The DJ Interview: Going Dutch

Junkie XL excels live

Deanna Rilling

Junkie XL makes music. The common misconception that he’s strictly a DJ is something the Dutch-born musician, producer and remixer is quick to correct. “I am a live act,” he clarifies, and he feels the end result yields more interaction with the crowd while he plays his own songs and remixes, versus spinning someone else’s tracks.

Née Tom Holkenborg, this virtual one-man band will be stopping in Las Vegas in support of his fifth studio album, Booming Back at You. As with other prominent electronic and dance music figures (Donald Glaude, for example), Junkie XL’s musical beginnings were classically based—and then he discovered synthesizers. Now, he feels his music is best described as “a mix between traditional rock/alternative music and electronic dance music.”

Junkie XL’s composite of guitars, bass, vocals, pianos, synthesizers and sampling will be re-created live for club-goers in Vegas on April 20 at Moon, and also for festival attendees at Coachella in Indio, California, on April 26. “You prep a lot of small things in the studio, but all big decisions are made on stage,” he says. “I play more or less all songs [from the new album], sometimes in different versions,” he explains, although one shouldn’t expect him to just put on his CD and stand behind a laptop. “If I would just play the CD from front to back, I could actually have a beer at the bar at my own show!” he jokes.

For those unfamiliar with Junkie XL’s original music and his body of work, which of the LA transplant’s remixes might be more recognizable to the average club-goer? “It’s definitely the new Britney Spears ‘Gimme More,’ and the Coldplay remix ‘Talk’ [and] Fatboy Slim’s ‘Weapon of Choice.’ A little longer ago, Rammstein’s ‘Feuer Frei!’ and even earlier, I remixed bands like Sepultura and Fear Factory, and that was done in a time period where remixing those bands was really unusual.” Recently, Junkie XL added mixes of Madonna’s new single “4 Minutes” to his repertoire.

In the past, his music resembled more of the traditional conceptual album that the listener would play from beginning to end. With the new release, this electronic-music jack-of-all-trades acknowledges that times are changing, especially when it comes to playing original music to a nightclub full of people. “We’re living in a completely different world right now, where everything is more track-based and less album-based,” he says. “I really wanted to make an album with 12 floor-fillers that every time I play that out, it’s like the tune that people want to dance to or rock out to.”

And rock out they will, with a set likely to include the catchy single “More,” his cover of the Siouxsie & the Banshees song “Cities in Dust” (both with Lauren Rocket on vocals), “1967 Poem” (for which he teamed up with DJ superstar Steve Aoki) and “Mad Pursuit” with Electrocute vocalist Nicole Morier. He describes the new songs as “very simple, very energetic, uplifting, raw and fun—and short. Just short songs, not like epic songs that are lasting 10 minutes or 12 minutes.

“Even though I use electronic elements, I come from a rock background, and that always shines through in the production style, but also the approach of how I make songs,” he says. “Over the last 12 to 13 years that I’ve worked as Junkie XL, I’ve always done pure club gigs where it would be weird sometimes for the crowd to see me there, but it always, always worked out.”

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