Digging Deeper with Tripeo

Last week we had the honor of featuring Darko Esser’s techno project, known around the world as Tripeo, on our weekly Global Vibe Radio mix series.

This week, we had the opportunity of sitting down with the busy Dutch producer, DJ and record label owner to dig deeper in his life, his career and to discuss the mix that we have literally had on rotation non-stop for the last seven days.

If you haven’t listened to the mix, which clocks at a whopping 4 hours in length, we urge you to get to it immediately. It’s actually a live recording from his set at TAG in Chengdu, China, and perfectly captures Tripeo’s sonic journey when he is given the time to flex his muscles behind the DJ booth.

A soundtrack for dark cellars and strobe filled clubs, molded from a pure and uncut techno template. That’s what Darko Esser’s Tripeo alter ego is only and all about. Since launching the project, his music has found a home on labels such as Theory, BALANS, PoleGroup, Deep Sound Channel as well as 4 new vinyl-only Trips on his self-titled imprint. Tripeo is a force to be reckoned with on stage as well, as he proved in his machine funk-driven live shows as well as tireless, hypnotic DJ sets in some of the finest clubs and festivals around, as this recording we are presenting to you today proves.

Enjoy the tunes, and the interview, below.

Thanks for the mix mate, where did you put this one together?

And thank you for the invite, it’s much appreciated. You run a fantastic platform.

I recorded this mix at TAG in Chengdu, China. It was one of my favourite gigs of 2019, a very special club run by a dedicated and special crew. It felt like a family operation, going against the grain of popular culture in China. I love places like that. It has something very romantic to it, fighting against a system that’s stacked against you and overcoming odds we can’t imagine in my country. It’s an experience I won’t ever forget.

Thank you for sharing it with us. What do you hope to convey with both the track selection and overall mood and direction of this mix?

It’s a good representation of what I would play during long sets in intimate settings like TAG. It covers quite a bit of different styles, moods and sounds I like in Techno and I like to push the tempo as I go along without it getting over the top or too harsh or industrial. I always need a bit of funk in there and empty tracks speak more to my imagination then overproduced tunes. I love to fill in the blanks myself on the dancefloor as a dancer and for me, it’s a natural approach to DJing as well.

I really enjoyed it! Do you feel it represents the output of your current sets?

I think it covers it quite well. On other occasions, I might play more electro tunes to break up the 4/4 vibe every now and then. There’s not much in this mix, but sound and mood-wise this is basically what I do in club settings. At festivals or large indoor raves, I play bigger tunes because they fit that setting better, but I have a simple rule for the music I play: I stand behind every tune I play 100%, no matter the context.

On SoundCloud your biography is short and straight to the point: you’re still here. Was there ever a point you thought you wouldn’t be where you are now?

That’s meant as a joke. I try not to take myself too seriously. The DJ world has a tendency to be that. Music is fun, dance music is a party, not a business convention and that is an important part of the experience. I don’t want to lose sight of that even with all the current distractions. Having said that, I do take my DJing and production work very seriously at the same time. I try to be the best version of myself and give every gig or studio session the attention they deserve.

I respect that very much! When did your path in this industry turn serious/full time and what prompted that leap, that decision?

I got my first big break in 1996 when I was asked to become the in-house dance music booker for Simplon in Groningen. My dream was to work in the music industry in some shape or form, whether as an artist or in a record store behind the counter, just as long as I was surrounded by music. I was working behind the bar in this club and was 19 years old at the time. I guess my music taste and hunger for discovering new music stood out in regards to my age and that’s why they asked me for the job.

From that moment on I dedicated myself full time to music and even dropped out of university for it. I haven’t looked back since… it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

You’re known both as Tripeo and Darko Esser. Which of the two aliases has your current biggest attention?

Tripeo has taken over since 5 or 6 years. I think my first Tripeo album Anipintiros is mostly responsible for that.

I just went with the flow, I’m not a big career planner. I like to enjoy the ride more than focus on a destination. Also in the studio, it happened to be that most stuff that I made was Tripeo orientated. I haven’t released a single under my own name since 2015, but lately, I’ve been making a bunch of Darko Esser tunes, and I’m slowly even considering a new album under my given name.

First I’m going to open up my archives starting September/October through multiple bi-monthly releases on Bandcamp. I’ve made the first selection and am currently updating the mixes to 2019 standards. All proceeds of these releases will go to Extinction Rebellion of whom I’m a big admirer and supporter. Their call for civil disobedience is what we need right now to help break through the status quo.

Please let us know once you do, and we will share it with our readers!

Tripeo is your younger project of the two, one that began in 2012. Who or what has inspired this particular darker musical output for you?

I’ve always made darker tunes and for me, it always made sense that I could release it under 1 moniker because it’s all me right? But I’ve found out along the way that a lot of people had a hard time pinning down what I was about. So to make it more comprehensive it made sense to me to split things up a bit more and release under different monikers. It made things easier for myself at the same time too, because I didn’t have to juggle all these different versions of myself in different settings.

It seems that techno is going through a period of change, as is normal for genres to do. Higher BPMs and ravey sounds seem to very popular, and there’s a myriad of opinions on the influence of social media on the industry today. What’s Tripeo’s take on the current techno scene? What do you particularly like and what would you like to see changed?

I would like to say upfront my answer will be incomplete because it’s such a big and broad subject. I’ll try to condense my answer to keep this interview readable within the internet attention span rules lol.

On the one hand, I like the fact that the internet and social media made it so much easier to connect with people around the world. I can speak to friends in Argentina, Asia or Australia in a very direct and immediate way. That’s priceless. Also communicating with people who follow you and have questions about track IDs, for example, is something I really enjoy. At the same time, I experience an overkill of input, I wish I could answer every one, but it’s just impossible. There are dozens of points of contacts, inboxes, fan pages etc that for me in order to live a life in the real world I chose to switch off every now and then.

I love sites like Bandcamp, where you have direct contact with your customers and can cut out middlemen in the chain and is a way for artists and label to make a bit of money from releasing music. Something that has become increasingly difficult over the years. It’s like a pre-blockchain system, also something I’m enthusiastic about. It has the potential to be a much more honest reward system and can cut out a lot of bullshit jobs, like certain types of lawyers, accountants, distributors, artist rights organisations who all want a piece of the pie and might be doing a very bad job at it. I have good hopes it can reduce greed and level the playing field a bit.

On the other hand things like short attention spans, social media witch hunts or the fact that having a good social media manager can be better for your career then releasing a good record is something that puts me of. Greed and self-promotion are being promoted as a virtue, removing dance music further from it’s humble, inclusive roots. I consider giving back to the community that has treated a lot of us (including myself) so good as essential, yet I can’t help but notice that it’s more about taking in the top layer nowadays. We have our own 1% and that will become unsustainable in the long run. Too much power and money concentrated in just a few hands is dangerous and a driving force for inequality, the very thing we were fighting in the first place.

The internet has become a paradox: all the information in the world is at your fingertips, yet at the same time it seems to dumb us down as a species. It’s very easy to manipulate people and distort the facts with this technology, creating a false reality that seems all too real and will seem even more real as things like video manipulation will take off. Much of it has to do with it not being properly regulated since it’s inception. I could go on for hours about this, but I’ll leave at this. For now.

Thank you for sharing all of that with us. It’s definitely an intricate subject but I think keeping a dialogue open on these matters is important, as well as keeping each other accountable.

Talking about the current scene… you’re originally from one of the countries with the highest number of techno festivals, parties, and massive lineups: the Netherlands. How is it being a Dutch techno artist right now?

It’s good, we are very privileged where I come from. It’s insane that it’s possible to make a living only playing a small country like Holland as a national artist. I did it for many years while still flying under de radar, the place where I feel most comfortable. Nowadays what I do within techno has become a bit more niche, so I have fewer gigs in my own country and more abroad. Not complaining of course! (laughs).

Holland has for a long time been on the frontline when it comes to giving the global scene direction. Not always for the good, we were the first to travel the world with our event concepts like multinationals and there is a lot of bad, commercial music that originated here only made for profit. But lately, I see a change in that. More and more there seems to be a realisation that the path we are on is unsustainable. A lot of promoters, festivals, clubs, artists etc are taking their role model position more seriously and are focussing on making events more diverse, greener and inclusive for example. There’s a lot of talk about that and that makes me hopeful. Action needs to follow of course, but I see that also happening as we speak.

Because Holland is such a small country, everyone is watching what the others are doing. And we have a cooperative culture, we know we need each other in order to sustain ourselves. If we weren’t it would have never become so big and universal in this small speck of land.

Do you feel like we may be in any way hitting a saturation point, both in the Netherlands but also generally?

I’ve been waiting for this moment for about a decade and a half and I think we reached that last year. It was the first time there were fewer festivals then the year before and it seems to continue this year, but I will have to wait for the official numbers to be certain. The club scene has already been struggling for many years and only has a small window outside the festival season to operate in, which is only a meagre 6 months now (October to April). It’s insane if you think about it. Clubs are the breeding grounds where new ideas take shape and new fresh sounds emerged. Change starts on the fringes and not in the centre. The focus is too much on the centre now where it’s all about maintaining the status quo.

You can see that in the music itself, I think there’s a lack of progression mainly because of festival culture. Attention spans have shortened, I see this also with myself. Everything needs to happen fast and right now, while culture needs patience and time to develop. What’s happening on the fringes might not make sense at first, but it will over time and if we give it a chance. I’ve experienced been no breakout genre since dubstep for example. I define that by something that blows my mind and sounds absolutely fresh, different and new.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s still tons of great music still being produced, but to me, it seems mostly like recycling of what has already been done. Most of it feels safe and without risk-taking. Why would you if no one is listening to it or it’s not rewarded?
But hey, who am I? I’m just another asshole with an opinion (laughs).

Also in this department, I’m still hopeful and I see signs of change happening.

Besides saturation, you made a recent FB post (also shared on other social media) about the biggest threat to our industry and scene, which you labeled “gentrification from the inside.” Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? Any examples?

This answer will also be incomplete because it covers such a huge terrain. It’s not something that happened overnight, but incremental. You know how making one concession at a time seems harmless, but after a certain amount of time you realise you’ve sold your soul? That’s the process that has happened not only at an individual level but to the global scene as a whole.

I think DVS1 put it quite eloquently by saying that we realised this when the scene became an industry. It used to be all about the community. Misfits and people who felt they didn’t belong created their own safe spaces and this culture in the process. At the same time, there was always this longing within the community to be accepted by the outside world. When the scene grew into a global movement, the outside acceptance grew alongside it and for a while, it was a beautiful thing to watch. Nowadays it has become so big that there are all kinds of outside interests like multinationals that are not interested in promoting the culture but solely in increasing the credibility of their brand and lining their own pockets by selling their products (some of which is poisonous, destructive to the planet or promoting inequality) to us. It’s actually quite genius how they did that if you dig a bit deeper. Many of these brands were considered hostile only a decade or 2 ago and now we welcome them with open arms because they give us money, pretend to understand our culture and make us feel accepted by the ‘real’ world.

I try to refrain myself from giving concrete examples, but there are many out there who are promoting artists, festivals, opening studios and academies for talent. It looks great on the surface, but make no mistake: it’s a cheap advertisement for them compared to TV or social media campaigns and they will pull out as soon as they don’t need us anymore to make money. At the same time and to a big extent we have gradually embraced their neoliberal capitalistic values over our own. This is what I see as gentrification from the inside. It will be hard to reprogram the global scene to embrace values that are not founded on greed and ego.

I know I’m generalising here, but I do this to make a point. Reprogramming must happen because as a species we are on the road to our own extinction if we don’t change our behaviour and attitude towards the rest of the planet. Music as the most connecting artform there is could play a powerful catalyst role in that behaviour change, but it can’t happen unless we first change ourselves.

Thank you for the insight! Besides some well-aimed tweets and retweets on your twitter tackling industry issues, I noticed you share your political thoughts too, whether by retweeting or otherwise. Do you feel that politics and music should be separate or do you believe artists have a platform and thus a responsibility to understand how politics influence their artistic world and our scene too?

Thank you for noticing that. It’s a very interesting topic. Even though most people will probably see me as an artist first, I also like to use my social media channels like a real human being haha. I find it hard to keep them separate because they’re so intertwined. It has been on my mind for a long time how to combine the two and honestly I was afraid for backlash if I spoke out too much. You get burned down or have a social media witch hunt on your hands for the smallest misconceptions these days.

I realise more and more that fear is a very bad adviser so recently started to blend them more because I feel the outside world is having a big impact on the dance music scene and can’t be ignored. I feel in these dividing, hyperpolitical, fiction over facts times and the looming climate catastrophe, artists like myself have a responsibility to speak out more. Preferably in a constructive way. Music is positive by nature, we can harness that energy and put it to good use. Bringing people together instead of lettings us be divided by the small group in control, giving instead of taking away, hope instead of fear, create awareness, divest some of our wealth into regenerative projects etc. There’s so much we can do. I know it sounds very hippy, but I truly believe in this cause.

There are ways of doing that without getting into a left vs right debate. It shouldn’t be about that anyway, it’s distracting and counterproductive. It’s about the people taking back control from the 1%: the corrupt politicians, billionaires, corporations who are pitting all of us against each other, distracting from the fact they are looting society and the planet. The older I get the more I feel the need to speak out. It took a while to find my voice in it, actually I am still struggling with it, but I don’t want to be silent anymore. I try to choose my words as carefully as possible to not distract from the real message or get caught up in discussions which display the narcissism of small differences. Our issues are too big for that.

With all of this said, what keeps YOU going in today’s techno world? What motivates you?

From all art forms, music is the most powerful connector. Nothing transcends lingual and cultural barriers like music can. I have the privilege to experience that first hand by travelling around our beautiful blue and green marble and meeting amazing kindred spirits on those journeys, some of whom have become friends for life. They inspire me with their stories and their fights and struggles make me want to give back more because of the privileged lifestyle I have the luck of living and the chances this culture has provided for me. I try to do that through my work as a club and festival booker, label owner and DJ and lately

I’ve been involved in quite a few initiatives behind the scenes that are aimed at addressing the climate emergency in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner. Music can play a powerful role in reprogramming ourselves to find value in other things than money and ego-driven success, like forging strong global social connections, building a better future, giving instead of taking.

The fact that it’s possible is one of the main drives to keep me going.

Connect with Tripeo: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | SoundCloud