Phantom nostalgia, post-internet and Eurodance: An interview with Torus
Hailing from The Hague in The Netherlands, Joeri Woudstra made his official debut as Torus in 2012 with a self- titled EP on London-based Sonic Router Records. He spent the following two years further refining his sound with another EP, Yard Sale, and a 7”, Feeel, for the London label. Somewhere between ambient, beats and the dancefloor, Woudstra has managed to strike a unique chord in a short time by defining his own sonic aesthetic and exploring the potentials within. Visually his style – gold chains, marble statues, check board floors and a sincere love for indoor plants and the Times New Roman font – borrows from the unconventional retro fascination that feeds much of the vaporwave (non)movement and twists it for his own needs.
The Hague had a quite happening electronic scene with the Bunker Records crew, etc. Were you influenced by any of that?
JW: I only found out about Bunker Records three or four years ago. It was before my time I guess. My influences don’t come from anything local, it’s this typically post-internet thing, where I listen to whatever I can find.
Through the internet?
JW: Internet taught me about my hometown something that my hometown couldn’t do.
Are you also doing the visual side of the project?
JW: Yes, I’m doing everything. I’m graduating from the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague next year and that’s what I’m doing apart from the music. I’m studying graphic design. In my approach to visuals, I take a more conceptual approach which would fit with the music. I also think that my music comes from a very autonomous and personal perspective so by keeping the visual side to myself, I guess it amplifies the whole project.
Would you say that your visuals are influenced by post-internet aesthetic?
JW: It’s something that I’ve taken into account, but don’t want to be dependent on. It’s also very repetitive. A lot of people make the same things, so I kind of stay away from it, but I’m also a child of the internet. I’m not afraid to embrace this visual aesthetic, but I would want to do it in a way that it can still be something special in the future, not dependent on the time or place that it was made in.
Is the more ideological side to post-internet art, the criticism and irony of the capitalist system also something that appeals to you?
JW: That is actually the main side that appeals to me. Not specifically the visual part, but the approach to ironically criticising the world that we live in. I see my work in two parts: The creation of a piece of music or a visual and the presentation of these works, both on or offline. My work is very autonomous and I approach it seriously, but everything outside and the presentation of it, is what I try to make ironic. You see all these artists trying to fulfill this idea of how an artist should be shaped and how they should present their work to the world according to these dumb standards and I just like to make fun of that. Everyone feels like they have to convince you that they’re so serious about their craft and if they don’t try hard enough, no one will believe them. I think the work is what should convince you about how serious an artist is.
Vaporwave has also done something similar in music in a way.
JW: I don’t feel that my music is related to vaporwave, musically this style is like a joke. When I make music, I’m experimenting and not trying to make fun of the music. The comparison is more because of some visual overlapping.
Do you like contemporary hip hop? A lot of mainstream hip hop has embraced the tropes of the underground, and especially when it comes to the underground beat scene, the borders between the respective production techniques can get porous.
JW: Yes, I’m definitely very much into rap music. I’m a really big Drake fan, because he doesn’t seem to be caring about what he should be making to please his fans, he just makes what he feels. I especially like the production of Noah-Shebib 40, which is super groundbreaking to me. I think it’s very interesting because rap has turned into such a mainstream genre over the years, but all these relatively new artists like IloveMakonnen, Migos, Chief Keef, etc don’t seem to care about making a hit, yet they still become popular even with their weird experimental shit.
It is as if they tried to smuggle in the underground stuff into Billboard charts.
JW: Exactly, I think that’s really good. In the last three years, everyone started to become super experimental in rap. And then you can see that it doesn’t matter much if you are not trying to be mainstream.
Are these borders between the underground and the mainstream still important?
JW: I think they are becoming a lot less important. When I talk to younger guys, like my nephew, he tells me he’s into EDM and techno, but at the same time, he’s also into weird rap and experimental beats. It’s the internet, where you have access to all these different styles of music, and you can find anything instead of following a crowd. It’s not dependent on genres anymore, everyone can pick whatever they want to listen to.
What are guys of your generation – people around 20 – into?
JW: My generation is into anything. Being exposed to all the music there is, and being able to find certain things in a song that don’t have to be stuck to a specific genre. Anyone can listen to anything and everyone will respect that. Maybe it’s a movement against the older generation, where they always tell you what is right and what is wrong. And now everyone can create their own truths.
Does it get overwhelming?
JW: It’s super overwhelming. I’m searching for new music constantly, and sometimes all of a sudden I can’t do it anymore, because there’s so much and I stop listening to music altogether.
Does it get discouraging for an emerging musician, if there’s so much stuff already?
JW: Yes. For instance with all the promotion that is happening nowadays, once you release music, you have to do this interview, that feature, there are these certain expectations from an artist once they release something new. When I was starting, it was great to see all these artists reaching these accomplishments and getting featured, but then you realise there’s a structure to it, which is depressing. Everyone seems to be taking the same path to become big. But then again, I’m just interested in getting my music to the people who’d like to listen to it.
Would you say it’s similar in contemporary art or is it easier?
JW: It’s comparable, but the fact that I’m doing both the visuals and the music helps me build more interest quickly. I’m not just making the music, I’m creating the whole experience and the same goes for my visuals because I can always add music to it.
Can you talk about how you make music?
JW: How I listen to music, DJ and find my music and how I make it is all very comparable and happens mostly very organically. I can start with field recordings and add harmonies and create a beat on top of that or I start with making beats and add a lot of effects. It’s super organic, but it’s mostly digital. Of course, there are some things that have become standard, I often use Ableton and a lot of reverb, which creates a little bit of a signature sound.
In your biography it is written that you have a retro fascination.
JW: I think it’s more of a nostalgia fascination. For instance, I’m very much into old Eurodance and trance music a lot these days. I can take it out of context and make something new that makes sense in the age that we are living in right now.
Is it this phantom nostalgia, since it’s nostalgia for something you haven’t actually experienced (like Eurodance)?
JW: I’m also nostalgic for sounds I used to listen to back in the day. Nostalgia in general is interesting – how you recognise something from the past and get extra excited about it. I’m trying to implement this older nostalgia for something that I might have forgotten about with something other people would recognise but I haven’t experienced. I did experience Eurodance though!
What are you working on right now?
JW: I’ve just finished a single which is also going to be on the next, fourth, EP of mine, which is hopefully out this year. Next year I’m graduating from the academy, so I’m working on my thesis right now.
What inspires you at the moment?
JW: I can get inspired by anything, but right now subcultures that exist in completely non-artistic environments are very interesting for me. For example, I recently went to a car tuning show and did an exhibition with some homies based on that whole visual culture. I think I have the same fascination for Eurodance and trance, which is like the old school EDM.
It’s funny, I’ve just read an article about some 90s Eurodance stars and where are they now.
JW: That whole scene inspires me through that nostalgic thing. Everyone is using Eurodance ironically, but I’m trying to find the beauty in it, also in its visual side, which is totally over the top. Like I said, these subcultures exist in this completely non-artistic environment and it challenges us to find beauty in what is considered ugly.
I wonder if in twenty years people will look back and laugh at the stuff we are making now.
JW: I guess we have to find out.
Tempo-wise, I guess, the high-octane Eurodance is like the opposite of your music, though.
JW: I wouldn’t copy their tempo, because slowness has always been something I’ve been very interested in. It is as if time stood still. I wouldn’t want to take the tempo of Eurodance, besides that they also have a very distinct synth sound. They would always do crowd cheering samples. I could still use that and put it into my slow motion context. But maybe one day I would like to make a trance club banger.
What meaning does slowness have in your production?
JW: When I make music, I really like to focus on the emotional sphere. I’m trying to find certain feelings in my music. When I use Eurodance which is fast and straight to the point, it’s a good challenge to make it emotional.
Photo by Sander Truijen