William Djoko is a very complex artistic entity. Raised by a Cameroonian father and an Ukrainian mother his musical identity spreads far and wide. Growing up he could be exposed to anything from “Bob Marley & the Wailers to Paul Simon, from America (horse with no name) to disco…. and of course MJ”, and it’s this versatility that hones into his music and his sets within the margins of club music. I call him up a week before he arrives at Jæger for the Oslo World Music Festival and find a well-rested Djoko after ADE, readily available with a question as much as I am and eager to find out more about his upcoming gig. “I’m very curious myself”, he says with a chuckle asked about his thoughts on the upcoming event. “I would love to see what it does and what it embodies in Oslo.”
That inquisitive nature informs everything about the artist and DJ whose music and sets are diverse and span the dimensions of the Techno and House canon, which can incorporate everything from percussive African polyrhythms to bass-lines lifted straight from the streets of Chicago. “Someone will go ‘ah, he’s playing bass now’ and I’ll say ‘really, I thought I was playing House and Techno.’”
William’s career, which has its roots in this diverse musical ideology, begins with Jason and the Argonauts, a band where he assumed the role of frontman. An electronic group based around the sounds of the computer, William brought an energetic showman quality to this machine music, one that some critics believe informed his skills as a DJ. It’s at the booth where he would make his mark at Trouw, the Amsterdam club whose legend is firmly entombed in clubbing history today, and whose existence would spawn and bolster so many careers, William’s included.
It was at Trouw that I would be introduced to a “William Djoko groove” during his Late Night Society events alongside Borris Werner. It would also begin to inform me of Djoko’s work in the studio, an extension of a House / Techno aesthetic interlaced with the contrapuntal rhythms of African traditions,most notably on his 2014 EP, “Satisfied”. Since then William Djoko has remained somewhat inconspicuous on the release front, while his star as a DJ has continued to rise since Trouw. It’s exactly there where we pick up the story.
So what’s Life after Trouw been like for you?
Life after Trouw… Is that a question then? (Laughs) It’s been amazing. When you say goodbye to something you have this mourning period, off course. The last month of Trouw, I was at there every single day, maybe even twice a day. I spent a ridiculous amount of time saying goodbye to the club because it was so amazing. The day after it closed I just laid in bed watching a series to make me laugh, and as soon as an episode stopped or I had to go to the bathroom, I was like (mock crying voice) O my god, I can’t believe Trouw is gone. It was very emotional. After that it’s been amazing, man, we’ve received so much love here in Amsterdam. It’s brought me to such cool places as the former resident of one of the coolest clubs…in the world.
It’s not completely gone though and De School rose like a phoenix out of the ashes from Trouw. I haven’t been there yet, but I believe it’s completely the opposite of Trouw.
Yes it’s like the verdieping, the second floor of Trouw, a little bit more compact with a low ceiling and the whole sound system of Trouw is now in that room. It’s dark, there’s maybe like two lights, one of which is an emergency exit light. They have to have it in there otherwise it would be pitch black. Once you’re on the dance floor its hedonistic, your bodies are rubbing up against each other and you’re sweating and your fucking anonymous in there.It’s great for flirting. Djing there is a whole different experience, because you only see the first row of heads and the second row are just shades and after that you are not able to see anything. It could be ten, it could be five hundred people in there at a time.
So you’ve played there a few times by now?
Only once. I played back to back with Seth Troxler. It was a really last minute thing on a Sunday. I opened the night and Seth came around two. Seth and I have known each other for years now.
Yes, he was quite close to the Trouw family.
He is a resident at De School now too. It was an amazing night. It went on till Monday morning 7 o’clock, because it was so good.
I suppose it’s the type of place that would encourage late nights since you can’t see the people, you’re completely immersed in the music?
Yes, it’s really different, but maybe the thing that made it so amazing was that we went back to back from one. We just locked and we just went everywhere and everyone was screaming, but you just hear the screams and you don’t see the faces. (laughs)
What sort of things were you playing together?
Dark trippy and banging. It’s a safari man.
Has your style changed much since Trouw, that eclectic “African” House sound I remember you playing around 2014?
I think in 2011/12 I started developing a more eclectic kind of vibe, but I’ve also always been kind of eclectic in that sense.I like a different styles of music within House and Techno. To me it’s one thing, it’s a Djoko groove. (laughs) There is an African vibe in there obviously, but I like mixing it up, feeling the energy of the crowd and just playing with that. It’s all about interaction, I can give a lot, but the more I get back obviously there would be more of a synergy and we could rise together. I don’t have a “style”; I just play records that I find I like.
I Imagine that eclecticism has quite a lot to do with your formative years growing up with a Cameroonian father and a Ukrainian mother?
That definitely left an imprint because you hear different styles of music as you grow up, but…
I had this talk last week in Amsterdam for ADE about diversity in club life with me as a mixed-race DJ. And we talked about growing up black in a white community. You are always on the outskirts, you’re being approached- and you approach things differently. Not mainly for that reason, but it has to have something to do with it, but then again, I’m not a psychiatrist. (laughs)
You can certainly hear that in your productions at least with those African influences making counterpoint percussive rhythms alongside a House music’s sound palette.
Polyrhythmic music is my favourite, I love it.
How does that work into your sets. Is it from playing House music with those characteristics, or going back to the roots of it?
It kind of comes instinctively and I don’t really try to think of it too much. I like making weird rhythms and sounds, and I’m a very vocal person, so I’ll just (expels a squeaking sound) when I‘m alone at home. And I have a dance background, from Ballet to Modern to Salsa, so I move a lot. Everything has to do with rhythm so maybe my music is a translation of how I see things or bodies moving. I can’t stand still when I DJ, or when I’m in the studio. When I’m really feeling it, I’m like a tornado.
It sounds like music is quite a visceral or concrete thing for you?
You can put it as a visceral reaction, but it’s something that I’m making which has me reacting immediately. I don’t know how that works, I’m still trying to find out myself.
If you’re dancing in the studio while making it then obviously people will be dancing on the dance floor when you’re playing it?
That’s part of the philosophy. (laughs)
Before you started your solo career, you were in Jason and the Argonauts and one interviewer wrote that the frontman part of being in a band might have some effect today on your work as a DJ. Do you find any truth to that?
I don’t see a link in that directly. Being a frontman was never my choice. It kind of just evolved. I came in to the group the last one in, and I happened to have a mic. I never went into it being a frontman, but having a mic obviously gives you some privileges on stage. I don’t know how that would translate into my djing.
I thought it was an odd correlation, since Djing feels more like an introspective endeavour.
It’s introspective, but… I have this memory DJing in my friend’s bedroom – where all DJ’s start – and his mom came in later during the day asking what the fuck is going in the House. Not because we were djing, but because I was moving so much while standing still she thought the House was coming down around her. So even when I’m standing still in a bedroom, all this energy has to be set free. So when I’m on stage it’s all about the show. And I like the show thing about DJing – you can actually watch people playing. You can wink at me, I can wave to you, I can talk to the light guy up front, and we can all interact while listening to the music. It’s like ‘let’s make a show together’, and that to me isn’t very introspective. If I can, and most the time I can, I will always try to make it into a show.
That’s probably where that writer got that from, the showmanship aspect of your DJing.
You mentioned ADE earlier. Besides your panel discussion, what else were involved with and how was event in general this year?
Nothing short of amazing as always. It’s Thursday now and the last party ended on Monday morning, and you see people trying to reconnect with one another only now. It’s just so full on!
This year there was also three new club locations so you want to go on a small tour and check everything out. Everywhere you go you meet so many people on the street, it’s like the streets are made of syrup. For me it’s the centre of the universe for that week.
Yeah, this year must have been quite a unique experience, since as you mentioned, there were three new additions to the club scene in Amsterdam.
Exactly. I played the Thursday night at Shelter with Jackmaster, Tom Trago and Moodymann and I played back to back with Jasper Jones. It was just ridiculous, I love that club so much and I’m gonna do my own night there too next month. It’s amazing what’s going on here in Amsterdam. Everyone is doing a great job and everyone is rooting for one another.
Is your night at Shelter gonna be a continuation of Late night Society?
That one was me and Borris and we also decided in the last year of Trouw, not to continue with that one.
As a hommage to Trouw?
Yes, I think it’s better left there as something we thought of in 2010. That was an idea that was then and there and I think it’s always good to move on.
Will there a particular concept for this new night?
For the first night I have Craig Richards and Kornél Kovács. I have a very good understanding with Kolja (Verhage) and in the talks we had, he could offer me a lot of freedom in who I wanted to book and how I wanted to book. Of course over the years my network is huge and I have so many friends who are talented that I could offer a stage to. It’s all fresh and all new and it will be interesting to see how it all goes.
It seems that Amsterdam as a whole is so fresh and so new, with all these new places opening.
We mentioned your productions earlier and I want to get back to that. You had a bit of a hiatus from recording.
Yes, I had some VA’s and some single tracks on compilations and I had a couple of remixes, but yeah it’s a been a bit quiet release-wise. Literally this week though “Dirty Talk” is coming out on Voyage Direct. It’s my new EP with an original track and a club-dub version. It’s been a giant year-long project and it’s had a good reception already.
And that will be your first original release since Satisfied?
Yes, since Satisfied and Sacred Secrets , which came out at the same time. Due to poor planning and timing from both sides, both releases came out in the same week, So people either know Satisfied or Sacred Secrets. I put out two releases in one week which was the worst timing ever.
And then there was nothing for two years.
No EP’s for two years, but I just framed the new one and it looks amazing so I really feel confident and I’ve got a shit load of new music ready.
I can’t wait to hear it in your set!