Cracking the electronic music game is no mean feat. But one man making a good go of it right now is Belgian DJ/producer, JAEN. An incredibly dedicated studio man, he’s been making an impression outside of his home country recently thanks to some killer releases on the likes of Yaya’s Tamango, where his track, ‘Gentle Work’ was released to much fanfare and support in minimal and tech-house circles. A name we reckon you’ll be hearing much more from soon, we caught up with him recently to talk lockdowns, studio ethics, perseverance and much more besides…
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about where you grew up?
Sure! My name is Jan, and I go by the artist name, JAEN. I’m 24 years old and born and raised in Belgium. I grew up In the countryside, in a village called Opwijk. From an early age, I noticed that cities are more for me, so I went to school in Ghent. At the age of 18 I also moved to this historic beautiful city. I need the rush and bustle of a city. The night noises, the busy streets, the full terraces, the nightlife, it all makes me feel at home.
When and how did you first discover electronic music? What was it about it all that you found so appealing?
As a young kid, I used to watch my brother Tom at home working on his turntables and his Allen&Heath Xone mixer. He was very into the 2010-2015 Music On music style. At the time I thought that was special music, but in a good way. At school I only heard commercial music, but when I came home a whole new world opened up. So, I sensed from home that there was a whole world behind this music. When my brother went to work, I would secretly play with the mixer and record players. Without any idea what I was doing of course. I didn’t dare tell him at the time!
When I broke his needle, I had to tell him of course. He always thought it was important that I find the style that was closest to my heart. I had no intention of becoming a professional DJ. Let alone produce. I was just playing around.
I was 16 when my brother took me to I <3 TECHNO in Ghent, the biggest indoor techno festival (with some house acts) in the area. I remember very well that Charlotte de Witte opened a stage, still under her former name Raving George. You can’t imagine that now, can you? This was the place for me to discover myself. I was also in a period where I didn’t really know where I wanted to go in life. Until the moment in the “Blue Room”, where Jamie Jones started his set. I think it was B2B with Loco Dice, or they played after each other. That’s where I got my first epiphany. That music did something to me, I got goosebumps, I couldn’t stop dancing, my heart warmed, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I knew right away that this music is very crazy. The hats, the claps, the 4 to the floor… But especially, the sub basses. So warm! In my productions I try to recreate these crazy sub basses, still inspired from these moments.
From that moment on I started discovering the genre. I got to know the big artists but also the smaller, up and coming artists. Until this moment I keep discovering of course, but now as a professional DJ and producer.
So you were instantly blown away by the music?
Referring to the I <3 TECHNO party mentioned above, it was such an amazing experience. The music and the community made me feel at home right away. I’m a very open-minded person and it was fantastic to meet so many other open-minded people. They didn’t think it was weird at all that I was of young age.
What about your first ever party where you DJ’d? Can you tell us a bit about that experience?
I was 18. It was a party in Aalst, a Belgium city called “Drempel”. A good friend of mine called me to say he wanted to organise house & techno parties in the city and if I wanted to come aboard. We didn’t expect anything for it but in a couple of days the event was sold out and that’s when the nerves came haha. Capacity was around 200 people and I got to play before the headliner.
Pretty sure I did not play a very well warm-up set and maybe there probably was some redlining too. Luckily experience comes with the years.
What made you choose to become a DJ/producer? Did someone or something influence you?
It was the vibe with the community that made me want to DJ. I thought it was amazing to play my own selection of tracks and make the people dance and laugh. You’re in power to make the crowd have a good time and connect with them deeply, deeper than you can with just words. The connection you get with the people on the dancefloor is special and priceless. Especially when playing out your own tunes.
For a long time, I was searching for who I was and what I wanted to in life. It was only when I started with the music that I felt home. I finally found my place in this world, and it’s in our beautiful music scene. Every life choice since that moment has been in function of the music.
I was so inspired by the sound that I wanted to do something more with this music. The urge to make my own sound became bigger and that’s when I started producing. I used the Ableton trial a lot and started sending out loops of music to my friends. It was so bad back then J, but I was so happy I made my first original pieces of music.
A moment I’ll never forget is when my best friends told me they bought Ableton for me. It wasn’t even my birthday or anything. They just wanted to support me in this journey and that’s something I’ll be grateful for forever. Every track I make now, is because of them. It gives me a moral boost to show up in the studio every day. Letting them down was no option.
Which is your favourite place to play music? Why is it so special in your eyes?
There are many great places in Belgium to play, it’s hard to choose. Three clubs where it’s impossible to choose.
Comme Ca in Aalst is where my biggest community and fan base is. When I play there, I see so many familiar faces and they all are there for my music. Which is so great because playing out this music is very difficult in Belgium. Most of the Belgians are very heavy techno minded.
Decadance in Ghent is one of the most historical and legendary techno and house club Belgium has to offer. I played my second gig over there because of winning a DJ-contest, and everything started from there. It was really my starting point of becoming a professional DJ and Producer. They closed for some years and are re-opening now! Some weeks ago, I played at Funke, a small club in Ghent which has the best sound-system in the city by far. They don’t want cameras and phones on the dancefloor which I think is very cool. I’m an old soul, and I think these regulations give the vibe inside the club a big boost. I played an all-nighter and played my first vinyl’s over there too. Connection with a full packed club was present and the club definitely found its place in my heart.
You’ve released so far on the likes of Tamango. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Yaya? How did you first get to know him and why is it a perfect place for your music?
Yaya’s music was always an inspiration. You know these live sets from an artist you always get back to? That’s Yaya for me. He plays out records I just think are so good. When I started sending out music to artists, he was one of the firsts I’ve ever sent music to.
I sent out lots of tunes to him, and often he played some of them during his gigs. The moment I received a video of him playing out my music was unforgettable. It confirmed for me that I was on the right path and every track that came out of Ableton went straight to him. All of the sudden he told me he would sign the 4 tracks. I’m just smiling during giving this answer.
There was no better place for my music than on Tamango. I saw these tracks on there, nowhere else. I met Francesco during the signings, and he helped me through the whole signing process. They both do this for the right reasons, and their communication to me was always transparent and respectful. This EP gave a big boost to my career. I’m very grateful to them for this signing!
We also been checking out your Spotify and love the Special JAEN selections playlist. How important is social media to you these days?
It’s something you can’t go without anymore. It’s now there and we have to use it to show our music to the world. It’s amazing to receive all these kind messages and support from the community. I met so many people through Instagram too. It’s the platform to keep in touch with the community and other artists. I’m not a content creator though. I really want people to listen to my music and come to my shows because of my sound and the music I play. Not because of a nice picture on Instagram.
How do you get your inspiration for producing music? How do you approach a studio day, for example?
Get. Up. Early. I’m very focused in the morning. A normal studio day would be getting up at 7 AM, having some breakfast, get in the studio until 12 AM with a small break every hour. That works best for me and this way my ears get some rest. After 12 AM, I take a big break to have some healthy lunch and crawl back into Ableton with a full belly around 2:30pm.
I work until around 6 PM. After dinner it depends. Sometimes I take time to do some life administration, hanging out, … Sometimes I just go back to Ableton too. I try to do this 3 days a week, because I work part-time in Ghent as an event manager.
My inspiration comes from clubbing and being present in the community. Speaking with other artists and going to their shows always inspires me.
Who is your favourite Dj/producer? What is it about them that so appeals to you?
Three artists come to my mind immediately. Marco Carola is the king, there’s something about his sets that are so unique. Everyone will agree with me that you can’t judge a Carola set if you have not been to one. Especially around 2014, Carola was special for me. Stacey Pullen & Joey Daniel are two artists I’ll always go to if they play around here. Unique low-end sound, and I think they can feel the crowd very well. Real inspirations for me these three.
How was the lockdown for you? Did you learn much about yourself during this period? Is music particularly therapeutic for you in this way?
Very, VERY hard time not being able to see the people and do the thing I love the most. On the other hand, I had so many times to produce music. It’s where I learned a lot! I was still in university and all my classes were cancelled.
I told myself; you can do two things. Or wait for this to be over, of get your ass on your studio desk and produce every day. I did the latter and the music helped me a lot through this period. I had some depressing moments though, the longer it took the more it hurt. Luckily, I met my girlfriend at the start of the lockdown, and we stayed together the whole lockdown. She was the one I was able to talk about my difficult moments, and the one who always told me everything will be fine.
What are your plans for the rest of the year and 2023? Do you have any big releases planned?
After the Tamango release I realized that I don’t want to release on either what label. I need the communication and the good feeling about it. After the release I took some time to reflect and noted down a musical path.
It’s not easy for a Belgian, because the minimal/house scene here is close to none. At least in the music I do. I want to bring the scene into Belgium and that’s why I’m going to start hosting my own events in the city of Ghent. The people love the music, there are just not enough events for it. I want to change that in 2023.
I focused a lot on making my sound better and just sending out to artists, not labels. I got some massive support from Carola, Loco Dice, Wheats, …
Summer comes to and end and I think that’s a good moment to start sending out to labels again. So, no big releases around the corner, but definitely lots of music on the way!
Outside of music, what are your interests and how do you stay busy?
I like hanging out with friends, go watch football and do some sports myself. Meeting friends and family is number one though. I’m so busy with work and the music that spare moments go to them. I’m a big foodie so trying new things to eat is definitely something I do outside of music.
Can you please recommend some books or pieces of music that have helped you over the past year?
When reading books, I like to escape the normal life completely. Fantasy books are great for this! At the moment I’m reading the first book of Game of Thrones and I like it very much. I’m not that big of a non-fiction life-tips reader!
If you were to introduce your sound in three tracks, what would they be?
Optick, NTFO – Tremble (Rhadow Remix). A track that never leaves the record bag!
Shonky – La Madone
Defines my sound a lot right now, amazing tune by Shonky. Everything by Shonky actually!
Voy – VOY 11 B
Been playing this one out ever since I discovered it and it always works. Amazing tune to kick it up a notch! Thanks a lot for having me and hope everyone is healthy and safe and overall doing well!