INTERVIEW: Noisia’s Thys Speaks On His ‘Tetris, Mon Amour’ Solo Project

Noisia are one of the most prominent names in modern drum and bass, and they’re a force to be reckoned with. By its very nature, drum and bass is intoxicating, but few can match the sheer intensity that the Dutch trio put out, even when they venture outside of the genre.

There’s venturing outside the genre though, and then there’s peeling off in an entirely new direction, as Thijs de Vlieger, aka Thys has now done. Splitting off from his bandmates, Thys has started producing solo work, but it’s very, very far removed from Noisia’s material. In fact, Thys teamed up with Guy and Roni, an international dance company from Groningen. Together, they created a contemporary dance performance called Tetris, Mon Amour. Now, Thys has brought out an EP featuring three movements from the score, and he took the time to talk to us about it.

What was it that initially led you to making music for a contemporary dance performance?
Short version: Guy and Roni asked me to! And I said yes! Longer version: I had worked with this company before and I really enjoyed the process, but the music I had made for that piece was distinctly for that piece, it only worked in that context but not outside it. So when Guy asked me to do another piece I said yes, but under the condition that I can do music that I like to listen to myself, not just music that fits the piece. I gave Guy and Roni some examples and they loved the mood, and could totally see it working in the piece. (Most of these examples are also in my Spotify playlist)

How did you find the process of producing solo material, compared to Noisia?
The whole process was completely new to me. I decided to set up an experiment, to completely switch up my workflow. I had been making recordings of my modular synthesiser, and for this project I tried using only those recordings, and I also switched from my mastering grade studio room and always using Cubase to a laptop running Ableton Live and a couple of sets of headphones, mainly Audeze LCD-3.

So besides not having to deal with the (much valued) opinions of Nik and Martijn, I also had some kind of a fresh start in my own creative process. In a way it was like learning a new video-game, there’s a lot of parallels to that. I have to admit I’m a sucker for novelty in many ways. I’m a curious person at heart, sometimes slightly guilty of losing interest when it comes down to the gritty reality of really mastering that new something. Music is the only thing I have really ever persevered in, and even though I might need tricks like destroying and rebuilding my workflow, I can not see myself ever losing interest in making music.

Were there any particular visual ideas or influences that helped you develop this EP? Like films, photographs or specific places in the world?
Either I have failed to discover my visual sensitivity in my 35 earth-laps-around-the-sun, or I was just born with a brain that lacks a strong visual component. Sometimes I’ll have a strong opinion about how something should or should not look, but more often than not I’m happy to let other people decide about visual aspects of things. So no, I don’t typically need visual input or visual correlation to trigger creativity. I like working with moods, atmospheres, and sometimes abstract or verbal concepts. But maybe it would be a nice experiment to force myself to make music that takes its mood from a photo or a painting or a memory of seeing something…

What is the narrative of the performance this music is set to? Does it have a particular storyline to it?
Club Guy & Roni are usually known for their theatrical approach to dance. Call it “interdisciplinary”, if you want to sound like it’s still 2002 or like you’re applying for a subsidy, hehe. A narrative is needed for a lot of people though. Going to some dance performances without any prior knowledge is like seeing some other forms of art without knowing any context it just doesn’t make much sense. But even to me, a dance illiterate, their last production “Happiness” was fucking amazing.

I cried both times I saw it, no joke. I didn’t even know that was possible. Anyway! Enough disclosure, enough emotions! For this show “Tetris, Mon Amour”, they wanted to try to make an equally good piece that doesn’t rely on narrative at all. It’s pretty abstract. There are research-concepts behind the creation of the choreographies. So they collected a bunch of articles about game theory, about flowstate, about alternate realities, about artificial intelligence to inspire the choreography. But these concepts don’t necessarily show themselves to the audience, they were just needed to make the movements themselves.

As I write this though, the piece is still undergoing a lot of changes pretty much daily, so I can’t tell you I know what it’ll end up like. But as it stands: no narrative – just loud, intense, hypnotic, distorted electronic music with intense, hypnotic and distorted moving human bodies. The dancers are fucking amazing though. As much as I’m proud of the video we made for my EP release, the dancers and their movements are so much more impressive when you see them in the flesh. The video really works though, I’m so happy that I got to launch my first solo project with such a nice combination of sound, film and dance.

How did it feel to depart from drum and bass into a more abstract, disjointed production style?
Oh I’ve been making more non-DnB than DnB anyway for years! As much as I still love the genre and as much as I owe to it, I have always made weird stuff on the side. I just needed a reason to really dedicate a lot of time to my weird little babies, and a reason to really polish all these ideas I’d been sketching into finished pieces. The score for the performance and the studio version (the 3 track EP I just released) were the perfect reason to really take these weird little musics of mine seriously. So yeah. It feels great: I find myself comfortably outside a box I thought I was in, while I still feel comfortable and welcome within the box too.

How did you find the process of actually working with Club Guy and Roni? Did Martijn and Nik have much input into the project?
Nik and Martijn had next to zero input into the project. I didn’t really want to play them the raw sketches, so I think they first heard most of the material when I had pretty much finished the studio version. I had been sending all the sketches to Guy and Roni though. Pretty much the only feedback on the separate sketches was like “Awesome! Keep ‘em coming!” Then at one point we sat down and tried to find a structure for all these sketches to function in.

We divided the performance into 7 movements and just started with listening for the very first section of the first movement. We puzzled that into a structure, and I took that structure home and glued all the sketches together. Now the next challenge is to have the music performer-friendly: Club Guy & Roni always have their musicians live on stage with them, so my music will be performed by three classically trained percussionists bashing buttons like it’s an arcade hall. Good luck with those sixteenth hi-hats boys! Train harder! Not tight enough!

How did it feel watching the dancers performing to your music for the first time?
There’s always a sense of disbelief. “I can’t believe this is actually happening, this is so cool.” I think most people that aren’t total narcissists have this. I felt this disbelief with the first couple of Noisia DJ shows abroad. With our first album release. When we first started doing our audiovisual show Outer Edges. “You’ve come a long way baby!” But I have to say, when I first saw the dancers move to the music and I got over the disbelief, I did think that it totally fit and I was pretty confident there was a lot of promise for a really impressive and intense performance.

Noisia’s music has always had a certain cinematic quality to it, as does this. If you could take any pre-existing film and write an alternate score to it, which film would you choose?
Thanks, we work hard for that. We try not to settle for just nice grooves and good sound design, but we also always want to go the extra mile to invoke atmospheres and tell little abstract stories if you will. I think I would go for 2001: A Space Odyssey, because of the way Kubrick always left space for music to thrive in his films. If you listen to a lot of film music, it is completely flushed away by dialogue, foley and effects.

It must be hard for some Hollywood composers to hear your craft, your baby, being pushed away in the final mix because the footsteps of character 142 in scene 66D need to be clearly audible, otherwise people start disbelieving the reality of the movie. No thanks. I’d really love to score movies, but I’d hate to spend all that time only for the director and the audio mixer to shit all over it in the final stage hahaha. But in 2001 there are a lot of sections where the score is just telling the story with images. I would love to be asked to do that music. As Thys or as Noisia for that matter. Martijn, Nik and I still have a lot of shared ambitions and pipe dreams.

Do you have any further solo projects planned?
Planned: yes. Ready to disclose anything about them without becoming highly self-conscious and already pre-emptively embarrassed for the fact that I might never get to finish them: no. So the will is there, and I definitely now know the way is there too. It’s just a matter of time, I think. It takes time to decide whether this idea I’m walking around with is actually worth while. Maybe it’s fucking cheesy. Maybe it’s too ambitious and expensive and it will never be realised. Time will tell.

I can however disclose that there’s two things I really want to explore more in the future: making more than music – using other disciplines like film or writing to overcome the essential abstractness of instrumental music. I studied philosophy and walked in and out of the serious art scene for years, and that has damaged me forever I’m afraid. I now want to make things that are about something, that mean something, I want to make more than music that sounds and grooves and works really well. I’m not claiming that isn’t an art form in itself, I still breathe DnB every weekend. But creatively I do want to express more than tight grooves, impressive sound design, and epic atmospheric intros. Basically I’m running head-first against the boundaries of what instrumental music is in and of itself: emotional, but abstract and non-verbal.

So basically I want to create or co-create in an art form that incorporates but isn’t limited to instrumental music. And the second thing I want to explore: I feel a need to incorporate the classical orchestra in whatever project I embark on. I have listened to so much classical and modern orchestral music, it’s an important part of my formation as a musician. If you will allow me a cliche metaphor: I now want to paint with these brushes too. In the meanwhile, while I try to find a way to make all these weird notions a reality, I hope to collab with some interesting people. There are some options on the horizon. And I also have another, more funky, beatsy, glitchy side-project rolling with a turntablist homie: we’re called DotCrawl together.

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