September 11, 2019
Orpheu de Jong has played a central role in shaping Amsterdam’s musical landscape, whether co-founding online station Red Light Radio, producing record sleeves for Dekmantel, or opening a new audiophile listening space in the city. Holly Dicker visited Orpheu to find out how his collection has helped shape him.
When he’s not managing Red Light Radio or DJing, Orpheu The Wizard can be found at Dynamic Range Music Bar in Het HEM in Zaandam, a new listening space in an old bullet factory, which he helped set up and now programmes. Any spare time he has he spends with his family – and digging for records online.
Music For Listening To is the name of de Jong’s Red Light Radio show and is as good a route in to Orpheu The Wizard’s record box as any. It also neatly sums up this born-and-bred Amsterdammer’s general MO: someone who buys more records for home than club use, and who enjoys luxuriating in the sonics of a rare find on a high fidelity system.
De Jong never aspired to be a career DJ, even though he’s now touring the world, and is as in demand as some of his contemporaries, like Young Marco, with whom he first cut his teeth as a disco DJ and promoter. Since then, de Jong has provided graphic design for labels like Dekmantel, Off Minor and Second Circle, all the while keeping his tastes for the unconventional whetted by mixing incognito for radio.
Not a hoarder, de Jong prefers to keep his collection perfectly formed. As his tastes have developed over the last 15 years, so too has his collection, which spans genres, countries and eras. Welcoming us on a balmy day in Amsterdam, de Jong showed off some of his gems, including a “freaky” Japanese punk 7″ kept in a red velveteen box, and some of his favourite sleeve artwork for bands and labels you’ve never heard of.
When did you start collecting records?
I started playing around 2004 and shortly after that I started buying records, going to record stores every day. Back then I was mainly into disco, but I don’t really play disco so much any more. A couple of years ago I sold 100 disco 12″s to Rush Hour – a giant mistake!
So you try not to hang on to records you’re not totally into?
For me, the ultimate goal is to have this amount of records – maybe not even as much as this – and that every record is killer. There’s no point in having too much, because I already have trouble keeping this organised.
Why did you start collecting disco?
I was playing with friends, like Young Marco, and we started organising disco-orientated parties. We were just really into this sound. At some point I met Tako. He was a huge influence, a big collector, and he had this amazing collection. He really sparked this hunger in me to find out more.
Your collection is quite visually striking. Why is sleeve design important to you?
Graphic design always gives you a first entry into a record. It’s important because you can make up a story about a record if you don’t know it yet. There are all these clues that suggest this might be a great record, before you listen to it. You can get a lot of things from the sleeve.
Can you tell us about some of your own sleeve designs?
Juju & Jordash’s album for Dekmantel is the first sleeve I made for them. Around that time, the Dekmantel design was all based around this font, so it was super graphical, typographic-only. This is an ingenious puzzle because all the text perfectly fits. It took days and days trying to find the perfect layout.
For Second Circle, I had the urge to work in a freer way. It was also eight years later. This is all based on found images from books, mostly books about ‘abnormal activities’. There are images of Bigfoot and mystical artefacts, monsters spotted with night vision, a site where something strange happened, footprints. It’s all a bit silly, but also fun to do.
What were your music tastes like before disco?
I played in hardcore punk bands as a teenager, but that was just teenager stuff. I didn’t document it all very well in my brain. I was playing bass for a couple of years, just with classmates. I was also into hip-hop for a long time, and dancehall for a bit. House and disco came after that.
How did you get turned on to hip-hop from punk?
My sister, who was five years older than me and really into hip hop. I have N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton LP from her.
Would you ever play hip-hop in a club?
I don’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I do one day. Why not? I did buy an Victor Vaughn record recently that I thought could be cool to mix in somewhere.
What motivates you to buy a record?
At the moment, I am very much into sound and well-produced records. I have a decent set of speakers, and a nice amp at home and I buy more records for home listening than I buy for playing out.
And now you have Dynamic Range, a listening bar in Zaandam? When did that open?
It opened two months ago as part of this new art space called Het HEM. The main part of the building is an exhibition space. There are also two restaurants and this bar in the basement with great sound: a four-point Klipsch sound system and McIntosh amps.
Have you always been an audiophile?
It naturally came with listening to a lot of music – you start caring about how you listen to it. I’ve always been into proper sound, but if you were to ask me a couple of years ago if I would be doing this bar, I wouldn’t have known. We also have a listening space in the basement of Red Light Radio.
I love the musical freedom of Red Light Radio, what was your vision for starting this online station with Hugo van Heijningen?
I think it’s very important to state that we did not have a vision. We just had the vision of starting it. We never discussed the music, because we understood from each other what we liked. It was always quite natural. No business plan or vision or concept.
Did you start Red Light Radio with the intention of hosting your own show?
I didn’t do shows until a few years in. We were always inviting other people. What I did do quite often was stand in for shows. Sometimes people would not turn up in the early years, and I always had a few records there, so I’d just do an hour. We didn’t have cameras there yet, it was only audio, so I would always do these shows under fake names. I used to take two random records and make up a name from the artist or the title.
Where did the “Wizard” moniker come from?
One time I was covering a show called Weirdness with the Wizard, and it clicked with the type of music I was playing. I decided I should do another show under the same name, and another, and another.
And it stuck! Is there a signature record from these early days of Red Light Radio?
[Orpheu pulls out a small red velveteen box with a 7″ record inside, one of the 500 original copies of Japanese punk group C. Memi + Neo Matisse’s ‘No Chocolate’ / ‘Dream’s Dream’.] To me, this is a very special record. ‘Dream’s Dream’ was the jam. There’s this left and right panning. The first time I played this and Hugo heard it was at Salon des Amateurs. They had this four-point set up and the sound effects are so extreme, it went straight through your brain. If there’s a Red Light Radio record, it’s this one. It’s a strange creation. You can just imagine the story behind it. Who are these people, what were they doing in Japan in the early ’80s making this freaky stuff?
Are you interested in the backstory or unusual origins of records?
It’s amazing how music travels and the weird routes records can take, like this one: a ‘Blue Monday’ cover by two German guys released in Mexico. It’s a slightly more lo-fi version of ‘Blue Monday’. You hear it has just a bit more groove in there, probably because they’re not as professional. I tried playing this out, because I am fascinated by how this exists, but people think I am just playing ‘Blue Monday’. It’s not different enough. Now I leave it at home.
Even though you have been DJing for 15 years, why do you think your career has recently taken a new turn?
There was this really obvious period a couple of years ago where there was a renewed interest in music people didn’t know and they
wanted to be surprised again. I was doing that, so I think it was just the right time and place.
What was the ‘comeback’ set or gig?
The back-to-back gig I did with Tako at Lente Kabinet in 2015. RA made it mix of the day and it re-started from there.
What is it like playing with Tako, who’s been so influential to you. Is there more pressure to go even deeper or wilder with your selections?
We just know each other very well, are good friends and have many years of experience playing together.
What is your goal when you DJ, why are you doing it?
For me, it’s always a challenge to tell a coherent story. What I mean is, I’m into, and play, a lot of different music, so it’s always my goal to find a way to play different things that I think could belong together in a coherent way. It’s nice if you can go from some private release synth funk record to acid, and make a stop somewhere completely different in between. It’s about trying to make links where I see them.
You’ve got a vast swathe of music from around the world in your collection – from Singaporean cover bands to Brazilian funk – but as someone who’s always lived in Amsterdam, is there a record here that represents Amsterdam’s musical heritage to you in a very personal way?
Richenel’s La Diferencia album on cassette label Fetisj is in my cassette collection, which is at Red Light Radio. Fetisj was a label and studio from a group of art school punks who were making tunes and releasing them on cassette. There’s a lot of incredible music on there. I worked with Music From Memory to get La Diferencia pressed up on vinyl for the first time.
That really embodies the spirit of the city that I grew up in and experienced as a small kid. I was born in 1982, and that cassette was released around the same time. There’s this raw feeling and blend of funk, punk, maybe even hip-hop, and art, that all come together in that recording. It really is an Amsterdam artefact.
Orpheu The Wizard plays Horst Festival, 13th-15th September. Click here for more info.
Photos by Zahra Reijs