Sander Kleinenberg knows how dancefloors work: he’s instigated ‘sweaty’ scenes around the world, observing what makes people move from Belfast to Buenos Aires. Ultimately, the mechanics of the dancefloor revolve around just one thing: good dance music. Sander knows about this, too. His own vinyl creations are saturated in clubland so that they virtually perspire dry ice and radiate glitterball shards from their grooves. It’s time to get back to basics, to stop watching the DJ and get back on the dancefloor.
2003 will be Sander’s year. His remixes of global pop/r&b sensations Lamya and Justin Timberlake have topped dance charts on either side of the Atlantic. His very own, newly inaugurated record label, Little Mountain, is a labour of love intended to release only the highest standard of music from Sander and the most like-minded of souls. And through Little Mountain comes the third and final instalment of his highly acclaimed ‘Four Seasons’ EPs, reaffirming what the 31-year-old stands for as he draws a line on the first phase of his DJ/producer trajectory and forges toward an expanding vista of new possibilities.
But it is, perhaps, his revelatory reworking of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Rock Your Body’ that gets to the nub of Sander’s current mandate for dance perfection. Building on a Neptunes production is no mean feat, but Sander manages it; stripping away all superfluous trimmings and working the original song structure into nine minutes of spellbinding house music wonderment. He drops the track’s original bassline, making it sound like a lost Mantronix classic or something that would have provided the peak moment of a Junior Vasquez set in mid-nineties New York; darkly soulful, sexy, illicit and thoroughly irresistible. “I’ve got this idea,” he says. “I’m feeling house music and club music are maybe slowly going back to where it was pre-‘90s, where a song is a song and you don’t bitch around with it.” It’s a damn good idea – and it works.
As a kid growing up in the provincial eastern Netherlands during the ‘80s, Sander would tune-in religiously to late night radio shows playing imported r&b, electro and club mixes direct from New York City. Names like Shep Pettibone and John ’Jellybean’ Benitez rang out with the romanticism of a distant dancefloor. He developed a fascination for hip hop, spraying graffiti, human beatboxing (badly) and, of course, rapaciously eating up vinyl. At school he was known as ‘the kid with the headphones’. One day a teacher asked him if he’d play some records at the school disco, so he did. Little did he know that those fantasies would come true, that he’d be emulating those heroes whose names he’d only heard across the crackle of the airwaves and seemed as tangible as a character in a comic book.
These days Sander commands respect as a DJ worldwide, with residencies in Montreal, Ibiza’s Pin-Up and New York’s Arc that allow him to indulge his stylistic experiments over eight hours and more. Vaunted in the ‘90s as one of the ’Nu Breed’ of the world-conquering progressive house scene – aided by his addition to the enormously successful Global Underground compilation series – he is now numbered quite rightly among dance music’s elite upon his own merit alone. Clocking up hundreds of thousands of air miles per year hasn’t yet dulled his passion for playing records he loves to clubbers in every conceivable part of the world. “I’m completely in love with the lifestyle and what it represents,” he enthuses. “People find it a cliché but I do think it brings people together. I love the fact that when I play in Kuala Lumpur for 5,000 Muslims it goes as right off as it does in Northern Ireland or in Tel Aviv. That is truly the fire that ignites my engine.”
It all kicked off when he moved to The Hague, administrative centre of the Netherlands, in 1994. With no real dance scene of note, Sander avoided the cloying, cliquey environments of cooler cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, allowing him the space to create his own identity. “Back then I was always the sort of a solo man,” he says. “I could smell it but it was not happening around me. I feel like I’ve had to discover everything myself.”
Hooking up with local movers and shakers, Sander began releasing tracks through German and Belgian labels, Superstition and Wonka Beats, setting up his own label, Deal Recordings. His breakthrough came in 1996 as S&S Project, the single ‘Y.D.W. (You Do Me Wrong)’ signed to New York’s Strictly Rhythm, proving a sensation that reverberated in clubs around the world. The release of his first ‘Four Seasons’ EP also proved a definitive moment. ‘My Lexicon’ and ‘Sacred’ won him admirers across the spectrum of the dance fraternity; notably Sasha, who included both the aforementioned tracks on his ‘Global Underground: Ibiza’ compilation and was to become a close friend and collaborator. “I think the ‘Seasons’ EPs set a general reflection of what I do in a club,”explains Sander with customary humility. “I hope that they’ll be things that people will go back to five years from now and go, ‘Yeah, I’ll play that’. I hope that it has a sort of timeless quality about it – that’s what I try to achieve.”
But Sander’s ambitions lie beyond the confines of the club. He remains fascinated by the possibilities of pop music, creating hybrids that are at once immediate and intelligent, club-oriented and credible. “I listen to Missy Elliott records and I go,’ Wow, this is so clever,’” he admits. “This is cleverer than 90% of what I hear being made by underground dance producers and it’s kind of inspiring. Like, ‘Dam, we still have a long way to go!’” Sander is on his way and doing things right. Listen up people.