Drum and bass isn’t just about pure firepower – what makes it so formidable is the emotional valence of its soulfulness. This is something that MC Dan Stezo champions every moment he’s held the mic alongside a legitimate icon of the sound Lenzman. In his hands, the mic is both a weapon and a ray of light. When people wax lyrical about finding salvation on the dance floor, the serotonin-fuelled release they experience is because of agents like him. Thanks to local bass and jungle ambassadors Revision Music, purveyors of the hard-hitting Sub City nights, Stezo will play two shows here this weekend – one in his MC capacity and the other in his DJ guise Gokil System.
How has the year been for you so far?
2018 has been good! It’s becoming more and more natural for me to find a balance. 2017 was really tough. There was a lot of saying goodbye to people. I can really get carried away, but last year I’ve stayed low-key and just allowed a lot of silence in my life. So for 2018, I just feel the potency, especially now that it’s springtime.
How do you feel about touring Asia?
It’s like that Onra series Chinoiserie. I have that a bit. My mother is a real Amsterdammer and my father is from Jakarta which makes me half-Asian; I have a longing for a home far away. I feel good in Asia. I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively and meet so many kind and like-minded people. I feel at home in the culture and I like a place where eating with a spoon and fork can be a norm.
“I’ve been into hip-hop since 1989 and onstage next to a DJ for more than 15 years, so I have a large archive of what I love and want to share.”
Let’s go back to the beginning. Why drum and bass?
I wasn’t drawn towards to drum and bass by myself at first. It was Lenzman who asked me to do some hosting on his set way back. I was doing hip-hop with a local outfit around that time, but did not perform often. With drum and bass, I could explore being on the stage and experiment a lot because it’s just so free. That whole sound system culture was a bit lost in the way I did hip-hop before, so drum and bass felt like good creative exploration.
You also DJ as Gokil System. Is doing both a juggling act?
That’s very new for me, actually. Fonz (an acquaintance from Indonesia) posted some hyper-eclectic mixing on SoundCloud a couple of years ago and it inspired me; I totally got hooked on the Molam sound and other music from around the drum and bass. It wasn’t really until last year that I could do a DJ set at Sun And Bass, a drum and bass festival in Italy. Ultimately, it all comes down to taste. I’ve been into hip-hop since 1989 and onstage next to a DJ for more than 15 years, so I have a large archive of what I love and want to share. It all comes down to sharing your idea and what makes you tick.
As a fan of Mobb Deep, how do you feel about the death of Prodigy?
“Grams get dipped, 50’s are smoked, cookies are broke
And spliced in large pieces for the fiends to smoke
The sun set looks beautiful over the projects
What a shame, its ain’t the same where we stand at
If you look close you can see the bricks chipped off
Sometimes niggas miss when they lick off don’t get clipped off
We’ve read that positivity and open-mindedness is the core of your approach. Why is that worldview important to you?
I would rephrase that biography now I suppose. I meant positivity not as some feel-good thing, like tjakka!, everything-has-to-be-in-a-positive-mood thing. I mean, especially in life, the intention is to really unblock our mental programming, critical thoughts, opinions and what not. I know music can do that to people and I am happy if I can organically push it in that direction. My lyrics are mostly introspective; I am sharing my inner-life. These are shared human topics: Separation from beloved ones, death, greed, lust etc. It’s not important per se, it’s what I do.
As part of The North Quarter, you’ve worked closely with Lenzman on various material, all the way from “The Soul Tape” to “The Boombox.” How would you say you vibe with each other?
We’ve been messing around with music since the day we met in high school. So it’s natural for me to have more tunes out. He is hyper-critical and sets the bar real high. It’s just up to me to make the steps. I get some feedback when I send music, so there is a mentorship there. For The North Quarter, I remember Lenzman saying he wanted his own label before he had one tune out. So now it’s here and I’m really happy about it. I give advice and help build the brand whenever I can. I think we both really value each other’s input and opinions.
In the “The Boombox”, you talk about old school boom boxes and how music was listened to then. What do you think about music composition in the digital age?
Spotify opened up a whole new world. There are hidden gems right under our noses. For me, it’s only about the music. The whole tape thing represents tradition. It’s good to share that tradition especially with those who are younger. I think, eventually it doesn’t really matter. What matters are your memories when you got into it. I remember exactly when I listened to Nas’ Illmatic for the first time, or when I got my first tape, or on which song I passed out drinking and smoking too much (nothing but a g thing) to. It’s not about the technology. I actually just sold my CD collection to a kid who’s 19 years old. He cares about the CDs like some of y’all care about vinyl records. He knows who the female rapper Yo-Yo is, which is quite amazing.
Lastly, what can we expect from both your sets – as MC Dan Stezo and Gokil System?
I hope I can add even more warmth via the microphone with the local boys who will be the DJs for Sub City on Saturday night. For the Gokil System DJ set on Sunday, don’t expect too much in terms of technique, I’m a humble selector bringing my musical influences and some Dutch music too!
Sub City: MC Dan Stezo, AL:X, Kiat, Senja & OMJ happens on Saturday, April 28, at Piedra Negra. Entry is $15 at the door.
Revision & Choice Cuts present Gokil System happens on Sunday, April 29, at Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee. Entry is free.