By: Dream Chimney

The following interview was conducted on February 20, 2024

Gratts Gratts, who some of us know as Tristan Jong, has been making music and Djing on a European electronic scene for over two decades. Born in Belgium, with time spent in the bubbling Berlin scene, he now calls Adelaide home. Be Strong Be Free is the label founded by Gratts and is dedicated to that mellow sound - Bumpin' Balearic - with some of the Belgian DJ & producers biggest influences providing the B sides. Here he returns with a captivating piece of Body & Soul inspired house, alongside vocalist Cata Mansikka-aho, who sang on one of Gratts' favourite Guidance Records tracks in 1999 - Colors of My Mind by Nuspirit Helsinki. On 'Rhythm of Love,' Faze Action up the energy levels with an equally musical version that is one powerful disco weapon. We wanted to get to know a little more about this fascinating producer.

Thanks for talking to us today. Where are you this moment and how are you spending the day?

I am at my house in South Brighton, South Australia. This morning, I ran some errands and now I am doing some label admin and preparing for upcoming gigs!

Where are you from exactly, where were you born?

I'm from the city of Leuven in Belgium, an old uni town in the Flemish region. I started dj'ing out on the local scene there in the early 2000s before moving to Brussels around 2006. I moved to Berlin in 2013 where both my sons were born. Two years ago, we traded Berlin for Adelaide.

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What do you love about where you are living?

The skies are beautiful.

How long have you been making music? What was your first step a musician?

I first started making sketches in what was the Sony Acid software back in the mid-2000s, but never focused on it for too long as I kept busy gigging and promoting club nights. After moving to Berlin in 2013 I picked production up a bit again, but it wasn't until the pandemic hit in 2020 that I sat down properly again to work on some music. The first result of those sessions was ‘Brighter Future’ with Robert Owens.

Are you a DJ too?

I’m a dj first and foremost. I started collecting records and mixing in my bedroom when I was 14/15.

What kind of artists, DJs, genres were you into growing up?

I started listening to electronic music in the late nineties… Things like Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Coldcut, Luke Slater, Orbital, Daft Punk of course. I then found my way into drum ‘n bass, but after the brief jungle stint (things got a bit too dark) I got into house and techno properly through Dave Clarke - Red 1, early Atlantic Jaxx stuff etc. What a lovely journey it has been and continues to be.

What was your first production/ release?

The first track of mine that came out on vinyl was a remix that my friend San Soda and I did, back in 2012. We made it in Ghent. The label said no to the remix, after which a certain Belgian house label released it on vinyl anyway.

Unknown Artist - We Don’t Agree (San Soda & Gratts Collect-Ief Deruyter Remix)

What do you feel has been your most notable release, which one made the biggest impact?

I would have to say probably ‘Sun Circles,’ which came out last year. It’s a song I wrote for my two sons Leo & Ziggy. It features Mr. Beale on vocals and Nathan Haines on flute / sax. It’s nice to see how that track travelled the globe and got played in dj-sets and on radio in so many different places. 'Pretty Lights' featuring Brandon Markell Holmes also got quite some love which is nice.

Have you been Djing or performing out much on your local scene? Where do you play?

I’ve got quite a few regular gigs here in Adelaide, mostly at bars and restaurants. Sometimes I play at local clubs such as Ancient World or Sugar. I also travel a bit for gigs which is fun, and have played in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Fremantle, Geelong, Wollongong etc since moving down under, but also toured in Asia. I’m going back to Europe for a few gigs this May, too.

What is the main nightspot where you are?

Ancient World and Sugar are the main clubs in Adelaide.

Who are the artists that you follow right now?

Some people whose music I love are Murrin, Joseph Malik, and Adelaide’s Templé who has got a couple of nice EPs coming soon.

What is the most recent record you purchased?

I picked up the incredible ‘Hiroshima’ by Nux Nemo in Belgium a few weeks, a new beat classic. I’m always digging for records and CDs. 90% of my record collection is in storage in Belgium unfortunately, luckily, I’ve got my whole collection logged on Discogs so at least I can browse it. When I moved down under 2 years ago, I started a new mini collection here.

Tell us a little about your label Be Strong Be Free.

‘Be Strong Be Free’ is my music label run out of coastal South Australia, dedicated to mellow magic sounds. First and foremost, it’s home to my own releases, but gradually I plan to also release friends’ music. I just started a new series called ‘Mellow Magic Worldwide’ that features tracks by worldwide studio buds. The first instalment will be out in April.

Give us a short round up of your new EP - Rhythm of Love.

‘Rhythm Of Love’ is the third instalment in the "Balearic but bumpin'" trilogy on my label (after ‘Sun Circles’ (BSBF1201) and ‘Jour De Fête’ (BSBF1203)). It’s a layered piece of deep house, loosely inspired by Body & Soul in NYC. It’s been getting some nice reactions in the last couple of weeks which makes me very happy, someone compared it to Dinosaur L, what more can one want? Brotherly UK duo Faze Action kindly provided the flipside remix.

Tell us about the vocalist and how you got her on board.

Cata sang on one of my favourite Guidance Rec releases back in 1999 which was Nuspirit Helsinki’s ‘Colors of My Mind’. I found her online and messaged her a few years ago, after which we had a few video chats. It’s amazing that now, a quarter of a century later, we are releasing this record together!

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Faze Action as a remixer is quite a coup. How do you feel about their remix?

I love their version, it is perfect. While the original is a more floaty affair, their grooving, up tempo disco version is aimed straight to the dancefloor.

Are there any other musicians on this EP that you would like to shout out?

I’d love to give everyone that appeared on this record a shout, in fact: Cata Mansikka-aho on vox. Then there is Belgian Charlotte Saelemakers on violin. Piano by Paul Johnston aka Peej who you may remember from his releases on DiY Discs out of Nottingham. Gary Pozner, who used to be part of Tom Tom Club live, is on Odyssey and added some percussion too. Bass, guitar, Rhodes and synth by Ran Zohar, a close friend of Cata’s in Helsinki. Also, a special shout to Adelaide artist Mads Cooke, who did the sleeve artwork (for the whole trilogy).

What are you working on next that you can share?

After ‘Rhythm of Love,’ I’ll release the first 7inch on my label called ‘Submerge Me’. It features Mr. Beale who also sang on ‘Sun Circles.’ It’s the start of a little 7inch trilogy: following after that one is ‘Nuit De Fiêvre’ and ‘Sun Circles (Reimagined)’.

Apart from that, I also have EPs upcoming on Canadian label Bienvenue and Lisbon label Inner Balance. But there’s more in the pipeline. Stay tuned =)

When you’re not making great music, what do you like to do to kick back?

I spend a lot of time with my two young sons Leo & Ziggy, although kicking back is not the best way to describe that, hehe. Other than that, I love venturing out into nature on hikes, cycling, going for ocean dips, and eating my way around town.

Thank you for your valuable time.

You’re most welcome. Thanks for talking about indie music and releases.


Check out the latest release from Gratts


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