I’m sitting across from Ariaan Olieroock in the back offices of Verboten and I’m mesmerized. It was hard to tell if the intelligence behind his eyes was amplified by the lights or simply still burning from his hypnotizing set—Ariaan’s intense gaze offset by his affable Dutchness made this one of the best technical discussions DanceDeep has ever been a part of. Ariaan, one half of the Dutch deep and tech house duo Cubicolor, is an incredibly intelligent and passionate producer. His involvement in and contribution to electronic music over the last twenty years fueled the fire for a rewardingly technical interview, encompassing the intricacies of analog acoustics and the evolution of electronic music in Holland and beyond. This is one of the most captivating interviews I’ve done in New York; let Ariaan’s perspective guide you through his history in music culminating into a collaboration that produces the most truly unique sounds in music today.
If you had all the knowledge you have now when you were eighteen, what would you have done differently?
I’ve thought about this a lot. What would I do? I would pursue what I’m doing at the moment. At the moment, I’ve filtered out what I already did years and years ago, and I feel like I’m getting to a point where I can do this entertainment thing in a way I really like. When I was eighteen I wasn’t very far. I did electronics. My degree’s basically in electronics. It’s what we call HTS, a higher school for technical skill. Analog is my domain. I did digital as well, but a very basic kind of programming back in the day.
How old were you when you first starting producing?
I was fourteen years old. On Cubase. It was on the Atari ST. I didn’t know anything about producing. Actually, before my Atari a friend of mine had a Roland D50. You could program the sequencer. When I was fourteen we went to The Hague to visit Stad Den Haag Records. It was managed by some people who did raves in Holland like ID&T. We showed them a demo (it was shit at the time). But that’s how I started producing, and I love it.
Did you teach yourself?
Yeah. But I never read the manuals. In the beginning I used Cubase, then the PC came. I had one program called WinAudio. You could do four tracks of audio total, and there was some MIDI. And it was hard. I learned from some friends of mine in school that in the parallel port you could put a combination of resistors and transistors and you could make audio from your parallel port. So we used that and it came out to be like 10 KHz or something. I’m 40 now… when I was 10 I started DJing in a very basic environment where young people came together and the only thing you did was turn a knob and the record started playing. And you had all the 80s singles you could imagine. This was around ’85. I’ve played saxophone since I was 8, and the piano.
Do you feel like a music theory background is a necessary component to producing?
Yes. It’s about learning everything then forgetting everything together. You have to reset yourself. It’s very important to know what’s going on, but it’s also very important to research classical composers, jazz composers, why and what they were doing. I play piano, guitar, and saxophone. It’s definitely manifested in my producing. You can get to a certain level. All the EDM guys, they get to a certain level, but they don’t know how to progress to something they can expand upon. That’s the problem with a lot of producers these days. A lot of guys, when they’re 16 they start playing the piano and by the time they’re 18 they think they’re ready to produce music. But they only have two years of classical training. I studied classical piano for years, and Peter studied since he was 10. He knows all the composers, he can play everything you want to hear. It’s not about can you play it, it’s about intensity. It’s about how you hit a note, the velocity of everything in your piece of music. With EDM… it’s well produced, it sounds good, a lot of people love it, but at one point people progress as well. They’re searching for something more. And those guys can’t give them that. At least we’re trying to give them something they can hold onto and brings you a little bit further in life.
How did you and Peter meet?
We met in 2003, through a mutual friend who was always going out in Amsterdam. I was never a going out guy; I loved playing music (I’ve been playing clubs since I was 16) but I never really went out… back in the day you had John Digweed and Sasha. All my friends went to see them. I was more into music for myself, trying to make music I like. In the end, I went with them and I experienced drugs, obviously. I experienced ecstasy, you do it for the first time, you have an amazing night. So you really feel what the people are feeling and you can integrate all the experiences you’ve had into your music.
What made you want to separate Cubicolor and 16 Bit Lolitas?
We had so many tracks. We still have so many tracks. We could do four more releases if we wanted to. You can’t put out fifty tracks a year. It’s impossible. We want to do deep stuff, we want to do the musical part of it, but we also want to be a part of the cooler scene or whatever you’d call it. At least that’s what we’re trying to do. The best stuff we have we do it on an album, we give it to Anjuna.
Why doesn’t Peter tour?
We think it’s important to have somebody at home. Someone to reflect on. It’s important to have somebody at home who can make the changes while I’m away. Now we’re doing the Cubicolor album, which we’re finishing up this week, and I’m able to gauge how we can change tracks after playing them live.
How do you and Peter work together?
He makes something, I listen to it. I make something, he listens to it. I make a new beat, he makes a new melody. We start on the piano. Peter’s amazing. We’re using Ableton now. I have a lot of analog gear in terms of mixing. We have an SSL 4000 desk. I built myself compressors, EQs, guitars. In terms of soft synths, I like Arturia’s stuff. Reaktor is a big part of Cubicolor. I come from an analog world. I had an electronics store for eight years. So I know the component signs very well. And since I know the signals well I’m able to explain to Peter from the schematics. Peter’s an artificial intelligence student.
Together, we can translate an analog world into the digital world. In the digital world we can create a new synth that is based on the analog approach. You can have bits drifting on filters. Transistors and resistors, capacitors, every analog circuit you have is always different. Every instrument sounds different. Nowadays, everything is digital. So it doesn’t matter what you buy, it always sounds the same. The tolerance is so low, to a 0.1%, that everything, also analog, sounds the same. While in the beginning of analog synths, you could have twenty-five of the same synths and they’d all sound different in a way, from drum computers to anything else. I was talking to Jody and he was telling me about how Underworld has four 909s, and one sounds amazing in kicks. And the other one sounds amazing in something else.
It’s because of the electronics behind it. You had it in the 60s from compressors. For example, Fairchild 670 compressors are now worth $50,000. There are 250 of them. When a producer bought one, he would look at twenty at the factory and choose the one that sounded the best for him. There are 22 tubes in the 670. And every tube is different. You have a noise floor, you have compression, you have the gaining circuits. You have everything that adds up in there. That is what makes analog analog, and you can never replicate that. It’s just not possible. People say digital sounds as good as analog—maybe they’re right—but it puts it into perspective. The coloring you have in analog goes way beyond digital.
Who were your biggest inspirations when you first started making music?
I grew up with classical, jazz, and pop music, from The Police to Steve Winwood. Everything you could imagine, from experimental stuff from The Beatles to Pink Floyd, Simon and Garfunkel, and also a lot of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. You don’t have to combine everything; you can just like what you like.
What got you into electronic music over other types of music?
The first time I heard electronic music I was addicted. The first time I heard electronic drums I loved it. All the 80s stuff. Christoph, who was mixing all the stuff Stock Aitken Waterman and nowadays is one of the biggest mixers on the planet. I love every aspect of it. That’s the problem, too; if you want to be a really big producer, or artist, or anything, you have to focus. My focus is on all aspects of the whole thing. So it takes a little bit longer to get there.
Do you mix and master your own stuff?
Yes. Mostly all self-taught. I did ten years of engineering for ID&T in Holland. The first system was L-Acoustics. It was introduced in France by a doctor. But he couldn’t use the name Dr. Heil because of the whole German thing, so it could never take off. So at the end they called it L-Acoustics. It was the first line ray system. It’s coupled, so all the boxes amplify each other because of the diversity they have in the system. So if you’re aiming down as a banana, you only have 60b of velocity loss at the end. You can really match it to the length of the room. Nobody believed in it at the beginning. But the thing is, we did with one truck what the other guys did with ten trucks. I was one of the first engineers in Holland to do the whole L-Acoustic thing with ID&T. I did that for seven years, I played all the big parties, like Sensation, that are now all over the planet. I did the first one. I fell asleep a few times. I’d be working all day. From seven in the morning to Sunday afternoon when it was finished.
What kind of music do you listen to now?
If I listen to DJs, I listen to guys liked Dixon, Jamie Jones, and Tale of Us. I like to look at what they do with their music to make people move. It’s most important to find what it is that makes people love it. Is it the sound? Is it the melody? All melodies have already been done throughout the last hundred years. It’s not about the melody; it’s about the sound design. It’s about how it’s mixed. It’s about the intensity of the track. It’s way more important to think about arrangement than melody. If you go back into the 60s, it’s important to realize The Beatles and The Stones had it pretty easy. They had all the clichés. We can’t do the clichés because they’ve already been done. They were great bands, and I still love them, but if you listen back to it, it’s simple. A few years ago, I was listening to Top 40 and a friend of mine asked me to mix some more commercial music. There was this number one record of Tiesto. And number two was Swedish House Mafia. So I started to play the melody of the Tiesto record, then afterward the melody of the Swedish House Mafia. They were exactly the same. The only thing that was a little bit different was the rhythm. The sounds were different, but you didn’t really hear it was the same melody.
If you were at a festival, who would you want to see?
I don’t really mind who’s playing. If I walk into a room and it’s good I stay.
What are your favorite clubs in the world?
I love Austin. The Kingdom. The sound system… amazing. They have a custom-built sound system by guys from Austin. It’s called MaxSpace. I was blown away. I’ve been a sound engineer for 25 years and I was blown away. The transparency the monitoring had with the room… I was one. I was one with the monitoring with the room with the crowd. I hadn’t experienced that before. That is what I love. And it was also one of the best shows I did. I’m very technical, very anal about that kind of shit.
How about your favorite sets you’ve ever played?
Brazil was amazing. Argentina was amazing. Cordoba. I played State, 4,000 people, first opening of the club. Here. Verboten. Amazing. The sound system is amazing. Sometimes I forget that I play. If you really go into it and you know your set and you know the tracks you’re playing, and the crowd is going with it and the sound is amazing, the whole vibe is there.
Many thanks to Ariaan for the invaluable insight, as well as Anjunabeats, Involved, and Gafry for making this interview possible. Photos provided by Anjunabeats and Verboten.