Last week, when San Holo joined Your EDM’s live stream, we jumped at the opportunity to sit down with the fresh Soundcloud sensation. There, we were able to pick his mind about his curiously rapid, but well-deserved success in the music industry.
Despite the colossal levels of energy San Holo has on stage, he was incredibly humble and somewhat soft-spoken, eager to divulge into the nitty-gritty details of his life with enthusiasm and a light heart. We discussed San prior to fame, what his journey has been like and what he strives for in the future. Fortunately, we also had enough time to not only speak with San, but also with his best friend and business partner about their growing label, bitbird.
Truly a renaissance man at heart, San Holo’s unpredictability will continue pushing the boundaries of the EDM world, making us uncomfortable in the best possible way.
YE: Welcome to Seattle, San! Have you been here before?
SH: Never, never, never. I’ve never even been to the states! But I have been here for about four days now, eh maybe a little longer. And I’ll be here for about one and half weeks longer through the 13th of November finishing up my North America tour!
YE: So you’re smack dab in the middle of your tour right now, how are you feeling?
SH: I’m feelin’ pretty good! Its been a crazy experience. Well, the first night we were exhausted because of the jet-lag and stuff. I think it’s like a nine hour difference from my town in the Netherlands to here!
YE: That’s a big jet-lag to get over, too!
SH: Definitely hit me harder than I thought it would [chuckles], but now I’m over it and now it’s just all fun. We have a few more shows before we have our last show at Webster Hall in New York; which I’m excited about because I’ve heard some really good things about that venue! It will be a good place to end my North America tour.
“I most definitely can not explain how it happened but I can tell you what happened.”
YE: Alright, we have to talk about your Soundcloud blowing up a few years ago in a relatively short period of time. Can you explain this recent success?
SH: Ya, all of that occurred in just one year! I most definitely can not explain how it happened but I can tell you what happened [laughing]. So, I’ve been making music for a long time, for I think about eleven years now, started playing guitar and did lots of bands. But the problem with bands is that you always end up breaking up, you know?! Sometimes there are just too many creative minds!
“…at this point I’m thinking, you know, I should just go do this myself.”
YE: How many of these bands have you been involved with?
SH: Wow, I think it has been like six or seven! But they all ended up breaking up, like the bass player would leave or find another project…at this point I’m thinking, you know, I should just go do this myself. So, I started working on a few projects, found Logic and Ableton and discovered how to make music by myself. That is when I realized I could really do this! I can make everything I want and don’t have to think about a singer or anyone else that might leave or might stop that creative process. I was teaching guitar to little kids for about…fiveish years when I started to become popular, but I have always been producing music.
YE: Speaking of vocalists, I’ve realized that a lot of your EPs have little to no vocals involved?
SH: True. Well, I have used some vocalists. I sample a lot, which means you still have full control of it yourself, which I obviously enjoy. But I’m trying to work with more vocalists now because you know, it adds so much to the music if done correctly! I’m just really picky though [chuckling].
“Somewhere in the midst of all that, I created San Holo.”
YE: So after years of working with bands, where did your music career move to next?
SH: Somewhere in the midst of all that, I created San Holo. I started ghost producing first for some DJs and those tracks got a lot of plays for them. So I had another thought of why don’t I just create this music for myself? I started the “Don’t Touch the Classics Remixes,” and people really responded to that! I guess it was kind of a new sound with the chords and the sparkly-ness of it [laughing].
“I wanted to break the rules and I want to do things that people don’t want me to do!”
YE: Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like a lot of producers and DJs kind of try to stray away from remixing the classics. What made you want to go into that unknown territory?
SH: That’s why I called the mixtape that name! Because I knew everyone would be like “you cannot touch that song.” And you know, there are still so many people out there that say “you shouldn’t be doing that.” But that is exactly why I wanted to do it so badly, you know?! I wanted to break the rules and I want to do things that people don’t want me to do! But you know, I don’t really like remixing because most remixes you do are only interesting for a short amount of time, like a couple of months. But these classics will be there forever. I can always play these tracks.
YE: So obviously other than classics, do you prefer to create your own original beats or to remix songs?
SH: Oh most definitely creating my own, for sure. I never thought of DJing live or performing live with my own music. I was always in my studio making music, that was the core for me you know? I just wanted to make music and then suddenly I started getting phone calls of people asking “do you want to play here” and I was like wait, you want me to DJ at your party?!
“That’s when I realized I wanted to do something with my life involving music.”
YE: Is this when creating music seemed like it could be a career for you?
SH: Well actually when I was back in high school I did a lot of homework to the point where even my mom said “you really need to find a hobby, man” [laughing]. So that is when I discovered guitar. And since then I developed such a love of guitar and that’s when I started to play in a lot of bands. That’s when I realized I wanted to do something with my life involving music. I did guitar study at a music academy and when I graduated I started producing electronic music and just never stopped. But of course a part of me will always love playing in bands and I will definitely go back to that at some point!
YE: I’m guessing you’ll probably be the guitarist when that happens?
SH: Ooh ya. You know, I actually still use guitar in my musical theory! Some people look at the piano when they think up their stuff, but I’m just looking at that guitar.
“When I make something I want people to either love it or hate it, but not have a lack of opinion on it. Now that is the worst.”
YE: How do you feel about the opinions people have towards your music?
SH: Well, you will always be judged, right?! But everything is relative! I mean if I was going to stop when people said my stuff sucked, I would have stopped playing music years back. You know, someone told me the opposite of love is not hate, but rather indifference. And I have found that to be true! When I make something I want people to either love it or hate it, but not have a lack of opinion on it. Now that is the worst. I just want some type of emotional reaction from my listeners. When people hate it, it’s good because it’s actually triggering something. I think that’s the best music, music that makes you go “I love it” or “I hate it.”
YE: How do you like working with the guys over at Monstercat Records?
SH: I have loved working with them. And their family is just so dedicated and great. Their fan base is very young, which is awesome, but that’s why I also like to expand to other labels. You know, I’m not signed to any label, I just sign singles or EPs to them individually, which is probably what i’ll do for the rest of my career. But ya, I love what Monstercat did for me, they gave us a lot of creative freedom with the release and the artwork and the video. I have a release on Spinnin’ now and other releases on other labels.
“But I have to be honest, no label has ever given me that full creative freedom like I crave! Which is why I’m starting my own label, bitbird”
YE: And how is it working with Spinnin’?
SH: Spinnin’ is interesting because you wouldn’t expect it, like my kind of sound on Spinnin’. Which is why I wanted to do it! I want to be one of the first to kind of have this new sound on this kind of “big room” label. And everyone was asking me “why Spinnin’?” I just said why not?! It is fun [laughing], let’s do it! But I have to be honest, no label has ever given me that full creative freedom like I crave! Which is why I’m starting my own label bitbird, who I run with him [looks over to Thorwald]. Thorwald is my videographer, tour manager, label partner, best friends, ya know…all of the above [laughing with each other].
YE: What is your label like? And how have you both managed to juggle all of your responsibilities?!
SH: It is a creative label to really help artists and to give their freedom to release whatever they want. And also to support them with our visuals, like maybe videos or artwork or even just advice about anything we’ve learned rather than pushing them in a certain direction. We’re all about being open-minded but also pushing their talents further! But bitbird is also really about honest contracts. Lots of labels take rights to your music or your income but at bitbird we want to be really fair with the artists. The artists retain more than half their rights to themselves, which is not the case with a ton of labels. We’re the good guys [laughing]!
YE: How long have you and Thorwald known each other?
SH: [Laughing] We were in a band together in high school! I was the guitarist, he was the vocalist. I think that was when we were fourteen? Ya, about ten years ago now! He went to design school, I went to a music academy and we didn’t actually speak to each other for years! He had an art space and a couple of people left there so there was space for me, and I built a studio there. So now we’re in the same complex working together a lot. But we work well together because we’re open-minded enough to talk about it so we don’t get too sick of each other [laughing]. We balance each other out pretty well.
YE: I know you don’t like to specify what type of genre you’re in. Why is that?
SH: Well, first of all let’s say I do believe in genres…but it still it would be changing all the time! So if now I’m making lots of uh, I guess trap or something, that might change into hip-hop or house. You never know. As long as it has my sound, you know?
“I just like to surprise people with my music.”
YE: And what do you classify your sound as then, if I had to ask?
SH: You know I’m just very harmonic, I just love lots of chords and melodic stuff. Almost colorful and euphoric, if you will. Ya..that’s what I want. I just want something with lots of emotion in it that rings! I just like to surprise people with my music.
YE: What do you like better: do you like producing your own music at home or do you like playing at shows?
SH: At first I was really about being in the studio. The first days I toured here I was like I cannot make music here because of the jet lag! But I actually just made a new track yesterday that I’m really happy with. I made it on the airplane and in the airport, which really inspires me. You know, I still have tracks I’ve been working on for years but then sometimes I’ll finish a track in a week, it’s like all over the place. I mix and master my own tracks which just takes a long time, like a couple of months. Like on my computer my next release says “final master best” or “final master two,” [laughing] there’s lots of versions. But that’s music! It’s not always fun. Sometimes I’ll lay awake at night thinking of things I can do or change in my beats. It can be frustrating at times but that is the beauty of it!
“You gotta sound weird…The thing is, you can do whatever genre you want, as long as you keep your own sound and personality.”
YE: How do you continually create a unique sound?
SH: I will always be experimental with my music. After years of making music, now that is really important. You start realizing what you’ve been doing is more copying people as to more creating your own vibe. Everyone starts with copying, it’s normal. I mean I did a lot of copying when I began and it sounded cool because it sounded like them but at some point you go beyond that and you realize well this sounds weird, but maybe this is good because it’s something you’ve never heard before. You gotta sound weird. Someone once told me “I constantly make stuff that I don’t really like to stay outside of my own box,” I agree. The thing is you can do whatever genre you want, as long as you keep your own sound and personality.
YE: Alright, last question before you go on. How is the difference between the music industry here vs. the Netherlands?
SH: It is so different! Here, everyone is so dedicated, even for futuristic music! That isn’t really the case at all where I am from. I would say they are a little more critical, I guess? I think that’s from EDM being around a lot longer in Europe. However, I feel like sometimes we’re a little stuck in that “big room EDM,” so they are a little less likely to appreciate the new kind of sound that is already catching on in Australia or America. A good majority of my fan base are from the U.S. and Australia. Location wise, in my opinion, those places are the best to play at. They just want to go hard right away!
YE: Well I hope Seattle goes hard! Have a good set, San.