Interview with the DJ and producer Ralph Barendse AKA Ralphie B. Ralph Barendse, also known as Ralphie B, is a successful producer in the electronic dance music scene. Ralph is no newcomer, he is responsible for some of the biggest trance classics of all time. There is no Trance DJ nowadays who doesn't know "Ralphie B - Massive" or "Midway - Monkey Forest", two of Ralph's early productions, which gives trance lovers throughout the world goose bumps. However, the later hits like "Sierra Nevada", "Evergreen" and "Falling" under the First State guise, shook the dance scene all over the world. Ralph is a perfectionist in every way possible, producing enchanting melodies, combined with catchy and addictive sounds, these are what drives him to always treat every single track as a process of moulding them into a real gem.
Therefore it's no surprise his tracks are signed to the most important dance labels of all time: Armada Music, Black Hole Recordings, Vandit and Ministry of Sound. Ralph's quality of production and distinct sound made him a favourite to do remixes for the most significant artists in the scene, among them Armin van Buuren (Unforgivable, These Silent Hearts), Tiesto (Ten Seconds Before Sunrise), Solar Stone (Solarcoaster), Dario G (Feels Like Heaven) and 4-Strings (Catch a Fall). On the other hand, his tracks were remixed by big shots in the EDM scene like, Paul van Dyk, Ronski Speed, Filterheadz, and D. Ramirez. As a DJ, Ralph played all over the world and joined none less than Tiesto on one of his summer tours.
In 2011 Ralph returned to his ‘Ralphie B’ alias at Armada Music, and produced new singles "Bullfrog" (Dash Berlin's United Destination), "Delphi", "Epic Battle", and a new project "Sun Crusaders - Oceanic". Next to this, he was asked by Armin to do a remix for one of his Mirage Album tracks featuring BT, "These Silent Hearts". The remix got its premiere at the legendary ASOT500 parties, and it became one of the most successful and bestselling remixes of the album.
The release of his latest EP "Icarus" on the globally known and respected record label ASOT, part of Armada Music, and the re-release of his classic ‘Massive’ with brand new mixes on ITWT, part of Black Hole recordings. It sounds like the best time to request an interview with him. Thanks to the support of his press manager Caridee, we have managed to get it organised, and here you can read it. I'm sure that you will find his answers very informative, and it will be an interesting read. Talk about it and spread the news - Ralphie B is back in great form, and with many new and exciting ideas for tracks that will dominate your club floors. Stay tuned and read all about it!
Dimitri: When and where were you born, and do you come from a family where your parents had any connection with music or other arts? Do you have the support of your parents to pursue your musical career as DJ and producer? Have you ever spotted your parents in any of your DJ performances?
Ralphie B: I was born 6th of April in 1977 in Zwijndrecht, a smaller city in the Netherlands. My mother is musically gifted and plays the piano. Because of this, I started to play the keys when I was young. My dad loves music, and I grew up with the radio or records playing most time of the day. They have always supported me and my music. My dad even came to see me a few times during my DJ performances! When I finish a track, I always play it to my dad to see what his opinion is! Dimitri: At the moment there are a growing number of DJ’s and producers who are from Netherlands, and they are very successful worldwide. Dance Music is one of the biggest exports at the moment from your country. Can you please tell us if you are influenced by the fact that you were born and you live in the Netherlands, and why dance music is so highly valued in your country?
Ralphie B: Yes, I’m very influenced by the fact I come from the Netherlands. In the 90’s there were already a lot of Dutch radio shows and clubs to play dance music. I used to listen and tape the shows. Me and my friends always exchanged tapes and records as well, and we started to make our own tracks too. I guess we Dutch are quite creative people - I think because of the early adoption of dance music, and the fact we stood out with our music at the end of the 90s, because of that, nowadays we are still ‘dominating' the EDM-scene. Dimitri: Is it possible to list for us the Top 5 DJ’s or EDM producers that have been a major influence in the style of your productions, and give us a short comment about each of them?
Ralphie B: I can’t really say I have a top 5, but record-labels like Bonzai, Low Spirit, were a huge influence on me and made me want to make my own music. They released so much good music during the 90’s and if you listen back, it still sounds great and advanced. As for producers/DJs, the productions of Tiesto, and especially his mix albums ‘Magik’ and ‘Forbidden Paradise’ got me inspired a lot. Dimitri: Do you have professional training in music, or are you self-taught? Do you think is very important for a young producer to attend music composition classes, or you do you feel as many people, that formal training kills creativity and innovation, and nowadays its easier to learn to produce with amateur video tutorials from YouTube?
Ralphie B: I am totally self-taught, and so I never had any lessons or workshops. I basically always figured out things myself, and do everything by ‘hearing’. I do have so-called selective hearing: When a piece of music is being played, I can focus on any instrument and filter that out from the chaos of sounds. Very handy when you make music. When someone is musically talented, I think everything will come by itself, as long as you spend a lot of time on it. I always advise upcoming producers to first just take some examples of existing tracks they like. Making a remix of a track makes you learn a lot too.
Dimitri: Please take us on a virtual tour in your home studio and let us know the kind of hardware that you use. Do you have favourite music composition software that you love to use and you can recommend to other artists? Tell us about equipment you find reliable and with vast creative possibilities?
Ralphie B: Ha! That will be a short tour! I have a powerful computer and two speakers. No hardware synths. I nowadays don’t even use the midi-keyboard anymore. I just hit in the notes and drag and drop until I like it. I’m probably the only producer out there to do this LOL. I produce with Ableton Live and lots of common VSTs. Dimitri: Can you please recall your first ever production that was released on a record label, and how you felt when you saw your name printed on a vinyl for the first time?
Ralphie B: My first record is ‘Alpha Breed – Beyond The Moon’ (try YouTube!), a trance record released in 1999 on Deal Records (this label is famous for Veracocha – Carte Blanche). The funny thing is that I went to the record store (Tiesto was still working there back then) and bought my own record, since the label was so late to send me a copy. The track hit quite a few compilations back then. The feeling to see my track on vinyl and CD was fantastic! Too bad nowadays tracks mostly go through iTunes and download sites. That took the feeling away of really having your own product in your hands. Dimitri: It would be great to remember for us your first ever DJ performance in front of a large crowd. Did you feel confident straight away, or did it take some time to get to used to the idea of playing for so many people.
Ralphie B: My first DJ performance was with First State. Actually I never was interested in DJ’ing. But Tiesto asked us as support act one time. We played right after him. He was celebrating the release of his ‘Tiesto In Concert’ DVD in ‘The Escape in Amsterdam’. It was quite crazy situation, playing your first gig after the #1 DJ in the world. But we were confident, and everything went very well. It was a great experience. Later on we went on tour with Tiesto, playing all around the world.
Dimitri: One of your most important tracks is of course ‘Ralphie B – Massive’, with that unforgettable music theme which comes back again and again, with brand new remixes. Can you tell us about composing this track for the first time, and how it happened that Tiesto signed it for his record label?
Ralphie B: In 2000 I bought the Virus C, and got so inspired I made ‘Massive’ in two weeks. I sent it to many different labels, but got rejections back from all of them. This also happened with Tiësto’s label, Black Hole Recordings. The A&R back then told me the track wasn’t good enough, it didn’t ‘peak’. My publisher didn’t agree, and brought it personally to Tiesto. After that Tiesto started playing it everywhere and released it on ITWT. Also Paul van Dyk picked it up for Vandit. After this there was no stopping. Nowadays the track still inspires new producers to remix it. That’s great to see, and nice that Black Hole Recordings supports them releasing the new mixes. Dimitri: Massive 2012 remixes are already out with big success. Can you give us a short comment about each remix:
1. Airtight Remix: I really like the progressive sound with grinding bass and pitching synths, really ‘2012 sound’, good for DJs who prefer a more progressive sound.
2. James Dymond Rework James is growing to be one of the best uplifting producers as you can hear in this melodic remix, this guy is really musically talented, and we will hear a lot from him in the future. Same goes for Airtight. Cool guys, I met them at ASOT550. Dimitri: One of the highlights of your career was to start your First State project along with Sander van Dien. Can you choose for us your favourite First State track ever, and let us know why you like it so much. Also it would be cool to recall your favourite moment that you had at an event or in the studio, while you were part of First State.
Ralphie B: My favourite track is First State – First State, the first single. First of all there is a nice melodic theme in it. Second, I still believe this track is one of the first trance tracks with not only a melodic part, but also a switch towards a harder part with grinding metallic sounds on a bass drum. Nowadays you hear this switch all the time, but back then this was new! I remember us laughing in the studio about that grinding sound, and we were sure every time this track was to be played, someone would die in the club. Tracks like these made First State into a successful name in the trance scene. Too bad that good name has gone down the drain when they turned it into a one-of-many house projects after I left. Dimitri: Can you please define the difference in the sound between your project Ralphie B & Midway? Do you try to have different elements on each of those projects?
Ralphie B: There’s not so much of a difference actually. Mostly the label - people wanted me to use different aliases. It could all have been Ralphie B if it was up to me. Both aliases stand out with good melodies. One could say Midway is more oriental/exotic sounding, with similar titles (Amazon, Kung Fu, and Monkey Forest). Dimitri: You came back as Ralphie B in 2011 on Armada Music, with two fantastic EP’s ‘Bullfrog’ & ‘Delphie’, and Armin includes them in his new ASOT CD the forthcoming single ‘Icarus’. Give us a short comment about these EPs and particularly about the forthcoming one ‘Icarus’, which is highly anticipated to be released as EP.
Ralphie B: Armin asked me to make a remix of his track ‘These Silent Hearts’, and after a great response his label Armada invited me to release tracks. I decided to give it a try, and produced Bullfrog and Delphi. Both tracks are easy-listening trance tracks. Icarus is my latest production with a fantastic melody, and it's released on 9th of April, together with a more proggy B-side ‘Demons are Forever’. I’m very happy Icarus is featured at Armin’s A State of Trance 2012. It has been a while to be featured on an Armin-CD. Last time was with First State – Evergreen at ASOT2007. With Icarus on ASOT2012 show, I can pull it off solo again as well. Currently a new track is almost done, again a great Trancer which will be the follow up to Icarus.
Dimitri: You started the brand new Sun Crusaders project as well with the summery Balearic trance track ‘Oceanic’. Are you going to carry on this project with further tracks and can you tell us the kind of sound that you try to associate this project with?
Ralphie B: The Suncrusaders sound stands for Summer, Beach, Islands, and Chillout etc. I am surely going to produce a follow up to Oceanic. I love to make a bit more laid back tracks as well. Dimitri: You have had the chance to remix the biggest stars of EDM including Armin van Buuren, Tiesto or 4Strings. Which remixes were a)the easiest and b)the hardest to produce and why? Have you ever turned down a remix offer for an artist, or have you ever got your remix turned back from a record company to change it or adjust it?
Ralphie B: The easiest remixes were Armin’s tracks (These Silent Hearts and Unforgivable), this is because the originals had good melodies and fantastic vocals already. That makes a remix easier. A real pain in the ass however was to do the First State remix for Tiësto’s ‘Ten Seconds Before Sunrise’. The original is just boring and uninspiring. Dimitri: Can you explain the way that you produce a track. Do you start always from the start or do you work with the breakdown first, and then with the rest of the parts?
Ralphie B: I always start with a melody. For me that is the most important. A great melody is hard to find. During the times when I cannot find melodies I just play around with sounds and small ideas or beats. When the cool melody has been found, then the magic starts and I gather all ideas and use it in the track. For me, producing a track shouldn’t take too long though, because I lose interest easily. A lot of tracks have been thrown away already, since they didn’t make it because I lost interest.
Dimitri: From the countries and clubs you have performed in so far, can you choose your all time favourite club or big stadium event, and your favourite country with the finest club crowd?
Ralphie B: I once played in Hungary, Debrecen, and Phoenix Hall. It was Tiësto’s ISOS tour. For me this was the best experience. The light and video effects and huge crowd response made it a night to remember always. But also Edinburgh, Scotland and Kiev, Ukraine have great crowds, same goes for Asia. Most difficult crowd is the Dutch crowd actually. They’re spoiled a bit, and not easy to please, but that makes it a challenge.
Dimitri: Do you actively and passionately use the internet and the social networks? Everyone nowadays talks about the Facebook or Twitter generation, after the MTV generation. Do you believe in the importance of Facebook or do you feel its a bit exaggerated and over hyped by the media?
Ralphie B: Yes I’m hooked to Twitter and Facebook. I try to read and respond to everyone who tweets, comments on my pages, or sends messages. I think promotion nowadays cannot go without social media. This is the reason what made Armada so successful as a label, because they use Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and YouTube really well and professionally. They even turned these ASOT550 celebration events into online events where the whole world is tuned in with Twitter. It is not to be underestimated! Dimitri: What is your opinion about the explosion of radio shows hosted by well known DJ’s and online radio stations? Do you have your own radio show and have you noticed that the radio show helped you to increase your fan base?
Ralphie B: I think radio shows and podcast are good for promoting new tracks. Myself I release a monthly mix through SoundCloud and Facebook called “Catching Waves”. I mostly use it to premier my own new tracks. I think it can help to increase your fan base indeed, but you have to stand out, keep it interesting. Dimitri: One of my favourite questions to all the DJ’s is that one about self-reflection and self-criticism. Out of 10 with what score do you rate the various elements of your DJ performances and why?
a) your mixing skills: 8, I have a good hearing, but I’m more a Producer than a DJ. Actually nowadays I focus more on producing than DJ’ing. It's where my heart lies.
b) your ability to choose the right track for the right occasion: 9, I know the good tunes and prepare my sets, also I can read a crowd very well because I’ve been in a crowd myself so many times.
c) your friendly attitude towards the fans that come to shake your hand when you perform and after? 10, I’m too nice. Mostly my face hurts from smiling for the camera. Dimitri: What other things do you enjoy doing, apart from producing music or listening other producers music?
Ralphie B: Me and my love Caridee are HUGE ‘series’ fans. Together we watch all the good ones. Breaking Bad, Games of Thrones, Fringe, Big Bang Theory, Walking Dead, you name it! Classics like Prison Break, Lost, BSG, Sleeper Cell etc as well. Besides this, we play PS3 together and we have a French Bull(fr)dog. Plus we love exotic holidays and snorkelling.
Dimitri: Many thanks for the interview, please give us your message to the people who will read this interview, and particularly to young producers who aspire to get a release on top labels like the ones you release on.
Ralphie B: As for producing trance music, make sure you find a fantastic theme which gives you goose bumps. To get noticed: best thing you can do nowadays is make a track or a remix and give it to a famous producer/DJ. Once it gets played it gives you a chance of being picked up by a label for a release. I accept demos through my email stated in my Facebook info, and always will give advice if asked for. Thanks a lot for the interview!!! Hell of a lot of questions, but all good ones!
Many thanks to Ralphie B for taking time to reply to this interview.
Huge thanks to Caridee for organising this interview
Interview with Dimitri Kechagias Radio/Club DJ & Music Journalist