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Noël Wessels is a Dutch musician, DJ and art designer known for his unique take on Drum n Bass, Hardcore and various other genres of electronic music. His productions are often described as dark, haunting and cinematic and he is well known for his high quality mixing and mastering skills. Besides his DJ Hidden alias, he is also known as The Outside Agency (along with Eye-D), Semiomime, The E.L.F. Architect, Conspiracide, Louis Cyphre, The Ravenous and The Immobilizers (a collaboration between The Outside Agency and Mindustries). In addition to his work as a DJ and a producer, Noël also runs the record labels Hidden Tracks, Genosha Recordings and its sub-label Genosha One Seven Five together with Eye-D, and Notochord Recordings together with Slacknote. Apart from these outputs, he has also released vinyl records and CDs on a large number of other labels. He is also responsible for a lot of the artwork of both his own releases and those of others.

Early Years

Noël has had a passion for music and art all his life. Encouraged by his parents, he often spent his childhood cutting up other people's songs on reel-to-reel tape recorders, playing classical and electrical guitar and drawing cartoons. His interest for electronic music was piqued with the discovery of artists such as Kraftwerk and The Art Of Noise: their otherworldly compositions were appealing and provoking. At the time though, the question was still how they actually did it.

When computers became powerful enough to do just a little more than just chip squeaking, they became more than just ways of getting virtual adventurers to blow up giant spiders with dynamite. From the moment four tracks filled with 8-bit samples could be played simultaneously on a single system, Noël started writing tracks.

At the time, much of the electronic music scene was still an experimental playground. This resulted in a lot of musical progression. Essentially, every producer tried to come up with unique sounds and unique ways of making them work. Inspired by the harder tracks in a genre that was still merely called 'house', Noël began to create his interpretations. In a time without internet and only some very limited information from magazines to rely on, you basically had to figure out everything for yourself. In retrospect, this was a great influence on the development of his musical career and consequently, even his earliest tracks bear a little bit of his trademark sound.

In the early 90s, people started to divide electronic dance music into various groups. The one genre that kept pushing boundaries and therefore became very appealing was Hardcore. Growing up in the small city of Goes (The Netherlands), Noël never assumed that there would be other people in his neighborhood that were as interested in the genre. This changed during a party at a mutual friend's house, when Noël got introduced to Frank, also known as Eye-D.

It turned out that 'this other guy that does this music', as friends had dubbed him initially, was also messing around with computers and other equipment and soon the two aspiring producers became friends. They also started working together albeit the thought of showcasing their efforts to a record label did not cross their minds until years later. In the mean time, attending Hardcore themed events and analyzing cassettes featuring DJ mixes that were being sold at these parties helped to shape their sound. Noël had also picked up spinning vinyl so listening to these tapes not only helped his early productions but also gave him an idea of how to actually be a DJ. He gained more experience by throwing his own small events and playing at clubs for free beer. Somewhere in 1994, he played his first 'large' (1000+) gig at a school organized rave.

The first releases

Two years later, in 1996, Frank and Noël decided to record some of their tracks and send out some cassette tapes to the record labels they liked. Although they felt that their music was ready for a release, it still came as a complete surprise when two of these labels responded in their favor. That year, Rotterdam based Coolman Records and Amsterdam based Mokum Records put out vinyl 12 inches by the guys, respectively operating as X-Factor and The Outside Agency. Both records were received very well and while still in school, the duo produced two follow-ups for Mokum Records one year later.

The hiatus in their Outside Agency discography would not have been there if it was not for the rise of a happier variant of the Hardcore genre. While gabbers were dancing to chipmunk refrains, the guys decided to focus on another kind of upcoming electronic music: dark drum n bass. Encouraged by their friends One Ear Bass and DJ Sandstorm with whom they also presented a weekly local radio show dubbed The Rhythm, Frank and Noël began to experiment with breakbeats, reeces and sub frequencies. Taking this path, inspired and motivated by the sounds of Ed Rush, Optical, Panacea and of course people such as Tech Itch, proved to be an educational choice. Along the way, the duo learned a whole new set of production techniques.

Their previous work combined with Frank's frequent visits to the United States had opened some doors. Their breakbeat related endeavors did not stay unnoticed. Kultbox Records, a Chicago based label, released the humorously titled 'We Eat Tulips For Breakfast' in 1998. Despite the one-time usage of the moniker 'Beats Op Je Fiets Crew' on the cover of the 12 inch, this release in fact marks the introduction of their individual stage names in a format other than just small print. The track that kick started his solo career as 'DJ Hidden' was called 'Anarchy'.

After finishing school, graduating in Audio Visual Media around the turn of the century, Noël started to focus on his career as a producer again. In the Netherlands, Hardcore was still in some sort of confused 'what the fuck happened' state but in other countries its dark variant was gaining terrain. Various labels in these particular countries became interested in both The Outside Agency and DJ Hidden and several releases in both Hardcore and Drum n Bass followed. During this period, several specific defining elements in Frank and Noël's music experienced growing spurts. Both individually and as a group, Eye-D and DJ Hidden were gradually gaining popularity as innovative producers. Progressive labels such as Fear Records, Theoretic and Black Monolith contributed multiple entries to their discographies. On labels based in the Netherlands though, the additions were solely Drum n Bass related in nature.

Genosha Recordings

One of the Dutch labels that was responsible for these drum n bass releases was Ruff-teck. The label happened to be run by hardcore legend Patrick van Kerckhoven and despite his apparent preference for the breakbeat related projects of both DJ Hidden and Eye-D, he had been keeping a close eye on their hardcore as well. He had noticed the progression and somewhere in 2002, he offered the guys a new label, to be run as part of the group of labels attached to his company, Cardiac Music. The Outside Agency would get full control of the label without intervention. First things first though: they had to come up with a proper name for it. Realizing that a particular designation can make or break a project, it took them a full year to come up with one. In 2003, Genosha Recordings released its first 12 inch written and produced by The Outside Agency. The record was a huge success and it certainly was not the last. In the following years, Genosha's catalogue grew rapidly. The high quality tracks soon made the label one of the most well-respected labels in the realm of progressive hardcore.

The Ad Noiseam Albums

Hardcore was not keeping Noël from also producing a large number of other releases. He had even managed to get some of his so-called IDM work out there, using a third alias: Semiomime. However, it was the Drum n Bass on labels such as PRSPCT, Outbreak and Killing Sheep Records that grabbed the attention of Ad Noiseam.

The well respected multi-genre label from Germany offered to release a full-length DJ Hidden album and gave Noël full control of the entire production without any restrictions. As a fan of concept albums, it took him more than a year to fully develop his first 13 track 70+ minute long release entitled 'The Later After'. The background story is that of a protagonist in search of reality. Plagued by visions of a possible future, he repeatedly wonders whether he is losing his mind or finds himself in a world of ignorance. Because Noël felt this CD had to be suitable for home listening , it became a mixture of atmospheric, dark Drum n Bass blended with some down tempo, breakbeat and IDM. It enabled him to show off a multitude of acquired production skills and at the same time create a diverse listening experience.

The success of the album among home listeners, DJs and reviewers alike, solidified a follow-up and Noël started writing new tracks shortly after the release of 'The Later After'. He decided upon an actual sequel which became 'The Words Below', released in 2009. Besides the CD version, several tracks of this production were also sold on 3 separately sold pieces of vinyl and its artwork was featured on a t-shirt.

Having produced two very successful albums for Ad Noiseam, Noël decided to mention another one of his projects to the label. For quite some time, he had been conceptualizing a potential Semiomime release and late 2009, he decided that it was time to suggest it as his third CD release. It still took him about a year to finalize 'From Memory' which turned out quite different than anything he had done before. Presented as one large track, divided in 3 main parts and only featuring individual titles for all segments to enable listeners to skip and play their favorite parts more easily, the CD became a mixture of ambient, IDM, dubstep, downtempo and modern classical music. It was released in February of 2011 and received praise from a large amount of reviewers, who honored Noël by comparing his work to that of some of his favorite composers.

Genosha One Seven Five & Crossbreed

Some DJs are really committed to one particular musical genre and when they buy their music, that's all they buy. Both Frank and Noël never felt inclined to do so and from day one, they basically just bought the music they liked. When you are still in school though, you cannot spend huge amounts of cash on this and when you DJ, you basically have to spin with what you have (and sometimes what you borrow from others). Practicing with just a few records in one particular genre isn't much fun so part of the reason they started mixing hardcore and jungle (it wasn't even called drum n bass at the time) was to diversify their sets. It also sounded pretty cool so they kept doing it.

Even when their careers became more serious and they started producing on a professional level they always enjoyed throwing at least a few records from different genres together during their DJ sets. It was almost inevitable that these experiments would become part of their own compositions. It started with references, such as Eye-D's 707 track or The Outside Agency track Anti-Christ which both 'borrowed' quite heavily from known anthems in respectively the acid techno and Drum n Bass genre. With his first release on PRSPCT Recordings Noël expanded on the concept with 'The Resonators'. The track featured some full-on Hardcore kickdrums as the 'breakdown' in a Drum n Bass track.

Both Frank and Noël kept pushing the concept further by releasing tracks that would use key elements from both musical styles. Of course, Hardcore had featured breakbeats for a long time pioneers such as The DJ Producer and Ruffneck had made sure that the gabber audience was used to at least at little bit of James Brown or The Amen Brothers. In Drum n Bass, artists such as Teebee, The Panacea and Tech Itch were similarly innovative by introducing new ways of manipulating distorted sounds, introducing the drum n bass crowd to a rougher variant of the genre. Truly joining genres was something that most producers avoided though. Instead, they would rather utilize these 'alien' elements in a more submissive role.

The success of tracks such as 'Times Like These' and 'Manhunt' was a testament that the music could be approached differently. Using their extensive knowledge of both Hardcore and Drum n Bass production techniques, Frank and Noël were able to create tracks that balanced exactly in the middle. Consequently, tracks had both roughness and crispness, were hard and deep and could be used in differently themed DJ sets: their unconfined nature made them multi-functional.

Some things lead to others and some music leads to the creation of sub labels. The desire to expand on the concept grew as Frank and Noël noticed a strong interest in their unique type of music among the audience and other DJs alike. The already strong Genosha brand could potentially help them in doing so. This is why they decided to introduce 'One Seven Five' as an attachment. Concurrently, they could take their experiments in two directions and decrease the possibility of alienating their existing fans. In 2009, the new label saw its first release which truly put the concept on the map. The record became a hit and inspired a legion of both established and up and coming producers in creating their own renditions of what to some is now known as 'Drum & Core' but goes by another name as well: 'Crossbreed'.

'The future is what you make of it, so make it a good one.' - Dr. Emmett Brown

In the last 10 years, the way people approach music seems to have changed greatly due to the internet. The medium has enabled more room for experiments and at the same time has taken it away. Everyone can let the world know what they are doing by uploading their music and offering it for free. It is a great tool for promotion for both new comers and established artists, who can use it to give their audience previews of upcoming material.

The downside of course is that it is just as easy for third parties to offer free illegal versions of full-length copyrighted source material. Often the quality of these files is practically equal to the original versions, which takes away a lot of consumer's incentive to pay for any of this. It also has made it harder to release tracks using the established formats; consequently investments have to be made with a lot of consideration. In some cases, this has resulted in labels and artists sticking with tested and tried formulas. For progressive ('underground') musicians especially, it was never easy to make a living in this particular creative branch but now they are practically forced to walk alternative paths in order to continue doing so.

Although musical diversity has never been a primary reason to make ends meet, it has enabled Noël to successfully work as a producer on a full-time basis. While taking on various genres and welcoming new ones might be a thorn in the eye of purists, he sees it as a way to explore and learn. At the end of the day, this working method is actually beneficial to each and every track he writes. It introduces him to new techniques that help him improve his music as a whole.

Besides his work in the electronic dance scene, Noël also produces music and sound effects for videogames and multi-media projects. Recording sounds for various projects is also a nice way to get out of the studio sometimes. Everything is connected though as coming home with a memory card filled with unique recordings and creating Foley effects out of them serves various purposes. The sounds can end up anywhere - from a commercial assignment to an obscure release on a small label.

Previous jobs as a 3D graphics designer and website developer help him with other parts of his career; they enable him to be in control of the visual output that accompanies his work. Apart from designing his own record sleeves and labels, he also takes care of a lot of promotional material such as YouTube clips and his website.

Even though Noël has obtained a great amount of knowledge in his various fields of work, he is well aware that it is still but a fragment of what is out there. This ongoing creative process of learning and improving continues to motivate him. Coming up with new ideas has never been a problem; he hardly ever suffers from writer's block. The most important way to avoid this is by actively seeking out new challenges and other paths to explore. The electronic dance scene still has a lot on offer. By means of both the labels he runs and the ones he is affiliated with, Noël continuously tries to bring quality tracks into the open. His most important criterion is that this has to be music that he would buy himself. One of his guidelines is the fact that every song should sound different from its predecessors. The only thing he seemingly has no control over is something that almost seems like a rule: somehow, most of his tracks turn out 'dark' and it does not look like that will change any time soon.

People often say that Noël's tracks could be part of a movie score. This is no coincidence. His love of movies can often be heard all throughout his tracks; from effects to atmospheres to melodies. His albums often already feel like soundtracks and he has never concealed the fact that he would really like to head into this direction with his music. Although most would be inclined to assume he would preferably work in the field of horror and science fiction films, this is not entirely true. A good movie score in any genre can elevate it to the point where it becomes an experience.

No one knows what the future might bring. Creativity is one of the most important parts of Noël's life; the only thing he knows for certain is that he has no desire to ever give that up. The ability to make a living out of that which he loves doing is something he is very grateful for. Sharing it with the world has been an even more rewarding experience. The response of people everywhere is what really drives him to bring his work out into the open. It continuously causes a chain reaction of new thoughts and ideas that is unlikely to stop any time soon.

There is a bright dark future ahead.
Source: www.djhidden.com
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