Behind the Beat: Chocolate Puma
The history of dance music cannot be complete without a chapter on Gaston Steenkist (“Dobre”) and René ter Horst (“DJ Zki”), the duo from Haarlem, Netherlands most commonly referred to as Chocolate Puma. Spanning a career of over 20 years together these two DJs & producers continue to release hit after hit. It is always great to experience an amazing set by an upcoming DJ/producer, but I always enjoy listening to music from artists that have a clear understanding of the history of dance music and how music has changed over the years in the U.S. and abroad.
Chocolate Puma had an electrifying set at Soundcheck in D.C. that showcased their experience and commitment to constantly innovating their sound to maintain their status as an elite dance music duo.
We went ‘Behind the Beat’ with them before their July 4th weekend set in the heart of the Nation’s Capital.
Only The Beat: You produced your first track together back in 1991. What were you both doing before you became The Good Men and eventually Chocolate Puma?
Gaston Steenkist: My family was very musical. My uncle was a professional drummer and my grandfather was in several bands playing the accordion. My mother also played music. There was also music on in the house. For any celebration or birthday we would always play loud music, normally jazz or something with drums. My father also played a lot of jazz music with these crazy drum breaks over and over again. That was my first memory of being excited by music.
René ter Horst: I have an older brother and sister and they were always playing music. I kept all of their old records and from a young age I wanted to be a DJ and make mixtapes for my friends. There was an opportunity that presented itself in my hometown with a new club. I went and asked the owner if they needed a DJ and he asked me if I was a DJ. I told him that I was a DJ if he hired me. He did hire me and that is when my career began.
OTB: Who are some of your mentors or people that have helped you in the industry? Are there any artists that you are influenced by?
Gaston: It is funny because we started so early that there really wasn’t a dance music industry back then. You had a lot of people experimenting and producing sounds that people thought were weird at the time. In terms of musical mentors, it was really my grandfather, my uncle, my parents and my sister. Like René, my sister use to always play records like Michael Jackson and I would hear them and get interested in listening to a lot of music. My music teacher also taught me a lot about harmonics, how to place chords and all of the basics.
René: We were in the beginnings of dance music, but we were looking at the DJs in America and they were probably looking at us in Europe. We were influenced by people like DJ Pierre. However, we had no idea that we were influencing one another because their was no Internet at the time.
OTB: You released over 200 tracks over the course of your career. What are you personal favorites?
René: Very difficult to answer this question. Most of the time are favorites are our newest tracks, but some records will stick with us longer like ”I Can’t Understand”. That record was not a favorite in the beginning, but playing it out and getting such a reaction from all the crowds made it a favorite. “Scrub the Ground” is also a favorite because we didn’t expect it to be so successful, but it worked really well for us. All-time favorites are our first records, but it is really impossible to answer with so many records.
OTB: Do you ever have creative differences? For instance you want to take a track in one direction and you want to go in the other direction. How do you overcome those differences?
Gaston: Yeah,sometimes. But most of the time we agree on the direction that we want to go. Sometimes I hear a record and think that it is cool, but he hears it and doesn’t like it, but that’s fine. It actually makes it more exciting and challenging because we look to find common ground.
OTB: You have had a great 2016 so far with the release of ”Lullaby” with Firebeatz, ”Space Sheep” with Oliver Heldens, and most recently an edit of Kryder’s ‘Selecta’. How do you manage to continue to produce and collaborate with other artists while touring?
Gaston: There are some months in the year like January and February that are quieter when we produce and other months when we are playing more in the Netherlands or in Europe where it is easier to be in the studio and produce music. We did that in the beginning of this year so we already have a lot of releases planned out until the end of the year. The easy thing nowadays is being able to produce on a laptop and we always take our studio with us. Essentially we have the same studio with us on the road as we do at home.
Kryder – Selecta (Chocolate Puma Edit)
OTB: Where do you think the dance music industry is going in the next five years from new talent, to technology, to trends?
Gaston: It is always evolving. We could not predict where we are when we started. When we started we thought it would be great if the whole world would listen to this type of music and here we are…electronic dance music as a whole and for us house music where it began. It is hard to predict, but someday I could see artificial intelligence as it seems to be the next technological thing. I think it will be interesting to see where that goes in the next five to 10 years.
OTB: Outside of music, what are your other interests or hobbies?
Gaston: One of my favorite hobbies is cooking. I think a lot of musicians like to cook. I also like to learn everything about the city where I live (Amsterdam) and the history. I have a lot of books at home about Amsterdam.
René: I like architecture, old motorcycles, movies and documentaries. I also like to be at home because we travel so much and are in the studio. It is nice to chill with the family at home. I own a Yamaha XS650 two cylinder custom bike from 1981. I like a few other types of motorcycles as well.
OTB: What advice do you have for aspiring DJs and producers hoping to have a 20-year career and tour the world playing their music like Chocolate Puma?
Gaston: Do what you like. It is simple advice and it sometimes hard because of outside influences and what people expect, but stay true to yourself. You will last long if you stay true to yourself and not follow trends, where you think there is money or fame. Follow the things you like.
René: I agree, nothing to add.
OTB: What can we expect from you the rest of this year? Any big shows, mixes or collaborations coming up?
Gaston: Yes, we have a lot of collaborations coming up. The next release will be with Sander Van Doorn on Musical Freedom. Actually it is a funny story, we were playing at Winter Musical Conference at Afrojack’s party and Tiesto was behind us in the booth. We had actually made the track the week before with Sander and we played it. Tiesto signed it on the spot and played it on the Ultra mainstage the next day. We have a record with HI-LO coming up. Still working on a new track with Tommie Sunshine and some remixes.