It was a quarter past midnight on a Tuesday when I sat down with Nils ‘Nizzle’ Rondhuis and Jim Aasgier of Yellow Claw at a corner of the hotel lobby at the start of their Indonesian run. I was able to catch the duo just as they arrived, and were in the city for a mere few hours before heading off to their next destination. I had a few extra moments in speaking to Nils before the interview, and asked him how he was feeling. “Incredibly tired, we had to travel 45 hours to get here from our show in Vancouver, Canada”, he replied. We then exchanged thoughts over our mutual appreciation for influential pieces of literature and ‘Old Skool’ Vans sneakers. Soon after, in walked Jim, decked out in a striking Blood for Mercy denim jacket and dark sunglasses. Following a quick introduction and a laugh over Lil Kleine and Ronnie Flex’s ‘Drank & Drugs’ – we began the questions.
I started off with what they thought of being dubbed as ‘one of the very first groups who introduced trap music to the EDM sphere’, to which Nils replied, “that’s a compliment, of course. That’s cool. We just had a very cool conversation with a bunch of artists in Vancouver about this, and how they told us that a couple of our songs from about four or five years ago were really the reason why they started messing with the genre and trying out new stuff. But I don’t think we did it on our own, maybe we just contributed a lot. But that’s a big compliment.” Often our minds drift to the names of Diplo and RL Grime to be among the ‘trap creators’ as well, and as Jim puts it, at the beginning it was a very American sound with several producers from the States just playing around with the genre. He shared how being surrounded by their successful Dutch friends such as Afrojack and the Bassjackers earlier on gave them a taste of playing for the big crowds instead of sticking to basements, and it was from there onwards that they expanded the creation of their music.
A few days prior to this encounter, the new Yellow Claw and Steve Aoki collaboration ‘Lit’ was released. The track is a single off Aoki’s forthcoming album and features verses by two incredible rappers, Gucci Mane and T-Pain, as well as a line from the legendary Queen song ‘We Will Rock You’. “Yellow Claw loves all”, grinned Nils when asked if the track had a backstory. “I think we’ve been working on this song for a couple months now, sending parts back and forth with Aoki. It actually came about when we ran into Steve three times in ten days, and I was like “Okay dude, this is a sign, we’ve known each other for a bunch of years now, let’s start collaborating on something. He’s like a super pro to work with, so that’s really cool. So this was sending a lot of parts back and forth while everybody was on the road three or four times, and the song came about, then those rappers jumped on – which was really cool.”
Speaking of collaborations, a recurring artist found on several Yellow Claw records is none other than DJ Snake. They first worked together on a track dating back to 2013, and their latest projects have been features on each others respective albums, ‘Ocho Cinco’ on Encore, and ‘Good Day’ on Los Amsterdam. Having created such dynamic atmospheres as a trio, it is no surprise that when prompted to describe their relationship out of the studio, Jim called him “a real friend”, and gave credit to their similar European identities and love for the same type of music. DJ Snake was also praised for “always helping out his friends and the artists around him”, and for being a “kindred spirit”, which led to an easy friendship. “We started working with each other before everything became big too”, he added. I mentioned how it might not be so easy for them to find people like such to connect with at this stage of their careers anymore – which according to Nils, is true. “It’s always a good starting point for a relationship, if you like each other when you have nothing, or when you have a little, then it’s easy to love each other when you have a lot, you know.”
The term “Blood for Mercy” has been associated with Yellow Claw ever since their debut album release, but also widely through their clothing line. From bomber jackets that sell out within the hour, to limited edition collections, “Blood for Mercy” has made it’s mark on being more than just DJ merchandise, and has in fact turned into an iconic lifestyle brand. “I think it all started with us in the very early days of Yellow Claw, we had fun creating our own stuff – to wear. In the beginning it was just three shirts and two sweaters to make for ourselves, and after a while, we started to sell them”, shared Nils. Over the years, Blood for Mercy has reached a dedicated following across all corners of the world. A fine example being the Indonesian pop-ups that have had people queueing up since dawn to get their hands on the highly coveted pieces. “It organically grew to something bigger, like making whole collections and having to think about the bigger picture”, he continued. “And it still is [growing]. Blood for Mercy is the core essential – it’s something we just want to wear ourselves. So everything new that drops is very exciting for us, because we can’t wait to wear it too.” “It definitely has the Yellow Claw touch”, I interrupted. “Yeah, it comes from the heart.” Keep an eye out for a new Blood for Mercy Hawaiian collection – very fun and fresh, they scream ‘summer’!
Yellow Claw’s label “Barong Family” emphasizes the idea of ‘family’ and I was curious on what really sets them apart from other music collectives. “That”, Nils commented with a smirk. Jim, however, gave a more elaborate insight. “I think all the people on our label actually really know each other. If there are new guys who come in, we really try to get with them in the studio together.” He then proceeded to tell the story of Kayzo, who was one of the first producers that they worked with from out of the Netherlands. “We were talking to him about his EP, he was sending us stuff and we were giving him ideas about it. Then when he came to Europe for the first time, he got in the studio with Cesqeaux, got in the studio with Moksi, and got in the studio with Mike Cervello.” But for Yellow Claw, their vision doesn’t only consist of making music and releasing a track. “We really really have to f*ck with each other to be a part of [Barong Family]”, in the words of Jim. The two label founders are especially fond of their team of talented artists, and it shows. “That is where the “family” idea came from, the idea of helping each other, the idea of giving each other tips, and sharing knowledge.” “And remixing each other’s tracks”, piped in Nils.
A highly anticipated upcoming show on Yellow Claw’s calendar is none other than Tomorrowland in Belgium. It’s the duo’s third year in a row playing the festival, but it “never gets old”. “Everybody is there basically, the whole label is there,” explains Nils. “It’s of course, with DJ-ing, but we’re having a lot of fun and it’s always good – because Tomorrowland is one of those festivals where everybody stays around a little bit, and walks around. So it’s one of those perfect days to like talk a little bit, you know, about things other than music, and catch up with everybody because at the beginning of Barong Family everybody was just doing a couple shows a month, and working on music. But nowadays everybody is touring worldwide and everyone’s doing shows around the world – that’s why days like these are a lot of fun – all about catching up and celebrating the old times.” While Yellow Claw will be playing main stage, this year’s edition of Tomorrowland also has Barong Family hosting their own stage; with a stellar lineup featuring old timers LNY TNZ and Mightyfools, and newcomer Slowbody [who has recently released his debut EP ‘Takin’ You Home’ on the label] among many others.
As time was running out, we moved onto the final topic of the annual Amsterdam Dance Event, where it has recently been announced that Yellow Claw will be headlining the AMF. They exchanged several words in Dutch before gladly revealing that they are indeed currently working on a small scale and personal Barong Family event. This was followed by a flurry of phrases given out by the two – “only a 500 people capacity event”, “sells out in five minutes”, “there’s no VIP, there’s no backstage”, “no bottles, nothing!” Everyone just goes hard together. “Yeah, it’s always very fun”, exclaimed Jim, “I would advise you to go there!”
Exhausted and very much behind schedule yet still enthusiastic and willing to share, it made for a very worthwhile opportunity in getting to know Nils and Jim – both of whom I found genuinely humble, wise and reserved. And that, I believe, is a major part of what makes Yellow Claw such leading figures in the cut throat industry of electronic dance music. With both producers spearheading their DJ Mag Top 100 campaign, and many more surprises set out for the year, there is no doubt that 2017 will be another one for the books. #SaveEDM, vote Yellow Claw. —
All photos credited to Yellow Claw & Barong Family.