Milena Doudou (aka Doudou MD) is undoubtedly one of her country’s most in-demand up-and-coming DJs. A resident at iconic Amsterdam party SlapFunk, her reputation has become a global one in recent years, not just due to her association with the aforementioned Dutch party, but also because she’s endorsed by a tight knit group of global DJs that includes the likes of tINI, Tristan da Cunha and more. As you might image from such endorsements, we were therefore very keen to catch up with her to hear more about her story to date. We’re also delighted to point our that she mixed the latest Nightclubber mix. A stunning insight into her many qualities, it showcases a DJ at the top of her game – and one whose talent is rightly coming to the fore. With a packed summer schedule and gigs at the likes of Dimensions now behind her, we checked in ahead of ADE as she gave us an insight into her very exciting world…
Hi Milena, thanks for chatting to us. Let’s start by chatting a bit about growing up in the Netherlands. How was it as a place to grow up?
I think the Netherlands is a nice country to grow up in, it is pretty safe, village minded and has a “you help out your neighbour” kind of vibe to it. My parents were both musicians, so there were some good times with a lot of music and dancing around the house. They separated when I was quite young, and both were having their difficulties getting by. Together with being pretty much the only colored kid in school, it was not always easy for me growing up, and I had to figure out a lot of things by myself. At sixteen I would sneak out of the house with a fake ID and go into the night dancing.
I always dreamed of being a performing artist, which I tried to explore and execute as much as possible. As a teenager I was in street dance and hip-hop groups, and I would sing and write my own songs.
I read that you were born to a Dutch classical singer/pianist player and a Congolese percussionist drummer. Have your parents come to visit you at any gigs yet? Do they understand electronic music?
I guess my mother has done some research in understanding the sound I play, she can appreciate the cohesion of the dance 4/4 rhythms, and synthie melodies. She hasn’t been to any gigs, I think the crowdy and rough sound system environment is also definitely not her cup of tea. My father knows many things about the drums, and as a kid it was always impressive to see him play, but he doesn’t understand much of electronic music.
It seems like you’ve had a really monumental summer, with gigs at the likes of Dimensions and Unum. What was the highlight? Was there one extra special moment?
I’ve had an incredible summer! Still buzzing from it, and also happy that it’s still not over as another round of Ibiza, Zanzibar and Cairo are coming up soon. It’s all just crazy amazing even by answering you this. You can imagine it’s very hard to name one highlight. But the biggest highlight for me is that I met so many amazing people this year, that also love to do what I do, and are on the same frequency.
When Unum came out I really went wild in my head, because I was actually going to play at this amazing festival that I had seen videos of the whole year-round. Other than that, there was one crazy weekend in April where I went from a Dutch city on Friday, to Awakenings festival straight into a flight to Manchester for The Loft on Saturday, to fly back for SlapFunk Bret Easter on Sunday, where I then met tINI, and did that spontaneous b2b with her. The rest is beautiful history in the making : )
I also saw you’ll be travelling to Tanzania soon, which I gather represents a real career high for you. Does working as a full-time DJ still feel like a dream come true? Or are you settled into it now?
Since this summer it has become difficult to keep up with a day job, so I am going full-time for music at this point. I remember when I was working around the clock in restaurants, coming home feeling down and tired saying to myself “I just want to wake up to an agenda, where everything is about music”. But the bills needed to be paid so I had to keep going around that clock, and leave my dream for what it was at the time. So yes, a dream come true you can say the least! A lot of work and healing has been done to get here though, it definitely didn’t happen overnight from my perspective.
The fact that my music is bringing me to Africa is news that is still landing. I have never been there before, so this trip is going to be very special to me.
How has your life changed since you dedicated yourself to music then? Do you find time to make space for balance? And if so, how?
I now get to do the things I love, travel to all these places and meet amazing people. I’m in a very happy and grateful state every day. But you also have to be careful and take care of yourself while your job is having fun all the time. I’m eventually, in a way, pleased with the years prior spending only partying and exploring dance floors, cause I now know what I need in order to stay in balance. I don’t have to chase every single party or experience anymore, cause I’ve done that for a while already. Apart from the fact that my life is still one big party (and I’m loving that haha), I am living pretty healthy at this point. I try to go to the gym one-two times a week, take daily vitamins of many kinds, implemented certain natural herbs to help improve my moods and I meditate regularly. I’m also very big on taking alone time, this is an important factor for me in order to stay recharged.
You’ve recently moved back to the Netherlands from Berlin. How are you finding being home? Was moving back an easy transition or was it challenging in certain respects?
It was hard to leave the city as I have a big love for Berlin and the club culture there, but as I was stuck, I knew I had no other choice but to make some kind of move, in order to make a positive life movement happen. Some friends kept asking me ‘when are you finally going to DJ again?’, and it was always what I wanted to pursue. So I forced myself to ask the same question, and started acting upon it. The first year back in Amsterdam was super bumpy because Corona literally hit two months after I got back. Eventually I found an amazing flat for myself to live in, and I knew from the moment I landed there, that everything I had been manifesting was going to work out and go up.
Slapfunk has fortified relationships with a lot of crews the world over; I’m thinking the likes of tINI & The Gang, the Dungeon Meat guys etc. Is the family aspect really important to the label and the collective as a whole?
SlapFunk is definitely Fam Based I would say. The crew started as a group of friends where some even have known each other since kindergarten. Birthday’s would always be celebrated big in someone’s backyard with a BBQ and Hip Hop music. SlapFunk parties were created because they wanted to throw events for the Fam and the rest of like minded people in Utrecht at the time. The line-ups were always just the boys, and from time to time a brotherhood connection would be made, which slowly but surely resulted in adding a couple of international names to the family. I remember the first international artist we had over; Jeremy Underground Paris, and Brawther was also part of the crew from a very early stage on. Of course Tristan Da Cunha now joined the family too, and it feels great to have a full functioning tribe like this. Becoming big and international was never the goal, I think growing the family, and passing on the knowledge of what (party)family is, is what was and still is the goal. Next to delivering quality events, good house music, and having a whole lot of fun of course!
The label showcases at Bret around the time of ADE have really gone down in underground folklore over the past few years. What do you think makes them so special? Does the fact that a more-than-usual amount of tourists are in town make it extra special?
By 2017 an event on the ADE Monday had never been done by anyone. The boys came up with the idea, got Bret on board, and were also lucky they were able to book a big international name that was in town for ADE anyway. From that moment on it was clear we were going to keep repeating the Monday Bret session. Each year it went more bananas. They started to build a loyal crowd that included people from Amsterdam and from abroad. And it was of course the Monday after ADE, so let’s just say people were pretty down to get funky at that point ; ) Together with our sound and the fanbase that was already there from out of Utrecht, a special vibe was created.
Every year with ADE I always had this personal pride in realising that we were growing better and better each time. Also with VBX and the boys I saw so much growth. It is every year the nicest thing, to see your friends grow and progress like that.
The fact that there are so many (international) people around in the city, makes it all extra special in terms of the quality crowd and quality artists that we have at our disposal. Many relationships we still have today were built during ADE events.
From an outsider’s perspective, ADE can almost seem like a somewhat pretentious ‘industry insider’ type of event, but I always tell people that there’s so much more to it than business techno types rubbing shoulders with one another. Can you tell us about your plans for this year? And how has your participation at ADE evolved over the years?
There is definitely much more to it! You can meet and connect with many kinds of people from your own, and other electronic music genres, in a very short period of time. It is all highly productive and very efficient. An insane amount of personal- and work connections are made in just those five-six days. Especially if you are an upcoming artist or collective, it can mean a lot for you. For example; last year I met Grego O’Halloran while we were waiting for the elevator to go down after the yearly Meanwhile Agency drinks in the ADAM Tower. This eventually led to Grego booking me for Unum. And like this there are many great stories.
Also, it is not only about parties and showcases. During the day there are many professional conferences and ‘talks’, that aim to maintain a healthy scene, schooling the young and interested kids, and for us to grow to a better version of our club culture and communities.
You’re playing five gigs over three days! Will you prepare for each in advance? Will it be a case of bringing the same records to each? How, I suppose, does one plan when they’re so busy like this? Or do you already have an idea of what you’ll play at each party?
Six over four days actually oopsie! Haha crazy. But so exciting. I am already trying to be there in my conscious mind, to visualize how the moments are going to be in those rooms, and which records will fit. Some of the gigs will have their own folder. The one for Breakfast Club is fully in the making, where I aim to play a slightly different side of my collection than that I would play for example at SlapFunk. Over there I get to work with tracks I own from spacey Luke Slater aliases, or hard & wobbly tracks from Alter Ego. I’m so excited I can get to do that stuff too.
Next to that, I’m playing with a couple of highly appreciated Minimal & Romanian artists, which are gigs that I am also very excited about. Sunwaves festival in Romania and artists like Zip and Ricardo, represent a big part of where I have gotten a lot of musical inspiration and knowledge from. So very honoured I get to play my music on line ups together with artists like that too.
Continuing that theme, can you tell us a bit about how you generally prepare for a gig? What dictates your preparation?
At this point I find myself playing 50/50 digital/vinyl. Sometimes I start preparing a gig in my head or a new digital folder already days ahead, sometimes it comes together half an hour before I leave the house and I’ll just go with the flow. For each show, my record bag gets emptied out and refilled again from zero. I will always eye-pass each individual record and re-evaluate if it suits that show, vibe, hour, city, club, crowd, whatever I make up in my mind I feel like doing, and what that specific moment will most likely need in my opinion. The vibes of the tracks I am certain of, bring me to questions about other tracks, and that keeps the search ball rolling. Of course, I always leave a lot of room for freestyling, and bring multiple rhythms and genres in one bag. I never play only one kind of genre or rhythm.
My USB is organised into genres like tribal and minimal, into folders I have prepared for specific shows, and folders that represent a certain rhythmic flow of how my body responds to it. Some tracks make me move more out of my hips, some more out of my shoulders. Some make my head bump. Like this I can choose which kind of rhythm I want to move to, or let the crowd move to. In my head I’d go; “this situation needs a ‘soft drive’ rhythm”. I’ll check that folder and most likely find something I will just go for.
Going back for a moment to SlapFunk, how did you first become involved? Were you a fan before becoming involved with Julian and Samuel? And can you tell us a bit about their influence on you personally and musically
Yes I was a big fan, at seventeen and went to SlapFunk parties alone by myself. I was so intrigued by this new music, I had to discover and needed to experience it more. I didn’t really know anybody who was interested in the same thing at the time. I think also because the boys were of the same skin colour as I am, I felt connected to them and I just kept popping up my head whenever I could. One night I saw Samuel Deep play from close up, and I said to myself; if he can do all those things with the records, technically speaking (being a human being just as he is), I could do that too. A month later I bought a pair of second hand Reloop turntables and started to learn how to mix vinyl and bringing together my own collection. Also, Syl taught me one very important lesson at that time. Whenever I was overly enthusiastic jumping up and down about some sort of future music topic, he’d smile and say: “everything on its right time.” Into the years that followed, and to where I am now, those words have been very valuable to me.
I was very happy when Julian came and joined the fun, he is the youngest of us all. He is also very interested in classical music just as I am, and is currently still studying sound design. His style is influenced by those subtler parts of the music spectrum, and I always felt very related to his sound.
I’ve read elsewhere that SlapFunk is ‘laser-focussed on house music’s most essential goal: making dance floors move’, which struck me as a very apt description. How would you describe your sound to others though?
Well, the funny thing is that one of the reasons why I have come out so relatively late, is because I kept thinking that my music wasn’t good enough for SlapFunk, or for crowds in general. That my music had too many genre variations and different rhythmic expressions, and that it didn’t had that steady cohesive groove that I was hearing with my friends. I would mix a 90s UK tech house track, with a US wobbly weird a-typical vocal rhythm, with a door slamming DE minimal track. And every track had a very different vibe and story to it. I just thought that people would find that all way too strange and out of context of what was already there. Turned out that that is actually what makes me, me. And it has appeared that other people actually like it too. I needed some time to understand that it was okay to be me haha.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about what you’ve got coming up, as well as talking us through some of the killer records – old or new – that you’ve been playing this summer?
At first I am thrilled about the fact that tINI and I will be playing a lot of gigs together b2b in the coming times. She has become such a close friend in many ways, and two humans being brought together like that is just very special universe work in my opinion. I am enjoying every moment. I’m also very excited about a new label that I am working on, together with my best friend and SlapFunk’s owner Nelson Yogh. He is my partner in crime and I’m glad I get to work on projects together with him. I have also started playing around with producing gear, a microphone and my own ideas. The goal is definitely to release my own stuff too in the near future.
In terms of killer records recently produced, I keep finding myself playing tracks from Huerta in almost any set I play. His productions are filled with creative drum rhythms and are very dynamic. From the older productions I’ve lately been enjoying a lot of old stuff from Buschwacka!, A Guy Called Gerald and Terrence Dixon. There is so much story in that kind of music, I absolutely love it.
I have encountered many emotions and learned a lot of things on the dance floor in the last decade, by experiencing great artists and events. If I could give someone, even if it’s just one person, a similar experience with my music, to me my job is done.
Check out Doudou MD’s Nightclubber mix on our Soundcloud below