Ritzi Lee

Ritzi Lee is the alias of Steve Liem – a techno producer with an incredible discography and long-term supporters including Dave Clarke and Ben Sims. Previously releasing his assured strain of visceral techno on labels like Theory Recordings, Suara and Symbolism, Ritzi Lee now returns to the Mord imprint with the final part of his Negentropy series.

Welcome Ritzi Lee, great to have you with us today! How are things with you and whereabouts are you chatting with us from?
Hi guys! The pleasure is mutual. 🙂 I’m just back from Thailand. I had one month off, and accidently closed off with a gig in Bangkok, which was very unexpectedly awesome. Now I’m back home in Amsterdam. The last months of this year I feel things start moving up again with new gigs, after years of not playing anywhere. I think many of my peers are able to relate with the same kind of issues.

Who are your biggest musical influences and why?
As a kid I listened a lot of early Rap / Hip Hop. From that side my biggest influence was Public Enemy. Little did I know back then, but afterwards I discovered that most of their tunes involved a TR-909. So the 909 bass kick was already implemented in my mind at the age of 12 years old. And it followed me since listening to their music, slowly following the developments of electronic music, early acid house music, Detroit techno from Underground Resistance, all the way to a lot of USA and UK imports. As a kid I never really payed attention who was the artist behind the music. It was about the music itself that influenced me. Later on after a while it all turned out that 2 of the biggest parts in my record collection was techno and Chicago house music. I’m still from a time when they didn’t categorized genres. It was all house music.

As someone who’s been involved in the Dutch scene for a number of years, how do you think the scene has morphed over the years? is it in a healthy state now?
In my opinion a lot of club nights these days want to look to much like big festivals programming the same type of music like on all the generic festivals. Which creates a bit of a disturbing situation. You see, I know for a fact that there is a lot of raw talent walking around. However the chance to give the talent the proper exposure is very minimal. In my opinion there should be room for development for the sake of the future. There is also another issue I should emphasize. A lot of artists that gained knowledge and experience over many years are also missing a stage on this moment to share their output to the crowd. Also there I know for a fact that these artists have the potential to make a great clubbing experience and share inspiration. Shouldn’t that be one of the biggest objectives? Share, inspire, be inspired, develop, grow, from generation to generation? Instead the focus is to much on virtual statistics online that pretty much determine what should be played and who should play. And the local artists are pretty much neglected. It’s not just a problem in the Dutch scene. Who made those rules? I feel the only way to make the scene healthy again is a big reset.

Your latest EP explores the “dissonance between the natural and technological worlds”. How do you attempt to address such a deep concept via techno music?
In my early years I was a mathematics / physics student at the University of Amsterdam. Concepts like General Relativity, Chaos theory, Algebraic Topology, Quantum Mechanics always triggered me. After I finished university, I followed a career as software engineer and later on as DevOPS engineer. But even during those years the stuff I studied at university I never really let go. Keeping that in mind. Also take in account the technological developments from the early 90s up till now. In my line of work I’m aware of how these technological developments took place, and realised that each newer improvement is based on restructuring and optimisation of previous ideas and architectures. Pretty much how all types of developments take place; talking about software development; cloud technology, but also mathematics and physics. When studying natural phenomena, it’s about looking in deeper and deeper. The deeper you observe, the more mysterious it gets, which is the total opposite of the technological world in a way. I wondered if there was a way how to express this in a “techno music” way. During the COVID period I wrote a lot of tunes. Some intentional and some spontaneous. The so called set of rules for making techno music is very suitable for expressing abstract concepts in science and technology. Which is the thinking part that has to work. Next to that there is a big part of what feeling or emotion a sound expresses. Rather subjective. However it is in my opinion still an art form. Like painting. Each artist applies their own color palletes as tools to create / express something, using their feeling and mind. When I did the tracks for all the 3 parts of the Negentropy series I wanted to develop a story line about past, present and future. Taking in account all my observations and experiences when relating science and technology. From the track selection, sequencing, the track titles, EP names up to the graphical design for each part. In the end when all 3 parts are dropped you have a complete picture where all the little puzzle pieces fall together.

The EP is the culmination of a three-part series… had you always envisaged this as a trio of releases, or did it evolve naturally?
It kind of evolved naturally during many brainstorm sessions together with Bas Mooy from MORD records. We thought it would be a pitty cutting out essential tracks out of the collection. But at the same time the amount of tracks was to big to drop it as one album. As a big fan of the Matrix trilogy I suggested Bas that we should do a 3 part release stretched over time. Eventually the stretch was a period of 2 years haha. But it turned out pretty well. All the tracks are timeless. It doesn’t matter if you release them now or in 5 years. They would still work out.

Techno is inherently concerned with technology. Do you think with better technology comes better music?
That is a tricky one. I think better technology doesn’t imply better results in techno music to be honest. For instance I love happy accidents in recordings. If a technology was perfect we wouldn’t have happy accidents anymore. Pretty boring. Also perfect could result in a less organic sounds. With good music you should be able to feel the pain and struggle from the artist. But at the same time the joy and fulfilment.

For you, what was the best era of techno music, when creativity was at its highest?
I have to say I’m super happy when checking my promo emails, the amount of awesome stuff I discover every week from various talent. It’s crazy. The total opposite of 10 years back. Release wise and regarding new music it’s kind of comparable with 1994 – 1998 where a lot of oldschool techno heads say that was the best era.

What does the process of creating new tracks look like for you?
My approach now is based on sound designing unique synth sounds, and at the same time discovering a rhythm pattern and groove in that sound. Last couple of years I kind of gave up on doing compositions in the DAW. In many ways it disturbed the creativity, because I was to busy getting the rhythm tight or solving technical DAW problems. Now, because my studio is totally based on hardware, I compose my tunes live in a hardware sequencer or in the synth directly. All MIDI, and directly in the mix on my Ghost console. It works very intuitive. Sometimes I already have a finished tune in 10 minutes, ready to record. Now I only use the DAW to record the mix.

Are there any specific bits of kit or studio gear that were prominent in the new EP?
Yes, the Roland TR-909 and the Dreadbox Erebus v3.

Thanks a lot for chatting with us! To round off, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us?
Regarding making music. Don’t force it. The great thing about the universe is that you can release your thoughts, and inspiration will return by itself. Receive and give back. Just enjoy life!
Thanks for the chat guys.