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San Holo at City National Civic

In Music
SOLO SAN: Inspired by post-rock, San Holo is changing the landscape of EDM.

SOLO SAN: Inspired by post-rock, San Holo is changing the landscape of EDM.

When it comes to music, the very concept of a genre is polarizing. Some artists will bristle at any attempt to pin a label on their work; some will shrug off the practice of categorization as a meaningless but unavoidable convention of the industry; others still will actively tout their given tag, wearing it like a badge of honor.

The truth is, genre is both instructive and reductive. While it helps fans organize their libraries and is an essential tool in the music critic’s arsenal, it can feel like a pair of manacles for creators like Sander van Dijck.

For van Dijck—who is better known by his stage name, San Holo—the only cardinal direction is emotion.

“When you listen to album1, for example, it really evokes a certain feeling,” van Dijck says of his debut full length, released in September. “I’m kind of addicted to it; it’s this pleasantly sad or, like, melancholic, nostalgic feeling. Like, I can make a house track that sounds like that, or I can make a hardcore or trap track that still has that emotion, and at that point I don’t need to think about genre at all.”

Van Dijck’s new album operates on a number of different frequencies. On one hand, it scans like a perfectly plausible entry in the ambient electronic canon of 2018. On the other, where most music in this space is content to lay down some affectionately written lyrics and let the production do all the emotional heavy lifting, album1 lets both of these elements work in tandem to drive the emotion home.

In the bigger-equals-better world of Top 40, it sometimes feels like EDM producers build their tunes around the drop, working outward from the tune’s most massive moment. San Holo’s approach is different. His songs start as a primordial soup of ethereal guitars and wall-of-sound synthesizers before they find their center of gravity.

And unlike the desktop audio workstation arrangements of his contemporaries, San Holo’s guitar-forward approach to songwriting gives his music a post rock vibe—more akin to This Will Destroy You or Mogwai than music built with keyboards and pattern sequencers.

Before the San Holo project was born, van Dijck spent a lot of time playing guitar in bands. Much of the music he picked up at that time of his life informs the music he makes today.

“Back then, I just tried to copy Explosions in the Sky,” he says, “but I realized there’s no room in this world for another Explosions in the Sky. That’s when I started doing other things. It’s really funny how the story kind of came full circle, though, and now I’m bringing that direction into electronic music to create something new.”

In a poetic way, San Holo’s new album stands as a testament to his love for post rock better than any Explosions-aping demo tape could. With it, he’s effectively exposing people who might never listen past the most ubiquitous rock acts to the musical ideas he fell in love with in the beginning.

“That’s another one of the main things I get out of making music is expanding people’s horizons and tastes. That’s beautiful to me,” he says.

It was with this sentiment in mind that San Holo founded his record label bitbird. While it’s known in the scene for primarily releasing new future bass tracks, in its five years of existence it’s dabbled with R&B, and classical music releases as well.

Van Dijck says he started the label to change the electronic landscape in whatever way he could.

“The thing is, I still remember sending my music around to labels and getting back, ‘Oh, it’s kind of weird,’ or ‘It’s too crowded.’ People just didn’t get it yet,” he says.

In a way, starting bitbird was an effort to make a platform for electronic music that might have reached him when he was still a guitarist finding himself in different bands.

It was in one of those early bands that a bandmate gave him a mix CD with a handful of avant garde and post rock songs. He described getting to one song and not being able to move past it.

“It was the Sigur Rós song ‘Hoppípolla,’ and I just never connected to music like that,” he says over the phone with an audible smile. “The emotions I found in post rock really resonated with me. I’ve been trying to make music that sounds like that ever since.”

San Holo
Dec 15, 8pm
City National Civic, San Jose

 

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