Leuven-based DJ and producer Thomas Schillebeeckx is known all over the world as Poldoore, and already added his sonic sunshine to the line-ups of huge festivals such as Dour and Tomorrowland. In between world tours and studio marathons, he can occasionally be found in OPEK, where he shares his DJ and producing secrets with Wisperlings.

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Can you recall the moment when you thought: this is my thing?

It all started out really low-key. I was a student and making music experimenting with a program I had discovered on my new laptop. I forwarded it to some friends, but for a long time, that was all there was to it. It wasn’t until I was contacted by a label after a year or two and released a few tracks with them that I realized: ok, apparently people are interested in what I make.

How do you start working on new tracks?

I always sit down at my computer with a particular direction in mind, but from there, it usually turns into something completely different. During the process, I come across different sounds or chords than I first thought off and it all starts to lead a life of its own.

Are there any music styles you will never ever get into?

I'm not going to suddenly start making trance or anything, but within my own genre I've tried quite a lot. I don't want to get in my head too much about the style beforehand, I want to experiment. And somehow those experiments always lead to my own sound. I can't explain how, but it feels very natural to me.

Do you notice an evolution in your own sound?

The melancholy from the beginning is still there, but the last songs had a darker side compared to the positive melancholy from before. I also used a lot of samples when I started, now I work mostly with instrumental recordings. Preferably from musicians I know, because I like to keep it personal in the studio. Inviting someone I have absolutely no connection with would feel too much as pure business.

How much artistic freedom do you allow the musicians you invite into the studio?

I always have a basic idea ready, a drumbeat with very easy chords over it, something that sets the mood a bit. I deliberately keep that input minimalistic because I want to leave room for the musicians' own interpretation. And as soon as I have a series of recordings, that basic idea itself often goes overboard and I start again from scratch: cutting and pasting, pitching, speeding up, slowing down. It’s actually the same thing as I did with samples, but now with my own instrument recordings.

You become much more creative by limiting yourself to a few analog instruments. Just because you can't do everything like you can with a computer, that has no restrictions or limits.

Was it a conscious decision not to work with samples anymore?

Yes, mainly because I especially love the human touch in what I make. Everything you do with the computer sounds so perfect. I like the sound of a guitar that is not 100% perfectly tuned, or the sound you get when you play a tape on an old machine and the speed is not quite stable anymore. You also become much more creative by limiting yourself to a few analog instruments. Just because you can't do everything with them like you can with a computer, that has no restrictions or limits.

What do you definitely want your students to remember from the workshops?

That you can't learn to spin or produce in just a few lessons. It's like learning a language: regular practice is crucial. I often see people realize this after a few hours of tinkering with the material: okay, playing is not as easy as it looks (laughs). You have to train your ear, make an appropriate selection, master the technique ...

How prepared do you start your sessions with students?

Not too prepared. Of course, there are always a few techniques or functions that I want to explain and illustrate, but the fun part is that you can also pick up on what people want to learn or what they are struggling with in the moment. I deliberately leave some room for input from the group.

Do you often encounter artist’s block?

I think nobody is spared from that. In the past, it used to really bother me when I got stuck for a while, but after all these years I do have the confidence that sooner or later something will come up and get me going again. In the workshops this is less of an issue, because the people who come to take classes still have so much to discover that inspiration is not really the problem. Every little effect you learn about can already lead to something new.

Often the songs that I expect people to like best are the songs that are listened to the least, and vice versa.

Have you ever felt the curiosity to combine music with other art forms?

Yes, especially the combination with moving visuals is something I've actually wanted to explore for a long time. I design a lot of my album covers myself, but moving visuals, that's something else. It seems cool to me to have it happen live, certain samples triggering certain visuals. When I see other artists performing with this audiovisual combination, I always consider it an added value. Plus: it makes the whole thing visually interesting, otherwise you're just standing there by yourself on a stage. Yeah, maybe I should work on that for my next album.

Does this mean there is a next album in the pipeline?

There is always something in the pipeline. I have the impression that the concept of an album is disappearing slowly in the electronic music world. We live in an era where the attention span is shorter - songs are released one by one, people put together their own playlists ... But personally, I still prefer working on album releases, with all tracks around a shared concept.

How do making music and touring relate to each other for you?

I'm not someone who releases a lot of new material in between shows, so I really enjoy the live sets, when you finally get a reaction to the songs you've been working on in silence for so long. But it can also be brutal: you put a lot of time and quite a bit of money into it, and people can pass judgment in the blink of an eye. That judgment keeps surprising me by the way: often the songs that I expect people to like best are the songs that are listened to the least, and vice versa. But anyway, you always learn something from the reaction to your work, and you can take that input back to new creations. I think that's a nice flow: locking yourself away for a year to make music, performing with it, and with the inspiration that comes from that, isolating yourself again to make something new.

Which artists are on your bucket list for a collab?

I always find it very enriching to work with others, but they really don't have to be super famous or experienced. I learn from every musician I meet, and therefore also from my students because their approach sometimes differs completely from mine, or because they offer me new insights. If I get tired of sitting alone in the studio, it helps every time to invite some people over.

Do you have a tip for the Wisperlings, an artist we need to discover?

I’m afraid I’m not the right person to give you the newest names. It happens all the time that I discover an artist whose music then turns out to be eight years old already (laughs). But if you want a name from me: Maribou State. They are neither new nor unknown, but I think they make great use of the imperfection that I love so much in music, and at the same time they have a super unique sound.

But then again, the readers of this interview might not even like their work at all. That's the beauty of music, there's no such thing as good and bad. I can knock over that trash can over there, record the sound it makes and put it in a loop and if someone thinks it's great, that's good music. I always find it funny when someone is said to have good taste in music, because basically you're just saying that they have the same taste as you (laughs).

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Thomas Schillebeeckx
Written on Mon 18 September '23