Do you even archive? Bas Dobbelaer

We’ve know Bas for a long time, since before we even released the first RE:VIVE record. And we’re both still kicking around which is a testament to Bas’s love for deep-music and amorphous productions. Through it all his sound remains timelessly his own. His mixes, whether club focused or ambient are sparse and deep, there’s a bold appreciation for beauty in melodic droney low-end and washed out atmospheres that even at their heaviest never push you away, they just draw you in deeper and deeper. He’s a staple now on the label of much beloved, former Trouw resident, Nuno dos Stantos’s Something Happening Somewhere and even had a surprise track drop on a compilation 12″ from left-field electronic music tastemaker label AD93. We’re particularly fond of his 2021 release with Will Orison, “What brings us together”.

With so many years behind him and perhaps the strongest consistency we’ve come across yet in one of these columns we needed to know what the glue is so we asked Bas, Do you even archive?

Do you use rekordbox or any other type of music organization software to manage your files? 
My go-to is the Apple Music app. On Music I have organized all my tracks in multiple folders such as Albums, Tracks, USB and Mixes. In the ‘Albums; folder I have my albums for listening and inspiration. In the ‘Tracks’ folder, I make monthly playlists with tracks that I buy every month. In the ‘USB’ folder, I make playlists per gig/performance. And in the ‘Mixes’ folder, I have playlist for podcast recording.

All my playlists start with [Year][Month], so I can easily organize my playlist by folder. I started with creating my gig playlists in 2015. It’s quite interesting to see how my tracklists evolved over the years. Also, a nice way to rediscover things.
I only use Rekordbox to transfer my files to a USB stick. I sync selected playlists (from the Music app) to Rekordbox, so these playlists are always the same on both programs.

Do you have a preferred SD card or USB stick you use for DJing? — if yes, why?
For now, I’m using USB sticks, but not for any specific reason. I once had very small USB sticks, which you could hardly see when plugged into a CDJ player. I lost several because I forgot to take them out. SD cards are even smaller and more invisible. So maybe not the smartest decision to use SD cards, at least for me. I’ll stick with my LED flashing USB sticks for now.

What tagging or enrichment system do you use to make your wide array of DJing tracks organized and findable? Do you get hyper-specific, do you create a smaller folder for each DJ gig to keep it limited, do you denote BPM (your sets vary wildly in BPM), genres? etc. 
I’ve tried tagging specific sub-genres in my playlists before, such as “Percussion”, “Deep”, “Groove” or “Euphoric”. But it was lacking my focus a bit during a DJ set. Probably because it become an extra search element, which didn’t work the best for me. And sometimes it is also quite difficult to find the right tag name. I like to keep it simple and that’s why I stick to one playlist during a DJ set. I don’t like to scroll too much, or search in multiple folders on the CDJ player. I would get lost.

All my playlists (even my vinyl collection), are organized in the same way. From beginning to end tracks. So if I will play an all night set, all my ambient tracks are at the beginning, with more heavier bits at the end. Within the ranking, I try to combine specific vibes, based on the feeling it gives me. It’s pretty personal, but if I want to set up something more atmosphere with an up-tempo vibe, I know which playlist selection will help me make it. In a way, these combinations of tracks are like tag names, but based more on feeling rather than words.

For my gig playlist, I base them on a skimmed down version of one big ‘master playlist’ (which I update monthly with tracks I like to play in general). This keeps the order of my gig playlists more or less the same. This works really well for me because it feels like I’ve created and learned from my own dictionary. I’ve never had to search long for that particular track, because I know it must be close to ‘that other track’ with that same kinda feeling.

I try not to think in bpm or scales because it feels forced that way. In my opinion the main goal is to mix for a particular emotion. For varied bpm’s it can be a bit difficult, but that’s where the creativity comes in.

As a last thing, I would like to suggest not to take too much music with you to a performance. Let’s take a set of 2 hours. I try to limit myself to 70 tracks. With this limitation, I do not allow myself to be overwhelmed in the decision-making process. If the shit really hits the fan, I can always switch back to a playlist from somewhere earlier or the big ‘master playlist’ with everything in there. 

How do you manage your samples, presets or VSTs for production? 
For production I use Ableton. It’s possible to create “Collections” here, these are more or less self-created folders. I have divided my samples/VSTs and plugins into the following collections; ‘Sequencers’, ‘Samples’, ‘Synths’, ‘EQ/compress’, ‘Coloring’, ‘EFx’ and ‘Others’.

In the ‘Sequencers’ collection I have my Max4Live plugins for step sequencers, polyrhythms or Euclidean stuff. It is sometimes a good starting point to create chaos.

In the collection ‘Samples’ I have collected my most important samples. With the aim of having go-to folders for my hi-hats, drum machines or other percussion sounds. My field recordings are also there. Which can be a little difficult to manage. For me it helps to give them a well-defined track name. Such as ‘thunderstorm-with-rain-in-the-mountains’, instead of ‘zoom-record-3’.

In the ‘Synth’ collection I have a few quick grabs VSTs, that I could use for generating ideas. Although I mainly use my hardware in this process. The Waldorf Blofeld here is a versatile and old favourite.

The ‘EQ/Compress’, ‘Coloring’ and ‘EFx’ collections contain creative VSTs to give the sound some character. I like to re-record things or play with different stems, and generate new things with those recordings.

And the ‘Other’ collection contains some plugins that I couldn’t find the right folder for. Such as the M4L plugin ‘Notepad’, which makes it possible to quickly make some notes on a channel.

Do you save templates that you make and like? 
I always use the same Ableton template as a starting point. You’ll find a basic 808 drum kit and several channels for my external gear with the right setup. So I can start jamming right away. In addition, I also have 3 return tracks, a short reverb, long reverb and a delay which are usually sufficient. Over the years I haven’t changed a lot on these effect settings, I think it brings a certain character/sound into my tracks too.

Do you manage samples by type, or by month or by key or textural qualities? 
I use a few sample packs and within those sample packs everything is mainly organized by type, such as kicks, shaker, toms etc. With a small selection it is already done, but it would be nice to highlight more my favorite samples in the future. Although, I know where to go in my library for specific sounds. Perhaps the trick here is not to have too many samples as well. I also like to bring a certain character to a sample with my own effects. So the cleaner the samples, the better. If you are an Ableton Push owner, I can also recommend Samples from Mars. They have some cool drum racks, which work well with the Push for sample search.

As mentioned earlier, for field recordings I find it a bit difficult to manage. Sometimes it’s just the right blip or blob you’re searching for and brings a special type of character. To discover new field recordings, I made extensive use of the Soundcloud of the Beeld & Geluid museum, many hidden gems that can be downloaded for free. The same for the RE:VIVE sample packs! (editor’s note: many RE:VIVE sample packs are just curated sounds that are also on our archive’s Soundcloud!)

Any special things you learned for your new ambient album? / Any special things you learned last year, and would like to share?
I’ve been quite busy working on a new ambient album (sneak peak, coming out soon!). The whole process was a lot of fun to make. I’ve limited myself to making the entire album in one big Ableton project. It started with 10 sketches and resulted in a balanced album. Because everything is made in the same project, I worked more on the complete concept instead of individual tracks. I think you can hear the same type of mix and character, which makes it feel more like a whole. I’ll definitely try this again.

Is there a tool or software you wish existed that would make your life as a DJ and producer easier? 
Not something specific. I think everything comes with time. I’ve been using the same kind of setup for a long time, which gave me some headaches in the beginning. But it also stimulated me to develop in a specific way to be creative. Although I think you should not feel too comfortable when being creative. I think I’m pretty ok with my setup right now. But well, if had to mention something. I hate audio cables and power supplies. I hope they find something so that you won’t need them in the future anymore. That will make my desk a lot cleaner. 

Is there anything you’ve lost due to a lost USB or crashed hard drive that you regret losing?
Luckily not. I have synced all my music, playlists, samples, Ableton files (even installs) to Dropbox. I hope that everyone who works with creative files, also works with cloud services. It can be a great stress reliever.