The first thing Dutch artist/producer San Holo conveys about his rise in the electronic music scene is that he wasn’t your typical DJ with the dream of conquering the genre right from the start. “I have great respect for those guys but I got into music originally because of my love for rock and the guitar,” he says. “I started taking guitar lessons when I was about 13, forming bands and all that.
But I had so many ideas for making music and was getting tired of always looking for players to help fill the spots. I realized you are able to build entire songs around a laptop and that started my interest in production. I never walked into a club until my music started being noticed by people wanting me to DJ.”
That was around 2010/2011, talk about ‘learn by doing.’ His current hit “Light” is emblazoned with a distinctive creative style that San has meticulously honed through the years, placing him high on the list of emerging new trailblazers in the genre.
The captivating song nears 65 million streams on Spotify, garnering traction and airplay throughout the global dance music ecosystem. The atmospheric track is layered around the refrain ‘I just want to see the light,’ with San basking in its irresistible glow. “I actually wrote the song on a plane,” he says. “It was in the middle of touring and I was quite exhausted, frustrated a bit because I wasn’t able to write as much as I would like on the road.
I started the song on my laptop in the airport and finished it on the plane. Maybe I was asking myself for some guidance. I truly did want to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
He recalls his first flicker of interest in music came from listening to what his dad played in the car driving around their native Holland. San grew up in one of the smallest towns in the region. “It was known as the least cool town in Holland but that’s why I loved it,” he said.
His affinity for guitar and punk rock had him kicking around in bands at an early age, with San eventually attending Codarts University of the Arts in Rotterdam, pursuing a music degree. “I went in to study the guitar but soon I was finding myself sneaking into the back of the production classes to absorb everything I could.”
He also developed a respect for the more adventurous artists, no matter the genre. In 2014 he took a friend’s advice and started adding his production skills to some classic hip hop songs, shapeshifting them into his own remixes and putting them up on YouTube.
He released his debut EP “COSMOS” on Heroic, which featured anthemic singles “Fly” and “Hiding.” These tracks lead to fans discovering his re-working of Dre’s classic “The Next Episode,” which blew up on the blogosphere and SoundCloud community, launching San’s future in the process. “First it got a thousand plays and that blew my mind,” he says. “Then it became one million and then two million and I just couldn’t believe it.”
Eventually the remix garnered over 100 million YouTube views, putting San on the map with his “Don’t Touch The Classics” series, ready to snare even more exposure with completely original productions.
His release of the hypnotic single “We Rise” in early 2015 was another turning point, coming out on Nest HQ (OWSLA) and garnering Skrillex’s praise and attention. “When a friend called me up and said he gave the song a shout-out I couldn’t believe it,” says San.
In 2015, he established himself on the forefront of the future bass sound through the release of his “Victory EP” with Monstercat and singles “IMISSU” and “Can’t Forget You” with Spinnin. His sound began to translate to real demand, kickstarting his touring career and bringing him to perform at Tomorrowland for the first time.
San also made the pivotal decision to start his own label, bitbird (which released “Light” a year later), co-founding the imprint with a friend he knew from his old rock band days and bringing on his manager as partner. “We wanted to start the label not just for me but to support other artists we could believe in,” he says. “They could be an electronic artist or some amazing classical pianist. As long as it is groundbreaking and needs our support we are behind it.”
As A&R of the creative record label, he’s established an acute ear for signing under the radar talent which has resulted in an evolving signature sound for the imprint. Having discovered talents such as Taska Black and DROELOE through SoundCloud, he’s since taken them under his wing, helping them build momentum within the blogosphere and bringing them out to perform with San on tour and at bitbird label nights.
San is constantly improving on his live show, learning from the masters that he gets to watch on his many tours and festival shows, exercising the same care and precision he does when creating the music.
“Producing is very different than playing live, but you have to work at it just as hard,” he says. “How to build your set and figuring out what people respond to. It’s very tempting to just feed the crowd whatever they want but you have to resist that.
You have to find that balance between playing what they want to hear, and exposing them to some of the more experimental music that can open minds.”
Grateful and humbled by the groundswell of acclaim he is receiving for “Light” around the globe, San says the best is yet to come. “I was blown away by the response because before “Light” my fan base had always been kind of underground SoundCloud fans,” he says. “But I feel it’s never about just structure when you are making music.
It’s you crafting that signature sound, the magic and the harmonies you put behind it that stays with people. I believe if you put on one of my tracks you will recognize within a minute that I produced it because of that. I know I can take my ‘sound’ anywhere I want to go musically. My only rule is if you play it, you better believe you are going to know that I did it.”