Sun, 21 Dec 2003

DJ Van M: Swimming in delta waves at Stadium

Joseph Mangga, Contributor, Jakarta

There was a major improvement this year in the number of major international music acts visiting Indonesia; even though quite a few weak-kneed and yellow-livered bands like Yes, Blue, Mew, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, most recently, Limp Biscuit canceled shows at the last minute for fear of SARS, terrorist bombings or whatever reason.

But the call -- "You can't stop the music!" -- was most unswervingly answered by the over 50 international DJs who visited Jakarta's discos in 2003 to help promote the city's rapidly evolving world-class clubbing scene.

Names like Armin Van Buuren (world's #3 DJ), Deep Dish (#10, who will play Centro on Dec. 26), Mauro Picotto (#17), Hernan Cattaneo (#22), Lee Burridge (#30), Anthony Pappa (#66), James Holden (#76), Smokin Jo (#99), Junkie XL, Saeed & Palash, Chus & Cabello, Jose Nunez and DJ Gogo to name a handful. As for DJs and electronic dance music in Jakarta, it has been one hell of an unprecedented year indeed.

Another name is Jimmy Van M (#114), a 32-year-old American DJ, producer and promoter who was brought to Stadium a week ago (Dec. 12) by local promoters ConcreteSounds.

Originally born in Belgium, he is currently one of the major players in the U.S. dance-music scene. In an exclusive interview, I asked him how he wound up growing up in Florida, on the outskirts of world-famous tourist attraction Disneyworld.

"My mom is kind of impulsive. Her brother moved to Orlando, so we packed up all our stuff (when) I was nine years old. (We) stayed for a year, then moved to Little Rock, Arkansas (i.e. one of the most conservative and boring areas in the U.S. bible belt).

"I've been raised with European ways, my parents still spoke Flemish and French. So I took chocolate sandwiches to school and everybody though I was weird. We quickly realized that Belgium food wasn't going to sell, so we moved back to Orlando. (It was) a good place to be because there's a lot of great music there."

Years later he saw a friend named Dave Cannalte DJ at a club called The Cage on Pleasure Island inside Disneyworld. It was love at first spin and Jimmy was hooked for life. He shortened his Flemish name from "Van Malleghem" to "Van M", started DJing around Orlando, then in 1994, a little know British DJ named Sasha (the current world's #4) came to town on his first trip to America, and he had no place to stay.

Sasha landed himself at the Van M residence, the two DJs saw they were on the same musical wavelength, and they quickly became the closest of friends.

Bedrock DJ John Digweed (current world's #5) soon followed, and Jimmy was asked in 1996 to help break into America what are considered to be the two greatest progressive DJs of all time.

As Van M says, "I set up their Northern Exposure tour (and later) their residency deal at Twilo (in New York city). Those guys are magic. The combination between their DJ-ing and Twilo is something that carried itself."

For the following six years the American progressive dance music scene was largely defined by what was going down at Twilo, with Jimmy Van M opening up for Sasha and Digweed at their regular gig once a month.

Van M, along with fellow Floridian DJ Chris Fortier (who played Embassy last December) then formed the Balance Promote Group -- a first of its kind record pool to help promote UK and European progressive dance music in America. Records labels provide music to the 40 North American DJs in the pool, then they compile a record chart every few weeks based on the DJs feedback and ratings. When asked how he and Chris dreamt up this scheme, Van M confesses:

"The whole thing just happened! The idea of a booking agency, record pool -- no one knew. No one had any idea. It's not like you plan it from a young age. It just kind of happened organically, you know? But it definitely wasn't thought out."

Based on these accomplishments, the Balance Promote agency (recently renamed The Collective, after merging with MVO) has become America's largest progressive DJ agency with a roster including such DJ superstars as Dave Seaman, James Zabiela, Junkie XL, DJ Fresh, Nick Warren, LTJ Bukem, Lee Burridge, Steve Lawler and, of course, Sasha and Digweed.

When asked about the reasons for their success, Van M says, "We do it for the right reasons (and) that makes a big difference. There's a lot of people who are our competitors who wouldn't know techno from techna. Coming from the music side first is the right way to do it. Its like doing your market research before you even think about the business. Our motto is that you've got to blend in."

When asked about what's happening in America right now, Van M explains the current progressive scene is totally fragmented, with no one city as its central heart and soul.

"Up until 9/11 the scene was slowly deteriorating. It really kind of plummeted (but it's now) slowly regenerating. It was a weeding out effect, the people who weren't quality, who didn't believe in it and were only half-hearted. There's some great new clubs like in New York there's Spirit and the Crow Bar. LA's got The Palace, which is amazing, and Circus -- which is run by Spundae -- has been nailing it on a week-to-week basis with good talent. San Francisco's been in a lull."

As for the year 2004, he say, "I think some of the bigger British companies are going to come in and try to make some major power plays in North America (like Global Underground, Ministry of Sound and Renaissance). Its going to be really interesting (because) a lot of people in America (only) want to support American-based efforts."

When asked why, no matter where you go in the world, there is so much passion tied up with all those involved with the progressive-dance-music scene.

"There's something about the unification. The tribal nature of dance music. When at the end of the night there's a group of 10- 20 people in a circle holding hands, that isn't just a tree- hugger activity. That's people really bonding and uniting, and music brings you there.

"You have this sound and this sort of atmosphere that blankets everybody and everybody understands it. Its powerful. (Whether) you're straight or wasted, it doesn't make a difference. You can connect. If you have an inkling of emotion inside of you, or feeling what it is to be human, then you can be part of it."

Virtually everyone at Stadium that night who heard Jimmy Van M's nearly five-hour fluid mix of sublime, haunting and emotion- packed house music knew exactly what he was talking about. The Delta sound.

Earlier that evening, Van M explained why his recent 35-city tour of North America, with Sasha and Digweed, was called the "Delta Heavy" tour.

There are apparently five basic brainwave patterns of the human mind. Beta, for normal waking brain activity. Gamma, for learning or intense work situations. Alpha, for relaxation and expanded awareness. Theta for memory and intuition. And delta, for non-REM sleep and deep trance-like states. Delta waves have the lowest frequency and the highest amplitude of all brain waves, and are said to reflect the state in which all healing takes place. One looses all sense of being and becomes one with their subconscious mind, and potentially with the consciousness of others.

The way the crowd at Stadium was all dancing as one, with Jimmy Van M at the DJ helm, there was little doubt that those delta waves were definitely reaching their target.