House music is supposed to jack your body. It's supposed to make you lose your mind on the floor. In a word, it's supposed to be fun. Cerebral EDM nerds tend to forget that fact, but Heidi Van Den Amstel is here to remind them.
The UK -- light years ahead of the U.S. when it comes to championing underground dance music on the mainstream airwaves -- is lucky enough to have Heidi as a host on BBC Radio 1, where for years she's broken the finest new house artists and records.
But thanks to her global Jackathon parties and new eponymous label, all of us international fans now get to enjoy Heidi's DJ prowess on the regular as well.
Crossfade caught up with the Queen of Jack ahead of her gig at Treehouse on Friday alongside Berlin techno favorite Dinky, LINK Miami and Miami Rebels to find out what makes her groove, her favorite records, and upcoming releases on Jackathon.
Crossfade: How did you get drawn into electronic dance music? And when did you first get behind the decks?
Heidi: I was first drawn into it when I met Richie Hawtin around 1996. We're from the same city. We became friends and he opened a few doors into an unfamiliar world I knew nothing about -- I still thank him for that today. I moved to London, England in 1997, and the electronic music scene was so big over here, it was impossible to avoid. I started to work in a record store called Koobla Records around 2001. Then in 2003, I opened up Phonica Records with two other good friends of mine who also worked at the now-defunct shop.
Around 2004, I met the M.A.N.D.Y. guys from Get Physical Records -- we hit it off and quickly became friends. I was sort of messing around playing hip-hop and dancehall in the back rooms of my then-boyfriend's party. Patrick [Bodmer] and Philipp [Jung] from M.A.N.D.Y. invited me to play in Berlin one weekend at Bar 25. I was so nervous. I was playing house and techno like hip-hop -- just dropping tracks in and out of breaks. That quickly changed as they took me under their wing and on tour with them. I had to learn how to mix in front of big crowds. The rest is history. It's been a long road, but I think i finally figured it out.
So how did you land your gig with BBC Radio 1's In New DJs We Trust? What were your favorite things about working on the show?
Pete Tong and I had the same agent in America, and he had told me they were doing this show and looking for new DJs to present it. I hadn't listened to the radio in over 10 years. Seriously. Working in a record shop all day didn't leave time for that. I made a demo and had Claude VonStroke on as my guest, as he became a good friend over the years.
In 2008 they called me up and said I got the show. Not sure what did it for them -- maybe the fact that I wasn't trying too hard. I like to think it was the music I played. Radio 1 is a great platform to showcase underground talent, and with a specialty show like mine, I was able to play whatever I wanted and have whoever on as my guests.
Working in Phonica over the years and DJing on the circuit, I became friends with some big names and was able to bring them on my show and also break new talent that have gone on to become big names. It's a great feeling to know you can be part of changing people's perceptions of underground culture. My new show, Radio 1's Residency, is an ongoing regular slot that is longer and more frequent -- this way I can dig even deeper and play a wider variety of music. I absolutely love it with all my heart.
What are the key ingredients that you look for in music as a listener and DJ? What do you think is the formula for a dance-floor weapon?
Bass. Bass. Bass. I'm a sucker for all things that hit me below the belt. As well as a deep Chicago man's vocals. Those are the tracks that get me and everyone else on the dancefloor, every time. The music has to bounce. If I'm not dancing whilst I'm DJing, I'm playing the wrong records.
What is the concept behind Jackathon and where do you plan to take the label? Any new artist signings and releases we can look forward to?
The concept was to bring all my DJ friends and producers together for a house party -- actual house -- into a club. I was getting so lonely touring and playing by myself, so I thought with the new radio show and a few years of experience under my belt, I could convince some clubs to let me do a party. That started around 2009, at Watergate club -- I had a residency there and they loved the idea.
A nice variety of sounds, like the label Jackathon Jams is going to be. There is going to be no formula to it, just really great music that I love, and remixed by someone that will add a different vibe to keep it fresh. Labels can get stuck in a rut, releasing music that all sounds the same. I like a variety of music, so that's exactly what the label will be. With my third release coming from Miami's own Jesse Perez. Hot jams all the way.
What are some of the classic essential dance cuts that will never leave your crate? And which new producers do you think are doing it right?
Any record by Cajmere/Green Velvet -- every time I play any of his tracks, the crowd goes wild. "Percolator" hasn't left in years. Carl Craig as well -- his remixes are just amazing and make people melt. I've been playing his remix of Morgan Geist out again. "LFO - LFO" -- that one too. I actually play a lot of old stuff -- it just always sounds better to me.
As for new artists, I will give you the names of the next three Jackathon releases: Alexis Raphael, Jesse Perez and Kim Ann Foxman. Watch out for them. All different from each other, but all brilliant with their own sound.
So what have been some of the personal highlights of 2012 for you? What do you have going on for the rest of the year?
There have been so many highlights, I can't even list them all. Loads of great festivals and Jackathon parties. Starting my own label with my first release with an all-star cast featuring Miss Kitten, Maya Jane Coles and tINI. Getting back on BBC Radio 1 with my Residency show. Going to Brazil and Argentina for the first time. I've been surrounded by such positive people, and had the chance to play alongside artists that I admired and have inspired me. It's been a wonderful year. No complaints here. I'm a lucky lady.
Heidi. With Dinky, Ms. Mada, and Thunderpony. Presented by LINK and Miami Rebels. Friday, October 26. Treehouse, 323 23rd St., Miami Beach. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $10 plus fees via residentadvisor.net. Call 305-614-4478 or visit treehousemiami.com.
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