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The innovative producer and audio engineer John Sellekaers has crafted a vast discography from the late ’90s to the present, spanning numerous genres and pseudonyms. He is known for his unique approach to sampling and production, blending electronic music with cinematic influences to create deeply atmospheric records. Alec Jetha explores the evolution of his career, highlighting key albums and collaborations that have defined his experimental legacy.

Beginning in the late 90’s and stretching throughout the 2000’s (and beyond) producer and audio engineer John Sellekaers has built an incredibly vast and unique discography. Between 1995 and 2007 Sellekaers produced around 40 records, carving out an impressively prolific selection of releases. And after a break period between 2007-2018, Sellekaers has picked up the producing mantle once again, continuing to release a range of different records, such as the Strange Echoes 95 release under his Xingu Hill project on Dutch label Traum Garten in 2021 and a variety of other reissues and self-titled releases. 

What is alluring about Sellekaers’ music, is not simply the expansiveness of his work, but the dynamism created in separation by each of his different projects. Especially during 1999-2007, Sellekaers developed different projects, under various pseudonyms that danced between the lines of the emerging and longstanding genres and themes within music and beyond. On most of the records released during this time, he managed to inject each one with a deep sense of character and an eccentric identity, a symptom of his idiosyncratic approach to sampling and producing. Through Sellekaers’ hunger for expansiveness and his desire to inject outlandish themes into his music, the producer quietly constructed an eclectic body of work that stylistically fluctuates from record to record.

Glancing at his discography, some of his most popular and standout records were released under his Xingu Hill project. The collection of records Sellekaers put out as Xingu Hill certainly accentuates the eccentricity of his music, with a breadth of different albums that push the boundaries of late 90’s/early 2000’s electronica and dance music to a visceral oddity. Arguably one of his most popular records, Alterity, which he released as Xingu Hill, Sellekaers perfectly encompasses his deep, mystifying sound. At first encounter Alterity is a typical downtempo, IDM record of the era; the isometric, mechanical insect on the album cover, the clean, simple, yet intricate arrangements, and the crunchy percussion with stripped-back soundscapes and melodies to accompany. Both musical and aesthetic familiarities of the genre and time. Yet through each track on Alterity, Sellekaers takes the sound to a sinister place by adding in a signature ingredient of his twisted samples and sounds that transports the records’ atmosphere to a malevolent dimension. Look only to the penultimate track of the album, Texas Prayer Machine, which features a thumping break distorted by pitch over the slow, bellowing guttural sounds of throat singing—an aggressive and transcendental climax to an album wrought with eerie and moody motifs. The track is a routine exercise in his music, which slowly envelopes and entrances the listener, in a transformative manner. Often lots of records from the same era and genre tended to focus more on the arrangements and design, products of beautiful ingenuity and cutting-edge sound, with stripped-back minimalism—but with records like Alterity, Sellekaers doesn’t flinch to personify his records with the addition of the uncanny sounds and samples he injects into each song. 

Alterity might be the beacon of Sellekaers’ success as his most popular record, but once you dig deeper into the various other Xingu Hill releases there’s a cornucopia of interesting records, each emanating personality. The 1996 album Fiction features some raging acid techno grooves full of energy and intensity, with tracks like Anomaly and Technicolour. To accompany, Sellekaers compliments the intensity of these tracks with some more sparse dubby numbers like ‘Technicolour’ and the standout track ‘Babylon Bloodsuckers—a track which expresses a hybridity of proto-dubstep and an 80’s horror score. The combination of Carpenter-esc score, werewolf groans, Nyah Keith vocals and Dubstep bass lines/percussion,  perfectly embodies Sellekaers’ appetite to construct music with cinematic and fictional overtones—and seemingly fits with the title of the record. The Xingu Hill record, Map of the Impossible features more of an exotica sound. An atmospheric ambient Techno record, woven with samples of different environmental sounds and traditional, cultural folk music. The EP titled 16-bit Golem is a real departure from any of the other Xingu Hill releases and really signifies Sellekaer’s attitude to experiment. On 16-bit Golem, Sellekaers tries his hand at Drill, Bass and Breakcore—and certainly doesn’t pull any punches. The EP consists of  4 volatile and deranged tracks, which is symptomatic of the remarkably complex arrangements at play. Each track leaves the impression that he’s fed a plethora of breaks and samples into a random generator and lets the chaotic results speak for themselves. The tracks frantically cycle back and forth between breaks, random screams, jingles, snippets of manipulated percussions or pitched-up vocals. The EP is a gold standard for chopping and arranging breakbeats but also communicates Sellekaers’ process in forming something so chaotically satisfying through sampling, editing and audio manipulation. 

While the Xingu Hill project is definitely a demonstration of his most popular work and in itself a mirco-cosm of Sellekear’s vast and diverse sound, his accompanying projects, while less known, are just as significant. As discussed in the interview featured below, alongside Xingu Hill, the records released as Dead Hollywood Stars are some of the most defining in his repertoire. Built on a cinematic fascination, (a driving theme in Sellekaer’s music), the project with regular collaborator C-drik, features 2 concept albums (and 2 EPs)  which synthesize the cinematic Western genre with electronica (or as John describes below Ambient Ennio Morricone). This outlandish combination results in two albums that cross the divides of the genre pallet. Sampling cinema is not by no means a strange phenomenon in electronic music, ever since sampling became widely accessible there have been countless examples of records or tracks that feature samples from films, scores etc. But with Dead Hollywood Stars, Sellekears manages to invent something that carries a distinctive character and goes beyond. The enthusiasm for both the elaborate, ingenuitive production and cinematic themes, allows for an effortless marriage, that builds an aesthetic evocative of an artificial, machine-like futurist expression of wild western cinema and country music. Melancholic harmonicas with mechanical drones and glitchy breakbeats paired with sombre country ballads, it’s a conceptual sound that encompasses a vivid imagination. Dead Hollywood Stars, can instantly drum up the intangible themes and feelings that are familiar to vintage Hollywood, American cinema and the Wild West, (in a similar fashion to the way Wim Wenders manages to capture the lonely, isolating and melancholic spirit of Western America in Paris Texas, which Sellekaers’ unsurprisingly cites as an influence for the project), and at the same time, despite this familiarity it simultaneously holds the glossy and mysterious exterior of the more complex, chic genres of electronic music. Sellekaers’ imagination and cinematic passion yield something greater than simply using cinema as a reference point or sampling for musical effect on these records; he’s able to mix and match different genre conventions and styles to produce something conceptually unique. The projects speak to his vision to think beyond the mixing desk or the synthesizer, to think beyond the listener’s ears and the sonic sensations. It reaches deep into the imagination, through the fabrication of this fictional identity.

With his other group projects, while less distinctive in thematic character, Sellekaers continues to experiment with different genres and sounds. Ammo, another collaborative project with C-drik, produced several records rich with elaborate glitchy texture and musical complexity. In the album, The Age Of Terminal Irony, the pair produced a record akin to the emerging sound of techstep within the late 90s/early 2000s drum and bass era. Techstep itself was already a testament to the forward-thinking nature of the Drum and Bass scene, with the subgenre displaying an appetite to incorporate more mysterious and futuristic sound design into the genre while finding new ways to adapt and reproduce DnB breakbeats and rhythms. The Age of Terminal Irony is definitely symptomatic of this innovation, yet still manages to find its own voice. The record contains a collection of punchy motorik-like DnB tracks, each aggressively putting the foot on the gas in tempo and energy. Despite the explosive nature, the pair manage to build tantalising grooves, with shifting bass lines and gyrating, zappy breaks. You could argue the record lies more within an industrial or DrillnBass lineage, with some of the blown-out explosive percussions and mutant, glitchy layers sprinkled in, but the grooves themselves feel spiritually akin to Techstep—which, elevates its originality given the rarity of the cross-pollination of the two. In the group project Ambre, Sellekaers collaborates again with C-drink, with the addition of Oliver Moreau. The music created by the trio feels far more stripped back than some of Sellekaers other music but leans further into the sludgy, hypnotic drones we often hear throughout his music. Ambre’s album Enclave features haunting and progressive drones, analogue-like in sound. Similar to the whirring sound Cluster creates through tape loop manipulation, Ambre’s drone on Enclave mimics the entrancing spiralling hums of machinery, replicating the repetitive sounds of automation. Enclave isn’t just repetitive drones though, as captivation is maintained with added layers lavished over the drones, such as the occasional echoing vocals stretched through manipulation, simulating a ghostly, fading cry. Enclave, like all of Ambre’s projects, holds a more detailed, textured emphasis on drone music, without sacrificing its entrancing atmosphere.

What seems to be the thematic throughline in Sellekaer’s music is his appetite for narratives, cinema and fiction. It doesn’t necessarily speak to his prolific nature, but the way it’s infused within his music builds its personality, which is especially unique within this form of music production. In my attempt to sketch out the charm of Sellekaers’ music, I’ve only scratched the surface. Part of my motivation to write this piece (outside of my appreciation) was motivated by the lack of articles and interviews covering Sellekaers’ music. In my first engagement with his music, most of his projects felt quite mysterious and enigmatic, like a lost relic deep within the internet’s archives. In further digging I thankfully did manage to find things here and there but so little from his perspective. Thankfully John very Kindly agreed to answer some written questions I sent him, which I’m pleased to share below. John’s answers shed more light and detail on the incorporation of fiction and cinema in his music, as well as his creative process and influential devices. 


You’ve mentioned Cabaret Voltaire and Tangerine Dream as being some of your biggest and earliest influences. I’m curious to know what have been some of your other influences? What influences (musical or non-musical) informed and shaped your different projects?

I think it’s always difficult to assess exactly what influences a piece of creative work. We’re all shaped by our experiences, everyday life, our whole lives, and sometimes microscopic events that have a profound impact… I always feel like I’m trying to recapture indefinable sensations, atmospheres, sometimes linked to childhood experiences or simple moments of ‘enlightenment’. And then you sort of try to translate that into sound, in this case…

As far as music is concerned, soundtracks were a source of wonder to me from a very early stage: the fact that sound and music could work in harmony with the narrative and the image fascinated me right from the start. I think it was this meeting of soundtracks (like those of John Carpenter, for example) and all the electronic sounds of the 70s and 80s (pop music, the more alternative scene like Sparks, Kraftwerk, Cabaret Voltaire, Skinny Puppy…) that made me want to make music myself, without hesitation (and with youthful enthusiasm…).

Then, as I broadened my listening, it was the whole burgeoning scene of the early 90s that really got me going: the beginnings of the Warp label, the Bill Laswell galaxy, people like Atom™ who were pushing electronic music towards a new sound, or the whole New York Downtown scene around John Zorn and his more radical experiments… I continue to keep up to date and listen to as many artists as possible. The current wave is so exciting. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the past…

Cinema and books are also very important influences, probably more so than music, and they’ve been occupying my mind a lot for a long time and now more and more.

From the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s you’ve built such an expansive and diverse discography. What drove you to produce with such versatility during this period? Where did the appetite for switching it up for each project come from?

As a teenager, I’d already played in bands, done a few gigs and started producing music. But it was only after I’d recorded my first album (Xingu Hill’s ‘Maps of the Impossible’) and received an enthusiastic phone call from the label to sign the project that I realised how lucky I was: the field of possibilities was infinite. I didn’t ask myself too many questions. My friends and I had a lot of ideas and we couldn’t wait to put them into practice. In retrospect, I could and should have done more… The technical limitations, unimaginable now with the evolution of technology, meant that we had to work quite slowly and not always satisfactorily. The constraints of labels (one album a year, for example), budgets and a certain laziness sometimes prevented projects from coming to fruition.

The era also encouraged a proliferation of pseudonyms: way less music was released than now, and aliases made it possible to release more albums on different labels, and to compartmentalise styles. There’s also the pleasure of discovery, of mystification: discovering who or what is behind a pseudonym, or ignoring it completely.

But the choice of a project was generally quite intuitive: it started with an idea and possible collaborators, or sometimes a commission from a label. For Dead Hollywood Stars, for example, it was Daniel from Mad Monkey Records who contacted me and gave me carte blanche for a project.

Were you thinking specifically about producing different styles or did this come from a more natural experimentation with different production techniques?

Sometimes I feel like a musical sponge: I get excited very quickly when I hear the work of an artist or a musical style that I’m enthusiastic about, and I immediately want to draw inspiration from it and create something in my own way. It’s sometimes a bit frustrating, I feel like I’m easily distracted, but at the same time it’s that kind of enthusiasm that I think is necessary to create something! I’ve always liked prolific artists who don’t hesitate to move from one style to another, while keeping their own touch, their own sound.

And, of course, in my case, as you point out, there’s the whole technological aspect of this music that encourages experimentation, improvisation and the use of new tools. A particular compositional technique can give shape to an album or an entire project.

What is your process for writing and making music for your different projects?

For each production, I define a series of rules beforehand. Nothing dramatic, but like a game, I need to establish a few parameters and limits. Sometimes it’s a palette of sounds, certain instruments, a number of tracks, a few well-defined effects, composition time limits or a specific duration for each track… Composition techniques: for example, out-of-sync loops, improvisations, or on the contrary a well-defined structure. Or more vague or abstract things, like images, colours, text; a sort of mood board. But in all cases, it has to be fun and inspiring. If the rules have to be broken to move forward, I don’t hesitate. They’re there to help me, to focus me, not for any theoretical or dogmatic reason.

Then, I leave a lot of room for improvisation and accidents. I like to find sequences and sounds that touch me and make me want to continue… All this is generally a pleasant process. It’s becoming very rare for me to get stuck on something, and if that happens and I don’t quickly find a solution, it’s probably because the idea isn’t good and I need to move on to something else.

Dead Hollywood Stars is one of your projects that I find most interesting, I’ve genuinely never heard anything like it. What was the process of conceptualising the project and the albums? How did you build the concept and then translate that into the music?

Thank you. This project was an opportunity offered by the Mad Monkey Records label (then later taken over by Hymen Records). I had several ideas running through my head: I wanted to combine electronics with film music and a twilight western atmosphere. An ambient version of Ennio Morricone. A few musicians had worked in this direction at the time and inspired me, like ‘Slim Westerns’ by A Small Good Thing, Ry Cooder’s music for the film ‘Paris, Texas’ by Wim Wenders, or the album ‘Dust to Dust’ by Steve Roach and Roger King.

I also wanted to work with my friend Cedrik Fermont on a new project and invite Hervé Thomas from the French group Hint. Starting with these few elements, we organised several recording sessions, including guitars, harmonicas and other instruments, to come up with this robotised version of an acoustic band. In a way, it was the meeting of my Xingu Hill project with a cinematographic, referential aspect and a more acoustic, panoramic sound.

I read that you started off experimenting with synthesizers, what was the process of starting from there and branching out as your music evolved?

It all started with a fascination for electronic sound. The possibilities seemed endless, even more so for a teenager: to be able to work alone with a machine capable of producing so many different sounds, with surprising and immediate results. I’ve never had any musical training, and it seemed to me (and still does) that electronic music encourages experimentation, even for the uninitiated. Like many people in the 80s, I started out with a tiny keyboard: the Casio SK-1. Inexpensive, this lo-fi marvel allowed me to sample for a second and get a taste of the possibilities of this kind of machine…

Then I had to get my hands on other synths and samplers, all far too expensive, and the first sequencing software, such as Steinberg’s Pro-24. I really wish Ableton Live had existed back then! Throughout the 90s, my friends and I worked with a very limited set of machines, which we sold and exchanged regularly as the music evolved…

What have been the projects/albums that have had the most engagement with your listeners? Would you say that there are any of your specific albums or projects that defined you the most with your listeners?

The projects that have had the most (very relative) success are, without a doubt, Xingu Hill and Dead Hollywood Stars. Xingu Hill and in particular the albums ‘Maps of the Impossible’ and ‘Alterity’ opened a lot of doors for me. For Xingu Hill, I toured and did quite a lot of concerts, which enabled me to travel and meet people. You also have to put all this into the context of the 90s: records were selling, labels were promoting them and you could keep up with all the weekly releases in certain genres by regularly going to the local record shop… As we know, everything has evolved and listening habits are very different now.

More recently, my album ‘Observer Effect‘ (Glacial Movements, 2021) has had a lot of enthusiastic feedback, as has my collaboration with my percussionist friend Patrick Graham, ‘Unnatural‘ (Parenthèses Records, 2020). I’ve also had positive reactions to my new Xingu Hill album, ‘Grigri Pavilion‘ (Subexotic Records, 2023), which I like for its mix of slightly nineties sounds with a more contemporary feel.

What have been some of your favourite collaborations?

At this stage, I don’t think I could work with someone who I don’t appreciate first and foremost as a person. That’s why I’ve always enjoyed working with friends, like Olivier Moreau (with our Urawa, Torsion and Ambre projects), Cedrik Fermont (Dead Hollywood Stars, Ammo, Moonsanto…) or Gabriel Séverin… The album I did with writer Brian Evenson and my friend Daniel De Los Santos, was very satisfying too, because I love Brian’s brilliant work. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed working with the extraordinary Patrick Graham. The last few years have been more solitary in my work, and I hope to change that. Collaborations are always challenging, but often bring a richness and surprises that would be difficult to achieve otherwise…

You can find all of John’s music on Bandcamp.

by Alec Jetha

Editor: Alex H Honey

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