am one of those exceptions. But that’s the reason why I want to have respect for them as well. For all the people that support me, that’s the reason.

That’s amazing. Beautiful. You have a record label [Rhythm Convert(ed)], can you talk a bit about it and the vision for it moving forward?

I started it with Marco [Bailey] back in the days and it was only vinyl. Due to changes in the music scene, you know with downloads, the whole scene collapsed. So vinyl was gone, distribution went bankrupt, so we changed three times I think from distribution and at the end yeah, everything went bankrupt again and again. We had artists on the label that needed to be paid royalties but we never got the money from the distribution, so at the end I paid it from my own pocket. I don’t care, for me it’s normal, those people worked for it, it’s not their problem. We are at the distribution that went bankrupt, but after the third time I was so sick of it I stopped. I said Marco let’s stop this, so we stopped for, I don’t know, three years? And then I called him again, and I said, you know, I think I want to re-start but only digital, and let’s see what we can do on vinyl with limited stuff. But since he was doing already two other labels, actually three, he told me I don’t know if I want to have the fourth one, but go ahead, it’s yours, do it. So I took over. I must say it worked very well. Back catalogue coming in again, we did some vinyl in the past, but again it was very difficult to find a distributor that had interesting deals for artists as well. So I did compilations on vinyl but the purpose was to have, in the beginning, a platform for new guys, when I started with Marco. Because we saw all over the world a lot of really good artists, you know? People who had really creative ideas and nice productions and everything but they didn’t have the possibility to get on something. So that’s basically what we did. We put on people who never had the possibility. And if you look at the back catalogue there are a lot of guys who are now very successful, you know? Luigi Madonna, Harvey McKay, Sasha Carassi - all those guys were on it. Egbert, everyone. 

Mega..

Actually, Enrico Sangiuliano, who is now always number one, this guy I signed him two times because he never got signed anywhere. For me, those people deserve a platform to get at least noticed. How are you going to get new generations in if you don’t even see them (laughter). I did it for a lot of people, but what I saw at the end was that a lot of.. Let’s say, a lot of producers want to be on the platform because at a certain moment it got a name, that it’s a jumping platform to get somewhere else. So I always ask, you know, in a two-direction way - I help you, just push a little bit from your side. I give them all that they need, press work, banners, artwork, whatever they need. But, the last ten releases or something, let’s call it they were lazy (laughter). So I got a little bit fed up about it, the label, sales, the name, the signature and everything so I think July/August last year, I had a discussion with [my manager] about it and I said to him, I’m going to stop with other people, completely. So this is why we slowed down the releases. So, at this moment I’m only doing releases from myself. I want to get the focus back on it and then I’m going to try to build a small family of people who I really like. Who have been supporting me, I’ve been supporting them, and let’s see..

All within the same sound? Or branching out?

Actually, of course it’s techno, but I like music, in general. So it can be anything, and for the label it has to be something techno, but it’s not that it has to be straightforward techno or melodic or not melodic, or whatever you now? I don’t care. As long as it has a decent sound and as long as the artist believes in his own productions. Don’t build something that you think, okay that’s something you will sign. No, no - do you want to play this?

That’s like to me the definition of the underground vibe, or the real authentic..

Yeah.. and again I’ve been doing this for 20 years so I go way back to a period where things were different. Underground was really underground. Illegal raves and all those things. But it made such a nice bunch of people who loved one thing: Techno. And bringing it to a bunch of people who also liked techno, period. That’s it. When I played in the very first editions from I Love Techno, we did a back to back to back to back to back with all those guys who are now somewhere else, Adam Beyer, Marco Carola, everybody was there. We all did back to backs, you know? Because actually they’re all about my age, so we were all the same guys from the same age, or almost, and just having fun.

And coming up together and creating that community..

Yep.

Community is massive. Fantastic. 

Yes, I love it!

You’ve just released your latest EP, Generation Y. I really love it - it’s a lot of peak, banging tracks but there’s still a lot of groove to it. Can you talk about that and what’s next?

Yeah, like you said, my new EP is out and I try to bring back that same Tom Hades signature from before. You already noticed some stuff and I’m happy that you noticed because it means that it’s there. It’s banging but it’s groovy.

Yeah, it’s got soul! It’s got detail and soul.

Every track for me personally, needs to have a story. It’s a building thing. If you skip the needle on a vinyl you would say blah it’s okay, but if you listen from the first second to the last, you will get into this journey, you know? And that’s my typical signature I think. I want to build something that is a journey and it can be different ways. It doesn’t always have to be in the same way, because Back In Time, the last track on the EP? It even has a sound in it that is slightly towards trance even, but I don’t care because actually all those bigger styles, techno, trance they all relate. And like I said before, I like music. And if it fits, it’s perfect for me. I will not think about rules or this can’t be done or this has to be done, this is the arrangement that should be done, no please (laughter). If we were all like that it would be boring. 

I found it added a nice balance to the EP..

Yes. Yeah and I always try to have let’s say.. if you divide the night in three, you have a beginning, middle and end. Because you know it’s the same, it’s a story, it’s a journey. You’ve been out all night. Did a lot of stuff. 

Amazing. Love that. I could honestly talk to you for a very long time - it’s amazing to hear your insight into the industry. Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

At this moment I’m preparing for this little tour that I’m going to do. I’m going to go to Columbia, and I come back and then I go back to Canada, and I come back and then I play in Bosnia and then there’s another one that just came in from Portugal, and then I don’t remember (laughter). I’m really happy, you know. I don’t always play the biggest things, sometimes, sometimes not. But I always try to figure out, when I get to places, what will allow for the mutual respect, you know? And to be honest I almost prefer the smaller venues rather than the bigger because if you see, I played at Tomorrowland, the opening of Tomorrowland and it’s nice there. It’s a big venue, you have more than 8,000 people in front of you, it’s very very nice, but there is no contact with them.

Right. You find when you’re physically removed it makes a big difference..

Yeah, and say the first five rows maybe you can have some kind of impression, but actually you don’t. And of course, it’s nice to play there, I don’t say I don’t like it. But, if I had to choose I would prefer a room with 200 people, 100 people, but fully motivated you know? (Laughter) Going for it! Yes. So, that’s it. (Laughing)

Amazing. Thank you so much again for taking the time to talk today!

Thank you!


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