Monte La Rue (born Jan Van den Bergh in Belgium) is a multi-talented musician that has been chilling out the airways for over a decade now with his chilled out, lounge inspired rhythms.
Producing and DJing under several monikers (and securing residencies in some of Amsterdam’s top clubs) , Monte has picked up on the flavors of the global music scene and incorporated them into his distinctive brand of exotica. His extensive knowledge of music has aided him in producing such a prolific catalogue of mixes, albums, and compilations.
Also working both behind the curtain as an A&R and in the classroom as a professor (in hopes of passing his knowledge of the music industry on to future generations), there isn’t much that he isn’t capable of.
I spoke with him about his beginnings, Amsterdam, and his own personal musical universe.
Prox: How has the culture and atmosphere of Belgium influenced your tastes growing up?
Monte: Belgium had a great music scene and exceptionally innovative acts in the eighties. I started DJ’ing in Antwerp in some very extravagant gay clubs at the beginning of the eighties and that was all about postpunk, Italo disco and wave. I have been collecting music since I was 14, got interested in making music through DJ’ing and started my first new wave band ‘Wet’ in 1982. At the same time I also started working in record shops such as USA Imports Antwerp and they started to release my recordings. I was fascinated by electronic instruments, became a vivid collector and built up a vast array of analog synths, drum machines and electronic gadgets which got me booked as a electronic engineer in studios all over Belgium. I was helping out so many musicians on the production side that I also started as an arranger and studio engineer in the USA Import studios for dance productions. At the time I produced and wrote records for Sven Van Hees, Wonka, Liaisons D, Atmosphere, Logo, Ludovic Navare (St Germain) and did loads of infamous new beat releases (even a release on Strictly Rhythm).
The sound we had at that time was an anarchistic and surreal Belgian dance sound, a prototype for the UK rave and European house scene that was exploding at the time. Through all my studio work, I came in touch with many independent record companies and started doing their A&R for dance & house productions. I worked for just about all of the biggest dance companies in Belgium and also represented labels such as Mute, Warp and Beggars Banquet. I also had a label called Buzz and we released records by Derrick May, Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, and The KLF. All this attention on these releases got me in touch with labels worldwide and then I started working (in the first half of the nineties) on an international basis, operating out of Holland.
Prox: Are there any specific Belgian flavors you look for in the music you seek out for your sets?
Monte: The real Belgian flavor, state of mind and character is -of course- surrealism. A touch of the absurd, a different take on reality, a touch of dark humor, that’s how I was brought up and that feeling is still there in my music and DJ sets. I try to add a touch of depth and warmth, purely as a lubricant to draw you in and make you experience the music on a higher level. I already used to make ambient records in the nineties under the aliases of Kumulus, Mappa Mundi and Eclipse 21, which already hold the blueprint and attitude of things to come in my musical future.
Prox: What initially drew you to downtempo? Did you start producing in another genre before you settling into this one?
Monte: As I already said, I did many dance and house productions but became utterly bored with dance music and clubs in the mid-nineties. I felt we were at the end of a creative cycle so I started spinnin’ different genres and different styles together and was experimenting with various sounds & mixes, ranging from easy listening to German kraut rock, just following my inner musical ear. On my many record-collecting trips to the USA (with my dear friend Sven Van Hees), we just fell in love with all the cheesy smooth jazz radio stations and all the rundown & sleazy hotel lounges we visited. And out of a combination of those feelings we started creating tracks and DJ sets. I remember my eclectic DJ-set at the first edition of the Amsterdam Dance Event in 1996. People were asking me the name of every track I was playing and I got about 10 follow-up bookings that evening. I was picked up by the big event organizer ID&T to start doing compilations of my DJ-sets and releasing my own music and that was the moment Monte La Rue was born. And since then my music has been labeled eclectic, ambient, Balearic, chill, lounge, downtempo, etc. but I still prefer to file my style and productions under the moniker of exotica. Following in the footsteps of the age old traditions of Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman, Martin Denny and Bert Kampfert. They came out of nowhere and were absolutely fabulous and unique.
Prox: Why did you decide to settle in Amsterdam? Could tell us about the DJing scene and how some of Amsterdam’s “special privileges” contributes to the vibe?
Monte: You go were the music takes you and for me that was Amsterdam in 1996. Loads of new thing were going on and I got in touch with some really talented musicians and music business people in Holland. The dance scene in Belgium was in turmoil and declining rapidly, the new hot spots seemed to be clubs like Roxy and Mazzo in Amsterdam. So I just felt inspired and moved house. I sold my complete studio and all of my equipment in Belgium and made a fresh start and this proved to be the right decision because I had plenty of DJ gigs and had the chance to mingle with the exotic night crowd in Amsterdam.
A turning point was the opening of a new club in 1999, called NL, were I got a residency and this was a important hub for creative people and a new generation of chillers and lounge lizards in Amsterdam. I was already making several series of successful compilations (such as Lounge Deluxe), had my own studio and production company La Maison La Rue and my sound got more widely accepted. Amsterdam allowed me to take my imagination a lot further then I could have ever have done in Belgium. The unique city vibe, the evolving international club scene, a mix that has inspired me to make tracks and music the way I saw fit at the time. And that feeling is still there. And over all these years, Amsterdam (judging by the amount and quality of DJ’s, events, artists and labels} has become the centre of the global dance industry.
Prox: You’ve been teaching university for quite some time now too. How has teaching EMP (Electronics, Media and Production) taught you how to better promote your own music and business endeavors?
Monte: Apart from being a DJ, producer and artist, I also spend a fair part amount of time on the other side of the curtain. Knowing about your rights and contracts and promoting your own productions has never been more relevant and important, especially now in a digital age. It’s all about the basics and passing on that information to a new generation, teaching them how to get ahead and earn a living in a modern world has been very rewarding. I always tell them that doing the business is as much fun as doing music, as long as you properly understand what you are dealing with and you have the right information to make the right decisions. Many of my students work all over the world, releasing their own tracks and managing their own labels. If this is what I can contribute to the music world of today, that’s enough for me.
Prox: How far away are we from your next release? What can we expect from it sonically?
Monte: I also do many productions under different names and aliases for my label La Maison La Rue. I just released last May a new album by Faberge called ‘Midas Touch’. It’s modern chilled exotica with a touch of wave and a dose of electronic beats. Now i’m in the middle of doing a couple of remixes for a Russian label and constantly working on that first album for my second alter ego, Leo Traumen (did anybody ever notice the anagram?). This will be much more a dreamy, cinematic and sequenced based record.
As far as Monte La Rue is concerned, after the summer I will start working on new material but never know when that is going to be finished. There are times when I don’t make any tracks for months and when I sit down in the studio, a new album can be finished in weeks. I’m definitely a loner; playing most of the instruments myself and I am very touchy when other people handle my tracks. That’s possibly the reason why there are very few remixes or alternative versions of my tracks around. Like to keep my sound pure and direct.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?
Monte: Being a massive consumer (and lover) when it comes to music and owner of a vast vinyl collection (I did over 200 compilations in all these years), I listen to very specific records intensely and try to grasp what it’s all about musically, sonically and philosophically. At the moment on my turntable is Mark Barrott’s last album ‘ Sketches from an Island 2’, Throbbing Gristle ‘The Third and Final Annual’, Chris Carter ‘The Space Between’, Claude Debussy’s ‘Images’ played by Paul Jacobs, Yoko Ono ‘Fly’ and Tonto’s Expanding Head Band ‘Zero Time’.
Currently reading the biography on Bryon Gysin and diving into the works of J.G. Ballard’s again. Trying to make time for watching the documentary ‘Iconoclast’ about the genius of Boyd Rice and classics records and artists that are always lying around include Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt, Goldfrapp, Broadcast, Flaming Lips, Sven Van Hees, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Jon Hassel or any quirky British or New York eighties wave funk. And then still possible another 2000 more names.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists?
Monte: Just try to fill your head with influences and ideas that interest you. Doesn’t matter if these ideas have already used by other people but try to get the broadest range of influences possible. Visit a museum, look closely at art, read a nice book, see a foreign movie, keep your mind fresh and open for new combinations and new possibilities. Talk and philosophize about them with good friends, develop some over-the-top concepts you know you’ll never realize and expand your horizon every day. And then when you sit down to make your music, it will come easily and you’ll know exactly how the puzzle fits together. Always start with an idea. Developing and shaping your own musical universe and style is of as much importance as learning to play an instrument. And don’t get caught in the latest craze or hype of plug-ins or DAW’s, the techniques are already decennia old and the basics of making a good record haven’t changed. My tracks are a simple mix of volume, panning, and EQ, perhaps adding some basic effects at the end. Music is life and life is all about ideas. It’s that simple.
(far from complete but gives you some idea of my productions and aliases)
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