Whether you like it or not, hip hop’s rise in both the charts and the clubs is unstoppable. Ask any teen on the bus who their favourite producers are and chances are Jef Willem has booked or played alongside them already. Jef - better known as DJ Eagl or the guy behind the iconic Trillers parties in Ghent that have been extremely popular since their inception 3 years ago - is one of Belgium’s driving forces behind that highly flammable new school hip hop sound. After numerous sold out editions at Ghent's Charlatan and occasional field trips to Bloody Louis and Klub Goud, it’s time to hit Kunstencentrum Vooruit again for the third anniversary celebration. We sat down with the man in order to measure the temperature of the preparations. Spoiler alert: it looks like things are heating up.
3 Years Trillers! How has the ride been so far?
"It's been wild, man. If someone told me 3 years ago after the first edition that I'd be working with names like Baauer, Hucci, Mr Carmack, Ekali, FKJ etc, they would've been labelled 'mentally insane' in my book. The best thing for me personally is the continuous feedback I get from people who feel that Trillers really has a positive influence on their lives. It's more than a just a party."
What can we expect of the third birthday edition?
"Last year in Vooruit was so amazing to me that I wanted to do this again with a different set-up. A night full of surprises, decorations and a finger licking lineup in the iconic Concertzaal of Vooruit is the perfect birthday edition for me. I still get goosebumps every time I think about the moment a thousand people were singing Hucci’s ‘Ball So Hard’ during his set last year.
This year you have been a lot less active if you see the amount of events you have thrown. Has it been a conscious decision to focus on quality over quantity?
"To be honest, keeping a concept interesting over the years is a difficult task. People get bored of the same thing very quickly. I felt that if I had flooded 2016 with more Trillers events than needed, people would lose their attention. I took the opportunity to spread the vibe at Klub Goud in Antwerp with Faisal and in Brussels at Bloody Louis with Baauer. Booking Baauer was definitely a milestone."
After almost 10 months (not including the Gentse Feesten edition), you are doing an edition at Charlatan again. Were you feeling homesick?
"Definitely! To keep the concept interesting I wanted to try different venues and different cities in 2016 and I had a lot of fun with that. But an edition in Charlatan is simply like coming home and I missed that a lot. Seeing the great response on our next edition on February 15, I think it's safe to say that I'm not the only one who missed it. There's just something so authentic about Charlatan that no other club in Belgium has."
Your solo career is going places too. Does this limit the work you can put into Trillers? Or do you mostly see the advantages of playing out more?
"It's like the perfect balance to me and I want to maintain this as long as possible. Every achievement I get with Trillers is a step forward with Eagl, and vice versa. It's a lot of work though."
What will always get more attention from you: promoting events or DJ-ing?
"Promoting events for sure. There's something so satisfying about seeing people come together at a place because of all the hard work you put into it."
Your Facebook page says: “Trill is to be yourself, to be true to others & to be real in everything you do. That's what Trillers is about”. Why do you think is ‘being yourself’ so important for a party like Trillers?
"I have always tried promoting Trillers as a way of life. A lot of parties give me the feeling that they just want to be a ‘cool party’ that attracts ‘cool people’. I want Trillers to be a party where everyone feels welcome and where they can be themselves and be respected for it. It's a difficult task of course, but I can't help but feel extremely happy when I see different groups of friends bonding with each other at the end of the night, despite of who they are. Just be a good person in your everyday life, and I really believe good things will come to you."
You recently made a public statement on Facebook asking DJs to act more diplomatic and differentiate themselves in their sets. Do you feel like the new generation of DJs has become less professional?
"Due to improved technology and the rise of the ‘celebrity DJ status’, there are just a lot more people who want to be a DJ these days. Many of them haven’t invested enough time in improving their technical skills - and that's a shame. I remember reading on Thang's DJ profile that a really good DJ can make a whole room fall in love - even if it's for only a second. That's the vibe I want to create in my DJ sets and that's what a lot of DJs don’t bother to aim for nowadays."
What about raw talent: what’s the current situation of local beat makers according to you?
"The great thing about better quality and accessibility of technology is that every creative guy can try to make beats in their bedroom. Think about the inspiring story of Stwo, who was a 'nobody’ a few years ago, making beats in his tiny Paris apartment. Because of the internet, he ended up working on Drake's latest album ‘Views’. It's still a hard way, definitely, but ‘making it’ has become a little more within reach today and I find that extremely exciting."
Many believe the hype around this new wave of hip-hop will decrease significantly at one point in the near future. Do you believe that’s the case?
"I bet DJs in the 90s got the same question as me right now and look where we are two decades later. Oldskool hip hop and R&B are still relevant, and there are so many new and exciting things coming out every day. People are experimenting more and more with different combinations of beats and melodies so that labelling categories becomes less relevant. There's a new ‘genre’ every month now, so I find it hard to believe that people will grow tired of quality."
Which DJ that you booked on Trillers was the craziest - and why?
"I'd have to choose between Mr Carmack & Dj Sliink. Mr Carmack is like the full package of crazy. He made the crowd bounce so hard during his set I saw dudes going from left to right who weren't even with their feet on the ground. He has an extremely unique personality. I joined his next show in the Netherlands where we were talking about life topics for hours until 5 minutes before he had to play. Then he told me: “Ok, gotta run the trap now”. A minute later he made a few thousand people turn up. Crazy.
Dj Sliink had a bottle of tequila ready for me when I came back from the club around 8 AM. Even after that, he downed 2 Delirium beers in 2 minutes and went to the park to chill."
Which DJs are still on your wish list?
"I've been blessed so far to book a lot of homies that were on the list when I started. Names that are still on the list are Sango, Kaytranada, Stwo & Flume. I like to dream big."
Any scoops you can give us for the following edition?
"Oh damn, haha. Well ok: I haven't even announced this officially yet but one of the headliners for our 3 years anniversary is Stooki Sound. Keeping the quality high through the years I feel like they'll perfectly match up to Hucci last year. You just know it's gonna be crazy when they perform My G (from their last EP) live, it's gonna be lit."
Next edition of Trillers will take place on February 15 at Charlatan in Ghent.
3 Years Trillers will take place on March 25 at Vooruit in Ghent, with the now confirmed Stooki Sound an many more!