On the occasion of the Amsterdam Dance Event, we talk to DJ Jeroen Verheij, better known as Secret Cinema. He has traveled the world as a producer and DJ for thirty years, but his home base is the Eastern Docklands. We asked him about his life as a DJ and producer and got a look into his studio.
Mariska Meijero | Photo Bjorn Martens
Techno is a movement within house music and originated in the late seventies in various places in the world, primarily in the USA and Germany. Jeroen came into contact with it in the late eighties. ‘When I was sixteen I had older friends and they took me to Parkzicht in Rotterdam. There they still played Golden Earring and so on, but they also had a block of Acid House. Then I heard a song, Amnesia Ibiza or something, and then I thought: Yes, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’
With a jazz musician as a father, Jeroen already had the musicality in him, he just had a hard time finding the right instrument. Until he went to a computer fair when he was sixteen: ‘I had an AMIGA 500 computer to play games on. At the fair where you could exchange floppy disks for games, I saw someone making music on a computer just like that.’ This proved to be the start of his career.
How it started
Jeroen made a track (song) with his computer and gave it to friends who were DJs. The response on the dance floor was good, and via Paul Elstak (a well-known gabberhouse DJ from Rotterdam) Jeroen ended up with Peter Slaghuis. In the eighties he was a well-known DJ who brought house music from the gay scene in Chicago and New York to the Netherlands. ‘Peter had his own record label and wanted to release my music. I put my computer in a HEMA bag and went to his house. He showed me his study and said: get busy, ready tonight? It became the record ‘Sonar System’, under the name Meng Syndicate, which was played everywhere. That’s how my career started.’
It all sounds very smooth as Jeroen tells it. “But that’s how it actually happened. In 1994 I made four hits in a row with just my drum machine and microphone. I used different names, Point Blank, Grooveyard and Secret Cinema. The song Timeless Altitude is still played, as is Mary go Wild, which I released under the name Grooveyard.’
Where does the name Secret Cinema come from? Jeroen: ‘When you’re on the dance floor and close your eyes, you see pictures in your head that only you can see, and it’s your own secret cinema. That’s what it’s based on. I want music that appeals to the imagination, but which you can still fill in some sounds yourself’.
Making technical songs
What exactly is technology? Jeroen: ‘Actually, everything is house, and then comes techno. Techno is faster, less vocal, less happy. Industrial, dark, a basement with people sweating, a lighter that doesn’t light because there’s no oxygen, it’s techno. And walk all night because you don’t want to stop.’ Techno is also: technology, progress, but Jeroen prefers to get the most out of as little equipment as possible. My favorite at the moment is the Kurzweil K2500 Synthesizer, developed for Stevie Wonder, that soul is really in the instrument. Brilliant instrument, it sounds warm, it’s alive. So I took it back out and twenty songs came out straight away.’
Are those songs already in your head? ‘Most hits, that’s what I woke up to. Then I thought, now I have to make this tune. Or: I NOW want to use this and this thing to make these sounds. BAM! it was hits.’ So it is not easy to let go of a record according to Jeroen. ‘My best record is my next record. My best set is my next set, it never ends. I wanted when I was sixteen, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. With all the ups and downs. I can’t complain.’
One of Jeroen’s most memorable appearances was in Japan. ‘In that club they had CO2 cannons, when such a cannon goes off, everything is cold at once, and you don’t see a hand in front of your eyes. They do just when the beat comes back. I performed live and everyone enjoyed secret cinema to themselves. I threw the punch back again, that cannon went off at that exact moment and the crowd went wild. Then I stood with tears in my eyes and thought: I have always done it for that. With only people who live in a completely different world than us, and we are all one.’
With four shows, Jeroen’s days at the Amsterdam Dance Event are well filled. How do you keep it up? “If the party is good, you can just keep going.” Jeroen also likes to play with the audience. This means for him: Not all hits play, but records that resemble hits. And then, he says, ‘in between you can try to take the audience somewhere you never thought they could dance to. And if they deserve it, I’ll give them the record they want to hear. Because I know what they want to hear, but I won’t give in, it’s just a game’.
Want to know if you can dance to the music from Secret Cinema? At amsterdam-dance-event.nl you can search for Secret Cinema and buy tickets for one of the performances. The festival is from 19 to 23 October.