Promoting their new EP Aurora with a tour, Vicetone played at Sound-Bar last weekend for their \”Anywhere We Go Tour.\” Enjoy EDM Chicago’s exclusive interview with Vicetone.
“We can’t say everything was completely planned like this. We wanted it to happen and it did happen, but it’s still surprising, when it happens and you suddenly tour the world” Ruben Den Boer, one half of Vicetone along with Victor Pool, tells me of the duo’s success. We’re seated in the posh lounge of Dana Hotel in Chicago’s River North. Luxurious, modern, and sleek, the hotel is just like Vicetone: Ruben and Victor are dressed like any other European twentysomethings, but the watches are nicer and the jacket is real leather. Both good looking, Ruben is swarthy and Victor could be in an H&M advert. However, there’s nothing elitist about them. Both he and Victor simply walked off the elevator into the lobby. There was nothing fake about them either—genuinely kind, articulate and easy-going, any nerves I had at the beginning were immediately gone.
Both born in 1992, in the Dutch city of Groningen, they bonded in school over a shared passion for artists like Eric Prydz and Swedish House Mafia. They attended university for a few years, Ruben studying International Business and Victor studying Geography. Ruben told me “We dropped out of college. That was never my intention.” They laugh a little in amazement at the turn of events that led from being just two fans of house music to becoming famous EDM duo Vicetone. Ruben follows up, saying dropping out was the “best decision I made” to which Victor concurs.
Throughout the night, I can tell they’re friends. They speak to each other in Dutch occasionally, laughing at jokes only meant for each other. They seem comfortable with each other, more like brothers than friends at this point. Ruben does more of the talking, but when Victor speaks, his answers are thoughtful, no word wasted. Asking about their creative process, they get along as artistic partners just as well as they do as friends. Victor says “going back and forth helps a lot, between us two. If there’s something Ruben hears that I don’t like and vice-versa.” Writing music is work for them. They take their art seriously, approaching the process with meticulousness and dedication. If they weren’t so hardworking, they could still just be like any other basement DJ, but their work ethic, I can tell, is the secret to their success. It’s not that they never argue, but Ruben reveals “we have an unwritten law we both have to stand by the song. If one person hates it and the other doesn’t then it’s not a good idea.” That said, Victor says “if someone is really attached [to an idea], there’s a reason for that” and the other will be open to incorporating it.
From the start we had a vision for how we wanted our music to sound.
Sound is important to Vicetone, the most important aspect actually. Their tracks are not mere EDM bangers to get people going on the dancefloor, but carefully crafted pieces of exquisite progressive house. There are drops borrowed from Big Room House, but these are rescued from being generic by the addition of a Baroque quality to their music. Strings complement synthesizers in such a perfect way that the talent of the Dutch duo is inescapable. If they were born in a previous century, I could easily see them being symphonic composers whom we would consider among the greats of Classical music. Victor elaborates on the importance of sound: “from the start we had a vision for how we wanted our music to sound, with an energy and lots of emotions and since we put so much energy into it together, we just create something people instantly recognize us for and it keeps on being that way.” However, they eschew remaining static, as Ruben says: “we’ve heard from many people in the industry, and heroes we look up to, to never close yourself in and have one sound. That’s going to be boring.” The group isn’t all serious, precise composers, as Ruben continues by saying “it’s fun to experiment and progress your sound further.” I tell them how their music provokes great emotion in me, and Ruben thanks me. The power of melody to harness and inspire emotions is crucial to the vision they have for their projects.
Writing a song “involves many days of tweaks. Usually we add too many layers to the song. Then we strip it down, we remove any part that is absolutely not necessary” Ruben explains. They don’t delete anything, just in case they removed an element and want to reintroduce it. Victor says “every track we do has 100 versions.” After working on it, they let it sit for a few weeks and return to it for a fresh listen. “The first reaction once you’ve taken a break from a track is very important because you instantly hear stuff you want to change. If you listen to a track over and over again you get used to a certain sound.” This process of reevaluating their music is vital to keeping it fresh. Victor says it’s a “moment [of realizing] if this doesn’t work.”
To understand Vicetone, you must understand their influences. Reflecting on the recent retirement of Avicii, Victor tells me “if we saw Avicii in real life [that would be amazing]. We haven’t really met him but he’s had such a huge impact on us music-wise. He always brings the emotions and melodies we love.” Victor laughs, adding how starstruck he was to see Rob Lowe in an airport once. A surprising source of inspiration, Victor says, are “some really big soccer players” they’ve seen while flying “those are, apart from musicians, a really big influence for us.” Ruben says if Vicetone could collaborate with anyone, it would be Hans Zimmer: “If we could just pick his brain for an hour!” They don’t listen to their own music, and not even dance music, instead preferring Zimmer’s soundtracks. This is where their love of atmosphere and stringed-compositions comes from. Ruben is attracted to Zimmer’s work that is “very, very dark, very heavy” and lists Interstellar, The Dark Knight, and Inception as the group’s personal favorites.
It’s time to go to the show, and we get in an Uber together. They simply exit the hotel and go up to the car, the revelers standing in line for Vertigo Sky Lounge oblivious that stars are walking by them. We get to the venue and are ushered in by Lawrence from Sound-Bar, who accommodates the DJs’ needs before and after the show. Ruben orders a water, Victor gets a beer from the table, and I order a vodka lemonade. Lawrence makes the drinks appear like magic, no delay. They’re both starving and want some good pizza. Suddenly, discussing the pizza, they aren’t the professional globetrotting DJs, but just two regular young guys. I see a flash of who they were when they first met, and why they’re friends. Alas, neither of them likes Chicago deep dish pizza, and apologize for any affront this may cause. It’s time for them to take the booth, and Lawrence leads them through the dancefloor crowd to the front.
The second the show begins with “Hawt Stuff,” a reworking of the legendary Donna Summer disco track, their skill and talent, all the hard work they put into creation, becomes evident. They are not only talented producers, but expert DJs. Sound-Bar’s clear, expansive sound system does their music justice. They mix in club standards like Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” and delight the crowd with a Galantis track. However, their music holds its own and then some. “Nevada” begins, the heavy, pounding beats does conjure up the work of Hans Zimmer, while the poignant vocals of Cozi Zuehlsdorff remind us of Avicii’s masterworks. Vicetone has energy in the booth, jumping, and dancing, and getting the crowd involved. A Vicetone show is about participation, and they love seeing the fans react to every beat.
“What the fans think and feel is the most important,” Ruben told me earlier during the interview. “You wanna make music you like but if we just made music only we wanted to listen to, no one would want to listen to it. There’s a balance. [It’s] fun for people to listen to, but for us.” Victor says they’re not planning an album right now because “when you finish a track, you want to release it as soon as possible so it sounds fresh. When an album takes a year or two, and maybe a few tracks will sound a bit outdated.” Ruben chimes in “but that doesn’t mean we’re not gonna do it.” For Vicetone, their music is for them as for the fans. “We always prefer the fans and their support…Every track we bring out we genuinely like. The main thing for us is we stand behind it, that we love the music.”
The show ends, stage effects and background screens still going for the closing DJ, but Victor and Ruben rush out of the booth and we go backstage. They finally have a pizza, and eat it joyfully. Again, there is no artifice about Vicetone. We catch an Uber back to the hotel. I thank them for the incredible evening. To speak with Vicetone and listen to their music live was an honor, and they’re grateful. It’s a genuine gratitude, not anything rote. For that night, it felt like if I had known them back in Groningen when they were just Victor and Ruben, we might have been friends. But reality sets in: Vicetone is planning some amazing collaborations and headed to Asia on a big tour, and I returned home to the burbs. Earlier, I had mentioned their success and how rapid it was, how divergent our paths were. Me, a reporter; they, a famous EDM act. We discuss maturity, being in our twenties. Victor, thoughtfully reflects on essentially growing up while famous: “I don’t think everything happened at the right time. I think a big process is learning from your mistakes, learning from situations that happened. I mean, if you tour the world with the two of us there are many things that will happen, many things you will easily act on. You learn from everything, you learn from every show you play, you learn from every situation you’re in, every mistake you make.” Ruben adds, genuinely, “I will say, it’s fun to see new cities and travel different places.”
Watch the video for “Nevada,” released on Monstercat Records.