Delicate melodies and subtle little movers: in-depth with Supreems

Pictures by Vincent Egon Verschueren, Thibaud Punie, Laurens Diesveld

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Since the release of his ‘Us Together’ 12” on Lobster Theremin three years ago, Xavier Van Bouwel aka Supreems has been steadily building a reputation for himself as an outstanding DJ and producer. While his selections as a DJ keep dancefloors moving across Europe, his ear for beautiful melodies, the delicacy of each sound and his way of storytelling through his productions separate him from many peers.

“I’ve tried making more straight forward, four to the floor, club-oriented tracks, but failed miserably every time", the Antwerp based producer explains. “My production style is emotive, first and foremost. Resident Advisor once described my tracks as ‘subtle little movers’. I think that fits the vibe I’m after perfectly.”

The fact that Xavier is very driven to tell his stories in precisely the right way doesn't only come through in his latest releases Close Your Eyes (And Feel) – another successful throw from Lobster Theremin in 2018 – and his Amygdala EP from last year. The same love for detail became apparent through the conversation we had with him. More than once, he corrected some words, to make sure every nuance is in there. Big players like Bicep, Four Tet and Ross From Friends are just a few of the artists who have been supporting his music. Time to get a bit more familiar.

A while ago, you mentioned you haven’t been able to make a lot of music in the past year because you were having some health issues. How are you doing now?

“2019 was a pretty rough year for me on a personal level because I was battling Crohn's Disease. It's a pretty invisible  illness that can make my energy levels drop really low. Finishing tracks was the last thing on my mind, but music, friends, playing gigs and meeting new people along the way has played a huge role in helping me push through this. When I first spoke about it online, people messaged me how my music made them feel a certain way, or how it was the soundtrack to a special moment in their life. Little messages like that were like therapy and made me promise to myself to finish my folder of unfinished tracks in 2020.

Is making music part of your daily routine or what else are you occupied with?

“I work part-time at a movie theatre in Antwerp. Film is my second biggest passion, and so if I’m not either working in the studio or at the movies, I’m probably watching one. I think doing music fulltime would currently just put a big weight on my shoulders, as then it would suddenly become my main source of income, and I’m not yet at a crossroad where I can consider making that decision. Not that I don’t think it would be a dream to be able to live off my music, though”.

I was so nervous playing Panoramabar, but as soon as I started playing, I immediately knew it was going to be a special couple of hours.

In 2017, you released your first EP on Lobster Theremin - quite an impressive debut. How did this happen?

“I was a member of this Facebook group called Strictly Lo-Fi (RIP), which was a hotspot for house heads to post stuff they were into or working on. Jimmy Asquith (head of Lobster Theremin, ed.) also happened to be a member of that group. It was around 2016 when I first started buying gear and posted one of my first tracks in the group. The next morning I had an e-mail from Jimmy asking me if I had any more stuff, which felt absolutely surreal, as my wall was full of Lobster Theremin covers and I pretty much owned their complete catalogue. Because of them, I got the opportunity to play around the globe and have my music reach so many people. These things I will always be grateful for”.

Do you consider yourself mainly as a producer or as a DJ?

“I’m a DJ first. Although it's because of my productions I get to zig-zag across Europe, so these roles are intertwined. I became interested in DJing when I was about 16 years old, and only picked up producing a few years ago”.

Some of the venues you played include Pukkelpop, Concrete in Paris, Corsica Studios in London and Panorama Bar in Berlin. Any particular memories you’re fond of?

“The most memorable one was definitely my gig at Panorama Bar. I rarely felt connected to a crowd as I did that night. I was so nervous, but as soon as I started playing, I immediately knew it was going to be a special couple of hours. People instantly jumped on the same vibe I was on, and it made me understand why Berlin is so special. Also, I don’t usually play my own tracks in my sets, but this time I ended my set with Us Together and that right there was a moment”.

The last thing I want is for people to have certain expectations when they come to see me play.

Your mixtapes and DJ-sets display a wide variety of genres and influences. What determines what you’ll play?

“Contrary to my productions, my DJ-sets are a bit more eclectic. I always try to find a good balance between different genres and emotions. Sticking to the same groove or mood for two hours bores me very quickly. What I feel like playing usually depends on the vibe I get when I arrive at the party, but also my mood and just stuff I happen to be into at the time. The last thing I want is for people to have certain expectations when they come to see me play”. 

You're playing more gigs abroad than in your own country. How do you look at the scene in your city, compared to others?

“I think the main difference between Antwerp and scenes I've experienced abroad is that clubs don't seem to carry as much weight as they do in other cities. People decide where they go every weekend based on who is throwing a party, rather than visit the same club for two weeks in a row. People don't care where the party is at, and I think that’s pretty charming. So it’s quite different from the usual clubbing scenes in Berlin, London or Amsterdam, for example, but exciting in its own way. I think what I love most about the local scene is that as soon as summer is near, there are quite a few lovely open-air parties popping up all over the city. It brings a lot of hot and exciting artists from all over the globe to our tiny city in just three months. Even though most of my gigs are abroad, I still very much enjoy the opportunities I get to play or go out here”.

Can you tell us a bit about your approach in the studio?

“I don't come up with ideas first and then hit the studio. The ideas present themselves when I'm sitting in front of a synth or drum computer. I’m not going to lie; I have some recordings on my phone of me humming melodies on the go. Most of the time, though, I play around with a synth or a sample until I have something compelling enough for me to record, and then I usually build from there. I still consider myself in the early stages of music production. I’m still learning a lot, but it's nice to have some people on board already".

It's important to remember that your worth as an artist does not equal the amount of attention you can get.

It looks like that. Last year, you released an EP on Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaur’s label, Nice Age. How did that come about?

“Back in 2011, the 18-year-old me was at Dour Festival wearing a TEED shirt, absolutely losing it at his show. The artist was doing some heavy touring around that time with an album ('Trouble') that had a massive impact on me. He stepped out of the spotlights afterwards, and in 2018 he released his first song in years, called ‘Leave A Light On’. I felt like a teenager again listening to it, and the fanboy in me dropped him a message in which I also included some new music I was working on myself. He was really into it, and that’s how the Amygdala EP came to be”.

It includes a remix by John Beltran, why him?

“John Beltran is one of my absolute favourite producers. He has a quality to his music that can put you in such a nostalgic and euphoric mood that I absolutely adore. It can lift the weight right off your shoulders, and, without any lyrics, can still make you feel like everything will be ok. It’s a feeling I try to translate into my music as well. Tip: put on Beltran’s ‘A New Room’, close your eyes and let it work its wonders. Oddly enough, you don’t see him on any of the big festival lineups, neither does he seem to be very occupied with social media. That's something I admire, especially in today's overly digitized world, and with the circus social media has become”.

What do you mean by that?

“Don't get me wrong; social media can be a great tool to share your work and connect with fans. But at the same time, it can be a very unhealthy environment for artists. You inevitably compare yourself to others way more than you should, as you keep getting other artists' touring schedules, features or media coverage thrown at you. It can create a distorted image of what it means to be a successful artist. One that's more about creating an image or product people are trying to sell, than about actual music”.

Have you experienced this personally?

“I’ve heard of quite a few artists losing joy in making music, or losing connection with why they started doing it in the first place because they got too fixated on these things. Of course, it’s always weird to see artists who only just started or who have yet to release any music become ridiculously overhyped. It creates an environment where exciting artists can get overlooked too easily for not investing in PR enough. But it's important to remember that your worth as an artist does not equal the amount of attention you can get or the number of shows you have on your calendar. There's a whole other side to music and art in general that you just can't fabricate or capture online. Having artists like Beltran or TEED reminding me of this is a blessing.

What are your plans for 2020?

“To spend more time in the studio, less online, and to keep growing at my own pace, hoping to finish a couple of releases as well and to keep cruising through Europe”.