A chat with Spekki Webu
It might come as a surprise that Spekki Webu has his roots in the worlds of both jungle and gabber. But once you know, you start to hear these twin inspirations in much of what the influential Mirror Zone label founder produces. The fast rhythms, repetitive beats and rawness of gabber is there, as is the pure percussiveness of jungle. And underpinning it all, there’s a clear and deep appreciation for the psychedelic, often venturing into the spiritual.
For this follow-up interview to his recent Patterns of Perception mix, Spekki Webu was determined to go deep: our chat was conducted electronically but is the result of several rounds of back-and-forth over a few weeks. Spanning his early discovery of electronic music via a jungle mixtape, through to the philosophy that underpins Mirror Zone and all of his musical output today, it is an insight into the boundary-pushing mindset of one of the Netherlands’ rising stars.
Hey Chris! How have things been going for you lately? Have you been able to return to playing gigs?
Hi! I have been doing very well lately. Just like most of us, we have been dealing with the pandemic here in The Netherlands which obviously resulted in being forced not to play anymore due to the clubs that closed and the festivals that got banned. On the bright side, that gave me much more time with family and friends, while trying to get as much studio time as possible and work on the label.
Now things are very slowly starting to open up again here. That means that I also will start playing again, something that I’ve missed a lot! I had some gigs here and there, some here in The Netherlands (when we opened for 2 weeks) and some outside of the country. We had a short period when everything opened up here and I was lucky that I got the chance to play. The energy I received during those gigs was insane. You could just feel, breathe and smell the eagerness of everybody willing to dance and be together. Unfortunately, the opening of the clubs didn’t last long and after two weeks the government decided to close down again. Anyway, being behind the decks those two weekends were more than worth it.
Going back to your origins, how did you first discover electronic music?
I must have been around 14 years when I got exposed to jungle music and that was the moment that my ear and mind wanted more. From then on I slowly started to develop an ear for electronic music and the so-called “journey” has begun. When I was a kid I used to frequently visit my two older cousins who live in Germany, near Hamburg, during summer. My cousins were like sisters to me so I was always hanging around with them. As a teenager, I used to skateboard and one of my cousin's boyfriends was a skateboarder as well. We used to skateboard together and the convenient thing was that he owned a car. Hamburg was around the corner so we often drove downtown to skate on the streets. As we drove to Hamburg, he put a cassette on that had a jungle mix recorded on it. I was immediately blown away by this percussive and fast music and I was interested in what this was. From that moment I wanted to know everything about this genre and he explained to me that this form of music was called jungle or drum & bass. So my mission was to see if I could find any form of this music back home.
My father used to go digging downtown in Delft and sometimes used to take me to a record shop called Plexus ‘t Platenmanneke. Normally I just went with my father because he was going to buy records or CDs but being back after my trip to Germany and experiencing my first encounter with jungle, the first question I asked the guy working in the shop obviously was: Do you guys have any jungle or dnb music? During that period Plexus had a big electronic music section and one of them was categorised for jungle and drum & bass. This is where I found my very first artifact and this was the starting point where the addiction to digging for music began. I bought a CD called Jungle Vibes Volume 2 which is a compilation that I still play today! From here on it was a totally new world opening up for me also because of all the things that were happening around me musically that I got exposed to. Plexus still is open nowadays, so if you get the chance to be in Delft one day then go and have a dig.
How did you get deeper into the scene from here?
Now, after being introduced into the world of electronic music, I only wanted more and more. I was lucky to be living in Delft. Geographically we are located in between two big cities, Rotterdam and The Hague. The gabber scene was big there (and still is) and especially in those two cities there were parties every weekend, including in my own town. So I also got exposed during that same period to gabber. Somehow you just couldn’t ignore it because it was everywhere. My neighbour was buying Thunderdome cassettes and this struck my ear as well, this was the moment I started buying all sorts of cassettes. Now I even had more music to explore and the funny thing was that there were a lot of comparisons with gabber mixed with jungle rhythms. I really had an interest for fast rhythms, hypnotic repetitive beats and the rawness that it had, mainly because the jungle did this too in it’s own way. It didn’t take long and by the age of 15 I went to my first gig and that's when the next phase opened up to me and got me infected, namely the dance floor. That's when me and my mates started to go to raves all over the place.
And at what point did you start DJing and making music?
I have always been a passionate raver and collector and DJing never was my interest in the beginning. So I actually started at a much later age. That must have been somewhere around six to eight years ago. One of my best mates kept pushing me to play because he knew I had a passion for collecting music and I could get quite nerdy with digging for records. And that's when the next chapter started. He was doing gigs in Delft together with Woody (good friend Woody92, with whom Chris often collaborates) and that’s when I got invited to come and play. From there on it basically never stopped and a new addiction was born: playing records. Producing music is kind of the same story but even shorter in time. I had some short moments way back doing some drum & bass but that never really became serious. A few years ago I started making edits together with my brother Gino (AKA Jeans) that we edited to play in our DJ sets. Editing quickly turned into producing music and from that moment the production side became serious. I started to produce with Gino and eventually went my own path in experimenting and producing music. I slowly started to buy some gear and now I share my studio with Gino and another close friend. Next to our studio, we have three other close friends who also share a studio. So we have a little productive basement going on with lots of inspiration.
What can you tell us about the gabber and jungle scenes in the Netherlands in those early days? And how do you think this experience has led you to where you are now?
Before I even really was going to techno or house parties I think I have been roaming in the gabber scene for at least 6 years (I still do by the way). Of course, I was collecting different genres than just gabber music. But at that time the only dancefloor that had my interest was gabber. It was addictive, the gigs were super interesting and the vibe was so good with a big group of friends from my hometown going to raves. And besides that it was a full dedication, we really lived for the parties and were going to gigs every weekend straight for quite a long time.
Like most genres gabber also has lots of different styles within its genre. In early 2000 there was a new wave of interesting artists releasing music in a darker form, sometimes even slower, having a more industrial and experimental sound and this was something that really got my interest. It was a sub-genre within the gabber that had a smaller following and a really specific sound compared to the “mainstream” gabber sound. Sometimes it was even psychedelic and hypnotic in its way and had a different raw experimental vibe to it. Quite a lot of this music was leaning towards more experimental harder forms of techno as well. Besides that, there were some interesting producers that also were mixing breaky stuff with hardcore that really got my attention. For me as a jungle head that was a perfect combination. There were a few interesting clubs in and around Rotterdam during that period that were programming club nights featuring so-called industrial hardcore, darkcore or crossbreed.
Looking back, what do you think it was about gabber in particular that drew you in?
Experiencing how artists tried to push themselves time and time again to break boundaries, be unique and have an identity - to do what they really wanted to do and show such dedication - has been very inspiring and important for my mindset as an artist and label owner. So it’s not only in terms of music that this period has inspired me so much but also in terms of the mentality. It’s something I really strive for. Also being exposed to raw and fast rhythms is something I still have a passion for and which can be heard in my sets from time to time. The experimental and psychedelic part that comes from there is definitely something that has stuck with me as well within my style. In and around the country there were sound systems doing illegal raves often playing harder styles and having a very psychedelic touch. If you listen to my sets you can always hear a certain grooviness and I have a big love for percussive music. That's definitely the jungle and drum and bass side that’s been important. The more drums and percussion the better!
Your music is diverse in terms of genre but the psychedelic is one common thread. What draws you in this direction?
I have always been collecting all sorts of genres. So the psychedelic side is something I got inspired by all kinds of music. Especially the more experimental gabber scene and the free party scene is where I really experienced some sort of hypnosis on the dancefloor. Fast, repetitive rhythms that at some point just suck you in. It’s almost comparable with ethnic tribal music that also can be minimalistic and hypnotic. I am also a big fan of tribalistic world music. Deep and trippy. Jon Hassell was a very important figure for me that really set the tone.
Music needs to tell me something, get my mind going. I just love it when atmospheres are constantly shifting. Something that never gets boring.
You’ve said that you always try to tell a story with your mixes and DJ sets. What story are you telling with your recent mix for Patterns of Perception?
As there has been a lot of experimentation coming out of the studio and also within my inner circle of friends, this mix contains quite a few unreleased tracks made by friends, myself or some projects I have been working on together with my mates. I wanted to slowly unfold this mix and focus on atmospheres, sound design and take a more futuristic approach. Having a more hypnotic feel focusing on atmospheres floating around. Mixing the abstract with the psychedelic. Imagine yourself leaving this planet and moving to the next dimension or phase.
This time our journey will go to the next phase. We have learned enough in this realm and are ready to enter a new chapter. Back to the source. The only form of communication is energy and sound. Words are no longer needed and time is no more.
In an ideal world, in what environment would you recommend listening to this mix?
Somewhere in nature on the border between the forest and mountains. That would be a starting point to where you would float away into the next realm. Even better would be somewhere up in the sky, but that could only be possible if you would be able to float in the air without falling down to earth.
Often when you talk about your music, there is an element of transcendence, something otherworldly, in your approach. Would you agree? Could you tell us a bit more about your philosophy of music?
I totally agree, music is so much more than the sound itself. It’s a story, a feeling, an intergalactic language that connects people and energies together. I am quite sensitive to emotions and that's something that reflects often in my mixes. I have been on a journey myself and there have been a lot of changes the last few years in a personal way, all positive though! There is always some spiritual link connected to my descriptions in mixes. For you as a reader and listener, it’s your own choice how you would interpret it. But I think for the deep-minded like me, you probably would get an idea. Some of them are linked to a spiritual subject. It’s a part of the journey that hopefully gives you more understanding of where you would go. Sometimes you can even see it as a guide through a certain moment that will help you through the journey.
How would you describe the musical direction of your label Mirror Zone? Does it follow a similar philosophy?
Mirror Zone is you and me, it’s life. How you evolve as a person and how you reflect within society. Everybody has a journey with his or her inner self throughout life. I have seen a few very good friends of mine within my inner circle change so beautifully as human beings. That's what really gets me inspired, that is the Mirror Zone for me. At the end of the day music is not the most important thing. I am blessed to eventually get the chance to meet all these nice human beings that became good friends. Everybody from the label I have personally met and got to know well. It really feels like family. We try to visit each other from time to time.
It's really interesting to see how certain releases unfold themselves and grow towards a complete story. I think one of the most important things is that all the guys have the same mindset as I do and I try to make the artist push himself and go out of the box. Selecting for a release is a process that takes a while. Not because of the music that has to be made. But in a far earlier stage by getting to know the person better and first establishing a relationship. This is something that's very important for me. Before the Malasod album even dropped I have been seeing him for over almost 1.5 years. Eventually, that evolved into a beautiful friendship. But it was mandatory for me to really get to know the person better, get to understand his mindset and aesthetics. That's what really made that release very important to me emotionally. All of the guys came in my path in a very interesting way and I don't believe in coincidence.
Much of your work, both as an artist yourself and as a label boss, is about pushing boundaries and being ‘out of the box’. Why is this important to you?
I think it’s important for an artist, at least for myself, to try and push up the pace every time. Speaking for myself, it keeps me sharp and eager to do certain things I maybe would not do. Try to explore and go somewhere that might not be logical for someone but in the end, all fits into the puzzle. Connecting dots that would not make sense but in the end, the red line could easily fit through. So I am always trying to see what's next and new for me. Also regarding some of the artists on the label: Giving them a vision or story makes them get in a certain emotion or vibe and motivation to go and let their mind go, but always letting the artist be who they want to be in their own feelings. It’s a mutual motivation that inspires each other not only to always look straight ahead but also dare to sometimes go a bit more to the left or right. And for me the key is that, regardless of whether you go left or right, you make it one complete puzzle that fits together. It’s about the context you present it in.
What sounds do you find most inspiring at the moment?
I haven’t really been digging as much as I used to do due to the fact that I am spending more time in the studio and producing music. I have been going through my catalogue lately and have been digging up older music that I really dove into again. Resulting in getting back into listening to a lot of the older IDM music I have and lots of tribal techno. I also have been very interested in drone, sound design and soundscapes lately. This gives me so much inspiration that there has been a lot of experimentation going on in the studio and trying to mix up all these forms.
A few weeks ago I had the honor to play the Seed stage at Modem festival in Croatia. I was blown away by all the super talented and interesting artists that were playing there as well. The main focus on that festival is the more psychedelic side of trance but the stage I was playing was focussing on progressive styles, techno, ambient and even dub-infused sounds, to connect a bridge between the psytrance side of the festival. It gave me so much inspiration hearing all these artists that basically also were doing techno but from a totally different angle leaning towards trance. It was very refreshing to see this all in a different setting.
Some music that has been on repeat for a while now is older stuff from Lusine icl. I’m a big fan of his earlier releases ranging from ambient to IDM. Artists or labels that interest me at the moment are guys like Alberto Novello, DiN Records, Latome2, Aural Electronics to name a few.
Where does your recent interest in sound design and soundscapes come from?
I have always been into it but I must say I have been really going deep into it the last few years due to the fact that it really became an important factor in my DJ sets (as in podcasts but also on the dancefloor). It’s a transition to a new part of the story or journey that gets its grip in the brain. It has a healing effect for the mind and it guides you into the next moment. I always have the feeling that when I would leave this planet, the music during my journey would be something like a beautiful ambient or soundscape piece. So for me it definitely has this spiritual connection to it, almost like it would be a certain language that would be used in a different realm.
In addition to your work as a solo artist, we love your b2bs with Woody92. It seems like you two have a great creative partnership and friendship - how did that come about?
Woody and I have known each other for a long time. We both live in the same city and he literally lives 10 mins from my house. We have spent lots of hours on and outside of the dance floor. Delft is a small city and most people know each other via some mutual friend or so. I’m a bit older than him so back in the day I didn't know him due to the age difference. Obviously, I was also roaming in a totally different scene. But Woody and I really connect with each other behind the decks. We know how to team up super well because of all of the hours spent together, having mutual interests musically and maybe most importantly, having a super good friendship and the same humour and mindset. This really reflects in our creativity.
What’s next for Mirror Zone and for Spekki Webu?
Vector Trancer just dropped his new release on the label. There are releases lined up with new artists who have not released on the label yet. Super happy to have them on board! So stay tuned for some interesting music coming out in the following months.
Somewhere towards fall/winter there will be a new project emerging out of the Zone in the form of a sub-label. This will have a more futuristic and experimental approach musically, released in different formats like CDs, vinyl and tapes. So you can expect lots of IDM/downtempo, ambient and drone. The nice thing about this project is that most of the people who will be releasing are good friends from my inner circle. As for the production side, there will be loads of new music coming out of the studio. I have been working on some projects on my own but also together with friends like JEANS that are on the cards.
End of this year our long-awaited tape release that I have been working on with JEANS will be released on Dance Floor Therapy. We have been working on that project for a few months last year and now it's approaching its final phase. That started out with a series of field recording sessions in and around Delft and The Hague. What eventually evolves in a 2x 40 mins tape ranging from ambient to downtempo and experimental rhythmic music.
Besides that, I will be focusing on some other projects that will consist of a combination of live sets and light installations. Luckily everything is slowly opening up so that means I will get back behind the decks more often again as well.
Image credits: Press photos by Verena Blok