Originally from Eindhoven, Netherlands, brothers Wouter and Sjoerd Janssen (aka Walt Jenssen and Duro) are the global dance music duo Showtek. With their 6:00 p.m. set time on the Rockstar Stage at Identity Fest Mansfield, we knew our interview scheduled for 4:20 was going to be limited. Although we could have chatted with them for hours, we took advantage of our 20 minutes on their tour bus, covering everything from the way they tested music in a public park as kids, to the meaning behind their classic tracks, to the key elements of staying in the business.
How would you describe what you do?
►Duro: We see ourselves as artists. From the heart, we’re producers. We’re performing artists on the stage as studio engineers. We travel all around the world…
►Walt: …doing electronic music, a broad range. When the party starts, every track has to be party, melodic. If you go to our shows, you’re always having a great time.
Which do you consider your classic productions?
►Walt: “FTS, Fuck The System.” We made it six years ago, but still when we play it, people go really mad.” Also, the track we just released with Tiesto about a month ago; “Hell Yeah,” it’s called. We’ve made like 400 tracks, so it’s hard to pick.
►Duro: But “FTS” is the track we did that everybody from the harder scene knows us from because it is one of the biggest tracks in the hard dance scene. “Hell Yeah” is a classic for us because it was the first collaboration we did with a very big artist, which meant a lot to us because it brought us to the next level.”
►Walt: Our remix of “The Bottle” for Marcel Woods…
►Duro: Yeah, that’s a nice one. People always jump up when the beat comes in. We’ve been playing it for two years, and if we don’t play it, people get pissed off. We have to play it.
Do you play other artists’ tracks in your sets as well as your own?
►Duro: I think 80 percent our own tracks, whether the set is one hour or three hours.
►Walt: We play other people’s tracks, but sometimes we only play our own stuff.
►Duro: You travel all around the world and feel like you play similar sets. They’re not always the same, but there are the tracks you play every set. Like last year we had 112 shows; that’s every three days almost. For us, it’s hard sometimes [to play our older tracks], but people expect it as we go to a different city every time. For example, when we went to the Jay-Z and Kanye West concert, we wanted to hear also their old tracks. We wanted to hear that tracks we know them from, and of course new songs and unreleased stuff as well. That’s how it goes, I think, everywhere.
Which software do you use and how did you get good at it?
►Walt: We produce with Cubase. We use a lot of standard plugins like Waves. We’ve been working with this program for about 10 years now; we know it inside out.
How did you start all this?
►Duro: We’re brothers, so we grew up together…
►Walt: …it just happened. In the small room where the computer was, we got a synth from our mom for Christmas. Then we just started making music.
►Duro: [Walt] played piano since he was a little kid. He’s got a huge musical background so he’s the guy behind the keys making melodies. I was DJ’ing on my computer making edits, editing tracks and loops. Together, we put tracks together. I was suspended from school like three times because I missed lessons because we worked until four in the morning. After we finished a track, we went to a huge park with basketball fields and stuff; we went there and took our big subwoofer and speaker at night because we had no room to test. So, we had to go outside to test the music, play it loud and go back to the studio and work on low volume.
►Walt: At this point, out studio was just a PC and regular Sony speakers we stole from our dad.
►Duro: We started out really easily with simple tools.
►Walt: That’s how we learned the basics. We learned the basics because we didn’t have a lot of equipment, so we had to use our equipment to the fullest. That’s how you learn. A lot of kids these days download software with presets to use for their tracks, but then you don’t know how the sound is built up. You have to know the basics and principles of synth editing. That’s how we learned – we started from scratch and we still do it. Like 95 percent of what we use is our own sound and presets.
►Duro: It’s all knowledge. It takes a longer time, but once you get there, it’s easier.
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
►Walt: Sharing our passion with people.
How would you advise an aspiring artist starting from scratch?
►Walt: Know the basics and understand how sounds sound, how they build up, how a synth works, and how mixing and frequencies should be. Listen to a lot of other music and try to mix it the same. Let’s say a Skrillex bass or snare – just listen to it and try to make it the same – then you learn by doing it. You can sample it of course; it’s easy, but then you don’t gain any knowledge. If you want to do this for 20 years, you need to have the knowledge, otherwise, you’ll be gone in a few years.
►Duro: It’s always evolving, but basics never change.
►Walt: We come from a pretty hard scene, and we’re also doing a lot of house and electro stuff. [The knowledge] makes it easier for us to make another track. If you want to get started as a beginner, take a year or two to learn.
You started in the hard scene and now you’re doing electro/house…
►Walt: We do both.
►Duro: We’re expanding to reach a bigger crowd. We do a lot of stuff behind the scenes. As producers, without being Showtek, we work as engineers in the studio. We work with other people mixing tracks – guys like Marcel Woods, Tiesto and more people like that. For the last two years, we had the idea we can do this as Showtek as well, even without changing things. Just expanding. [“Hell Yeah”] with Tiesto was a big step for us because it’s different from what people are used to hearing from us, but it means we can start out reaching a bigger crowd. We can start slower and build the whole set up instead of banging for three hours. I think if [people] don’t want to hear three hours of really hard stuff, they want to hear a diversity to your set. You need those tracks, and I’d rather play all produced tracks than play tracks from other-style people.
Was there a turning point going from when you did this for fun, to when you knew it would be a full-time career?
►Walt: You grow into it. Sometimes, the bigger you get as artists and producers, the more people are surrounding you, so the more decisions you have to make. Then, slowly, it turns into a business as well. You still have to look for a healthy balance between hobby and business, but it’s our business now because this is what we live for, this is what we’re doing and we want to do this for the next 15 years.
►Duro: You reach the point where you see the requests going up, starting with local bookings and then national bookings. Then France, Switzerland or Italy to play, then Asia or Australia, then, before you know it, you’re playing in the States and you need a tour manager. You need a guy doing your administration because you’re on tour. To do the best job you can do – we know our best points are making music and performing – we need people working for us, doing all the side things. If you know you can’t do the other stuff any more, then you know it’s getting big and you have to focus on the right things and let the other stuff go. There was the moment we were traveling so much, we needed a manager and a tour manager and a bus like this. We cannot do everything by flight. It’s a big business for us and it’s growing. We hope it’s going to be bigger for the next couple of years.