07.03.2016 | Words by: Alex Rigby
I bump into Kornél Kovács in a corridor behind De School’s restaurant. He’s lost but he doesn’t seem to mind. I tell him that he’s to do an interview at the Cafe before playing. ‘Cool. But can we do it in a coffeeshop instead?’ he asks.
As we make our way outside, it’s hard not to notice the creative impulse almost immediately. I watch as he excitedly darts away to slap his label’s sticker on a nearby wall and comes back grinning. On the walk we cross a street and a tram thunders by causing a low noise to reverberate around the surrounding buildings. I hardly notice it, but he stops me mid-sentence. ‘Whoaaaaa! You hear that?’
This earnest and playful disposition is something that also characterizes his productions. His recent dusting-off of an 80’s Ivan record into the jubilant Pantalón (‘It’s a guy singing about pants in Spanish,’ says Kornel ‘I knew Petter [Nordkwist] and Axel [Bowman] would find it funny.’) charmed summer dancefloors with its buoyancy. Then there’s his hazy but still effortlessly fun Szrika, recognised by its mischievous club-friendly ‘let’s get fucked up’ mandate.
Kornél Kovács and his beloved Studio Barnhus label (Kornél + Petter + Axel = Barnhus) bring party music that feels carefree and entirely fun but at the same time intelligent and highly considered. There’s something that just seems good-natured and admirable about the bunch. It’s a smart kind of goofiness.
We finally make it to the coffeeshop and sit down. Then we begin start to chat about the importance of the playful approach in both DJing and production, and what the night ahead holds.
What is it you enjoy about coming over to Amsterdam?
There’s a special thing here in the Netherlands. It’s this culture of combining things like fine art and nice food with a very hedonistic and mischievous spirit. That’s rare in the world. In Sweden where I come from, it’s usually either or. Either it’s well organised with everything in place – but somehow a bit boring. Or you go to a club where everyone’s on drugs and dancing but they only sell lukewarm beer and there’s a dodgy vibe to it. But I mean, Trouw was really a pinnacle of that rare amalgamation of high and low culture. It seems to continue in that spirit at De School. It’s just that Dutch nightlife is well thought through.
I agree. With this more considered approach I find that you get a more open and knowledgeable crowd here. Because of that, do you feel a certain freedom in what you can play in this city?
Not specifically in Amsterdam. I always feel free. I adjust what I play to the venue and the crowd, sure, but rarely to the country or city - even if you can identify the sound of a place. I guess promoters book me because of my sound, not the city's. For example, if I go to Rotterdam I might think about Clone and the electro tradition they have, and even though it's nice to play tunes like that and reference that, I still couldn't out-Clone the Clone DJs, so better stick to my thing. I play a lot of Swedish stuff - mainly things the extended Barnhus family put out and produce. There’s a lot of variety in that so I can still be eclectic. But yes, people are open to all kinds of weird stuff here, it’s a melting pot.
Yeah, a harbor city that people bring ideas to…
Exactly. I mean, sometimes I play at a club and it’s obvious that people aren’t there to have a musical adventure, they just want a steady beat to soundtrack their drug experiences, and that’s fine too, there are worse jobs than providing that. But in Amsterdam, it’s different. Here you can combine that party experience with brain activity and thought behind it. So yeah, I’m excited for tonight. I’m mainly going to play stuff I haven’t played before.
When you’re making tracks, are you necessarily thinking of a club environment?
I never think about clubs when I make music. I think about images and memories and moods, from real life or movies or books.
A lot of your music is sample-based. What draws you towards these snippets?
It’s always different. I try to be constantly surrounded by music. Sometimes I hear a song on the radio that I know I want to sample, sometimes I'll shift through pile after pile of dusty old records until I find something interesting. Usually I don’t really think about it. I actually just put together a list of samples I used for the upcoming album I made and I have no idea how I came upon most of them. I put things into the sampler and try not to think too much about sources. Sometimes nice things come out. I’m always on the hunt for samples and I’m not prejudiced in any way of what could be a potentially good sample. It’s true that most of my music is sample-based but I’m not into copy and pasting, I’m interested in flipping things.
Can you remember how you ended up using the Space Jam theme tune?
There are so many great hip-hop and RnB soundtracks to 90's American movies and I was sort of obsessing about them for a while. You know Nutty Professor 1+2? They have the most amazing soundtracks. All the top American hip-hop and Rnb artists would soundtrack with exclusive material for them. And yeah, the Space Jam music was also great. The main rhodes sample is from a D’Angelo track on the soundtrack. Then I realized the hook of the main theme from the movie worked nicely together with it so I asked my girlfriend to record some vocals and that was the track. I guess it's a cover version.
I’ve seen you play with Axel and Petter before, and it was very energetic. There’s a refreshing lack of seriousness in the booth. Is this fun in your performances important to you?
When I play with Axel and Petter, I can’t take it too seriously. When I’m on my own it's a bit more planned but when I’m with my three best friends and we get to play our favourite dance records one after the other, of course it’s fun. It's funny to me that people always react on this so-called lack of seriousness. I mean, you can’t take yourself too seriously when you have 3 fully grown men doing a job that one person could easily do. A lot of dj groups put effort into being in total sync all of the time, so it would feel like one person playing. I don't see the point in that. Just have one dj! Saves money and CO2 emissions.
Your EP Radio KoKo was released on Jackmaster’s Numbers. Do you see any parallels between that label and Barnhus?
Numbers and Barnhus understand each other very well. I think we share being outsiders in dance music. Jack and the crew are from Glasgow - it’s not London, it’s not Berlin, London, or Amsterdam for that matter. The same goes for Stockholm. They’re strange corners of the world, and we share that aspect of coming from the outside where you don’t really understand the rules. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe you don’t really need to care about them.
Is there anything from the Barnhus family that you’re particularly looking forward to playing tonight?
A lot of things. There’s this new tune by Mount Liberation Unlimited which I just heard for the first time yesterday and we’re going to put it out on Barnhus. It’s got a lovely Chipmunk soul sample, great drums, synths, bass, and a big, beautiful breakdown. It’s almost everything I like about dance music in one tune.
Finally, can you explain the ‘Kovács, the drunken Hungarian worker’ you posted to the Facebook event wall? It made us laugh.
There’s a bunch of videos of drunken Hungarian people in the countryside on YouTube. People drink strong booze out there. Kids started filming old dudes who were really drunk. It’s a bit exploitative but it’s a funny video because he’s called Kovacs (which is by far the most common name in Hungary). I posted that video because I guess tonight I’m also Kovacs the drunk worker.