Although invariably associated with Belgium, CJ Bolland was, in fact, born in the UK – Yorkshire to be precise – in 1971. And it was England that provided his first musical influence. “It was when I was 2 and I fell in love with the Dr Who theme tune. I just loved the fat electronic sounds,” says CJ. But the Bolland family moved to Antwerp, Belgium when CJ was 3, and it was the Belgian new wave and ‘body music’ scenes that had the greatest impact on CJ’s career. “In the ’80s the Belgian underground scene revolved round new wave, electro and body music (Front 242, Neon Judgement, The Klinik), and I followed it religiously.”
This love of electronic music was to strongly colour CJ’s production career, which began in the mid-‘80s. His early efforts were aired on Belgium’s Liasons Dangereuses radio show: “I was featured every week with my home demo tracks. We had chats on air with the public on the progress of the music. It was great; direct feedback and my music going out to thousands when I was a spotty kid.”
It was, however, when someone sent a tape to Ghent-based techno imprint R&S that things really started to happen for CJ. “Someone sent R&S a tape recorded from a radio show I did. They liked it and invited me to check out the R&S lab. The first day I was there I spent 32 hours in the studio jamming with the big don himself, Renaat. The fact that I was not gonna leave without him kicking me out impressed him somewhat and he signed me up. The best day of my life! The next five years where the most pleasurable and productive ones of my career.”
The first release on R&S was ‘Do That Dance’ in 1989 and the subsequent five years were certainly productive with CJ recording a string of singles as The Project, Pulse, Sonic Solution, Ravesignal, Space Opera, Schism and of course CJ Bolland. It was during this period that CJ recorded the best-known records of his career, the turbo charged rave anthem ‘Horsepower’ on ’91’s ‘Ravesignal III’ EP and ’92’s ‘Fourth Sign’ LP which included the hypnotic ‘Camargue’ and the galloping ‘Night Breed’. CJ was also DJing regularly in the UK alongside some of the biggest names on the techno scene: “At the time I was so busy banging out tracks that I didn’t look back. I knew by playing them out that they were liked and enjoyed on the dancefloor; naturally that feels pretty good and makes you want to work even harder. I was playing the UK approximately three times a week and was very influenced by the UK’s finest – Dave Angel, Cisco Fereirra, Luke Slater.” Influenced he may have been but tracks like ‘Horsepower’ were to prove as influential as other benchmark early ‘90s’ R&S releases like Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’, Human Resource’s ‘Dominator’, or Outlander’s ‘The Vamp’.
A second album for R&S was to follow – ’95’s ‘Electronic Highway’ – but by late 1994, CJ had already left R&S to sign an exclusive 5-album deal with Internal/Polygram. The first of these LPs was ’96’s ‘The Analogue Theatre’ but it was a single from the same year that catapulted CJ into the stratosphere. That record was ‘Sugar Is Sweeter’ which reached number one in the US and number 11 in the UK. But CJ sees this as having a negative effect on his career: “Things got really confusing when I left R&S records, especially when I had a number one in the USA with ‘Sugar Is Sweeter’. It affected my career drastically and mostly in a negative way. The crossover potential had been made apparent and it became harder and harder for me to make the music I wanted because of record company pressure. I could have easily cashed in and made a few follow-ups but it went against all my feelings to do so. The result was that my following two albums never got released due to the lack of a crossover track. I spent nearly four years producing what I consider to be some of my best shit to date and it never got fucking released. It almost destroyed me, but I wasn’t gonna let that happen!”
It is, however, during this time that CJ performed some of his most high profile remixes including reworks for Depeche Mode, Moby, acid house pioneers Phuture, Orbital, Sven Väth, The Prodigy’s ‘No Good’, and Tori Amos amongst others.
Differences with his record company is what led CJ to set up his own label, Mole: “I felt it was time I took a more hands on approach to what happens with my music. I got sick of hoping stuff would get released. Now I truly can be free in my music and can decide when and what goes out there,” he says adding “the only thing I can be certain of is that it brings freedom and that freedom allows me to be creative again. It’s that same frame of mind that the first five years at R&S allowed me to have when there were no trends or trains to spot because we were still inventing them. Now I can start inventing all over again and don’t have to answer to anybody.”