22.08.2019 | Words by: Ivar Laanen
It is well-known within Amsterdam that Orpheu de Jong is the (co)father of Red Light Radio. Lesser known is that Orpheu became a father just months before the radio station broadcasted its first show in 2010.
Perhaps it’s because I haven’t reached the point of adulthood where being a parent seems remotely feasible, but the idea of establishing something as demanding as Red Light Radio while raising a child makes me feel stressed just thinking about it. Then again, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, gave birth while running the country just last year so if we really want to talk about stress, perhaps we should give her a ring.
Nonetheless, I came to the RLR Shop to hear some stories from Orpheu himself about those early days of juggling parenthood while setting up Red Light Radio. By the time our interview was over, I had been enlightened on how to go about parenting a child musically.
“Before starting the radio, I already had quite a long history of DJing, designing, throwing parties, doing radio shows—I was quite active in a lot of different ways, but it was also a period where my interests and my situation was changing. I was DJing less than before and my design work wasn’t moving forward all too much so I think because of that and because I was about to become a father that it felt like anything was possible. It was very exciting times and everything was changing so then you also have a lot of possibilities.”
“So, when Hugo [van Heijningen] came to me and asked me whether we should start the radio, I thought ‘yeah, let’s do it!’ And it was clear immediately that we had something that people really appreciated, you know? Hugo and I had a lot of different experiences, tastes, connections and interests in music and that really connected through working together. A fire was lit. And at that same time I also had a son. It’s funny: he’s basically as old as the radio.” Did you also name him Red Light?
“Hell no!” Orpheu chuckles.Is he already interested in music?
“Yes, but in a whole different way than I am. “When we were young, we had MTV all day long and the radio--I picked up on a lot of music from that. At home now, we don’t have a TV, but I do have a big shelf full of interesting records, which is great, but that also means that he’s not picking up on any of today’s music or culture like we used to as kids. Not too long ago my wife and I were having a conversation, and we sort-of realized ‘oh shit, our son is completely isolated from the popular music culture of today.”
“Then we thought ‘Ok, maybe we should give him a Spotify account.’ So now he has a Spotify account and a speaker. Sometimes I walk by his room and I hear some pretty awful music, but that’s a good thing. We think it’s important to be aware of what’s currently going on in music and culture. Just imagine that he turns 18 one day and all he’s ever heard is obscure cosmic disco and Argentinian new wave. To me, that’s fucked up. He knows all this strange music, and yet, he has no clue who Drake is. That’s not good.” I try to beg the differ, seriously questioning the merit of knowing who Drake is, but Orpheu is serious.
“No, no, no. I really don’t think that’s good. Imagine that all I knew growing up was some ridiculous 1960s psychedelic music but I had no clue who Michael Jackson was. That would be idiotic. Sure, I have my own interests in particular realm of music, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s better than another taste.”
“The stuff that I like—of course he’s going to pick up on that too. There’s always music playing in the house. But what you often see with musicians or DJs who have kids is that they’ll say stuff like ‘Oh yeah, my kid is really into this or that obscure record.’ But for a small child, all they hear is boom tak boom tak and it sounds lekker. We don’t need to pretend that a small kid has some refined music taste—that’s something you develop over time by hearing a wide spectrum of music.”
“If I force my style of music on him then I’m certain he will one day think ‘you know what? fuck this.’ At one point you rebel against what your parents give you—that’s a part of life. I used to always listen to what came by in the Top 40 and on MTV, and it wasn’t till later that I heard something where I thought ‘Huh, that sounds interesting.’ That one step away from the mainstream can lead you to more stuff and eventually you’re in the musical wormhole. You just have to find your own entrance.”
Meanwhile outside the entrance of the RLR shop, tourists shuffle along en masse as the morning gets underway. Every few moments, a loud thud echoes through the windows from the construction work just before the front door.You’ve lived in Amsterdam your whole life, right?
“Yeah. How boring is that?” Orpheu breaks out in laughter—as Orpheu tends to do.Does the city different for you compared to when you were growing up?
“The difference between my youth and now—I’m 37—is like day and night. There’s very little left over from the Amsterdam I knew growing up. It may be unavoidable for this city but I think that the character of the city and the rhythm is a long way’s away from what it once was.” The rhythm?
“It’s a bit crazy because it’s hard to explain, but I’ll try my best with an example. A long while ago I was in Glasgow—in very much the center of the city—and I was looking around me. The city was quiet peaceful, and everyone that I spoke with was a local. I thought that was kind of special, only because if I go to most places in Amsterdam, it’s very crowded and touristic. There’s no getting past it—that’s just how it is now.”
“In one way it’s actually very cool that Amsterdam is this small city with a metropolitan culture attracting people from everywhere. When the first wave of musicians started moving here around 10 years ago, I thought ‘woah, this is sick.’ The city started becoming more interesting, you know? And I would be abroad and hear people saying that they’re debating between moving to Amsterdam or Berlin. At first, it was crazy for me to hear that. Amsterdam has become a destination, and that does influence the way the city feels”
“Sometimes I do miss the old vibe of Amsterdam, but I don’t want it to sound as if I have a problem with people who move here because that’s not how it is, of course. That the feeling of the city has changed is mainly linked to the economics here. It keeps becoming more exclusive…and expensive. I mean, it was always pretty difficult to find a house, but at least it used to be somewhat affordable. I don’t really understand why everyone isn’t already moving to Rotterdam, for example.” As an inhabitant of Rotterdam, I can’t help but flash an evil grin. Orpheu knows he’s playing with fire.
“…I should really watch I’m saying. But what I think Amsterdam has lost a lot of its cultural edge. In the past, there was a sense of adventure—there was more squatting, more illegal parties, more room for anything to happen or to go wrong for that matter. There’s probably stuff still going on like that I might be missing, but it’s definitely on a much smaller scale.”Does this also mean that the home of underground music nowadays is within legal, regulated clubs?
“Yes, exactly.”Then it’s not actually so underground anymore, right?
“Well the music may still be underground, but there’s just much more demand for it—and that’s actually a good thing. I think it’s really cool that just two days ago I could play weird 7-inch cosmic disco records for a crowd of two-and-a-half thousand people and it’s accepted. It’s OK now. People are open to it. And I think that’s actually a real positive change.” Orpheu plays this Friday alongside Powder and Oceanic. Tickets are still for sale here.