All smiles, euphoria and high energy: an interview with John Noseda

Pictures by Daniil Lavrovski

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If you’re not familiar with the DJ called John Noseda, you probably are with one of the many renowned night clubs, events and festivals he had (or still has) a hand in. Kitsch Club, Club 69, WECANDANCE and more recently John The Club and Klub Dramatik Festival are all stellar institutions that have proven their worth in the current Belgian electronic music scene. Recently though, the Kortrijk-born Noseda has turned his attention to music production. The first results are quite impressive: a debut EP on Agoria’s Sapiens label is coming out next week, which will be followed by an EP on Gerd Janson’s Running Back. Not bad for a rookie. We had a little chat over some drinks with this Belgian nightlife icon to talk about the road that lead him here and the direction it’s taking him.

Hi John, you’ve been a well-known figure in the Belgian electronic music scene for over 20 years now. Where did it all start for you?

I threw my first party when I was 16 years old, about 18 years ago now. In many ways, it was the first big electronic music event on the Knokke beachfront. Together with David Hannon and Pieter-Jan Van Parijs, we organised four events. One got cancelled, one had a lot of rain, one even had a full-on storm, and the last one finally had some sunshine. That's not the start we were hoping for, but since the last one didn't have an entry fee, about 800 people showed up, which felt like doing a homerun! That's the moment I knew I wanted to continue doing this.

So how did you continue?

Not much, I moved to Paris for three years, where I really caught the clubbing bug. I was over the moon when a local nightclub Djoon offered me the opportunity to host my own nights frequently. Bear in mind I was only 19 years old at this point. I put a lot of time, effort and money in getting big DJ’s to come down to my night, Beaubar, laying the foundation for my love of promoting nights in doing so. I returned to Belgium, hosting these parties at Culture Club (RIP, ed.) in Ghent, where I met Bart Roman.

You and Bart started a whole string of different events and clubs, right?

Yes, there was a strong connection between Bart and me. At first, we did a few nights in Casino Knokke. After a while, the owners told us they had a small space available on the side of the building. “Maybe it could be a good location for a nightclub”, they said. We didn’t hesitate one bit. And so Kitsch Club was born; at first just temporary, then permanent. Expectations weren't high. After all, we had no experience managing a nightclub. But business was good; so many big names like 2manydjs, Azari & III, The Martinez Brothers, Kölsch, Mind Against and Tale Of Us came down to a small town like Knokke, which is pretty extraordinary. A couple of months ago, Kitsch Club celebrated its 10th birthday.

After 20 years of promoting and DJ-ing, I needed another passion project

If we remember correctly, it was Kitsch Club’s success that was responsible for the opening of two more nightclubs in Antwerp and Ghent.

Exactly. Both Magic and Club 69 were founded by the two of us and Thomas Van Hoof in the same month in 2011. Magic was located in a similar space in the basement of a hotel in Antwerp. It had a cosy atmosphere, dark corners, red lights, a lot of mirrors; just how we liked it. We started Club 69 in Ghent a few weeks later, thus opening our third nightclub. If I’m honest, this last one was my favourite. The three of us were a golden team that booked whoever we wanted: big names and local DJ’s across the spectrum of disco, house, 80’s, pop, rock, etc. It all had its place in either of our venues. Those were the good days.

So when did WECANDANCE come into the picture?

Ever since my first events at Knokke’s beach, the idea to do it again properly got stuck in my head. After visiting Calvi On The Rocks, a great festival on a beautiful seaside location in Corsica, we started WECANDANCE in Zeebrugge. We taught big, perhaps too big. We lost a lot of money on those first few editions, but we believed in the idea of combining the best of fashion, food and music on one beach festival. After a while, things did finally look up for WECANDANCE; and it gradually became the festival you know today.

What happened with the three nightclubs?

Me and Bart parted ways. Together with Thomas, I continued to manage Kitsch Club and Magic, but we sold Club 69 to a new owner. I felt like I lost my passion project, so we rebranded Magic into Kelly Palmer, booking artists that were a little more credible in electronic music circles, like Job Jobse, Roy Davis Jr, Pachanga Boys, Pional, Moscoman, Fango, etc. We were wildly enthusiastic, but the competition in Antwerp during that time was fierce. Weekly date clashes with Café d’Anvers, Contrair, La Rocca, Ampere and Club Vaag were becoming unavoidable (only those two last ones still exist, ed.). We pulled the plug after two years to focus on WECANDANCE.

Did you? Because you’re currently running a club night and another festival.

Yes, John The Club is a night that sprouted from Kelly Palmer, taking place across different clubs in Antwerp and Ghent. The idea is pretty simple: me and my favourite DJ’s go behind the decks for a night of boundless fun. It’s a 100% John Noseda kind of party. And if you’re implying Klub Dramatik Festival, I didn’t start it. That was the work of Jim Van Eupen and Matthieu Bosmans, who cut their teeth by hosting nights at Magic. After a couple of outdoor editions, we joined their organisation, helping them building it into the festival it is today.

In hindsight, it was good to let things grow organically. I’ve never forced things, not in my events and not in my music.

So in 2019, things are looking up again. Why did you decide to make music now?

Kitsch Club, WECANDANCE and Klub Dramatik have all outgrown their infancy, and after 20 years of promoting and DJ-ing, I needed another passion project. Since a couple of years, I've taken gradual steps into music production. For the first time in my life, I had enough spare time to work on it. At one point, I wanted to take this to a higher level because I'm becoming older; the time is now, and I was done waiting. Bert Libeert from GOOSE was kind enough to host me at their Safari Studios in Kortrijk, and he was helping me throughout the whole process. 

You’re one of the first producers we’ve met that’s so open about that. Aren’t you afraid people will judge you for it?

It's not ghost production; it's co-production. And no, I don't mind. I have my ideas, and a particular understanding of music production, but Bert's rich experience just helped me translate my vision. For example, I could have done everything by myself in Ableton, but I wanted my music to sound real and analogue; thus, I asked Bert to play what I needed on real instruments. If Virgil Abloh designs a sneaker, he’s not going to put the actual shoe together himself. Everyone in the music business likes to act tough and remain mysterious about these kinds of collaborations, but I don't see the point. People who are both a skilled DJ and a talented producer at the same time are hard to come by, so it happens more than you would think. It’s nothing to be ashamed of as long as you’re honest about everything.

And now you’re dropping releases on big record labels. That was quick.

Of course, it was a matter of much trial and error. Two years ago, I started sending out my first productions, and in 9 cases out of 10, I did not get a response. That was ok. I get it, DJ’s get daily boatloads of promo's nowadays. But I was headstrong, and I didn't want to make compromises to make my music more appealing to a broader audience. One day, I got an email from Agoria, who wanted to release my tracks on his Sapiens label as soon as possible. Suddenly, the replies started flying in. Gerd Janson asked if I could send a track for an EP on his renowned Running Back. I might be an experienced promoter, but hearing my track being played at clubs like DC10 is a feeling I’ll never forget. Krystal Klear told me he had to give my track a rewind during his set in Berghain’s Panoramabar, while I was denied entry to the club just a couple of weeks prior!

So what are your expectations for the future?

I might have been a lot further now if I had focused on this earlier, got a proper agent and some decent management from the start. But in hindsight, it was good to let things grow organically. I’ve never forced things, not in my events and not in my music. These days I'm back in the studio most of the time, working on new ideas. I’ve got a collab going with Australian vocalist Surahn; music that won’t be focused on the dancefloor. Don’t worry though; you'll hear everything I stand for throughout all my productions: smiles, euphoria and high energy. I just got to keep this thing going, even if it takes a little longer.