There is not much information around about this Luxembourgian house and techno producer, except what you could hear from his friends and the scarce info online. You can find only 8 hours of his vinyls and selections on the web. How many times have you heard his records here and there or have you maybe danced your ass off to his live sets at Robert Johnson? Batti Batti is a music label from Malta and if you’re not familiar with it or you’re not a hardcore follower of music that John Talabot, Giegling and the WHITE boys play in clubs, don’t worry. This is all part of the demanding and sophisticated yet simple plan of Cleveland project – to focus on listeners that adhere to quality music. I was lucky enough to hear his music from the first guy I brought to Belgrade, Oskar Offermann and his partner in crime Edward, as they signed his record on their WHITE imprint. “Safari” was the tune everybody freaked on, but I also loved to use “Blossom” in the early hours at 20/44. A year and the half later, as expected, Cleveland is in a tight schedule. In just a day or two his new record “Atlas” is coming out on Catalan’s prolific Hivern Discs, he recorded the mix for you and me, four of his new demos are already signed and he is joining the new booking agency.
This sounds like there is a party in front of you, a happy new year, Cleveland. Are you in good shape for it?
Thanks Kristjan, Happy New Year to you too! Yes, I’m kind of between Berlin where it’s freezing cold and Brussels where it’s tropically warm and wet (for winter); I think 2016 will be such an exciting year for me starting with a strong month of January. Let’s see what this year has for me; I will give a lot from my side, count on me!
What was the best thing you learned and experienced in 2015?
It’s hard to say what the ‘best’ was; one of the best things for sure was probably my live show at Robert Johnson end of August thanks to Oskar (Offermann) and WHITE. It made me proud and it has been a unique experience to play in such a strong location with such a great history and lovely people who take care of quality. I’m very thankful for that. One of the best things I’ve learned has probably been to believe in my music and to not care too much about what others might think of it and just going for it without being scared of negative feedback (which can and should be very constructive).
Did you spent whole year making music, playing and improving your live sets as it feels like you are very picky on your stuff? It took you some time to release a new record, but you found a great home for it. Again.
I’ve spent a lot of time making music and working on live sets, but most of the music I make is unfinished; jams for my own fun. Just when those unique moments arrive where cosmos is in the right place and the stars and planets are lined up and you compose something which sounds absolutely great in your (pretty unsatisfied) ear then you know that the moment has come to try to bring it out and there starts the more technical part which takes a lot of time too. I also really like working on my live sets indeed, trying to create a new story to tell for every show and maybe there are the moments where new elements for eventually new releases come in. I do have phases in the year where I don’t make music for few weeks because it just doesn’t feel right; these moments are important to me because that’s where I accumulate new ideas, samples, motivation, etc. It’s like building up some tension inside yourself and letting it out after some time, like a volcano eruption … ok this one was bad…haha. People have told me that it’s much more important to release the music you love to the best label possible than just to release it as quick as possible and this takes time in the beginning. And not to forget that to release a vinyl record it takes months: demos > mixing > labels > premaster > master > artwork > promo + distribution. Anyways; for this year there are few releases already set, so no 18 months wait this time haha.
One of the big themes in music always is authenticity. What are your thoughts on this?
For me it’s probably more important than technical skills. But you shouldn’t force it. Everybody has influences. In my very first graphic design course the professor told us that these days’ creation is a melting pot of influences and things that already exist, which is totally fine. Soundwise, when you don’t get stuck in one only genre that you want to be in and when you just make music instinctively then, at some point, you will build up your own authenticity. But at the end it’s just about enjoying yourself making or playing music. I’m too young to preach big speeches about this anyways.
How do you know when to stop exploring and working on your tunes? You found a great, dance-friendly sound between house and techno.
It’s very hard to know when to stop. I often collect various ideas into one track project and when I think that there are enough interesting elements which fit together I start removing a maximum, kind of “decomplexifying “, the music because I want it to be simple. As you said, there are two phases: the funnier and more passionate (at least for me) exploring or creative phase; and the more annoying technical phase.
When you do more narrative music it’s not very easy to make it dance-friendly, but now I try to do both: tell a story and make people dance to it. I have to thank Oskar for helping me with this; he was the one who, before the release of ‘Travelguide’ on WHITE, asked me to try to make the music a bit more dj-friendly; it hasn’t been easy but this kind of feedback or request has been really helpful!
What machines did you use the most over the year, which will be heard on that EP and your live sets? You are mostly playing live, right?
Probably my beautiful< 3 <3 <3 <3 Korg Polysix <3 <3 <3 <3! And no, I actually do more DJ SETS than LIVE, I love both. Two very different approaches but both very important to me. I haven’t played a lot this year and it took me a year to bring out a new podcast but this is slowly changing now and I can hopefully spread more often my own music and favorite music to you guys.
Do you regularly play in your hometown? How the clubbing goes in Belgium’s cities and what’s different between them?
My hometown is in Luxembourg, an 8000 ppl village surrounded by farms, cows, nature, … haha. I’ve been in Brussels for 5 years and a half; now based in Berlin for few months and soon back to Bxl City (really looking forward to it). I play once every 2 or 3 months in Brussels; before I played more frequently but quality bookings are more important than playing often. I can compare for you Luxembourg vs Brussels vs Berlin because that’s the three cities where I’ve experienced the local club culture. Starting with Luxembourg, very small, some good djs with nice records but no real opportunities for the scene.
Brussels: club culture with a rich history, pretty amazing local DJs, super nice parties which are held once in a while in very intimate off locations; not so many releasing artists but some of them very promising like my friend Lawrence Ledoux (who has been one of my graphic design professors at Ecole de Recherche Graphique).
Berlin; well no need to tell you about it: it’s club heaven. Just right now I’m freezing my ass off haha. What I miss in Berlin (but maybe I’m just ignorant about their existence) are more intimate parties which are not in club context but at the other hand the clubs here are excellent! Every club tries to build its own world and they succeed it’s like heterotopias!
What about Belgium music labels? You hooked up with WHITE and Hivern Discs crews, these are from Germany and Spain, how that comes?
R&S Records, Vlek, Bepotel, Roze Baletten, +++ some really nice labels in Belgium. I have hooked up (sounds kinda sensual) with WHITE and Hivern Discs because I bought and played their records because I just felt attracted and connected to their sound and I was right; when I met the people behind it it also felt humanly right which is very important. Nevertheless, I would love to release on a Belgian label one day but I have time to do it…so no rush!
Can we talk a bit about your formative years and what got you listening to and making dance music?
I had no classical musical education; when I was a kid my passion was football until the age of 17. Ten years ago when I was 16 I’ve had my first pretty spiritual experience with electronic music: Nathan Fake – The Sky Was Pink. At that time I was hanging out with friends from the European School in Luxembourg; many of these friends had Indie Rock bands. This got me motivated to get involved in music with my best friend. We locked each other up and vibed on early raw productions and dj sets. But the most important formative years have been Brussels’ underground music scene great djs and friends who showed me fantastic music and parties. I am passionate about gear but not geeky, I love synths but prefer not knowing every technical part of it; I thought myself many things bt just trying to make something with the stuff I had. I’m still in my formative years and still have a lot to learn; which is very exciting!
What else is upcoming for you?
Atlas EP on Hivern Discs will be released 15.01.2016 then an EP on a cool label from NYC end of spring (normally), then another release on a German label which I really love. There is also a track on vinyl compilation on WHITE which has been ready for ages. 2016 will be a good year, I can just say this for now; the rest is part of the labels’ communication.
And for the end, what happened with “Snake Charm”? That song never got released.
I made that track exclusively for a Mixmag artlice; it won’t be released but I might use some of the elements like the bassline which has some nice potential; maybe to build a new track around it? I’ve played this track live but don’t feel like releasing it.