Keeping it Fresh: San Holo bridges indie past with EDM on debut album

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In the days when electronic artists are producing singles, San Holo recently released his debut full-length project, album1.

The Dutch DJ’s catalog includes singles and EPs, but this time he felt a 12-song collection was necessary.

“I felt like I wanted to tell a longer story with this thing,” says the musician, born Sander van Dijck. “You can tell a small part of a story with a single, maybe an EP, three or four tracks, but to tell a real long story in depth, I need more tracks. That’s what album1 came to be.”

Calling the album an emotional trip, van Dijck intends for the project to usher him into a new era of sound and production. He expanded his use of live instrumentation in recent works.

“I used to write on guitar already, but then I would translate it into a synthesizer or, like, an electronic sound,” he explains. “A couple of years ago, I got bored with playing guitar a little bit and I started producing electronic music, which is when the San Holo thing started, which was very electronic, very beat-driven. Over time I started listening to guitar again, and that’s why you hear a lot of guitars on this album.”

He views it as a bridge between the indie and EDM worlds.

“I think the direction I go in really depends on whether I’m inspired by something or not,” says van Dijck, who studied guitar at Codarts School for the Arts in Rotterdam and had played in bands prior to his San Holo days.

“I felt like everyone’s trying to sound like John Mayer or like Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he adds. “Everyone was going for the same thing. They were all trying to be really good, technical solo players. And I just didn’t feel like I could do anything that was different in that scene, so I started exploring beats and production and I found a really nice place in that realm to do my own thing because that’s what I like the most. I like doing my own thing.”

Not one to stick to trends, he moved on from his “melodic trap” sound as it became more popular. Crafting an instantly recognizable and original sound is important to the Zoetermeer, Netherlands native, who says there’s a bittersweet quality running through his works.

Calling album1 only the start of his new vision, van Dijck, who co-founded the record label bitbird in 2014, wants to push boundaries. And if the sounds he’s working with catch on in the industry, well, he’ll just switch it up again. But no matter how much his style evolves, it must remain uniquely him, he says.

“I didn’t feel like I was in my own lane anymore,” he explains of evolving his sound. “So I started finding ways to make it new, innovate again, like putting guitars in drops and figuring out a way to combine these two worlds, creating something new that I had not heard before. That’s what drives me the most in music, doing something that pushes things forward, I guess.”

The project came together in about six months while staying in a Los Angeles Airbnb. Avoiding traditional promotion and release schedules, he wanted the record to represent where he is in life. To achieve that goal, he had to be spontaneous.

“I was like, I want this album to be something very recent and close to my heart. I wanted this album to be released as soon as I was done. I wanted it to be me, because we all change over time,” he says, adding, “It paints a very recent picture of who I am right now and what I’ve gone through this last year.”

Through his upward musical trajectory and even an increased budget, van Dijck notes it becomes easier to grow in the live setting, too. Incorporation of guitar isn’t just confined to the studio, and he isn’t just a DJ.

“I’m definitely excited to be playing guitar live, which I’m going to be doing this tour,” he says. “I will be playing a lot of guitar. I’ll be doing a lot of singing and combining that with EDM kind of DJing and beat manipulation. I just want it to be something that is a bridge between those two worlds.”

Set to close out 2018 with a bang at the two-day Decadence at Rawhide Western Town and Event Center alongside other performers such as Skrillex, Above & Beyond, Marshmello and Rezz, van Dijck notes he has plenty of touring left after he performs Sunday, December 30, at Decadence. Though he’s always at work on new music, he wants to let album1 breathe, and he’s grateful for its reception.

“I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with the response, especially the messages people send me after listening to the album. People seem to have really strong emotional reactions to listening to the album,” he says.

“It just means a lot that people listen to it and tell me that it means a lot to them. I’ve heard many stories about all kinds of situations people are in and that my music supports them in whatever way and that’s just one of the most beautiful things to me.”

Decadence, Rawhide Event Center, 5700 W. North Loop Road, Chandler, info@relentlessbeats.com, decadencearizona.com, 5 p.m. Sunday, December 30, and Monday, December 31, $109-$769. Check the website for complete lineup and schedule.

Words by Connor Dziawura.

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