Peter Van Hoesen: not your average techno artist

Pictures by Camille Blake

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Over the past 20 years, Peter Van Hoesen's output has remained remarkably consistent in quality. The 49-year-old, who traded Brussels for Berlin almost ten years ago, just released an impressive compilation 'Uncovered 2008-2018', proving just that.

Van Hoesen has never been that typical techno artist. Although he's considered as one of the genre’s tastemakers, the Antwerp-born producer sculpts sounds for many different environments: the club, his home, or a museum. “Sometimes it's aimed at the body, sometimes at the mind, sometimes at both”, he says when we ask him how he would describe the music he makes. “I like to do different things, even when my main focus is on techno these days”.

Hi Peter, you’ve been working in many fields of electronic music. The 52-track compilation (consisting of unreleased tracks, rediscovered sketches and material from live shows) you just released comes in three parts: ambient works, slower BPM’s and faster techno and breakbeats. How separated are these three worlds for you?

“It’s all music to me; there’s not much separation. It all comes from the same source. Obviously, these different styles work in different contexts, but in the end, it all feels pretty much as one big thing to me. It just seemed logical to me to divide the compilation into three parts. At first, I wanted to order them chronologically, but that didn’t make much sense. It sounded a bit all over the place, whereas now each volume has its distinct identity”.

Do you know what kind of music you want to make before you go into your studio or is it something that just happens?

“It depends. Sometimes, I start with the idea of working towards something very clear, and it turns out to be something entirely different. I think one needs to allow this to happen unless you're in some crazy deadline situation, and you have to deliver something very specific in a short time - certain remixes come to mind (laughs). Some studio days are reserved for finishing things, and on those days, I don't allow myself much freestyling. On other days, I want to be as free and creative as possible without setting certain style restrictions. So, in the end, I guess it is a healthy mix of two different approaches”.

How did it feel going through ten-year-old music recordings?

“It was a fascinating process. I compare it with going through photo albums from the past and discovering your younger self in various forms. I had completely forgotten about some tracks or sounds, so meeting them again felt great. Mostly, I was surprised that there was so much material. You have to know that the first selection contained nearly 120 tracks. I narrowed it down over time, as it was nearly impossible to start mixing and mastering all of them. There still is a lot of untouched material, but I’m leaving it like that. It’s time to move forward”.

Music is a dynamic process; I enjoy the constant evolution. That’s how it should be.

You’ve been active for more than 20 years now. How have you seen genres and sounds evolve in that time?

“Music is a dynamic process; I enjoy the constant evolution. That’s how it should be. To comment on specific changes and developments seems a bit pointless to me, as the landscape is always changing. The process of change in itself is far more interesting than its actual outcome, at least to me”.

Is it possible to name a particular moment that changed your path as an artist?

“Sure. The first one coming to mind was the release of my first techno 12” on Lan Muzic, ‘Increments’. Before that, I mainly released experimental music through Foton (a label Peter ran himself, focussing on more abstract music, ed.). When Lan Muzic released Increments, it felt like someone told me “yes, you can do techno, go ahead”. That was a big moment. Everything else came from there. Another moment was the introduction to the Mindgames family in Japan (the organisation behind the renowned Labyrinth Festival, ed.). So many things happened because of that, so it’s nearly impossible to list them all. In a way, it’s a difficult question because one’s path is made up of so many different choices and encounters, so all of them important in some way”.

You’re also working on audio-visual works. For example, you made a commissioned piece with Heleen Blanken for Hexadome (an immersive 360° audio-visual exhibition that contains six screens surrounding the audience, created by ISM, the Berlin Institute For Sound & Music). The show also featured Thom Yorke, Brian Eno and Holly Herndon. How was that experience? What’s the place of these collaborations, visual works and commissioned pieces in your career?

“I do about two or three similar projects each year. They are important to me as they keep me connected to the earlier part of my musical career when I was mostly composing experimental music, often for contemporary dance or theatre. Working with Heleen was a great pleasure, as she is super talented and knows how to deliver. Her visual approach is unique, and what we made for ISM is something we are both very proud of. The piece is titled Adaptive Enquiry Nr. 1 and meanwhile has been showcased several times. I believe Mutek was one of the last events which programmed the ISM Hexadome. I have recently started on a new surround composition for Sony and its new 360 Reality Audio format. It will be presented in Tokyo later this month, so that is another thing I’m looking forward to”.

You’ve been living in Berlin for a while now. Looking from a distance, how do you feel about the Belgian club scene?

“I’m not that far away, as I visit Belgium quite often to play at Technoon. That gives me a chance to stay up to date about the scene. I have the feeling that there is a lot of energy, and many people want to make things happen. That looks like a very good situation to me. As always, there seems to be a problem finding venues, which is an issue I was familiar with back when I was promoting events. It has always been a struggle on that level, but I would like to reach out to all those promoters and let them know that what they do is important on many levels. Don’t give up”.

The one thing that Belgians can take away from Berlin is to have more belief in our own ability. Be a bit more certain about your position, and don't be afraid to take a risk.

Is there something about it that you miss in Berlin? Or vice versa, what should we Belgians learn from the German capital?

“Belgium has way better food (laughs). The one thing that Belgians can take away from Berlin is to have more belief in our own ability. Be a bit more certain about your position, and don't be afraid to take a risk”.

You launched a new label earlier this year, Center 91, that looks back towards your experiences of the late 90’s Belgian underground. Can you tell us a bit more about that period and the label?

“I want people to know that I'm referring to a period when Belgian techno was at its first peak. The sound of certain labels inspired me back then. Re:Load comes to mind, for example. I don’t want to repeat that sound - far from it - but I would like to find that same intensity again. So first and foremost, Center 91 needs to sound contemporary”.

Last month, you joined Circle Of Live in Switzerland, a concept where Sebastian Mullaert invites a changing group of artists for an all-night live jam). How did that go?

"Fun, as usual. It's an exciting concept; jamming live together for over six hours. I was very pleased with the result and with the openness of the audience. It’s nice that it always evolves. Every show has a different vibe, and each time the musical connections happen in a slightly different way. That’s refreshing”.

You said that this ten-year period (2008-2018) forms its own chapter in your discography. Does releasing this compilation, feel like a breakpoint from that chapter?

“Yes, it does. Part of the motivation to release this was to close a chapter so that I could start a new one. Center 91 is part of that new beginning, so let's see where this goes. I like fresh starts, and these moments are full of risk and opportunity at the same time”.

So how do you feel about the chapter that you’re writing now? Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?

“There will be a new EP on Center 91 sometime in March, and then the plan is to start writing a brand new album. I haven’t released a techno album in many years. I feel it’s time to start producing a full-length work again. I have so many ideas right now that it seems logical to condense them into an album. Besides that, I’m working on several other collaborations, some of them techno-minded, some of them entirely unrelated. They’re in various stages of completion, so I’d rather not talk too much about them. You’ll see them appear when they are ready. And lastly, as before, I still enjoy going out there and playing to dancefloors worldwide. These are still the main moments when all of the above comes together when I can connect my vision of dance music to the audience”.