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Antal: ‘I Believe All Good Music is One’

The Dutch DJ, who runs the influential Amsterdam-based Rush Hour label and record store, talks about unearthing and DJing incredible music to audiences

Kenneth Lobo Dec 19, 2015
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Antal Heitlager. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Browse through Antal Heitlager’s Soundcloud page. There are mixes that span African funk and disco, Brazilian groove and Turkish Psych Folk. That’s discounting mixes for several top radio shows, venues and festivals like Beats in Space, Trouw and Lowlands. Of course, it helps when you are the founder of Rush Hour, one of the world’s most forward thinking and deep-digging record stores in the world. But anyone who thinks it makes Heitlager’s job easier need only to look at his touring schedule: in the next week days he’s scheduled to travel from Delhi to Kobe to Tokyo and back to Amsterdam for a New Year’s eve gig at Closure. We consider it a great coup, then, to pin down Antal ahead of his set at Magnetic Field’s festival’s Red Bull Music Academy stage to chat all things disco, digging and his love for vinyl.

Since you are a fan of jazz, disco, funk, did you ever follow Indian music from those genres? What are you looking forward to on your trip here?

Yes, I have followed the disco from India a bit. Of course, I know the Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat [seminal acid house album released by Charanjit Singh in 1982]. I also have a version of Kraftwerk’s The Model by an artist named Haadsa with the track “Y.O.G.A”. I also know a bit of Bappi Lahiri. What I’m looking forward to is seeing the sights with my own eyes, meeting people, enjoying the lovely food, doing some record digging, and playing a nice gig at the festival. This is more or less a new world for me so I am super excited to explore. I think the same goes for Hunee (Dutch DJ Hun Choi who he often plays back-to-back sets with). 

In the past three to five years, there has been an explosion of mining disco from parts of the world where it made an impact but never really came to the surface in pop culture. Like with the Very Polish / Soviet Cut Outs, with Baris K and Turkish psych-disco. Do you see this as a broader movement?

Yes, that’s true. Nothing stays a secret any more and that is partly because of the Internet and the speed that information can travel with. It’s a great thing. It feels like one movement. I think people inspire each other and knowledge is shared and that’s why all this unearthing of older music is going at such a pace as it is going now.

You recently laid down the ”˜Digging DJ’s Paradox’ where you listen to an incredible amount of music to find that one great tune. But once you’ve struck gold, you set it aside and start all over again. It’s like the thrill of the chase, or an addiction. Do you remember the time when you first got hooked? And what about it still keeps you going?

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Yes, it’s a form of addiction and also a problem of being able to let go because I feel I always want to stay up to date and there is this natural hunger for the unknown. Also as a DJ, it is your job to present new music to people. So yes, all these ingredients are kind of necessary for a DJ. 

The first time I had this urge was when I was 14 or something. I heard music on TV or radio and I wanted to find [out] what it was. Songs like [British singer-songwriter] Eric Burdon & The Animals’s “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. I needed to have this music so my dad took me to the Concerto [local Amsterdam shop] and we looked for it. 

I had a fascination with a lot of Sixties’ music. And later on, with house music in the clubs. This was even more obscure and one would go over and over again to the record store, humming a certain song until you found it weeks later. I have had the luck that most of the tunes I was after, they always, in some sort of way, came to me. In that sense, the Internet or Shazam are less charming, but I think that I should find other creative ways to bring something extra to the table as a DJ, now that we have all these tools that help us in our search for music.

What’s the most recent great record you found digging and what’s the most you’ve paid for a record?

I just found, finally, R.D. Burman’s Mukti. I was after this for a while but now I got it at a fair price here in Delhi. The most expensive record I own is worth around 1,000 euros. It’s a Nigerian disco record which I traded for a whole bunch of other records. Normally, I don’t want this kind of stuff, and it’s also not important to me, but this record is very, very special.

You’ve mentioned that FatCat Records was one of your favourite stores that got you into digging. What about it did you love so much? What are some of the key things that make for a good record store?

This store was magic when I first visited it as a 16-year-old. There was a lot of music and it was in this basement, hidden. It had lots of upfront copies of things. That store is very special and a big inspiration for me always. A good record store to me has a good amount of quality records, good prices and is always bringing me music I didn’t know before. The vibe should be friendly and easygoing. The personnel should be helpful and knowledgeable.

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You’ve often said in interviews that the thing that separates Dutch DJs from the others is their ”˜genre-less-ness’, so to speak. Where do you think this come from? Could it be inspired from Rinus Michel’s Total Football? 

Total Football is a nice comparison as is martial arts. I believe all good music is one, so nothing should be excluded. We all grew up in a scene where we were used to listening to different things. Two key people in Amsterdam were Aardvarck and KC The Funkaholic. They both had lots of knowledge and shared this with younger DJs. So lots of these DJs would mix rock, with hip-hop, with reggae, with house and whatnot. I am talking about a generation that grew up from 1997 to 2000++ or so.

You worked in the cloakroom of a club before finding yourself on the DJ bill there”¦

I did this for a couple of years, may be even two. It was a way to get into the club, make some good money and buy records. A funny story would be that some people left some laughing gas balloons at the cloakroom to be used again. Of course, we blew the balloons up like nothing happened”¦

Could you list five tunes for five key moments in your life?

First gig  DJ Rush’s “No More”.

First tour of Japan – Colored Music’s “Heartbeat”.

Closing of Trouw – Beckie Bell’s “Music Madness”.

Starting Rush Hour – Theo Parrish’s “Baby Steps”.

Listening to Theo Parrish/Anthony Hamilton’s “Lucille”.

Who would you name-check as your key DJ influences? 

(It) must include my brother who introduced me to club music. Later, in the club Waakzaamheid, I got exposed to DJs like Derrick May, Carl Craig, Joey Negro, Joe T Vanilli, Jedi Knights, Stacey Pullen, Darryl Wynn, Eddy The Clercq, Joost Van Bellen, Marcello, Eng Bo, Dimitri and Godard. They all influenced me a lot with what they were doing. After that came people like Moodymann, Aardvarck, KC The Funkaholic and Theo Parrish. Theo really showed me how to listen to music and search for that most deep record that goes straight into your soul. From that moment on, I think I knew what I was really after….

Antal & Hunee play the Red Bull Music Academy Stage at Magnetic Fields Festival that takes place from December 18th-20th at Alsisar, Rajasthan. 

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