For a while now, we had been thinking of writing a piece on Triphouse Rotterdam, a record store you will call home if you are into electronic music (though it is not mandatory) or look for rare vinyls. Triphouse’s co-founder, Steven Pieters, released his debut solo EP a few weeks ago so we took that opportunity to gain some insight: who is Steven Pieters and what is Triphouse? Enjoy!
Steven, who are you and what do you do?
I’m Steven Pieters, I’m 31 years old. I live in Rotterdam where I run the Triphouse Rotterdam record store, record label and organize various events, together with my partner in crime Khalil Ryahi and crew. In the weekends I perform as a DJ and sporadically as a live act. During the week I also take time to work in the studio, on my own tracks.
How long have you been DJing?
Two decades, nineteen years to be precise. I started out collecting and playing records at the age of twelve, using an old Technics turntable I hijacked from my grandmother’s house and a crappy belt drive turntable I bought from a classmate with money earned from harvesting cucumbers in a greenhouse. My first mixer had two faders and a crossfader. No eq´s or any of that, the most basic and cheap thing I could get my hands on. A year before this I threw my first house party at my old elementary school, converting a classroom to a makeshift discotheque. Looking back it’s no surprise I ended up where I’m at today.
How and when did Triphouse Rotterdam begin?
Triphouse Rotterdam is basically of a group of friends that formed around the turn of the Millennium: we would go to the same parties and kept running into each other. Then we started going to each other’s houses on Sunday morning for afterhours sessions. Quickly, we noticed we shared the same taste in music and the same take on what constitutes a memorable party, despite coming from totally different backgrounds. Our shared love for music was (and still is) the binding factor of our friendship. Some of us had already been DJing for some years; others arrived freshly on the scene. One thing led to another and we decided to throw a party together. It started with a monthly night called ‘Je Weet Toch’ at Café De Punt, quickly followed by another monthly night at the Bootleg DJ Cafe called ‘Rehab’, both located here in Rotterdam. A little later we decided to adopt the name Triphouse Rotterdam (we love to trip, love house music and we come from Rotterdam). Over the course of ten years some people left and others joined the crew. Countless parties followed, we expanded our activities and everything became more professional; it organically grew out to what we have today.
'We focus on second-hand records and old titles'
What is Triphouse Rotterdam’s purpose today?
We are a platform for all the members to present their music, host their parties and showcase other creative endeavors such as art, fashion and video. Everybody still works on their own projects but by sharing the same workspace we inspire each other and utilize each other’s networks and knowledge. We bring like-minded souls together and promote our culture, contributing to a healthier and prosperous electronic music scene in Rotterdam. Five years ago, we opened a communal office space with a store attached to it. This marked the birth of the Triphouse Rotterdam record store. Having this office space was a big leap forward, considering we all used to work from home before that. Focusing on our work and for example holding meetings became much easier and more comfortable all of a sudden, this certainly boosted our productivity.
CDs almost became obsolete when downloading music came about. Then streaming platforms were developed. Yet you’re going all the way back to selling vinyl. How do you compete?
Vinyl was our first love and many of our crew members are heavy collectors, so when the digital format started causing a diminishing of physical stores we all felt the need to sustain the tradition by swimming upstream and opening up our own store. We didn’t start with the illusion of making a quick buck from selling records. We were on the lookout for an office space, and the building we found happened to have a store attached to it. This sparked the idea to put a couple of crates there and every time we’d sell a record, the money was used to buy more and expand our collection. We actually never paid ourselves any salary for working in the shop, so this way the store grew by itself without the risk of going bankrupt. By means of organizing events at the store it became a hangout spot for the local scene, a place where you can level with other electronic music aficionados outside of the nightclubs. This proved to fill a gap and many people started to use the store as place to socialize. We focus on second-hand records and old titles on the left side of the electronic music spectrum, for which the interest stays rather high. Nowadays you could even say vinyl’s popularity is outshining the digital format again, the younger generation is definitely appreciating the format. We’ve moved the store four times already, and we are currently located in the amazing Toko 51 building on the West-Kruiskade.
'we offer courses in music production and documentary screenings.'
There is the word ‘education’ on the ‘About’ section of triphouserotterdam.nl. It’s quite uncommon. Tell us more about this.
If you want to build a scene from the ground up and stimulate progression, it’s very important to hand down knowledge on music and party-related business to the next generation. This way they don’t have to reinvent the wheel and with the given inspiration will hopefully give their own spin to the culture, pushing things forward in a new age. This being said, we currently offer courses in music production, organize producer battles, masterclasses and documentary screenings. When we met each other, we were in our late teens; it was the early 2000s and the scene in Rotterdam was vibrant, diverse. There was plenty of choice and good music played across the city. But suddenly, it all collapsed and we entered what you could call the dark ages. Finding a cool party was tough and getting a gig for us DJs was even worse. The scene for underground experimental music was small before and now it was reduced to almost nothing. At one point we were thinking about leaving Rotterdam and move to Amsterdam or Berlin, where there was still something happening. Instead the crew sat down together and brainstormed on how to revive the local movement. We figured it was best to start over by bringing new people about, triggering their interest for a new style of music. Simply put, more listeners equals more demand for that type of sound, for parties and ultimately more opportunities for producers and DJs. It took longer than expected but looking at the state of the Rotterdam scene at this moment things are looking very good again.
What is the Tripstream?
Tripstream is a Friday evening show to kick off the weekend. It is the online live broadcast of our in-store DJ sets, either residents or guests. However lately we’ve stopped doing this weekly broadcast (after more than three years), and started hosting more in-store concerts and events like The Beatmakers Union and Noodlebar. Entrance is free and it is accessible to all audiences, so the threshold for coming in and check out what’s going on is very low. This is the way we support genres of music that are hardly getting attention in the big clubs, something that is very important to us. This goes hand in hand with the notion of education: showcasing artists and keeping people’s mind open is a constant effort but it’s a task we gladly undertake. I like the saying ‘you are what you eat’ as it applies to music too: it is food for the soul as they. What happens to people if you feed their souls the mass market crap (made as easy to consume as possible) that is catered to them on a daily basis? Well the amount of crap you can hear on the radio and television is simply astonishing and I believe it has an impact on yourself and your surroundings after a certain time. People need to step up and take their responsibility to support and spread the good stuff to restore the yin-yang balance.
Is there a specific connection between Rotterdam and techno music?
Rotterdam is a working class city. The movement and the sound really catered to a group of youngsters who had the feeling they were not being understood by their elders: aggressive and rough are adjectives that describe equally the music they were listening to and the life they were living. This is why the whole gabber culture spawned from the Rotterdam boroughs. But I wouldn’t say Rotterdam is only a fertile breeding ground for techno. With so many different cultures, it’s a very eclectic place to be, with many blends of music. The mix of people and the harsh industrial environment certainly triggers a lot of inspiration that different people translate in different ways.
You’ve worked for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in the past. What was your connection to classical music?
I used to do online marketing there, promoting classical concerts. It wasn’t so different from what I’m doing nowadays, only for a different music genre and a different crowd. Despite the obvious distinction one could make, I also noticed some similarities like for example the reason why people come to see the Philharmonic Orchestra: it’s the strong emotions the music evokes in them. I think with house parties, it is somewhat the same; chasing the moment where time and space stop existing and losing yourself in the music, forgetting about all others things happening in your life. This is the power of music in full effect, the transcendental experience through the vibrations of sound.
Is there anything you dislike about your work?
Well this lifestyle is not the healthiest. You know, night life and being surrounded by all the temptations that come with it. What people call partytime is actually work for you and sometimes you’re out there three or four nights in a row. It’s essential to find balance and it took me quite a few years to achieve that. I am more disciplined now, more productive too. The other aspect is stability. Music does not always bring a steady income. On the other hand, without that lifestyle I wouldn’t be where I am today and I can’t see myself being anywhere else or doing anything else. Same goes for the rest of the crew. To quote Underground Resistance, ‘find your strength in the sound, and make your transition’.
In December 2014 you launched your debut solo EP ‘Don’t Try to Understand It’.
It’s my first solo EP indeed and the fourth released on the Triphouse Rotterdam label. Before that I had done split EPs and remixes, but never a full record with only my own works. ‘Don’t Try to Understand It’ compiles tracks I made over the last three years. My partner Khalil, as label manager, picked the tracks that are featured. Since some were made a while ago, I’m always curious to see if they’ve aged at all and how people react to them. All in all I didn’t make the EP with the dancefloor in mind; it’s not how I approach my own productions anyway. It’s very suitable for dancing, but also definitely something you can listen to at home while sitting on the couch. I would describe my EP as a collection of the incoming sensory data gathered over the course of the last few years, whether it be music, visual and performing arts, sensations, conversations; in one word, life.
What are your main influences?
I listen to all sorts of music, but on an electronic note I’m heavily influenced by producers such as Koze, Pépé Bradock, Soul Capsule and Matthew Herbert to name a few. I’m also drawn towards the Roland TB-303, I listen to a lot of acid and these sounds are more or less a part of most of my own productions. Growing up I listened to a lot of Hiphop, Breakbeat, Drum ‘n Bass (Jungle especially), that’s probably why I’ll shift towards broken drum patterns sometimes.
'experiences and the people around me are what's really irreplaceable.'
Sampling or composing?
It’s not that I have real preference, only that I learned composing my own sounds first and got to sampling much later. There is something to both production styles and eventually I want to dive deeper into the art of sampling.
What lies behind the title ‘Don’t Try to Understand It’?
I was looking for a vocal sample for one of the tracks on the EP when I found a quote from the Eckhart Tolle book called ‘The Power of Now’: the author is discussing people’s need to grasp the bigger questions in life and the ultimate reality that the human is not capable of explaining everything. He argues that there is freedom in letting go.
Imagine your house or the Triphouse Rotterdam store is on fire, what and who do you take with you?
My cat. For the rest, I try not to attach myself to material possessions too much. Yes I would cry if I saw my house or the store go up in flames but in the end, experiences and the people around me are what’s really irreplaceable. It’s not about owning a record, it’s about what you and others felt while listening to it.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Yes. First of all, thank you for the opportunity to tell my story and secondly, If people read this interview and they are interested by what we do, they’re welcome to drop by and talk to us. People who need help with recording, throwing a party or expanding their network, our door is always open.