This Wed 11th Jan.
Free Entry, from 8pm till late.
About DJ Maestro:
There is a doll in the Amsterdam apartment of Martijn Barkhuis: it’s a DJ Maestro Action Figure. The box proudly mentions: ‘It really DJ’s, drinks and smokes!’ “That’s slightly exaggerated,” the real-life version says with a husky voice, while putting his Davidoff cigarette in the ashtray to fill our glasses with pinot grigio. “That doll doesn’t DJ at all.” At least, not like the human version of DJ Maestro, as many, many international dance full of sweaty and cramped calves can attest to. Mesmerize, DJ Maestro’s debut album, following the compilations he did for legendary jazz labels Blue Note (Blue Note Trip, three editions) and Verve (Delicious Jazz), is made for exactly those dance floors. “The music was inspired by the records I play and by the reactions of people who dance to those records. Some of the songs on Mesmerize are more than a year old, others I wrote only two months ago. But they have all been tested on the dance floor. When something didn’t work, we improved it.”
‘We’, in this case, are Maestro and producers Mark van de Bergh and Maarten Helsloot, aka JAAN and Marty Belmondo. They are the owners of a studio in the mundane outskirts of Amsterdam, are blessed with a good ear and the ability to transform Maestro’s ideas into beats, grooves and bass lines. “Sometimes, I hummed them a song, or described a certain feeling or vibe. I put dozens of my favourite songs on mini disc for Mark and Maarten, so they would understand what I was looking for.”
Mesmerize was born out of pure necessity. While the record collection stacked behind him almost crumbles under its weight, the DJ explains: “It’s getting harder and harder to find records I want to play. They often lack a certain atmosphere or groove. So when I was given the opportunity to record my own album, I took it with both hands.” We will get back to the hands in a second.
His record deal enabled Maestro to work with a bunch of talented musicians he often performs with: renowned saxophone player Benjamin Herman, flute player Magnus Lindgren (who also worked with Koop), Zuco 103-singer Lilian Vieira, Carl Young (bass player in Michael Franti’s Spearhead), keyboard player Sven Figee (with whom Maestro co-wrote two songs), soul singer Forrest (known for his hit ‘Rock the Boat’) and saxophone player Tineke Postma. “In general, we invited them to the studio once we finished the basis. All we told them was to do whatever they’re good at. Benjamin Herman did his thing in just half an hour.” As a result, the lazy track ‘Spring Street’ has a real ‘neon light in a wet street’ vibe, while the sax in the spicy latin song ‘En Orbita’ is like an exquisite sauce poured over the groove.
Funk, jazz, latin: the DJ seems to have been raised on soul food and hot peppers, but actually comes from a family where everybody listened to classical music in appropriate silence and played the piano and the cello considerably well. Maestro himself played the violin “quite well”, but he feels that “if somebody else is more talented, you should let that person play for you.” But clapping his hands is certainly not a problem for the DJ: just listen to ‘Rainy Day’.
As a teenager, Maestro was mesmerized by the turntables, mixers, headphones and vinyl albums of his friends, who took their drive-in show to hockey parties and school parties. It left him with an insatiable hunger for albums, and an incredible disgust for dance classics: “One of the highlights in my career was the moment somebody requested ‘Relight My Fire’ for the umpteenth time. ‘I’ve got that one,’ I said, pulled the record from my bag and broke it in two right before his very eyes.”
That doesn’t mean the DJ doesn’t know how to please the crowd: his Blue Note Trip-nights in clubs, nationwide attract many dance lovers, who love to work up a sweat on the amazing mix of modern and vintage from the Maestro’s record cases, which he carries with him to Indonesia, Japan, New York and most European countries.
With his own record label (Dig This!), being programdirector of the IJazz Amsterdam festival, booker for the new Amsterdam club “Jazz on the Riverbank” and founder of the dutch station Radio Jazz, Maestro has a big hold on everything that has to do with funk, latin and jazz in the Netherlands. “It’s killing sometimes, all those long nights with too much cigarettes and drinks,” he tries to put his fabulous life somewhat into perspective. But isn’t that a very big grin we see on the face of the DJ Maestro Action Figure?