Interview / GRATTS  – By The Insider

Interview conducted by The Insider. 

Tristan Jong is Gratts. A Belgium-born, Berlin-honed / hardened, DJ / producer now relocated to Adelaide, South Australia. Tristan’s recording resume takes in projects such as Ca$hminus and Icarus Traxx, and collaborations with party people like Toby Tobias and San Soda. As Gratts he’s previously paired up with house legend Robert Owens, while his latest E.P., Sun Circles, finds him working alongside saxophonist Nathan Haines and vocalist Mr. Beale. Released on Tristan’s new label, Be Strong Be Free, the 12 also includes a remix from man-of-the-moment, Alex Kassian – who just happens to be an old mate. Here I quiz the self-proclaimed “busy body” on his travels, both musical and physical, to date. 

Sun Circles is a beautiful thing. When you were making this track did you have Balearic sunsets in mind, or was that just the way the work unfolded?

Thank you. The track was actually inspired by my DJ sets at Berlin’s Hotel Michelberger, where I had a monthly residency. The stuff I was playing there was a lot mellower than my usual club sets.

Where in Belgium are you from?

I’m from Leuven, where I started collecting records, and DJing, in 1999. The city has always been very house music focused. The infamous Food Club started in my hometown and they constantly had amazing guests. We had a nightclub by the name of Silo that was well known in the lowlands – people would drive up from everywhere. I started DJing there as a teenager alongside people like Kenny Hawkes, Theo Parrish, Jon Cutler.

Silo Leuven

Club Silo

When did you start making music?

I first started working on sketches, in Sony Acid, in around 2003 / 2004. It was nothing serious at that stage, as I was too busy promoting nights, DJing, hanging out, and studying at university.

What were the first records you listened to?

My earliest electronic music epiphanies were…

Orbital / In The Middle Of Nowhere

Luke Slater / All Exhale

Underworld / Beaucoup FIsh

Prodigy / Music For The Jilted Generation

Daft Punk / Homework

I had a short stint of being into drum & bass as well: Full Cycle, DJ Die, Ed Rush & Optical and the like… 

When did you start buying records? 

I started buying records in 1999 at Leuven hotspot, JJ Records, but I also made very frequent trips to Brussels – to visit stores like Urban Grooves and Dr. Vinyl – Ghent – where there was Music Man and Music Mania – and Antwerp  -for Wally’s Groove World and USA Import.


JJ Records

I remember skipping school on a Wednesday morning, as a 15 year old, to hop on the train to Antwerp for Wally’s Groove World’s infamous “euro sales” day, where any record in the basement cost just a Euro. The school rang my mum and she wasn’t amused. Two decades later I still play records I found during those sessions. Early Schatrax, Glasgow Underground, Tummy Touch… I grabbed a lot of records with no idea who the producers and labels were. It was a real goldmine. I remember the distinct smell of moist record sleeves in there. Fantastic.

Wally’s Groove World

Wally’s Groove World

When did you start going out to clubs? 

I started going out to raves when I was 15, but unfortunately I suffered a bad incident of tinnitus straight away, leaving me in hospital for more than a week, and with the doctors advising me to avoid loud environments for a year. I think I lasted a few months… I’ve been wearing custom made earplugs ever since though – 23 years! Protect your ears, kids! I was a good wake up call.

I went to the aforementioned Silo Club a lot, as well as Decadance in Ghent, Café Danvers in Antwerp, H20 in Pecq, illegal raves, festivals, generally anywhere where I could hear house and techno. Belgium had a strong scene then, allowing me to go see people like Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, Doc Martin, Jeff Mills, Dave Clarke regularly. I was practically DJing or going out every night of the week at that stage, and sucking it all in: the energy, the rooms, the sound systems, the tracks. The discovery of E was obviously a big deal. If you want a great description of a first pill moment, then read Harry Harrison’s book Dreaming In Yellow: The story of DIY Sound System. What an exciting time that was.

Who were the DJs that you were into in those early days?

A very formative mix album for me was Cosmic Disco by Derrick Carter. That truly opened a whole new world for me – the mixing, the tracks. It still sounds every bit as brilliant today as it did then.

When did you first get into Djing? Where did you play?

I very quickly became a resident at the Touché nights, held at Club Silo, and then started DJing at many clubs around Flanders. I then became a rezzie at Leuven house nights, Moodclub. I`d been promoting nights in my home town since I was about 17. I also got involved with local radio as a teen. Radio Scorpio is one of Belgium’s oldest indie radios – it’s still running – and I had a weekly show on there, where we would also invite international guests to play a set when they were in town.

You spent time in Berlin. When did you head there? 

I left Brussels in 2013 after breaking up with my then partner. I travelled for almost a year and ended up in Berlin, to visit friends and hang out. I ended up staying for 8 years, and both my sons were born there. I was DJing weekly in Berlin, as well as travelling a fair bit for gigs. I promoted regular club nights at different clubs. When my oldest son was born I worked as a bike tour guide. During the pandemic I worked at a café… I’ve had so many different jobs but I’m a journalist by trade, and have worked as a copywriter / translator for most of my life. My ex-partner used to call me a busy body and she’s probably right.

When did you make a serious move into production? 

In Berlin. I started releasing music under different alter egos: Ca$hminus with my ex-partner Eluize, De Ambassade with my then roomie San Soda, Icarus Traxx with Swedish mate, Nibc, and vocalists Charlotte and Cornell, Fuifnummers, and a bunch of other projects. I was also running two record labels at the time – Ensemble, via Rush Hour, and Cashminus Music, via Bordello A Parigi.

The Gratts solo stuff started in early 2020. while stuck down under during the pandemic. I’ve been quite productive since, so there’s a handful more records scheduled for release in the near future.

What did you love about the scene in Berlin?

The freedom, the hedonism, the madness – clubs staying open for 5 days – the relentless energy, the space to play long sets, allowing you to drop wild records and take things deep and twisted. Even though I`d been immersed in house music since the early 2000s, the Berlin years still made quite an impact on my DJing.

What did you find challenging there about the music scene?

With Berlin that’s an easy one – 10, 000 DJs in one city, all wanting to play the same spots.

When did you make the move to Australia and what was the reason for the move?

We moved a little more than a year ago – Jan 2022. The reason? Fed up with living in a small Kreuzberg apartment with two young kids. It was hard, though, as we left our whole lives behind – music studio, record store The Consulate I co-ran with San Soda and Alex From Tokyo – our apartment, friends, etc. But I’m very excited about this new life chapter down under.

Where abouts are you, and what`s the music scene like there?

We’re in South Brighton near Adelaide, right by the beach. I started promoting some beachside events here called Mellow Magic Sunday.

Do you play out much on the local scene?

I do, though mostly unannounced. My favourite places to play in Adelaide would be Sugar – unfortunately now closed, Ancient World and Udaberri, where I have a bi-weekly residency. I’m lucky enough to travel for gigs, making appearances in Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong, Geelong… I love visiting new places, playing music, digging for records, and meeting people.



I`d love to know some of your release highlights?

I’ve only started releasing as Gratts recently, and I think a lot of people have no idea that I did stuff before, which is totally fine. Here’s a handful that I reckon still sound fresh:

Ca$hminus / 生命还存在意义吗 

With mandarin vocals by our friend Cora.


Kaye / Se7en (Gratts & NIBC Dwaallicht Refix)

Icarus Traxx / Commandment (Spanish Fly Reprise)

Ca$hminus / Paradise (Special Việt Nam Version)

Toby Tobias & Gratts / Obs Track

An ode to The Observatory club in Saigon where we met.

Who do you think is making great music at the moment?

I still dig for and play a lot of old fresh sounding music, I don’t really follow the new releases up that much. There seems to be a lot of boring reissues, and edits, coming out, but some current faves would be Lord Echo, Panama Keys / Stump Valley and Pellegrino.

What challenges have you faced releasing music over the years?

The most obvious one would be rejection from a bajillion labels, haha. In hindsight that has been a blessing: it’s forced me to work harder, and was also the main factor in me to deciding to self release my music to keep control over the whole process. So, a big fat thank you to all the labels that have said no.

What advice would you give to your younger self, 10 years ago, about working in music?

You know best. It’s your vision. Be strong be free. Do it yourself.

How did the process start with Sun Circles? Was it a melody, or a lyric?

I started with the drums, and my old Belgian friend Jasper Hautekiet recorded a few long stems of bass, Rhodes and Moog, which I started toying around with. When the skeleton was there, I wrote the actual song and recorded my own demo version – as I usually do – consider yourself lucky not having to listen to it! I work very conceptually and the idea of writing a lush, Balearic thing was there from the start. I tested the early instrumental out quite a lot in my DJ sets and could tell it resonated with people. 

How long did it take to make?

All in all, including mixdown, mastering, and artwork, about 2 years. But this wasn’t exclusively spent on just Sun Circles, as I tend to work back and forth on a whole range of projects simultaneously.

Tell us about the musicians and artists you worked with on the release?

Apart from the aforementioned Jasper Hautekiet, my friend Levi played keys, I swapped some of my programmed drums with Frederik Kühn’s percussion, and the genius that is Nathan Haines worked his magic on flute and sax. The vocal was recorded by Ellie aka Mr. Beale who’s in London. I was completely in awe when I got her recordings. She did the best job I could have imagined. She also came up with the additional ‘sun circle’s lyric at the end of the track, a genius freestyle that lead to the track’s title – the working title was ‘Live In The Now’.

Alex Kassian – apart from him being probably one of the most sought after remixers right now – what were your reasons for bringing him on board? 

Alex and I go way back. He’s one of the first people that I met when I moved to Berlin in 2013. Young Alex and I were usually partying, hanging out, wasting our time, haha. I recently booked him for Mellow Magic Sunday, and it was fun to hang out again, celebrate our 10 years friend’aversary and joke about what losers we were back in the early Berlin days.

His Planet Sundae releases were loved by Weatherall, way before the recent success of Strings Of Eden. Why do you think he is such a special producer?

I always say to people when asked for advice in music production: good taste and vision comes before anything: certainly, before any technical prowess. It’s all about ideas, inspiration, context. I know enough people with a massive studio full of hardware who couldn’t write a song if they were forced to. Alex is one of those people who can also see the bigger picture and showcase a certain timeless elegance. To write a decent, real piece of music that conveys real emotions, you don’t even need gear or a studio. It all starts from a feeling.

Do you worry sometimes that a remixer can be so big, they can detract from the original?

Funny you’d ask this. Indeed, with Alex having done so well recently this was something that crossed my mind… I had actually contacted a legendary older producer to remix the tune first, who had agreed to do it. But I had second thoughts and ended up asking Alex instead, as we have a personal history together. I hope people still check the original (laughs). 

You`ve dedicated the E.P. to your sons, That’s a nice thing to do..

Having two young sons aged 5 and 2, obviously they are a massive presence in my life, and they also get to hear a lot of my music – also when I’m working on things. With the big move down under and everything we all felt a bit emotional so I decided to write a song directed to them, telling them everything will be ok… Cheesy dad stuff, probably.

The artwork is pretty special. How important is that aesthetic to you? Who`s the artist responsible for the cover?

Having been a record digger since the late nineties, I’d have to say aesthetic is very important indeed. The artwork was done by one of my favourite Adelaide artists, the extremely talented Mads Cooke, whose work I discovered at a local space called Summertown Studios here in Brighton. Mads created a painting on wooden canvas which we then digitized for the record art. She just finished the artwork for BSBF1202 this week – again a lovely painting – and very fitting for the music. The idea is to keep working with Mads for all the Be Strong Be Free releases.

What else are you working on that you can share?

There are currently a good few records in the works: BSBF1202 should be out by June and is called Jour De Fête, with a remix by one of my all-time heroes on the flip. BSBF1203 will be Rhythm Of Love, again with a flipside reinterpretation. Then BSBF1204 will be my new record with Mr. Robert Owens. Apart from that, I’ve also signed a few records with other labels that I’m looking forward to sharing soon.

When you’re not making music, how do you spend your time?

I spend most of my time with my two boys, but also eating pies, reading about the state of the world, going for long walks – “constitutionals” – and talking to people I pass along the way… and lots of hours of DJing during the weekends. I’ve also recently started helping out at the local bakery a couple of days midweek, which is nice as I’m offline, in the real world, talking to people.

To my ears, Sun Circles is a bit of a summer masterpiece. Well done Gratts!

Thank you! You’re too kind.

Gratts’ Sun Circles is released this Friday, February 24th, and can be pre-ordered from both Juno and Phonica. 

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