Sebastian Hoff, or better known as DJ Promo is the embodiment of a truly devoted figure in Hardcore music. Beginning his career in his teens and during the peak-era of the 90’s, it’s evident that Promo has always thrived on going against the tide and creating something revolutionary, which has manifested into him holding one of the biggest discographies in the entire genre.
With our ‘Hardcore week’ in full swing, we are proud to have Promo on the site for an exclusive, in-depth interview where he shares his sentiments about Hardcore, the rise and fall of the genre during the 90’s and some of his proudest productions!
– Yo Promo! Thanks for this interview; it’s a huge honour to have you on Alive At Night. First of all, how have things been going for you recently?
Hi, thanks for asking me! I have been doing very well and am really excited for the coming year. I just bought a new house where I’ll build a brand new studio and I also have a lot of new music that’s ready to be released. Oh, and let’s not forget about the return of Thunderdome in 2017!
– Did you set yourself any huge career or personal resolutions or goals for 2017?
Well normally I focus mainly on my own musical projects, but last year I decided it’s time for a new challenge. In regards to our label The Third Movement, I want to begin heading in a new direction, not so much style-wise, but in the way that we present our artists. First up will be a brand new Third Movement website in the coming months and I’m also thinking of working more intensively on our releases with less artists. I want to try and set a stronger image of what we stand for as a label.
– Can you tell me how you got into Hardcore in the first place? And how did this initial touch inspire you to begin DJ’ing and producing?
I started out as a bedroom DJ at the beginning of the 90’s, not so much because I wanted to become ‘famous,’ but I was totally intrigued by the art of mixing with vinyls. Back then there was no ‘Hardcore’ yet, just House music. I soon figured out that I was more drawn to the harder side of house and gradually grew closer to the hardcore/gabber sound that evolved over the years. Once I mastered the mixing skills I set goals to begin playing at some parties and when it became more and more important to have a record out I also got into producing. I think that was around 1995, but it took me until 1998 to produce something that I was really happy with.
– You were quite young when you began your career; what did your family and friends think about this?
I was 15 when I started DJ’ing and saved for many months to buy two turntables and a mixer. Once I got into producing I needed a lot more money, seeing as hardware gear was really expensive. Nowadays you can just download some cracked software and some plugins, but back then you needed at least 6,000 euro’s to even start. So, I convinced my mother that I really needed all that equipment and I must say that I was surprised she lent me the money. Only recently she told me about that period; apparently I was so motivated and determined that I was going to make it, so she decided to support me.
Of course I was still in school, so my mother let me practise music on the condition that I maintained good grades. After high school I began a university course about International Management (an economic business education) and in the second year of my studies my musical career took off and along with it came the money. One afternoon I came home and saw I’d received a new royalty statement from ID&T. I showed it to my mother and it turns out that I made more money that year with my music than my mother did with her full-time job as an executive secretary. And from that day she let me quit my university course and I went on to work full-time on music.
– So back in the days, you were one of the pioneers who created the darker Hardcore sound. Can you tell me a little more about the scene back in the 90’s and why you decided to spark this change?
When I started producing we were in the midst of the mega Hardcore hype in Holland. Over 700,000 people were into (happy) hardcore music in The Netherlands; that might not seem much for Australians, but when you consider that we only had 15 million inhabitants back then, it was pretty crazy. That equates to 1 in 20 people being into Hardcore music.
However, at some point the hype became way too big and commercial, leading the movement to collapse. Suddenly it was stupid to be a ‘gabber’ and people made a character out of it. The masses dropped the music and moved on to the new hype: Trance music. The hardcore scene was declared dead by the media and our scene went back to maybe 30,000 fans.
I was just ready (after a few years of practice) to go for it and decided that I wanted to continue, even if it was for this small group. With the ‘death’ of Hardcore a lot of freedom came with it; the sound as we knew it (uptempo and very happy) was no longer accepted, so I decided to take a risk and go in a totally opposite direction. I wanted to go back to the essence of Hardcore (rough and dark like the early 90’s PCP/Industrial Strength stuff) but with a new twist.
– After the darker sounds began emerging, how did the fans receive it?
At first I didn’t get any feedback at all on what I was doing. I think that what I made was a bit too far-off from what people considered to be Hardcore. The slow tempo, after years of 185BPM combined with atmospheric big arena sounds, needed some time to incubate. I’m saying this now, because back then I had no idea what I was doing.
Sometimes people ask me how I came up with my ‘new’ sound, but I can tell you that I feel it was pure luck – I was there, at the right place and at the right time. After ‘Promo File 3’ came out the people on the dance-floor seemed to love what I was doing, but it turned out that most of my colleagues were totally not into it. They told me that what I was doing was cool, but wouldn’t work for a big crowd. I continued until ‘Promo File 5’ with my signature kickdrum and decided (due to a lack of success) that I needed to head into a different direction because this clearly wasn’t working.
Since the internet was not a source of information yet I had to judge mostly on the reactions from other DJ’s and they were clearly not having it. And then, out of nowhere came this wave of success. Suddenly everyone was playing my records and my bookings went through the roof. Afterwards I think I was just a little too impatient during that time. 😉
– You began your own label The Third Movement back in 2000; in your opinion, how has this label shaped the Hardcore scene?
In 2000 we started The Third Movement and signed Catscan, a young producer who had just started. After working together, we realised we had a huge chemistry in the studio, which resulted in us doing our thing and creating own sound: a sort of rougher and darker version of Hardcore that still worked for big crowds, but wasn’t solely based on melodic riffs and catchy samples. Again, there was no master plan behind it – just two guys who had fun in the studio and ‘accidentally’ created something that worked on the dancefloor.
Looking back on it now, it’s hard to deny that it had an impact on the Hardcore sound, but I think it’s up to other people to judge if TTM shaped the sound of Hardcore. I feel that our view on music is innovative and I think we’re a valuable addition to what’s already out there, but nothing more than that. We just love releasing music by artists that think outside the box a little; this keeps Hardcore music evolving and interesting at the same time.
– At the moment, what’s your opinion on the current Hardcore scene and the quality of productions being released nowadays?
Well, a lot has already been said about that. All trends aside, I just miss the heart and atmosphere in Hardcore nowadays. Sometimes it seems as though it’s nothing more than a formula; producers use a kickdrum with some catchy, repetitive sample and not much else. To be honest, this formula is how Hardcore started back in the 90’s, but I think that over the last 25 years Hardcore has evolved into so many beautiful, cool sub-genres that it’s almost a shame we’ve ended up with this empty, non-musical sound.
On the other hand, I strongly believe that the people on the dancefloor are always right, so if this is what they like than who am I to judge them? I just know that we’ve been at this place before, and every time some new talents stood up and took the scene by storm! I’m hoping it doesn’t take too long before the next generation stands up and changes our sound into something that’ll last another 25 years. 😉
– You’re also a machine when it comes to making music and have released several albums! Can you run our readers through some of your proudest works?
You know that is the most impossible question to ask a producer, right? Haha, well, at least you didn’t ask for my favourite track ever! With that being said, there’s many tracks I’m very proud of; some, because they did really well and became huge hits (King Of Pain, I Come Correct, Phreak Ya Speaka, Open [with Tha Playah] and Airwalker), but mostly because they are special to me as a producer. I’m not a producer who tries to make a hit every time; I like to make a lot of different tracks in a lot of different styles with the hope that there is one amongst them that challenges others again to also take a risk and try something different.
But you want to hear some titles I think, right? “What The Fuck” is a special one; the discovery of the Promo filter kick, of course (hence the title) and “Running Against The Rules,” which was inspired by the first time I saw Noize Suppressor live in Italy. “Brother Of Conflict” is one of my all-time favourites because of the melody. “Always Futile” is a track that (for me) defines Hardcore; going from a beautiful, dreamy atmosphere to absolutely loud kickdrums. Another track worth mentioning is “Hibernation;” at 108BPM, it’s not really a Hardcore track, but has so much energy and atmosphere – it gives me goosebumps! Also, the older Uptempo tracks like “Beat Ya Brain” and “Cold As Stone” are still in my playlists. Well, I could go on for another two pages, but I think you get the idea! 🙂
– One of my all-time favourite Hardcore tracks is your 2016 release “The New Age.” What inspired this track and can you tell me a little more about it?
The idea for this track actually started when I was on holidays. I’m not a producer who gets an idea, then runs to the studio in attempt to bring them to life – I normally just jam with some sounds until I come across something cool and continue with it. Some people might know that I’m really into carp fishing, which is something I like to do to relax and take my mind off work, and during a fishing trip in France this ‘Imagine Dragons’ cover got played a lot on the French radio. After hearing it for a whole week I thought I’d be cool to do a Hardcore version. Normally I’m not into sampling commercial songs, but seeing as not many people knew this cover version I decided to give it a go. I am glad you like it so much, so thank you!
– Now, it’s no secret that you have an incredibly special connection with Hardcore concept Thunderdome. What does the word ‘Thunderdome’ mean to you as not only a DJ, but a lover of Hardcore?
Thunderdome, for me, is Hardcore. The whole feeling this name and concept gives me is what it is all about. Thunderdome is what got me into Hardcore; when I started producing it was my ultimate goal to end up performing on that big stage one day. It was my drive to work hard to try and make it there. Like in the movie, it was like a crossroads as to where you wanted to go; to fight to come out on top! Two men enter, one man leaves, hahaha.
– For you, what were some of your most memorable experiences from Thunderdome back in the days?
Oh, there have been so many! Playing on the Thunderdome stage at Mysteryland in July, 1998 is one of my fondest memories; we’d just won a football match in the European or World Cup and everyone was in such a good mood, singing “Holland, Holland” on the rhythm of the beats. My first real ‘live’ performance with a TR-909 drum-machine at “Hardcore Rules The World” and the set with D-Passion at “The Final Exam” in 2012 were both incredible. We played just after the opening show and of course, we knew it was going to be the last edition, but when the Thunderdome voice said those words, it sent a shiver down my spine.
– With the die-hard days in 2015 and 2016 and announcement of Thunderdome’s return in 2017, can you speak a little more about your excitement for the return of this well-loved concept?
Back in 2012 I thought it was good they put an end to the Thunderdome concept. It was time for something new and I sincerely hoped that another new concept would stand up and fill the hole. This never happened however, because I think that the hole was just too big to be filled. Now, when you see the excitement for another edition, I think it’s great that we’re able to join the Wizard once more to celebrate what true Hardcore has always been about.
– If you could compare such a legendary concept as Thunderdome with modern Hardcore parties, what would you have to say?
I think I’m not neutral enough to judge on that. For me, there is nothing greater or more ‘Hardcore’ than Thunderdome, but that’s because that’s the world I grew up in. I can imagine for younger generations that they have the same experience with Masters of Hardcore, for instance. For me, this event holds very little value, but I fully understand that it does for others. In the end it doesn’t matter where you got to discover the music – it brought us all to the same point, which is an unconditional love for Hardcore music! And that is what’s most important.
– Before we wrap this interview up – what projects are currently open in your studio?
Probably too many to mention, hahaha! I’m currently working on some remixes that will come out in the next months and also just finished Promo Test 3 and 4. There is also a special new concept-album coming up in the spring; it might have something to do with one of the artists mentioned in this interview, so stay tuned. 😉
– Finally, what did you eat for breakfast today?!
Nothing at all. I was in too much of a hurry to get to the studio so I could continue on my music. 😉
Huge thanks to DJ Promo for this insightful and interesting interview. A true Hardcore legend in its purest form – it’s been an honour to have him on Alive at Night. We hope that you’re all enjoying ‘Hardcore week’ so far; we have plenty more content to come, so stay tuned!