Charlotte de Witte: “It’s The Best Job In The World. But For Every Upside, There’s A Downside.”
Catching up with Charlotte de Witte is like trying to catch a bird in flight. She never stops moving, and the only way you’re sure to cross paths is with plenty of patience and a little bit of luck. Such as it is when we connect on Skype. We’ve already missed each other a few times, but over Charlotte’s breakfast in Denver, Colorado, with kitchenware clanging and clattering in the background, one of the world’s biggest and busiest DJs opens up about her fraught relationship with social media, her time on the radio, and life on the road, which despite its extremes, she’s ultimately in love with.
De Witte talks as quickly as she tours, jetting from one sentence to the next just as she hops from city to city. It’s this kind of frenetic energy that has helped cement her role as a never-ending globe-trotter. She seems preternaturally built for life on tour, setting a pace that would likely send the more mortal among us packing — she played over 200 gigs in 2019. But it would all be impossible if it weren’t for Charlotte’s evident love for techno.
She’s been pushing the genre on Studio Brussel, the Dutch-language radio station in Belgium, where she’s lived since she was 17-years old. de Witte famously won a DJ mix contest with the station, landing her a slot on the main stage at Tomorrowland, and a residency on the radio. She’s been on the air ever since. And her party series, KNTXT, which will turn five in January, became the name of her radio show a year and a half ago, as well as the name of her label, which she launched this September.
Radio has been instrumental in Charlotte’s success. It helped spread her name far and wide, even beyond the club scene. “It’s like playing on the main stage of Tomorrowland,” she says. Not only are you playing to devoted techno fans, but to the wide array of electronic music listeners a festival like Tomorrowland brings in. “It’s really cool to bring your music close to the crowd and educate them in this world of techno,” she says.
Charlotte’s radio shows tend to showcase different sounds than what fans are used to in her club sets, which tend to be heavy, acid throttled, and rave inspired. There’s some stylistic crossover, of course, but on-air she’s “slightly more on the underground side of things, rather than four-four, banging, straightforward stuff,” she says. Indeed, the first release on de Witte’s KNTXT label was her collaboration with Chris Liebing, “Liquid Slow,” a slow-burning track with an acid line that builds up creepily, while her vocals strut slowly and methodically in the background, robot-like.
While launching a label might seem like the natural next step for an artist on Charlotte’s trajectory, de Witte didn’t make the decision light-heartedly. In fact, she’s wanted to launch a label since the beginning of her career, but struggled with her own self-confidence.
“From an artist’s perspective, I think having a label can often be an unhealthy, arrogant way of saying, ‘I can be the judge of other people’s music,’ of saying what’s worthy of being released and what isn’t. But at the same time, owning a label requires the confidence to say, ‘Okay, I think that my music is good enough to release without having to rely on other people’s feedback.’ Because I mean, it’s your label, and you can do whatever the fuck you want. So it took me a while to get into that — to be confident enough about my producing skills and my skills in selecting other people’s music.”
But Charlotte is nothing if not a perfectionist. In preparing for her broadcasts, she’s not only looking for undiscovered tracks, forgotten gems, or great new music. “It has to be in the same key; the transitions have to be smooth — I like that technical aspect of it,” she says. And even though she won’t divulge many details into how she prepares for her DJ sets, only saying she’s constantly on the hunt for new music, one gets the feeling there’s more going on under the surface, at least organizationally — trade secrets, perhaps.
She’s also been forced to perfect her life on the road. After all, playing some 200 gigs a year for the past three years without burning out isn’t something that happens without practice. “I mean, it’s been absolutely crazy,” she says. “It takes a while to get used to this life, and to grow into this and know how to handle this on a physical level, on an emotional level, and on a musical level. So the further I go with this, the more I know where I belong, what my place is in everything — the more defined it gets.” The more confident she gets, too.
She also touts her team, who supports her in every way they can. “But it’s not as if I’m constantly on. I also have two days off at home,” she says. Days she uses partly to process all the changes that have taken place in her life up to now. “So it’s not as if things are insupportable. It’s just very intense.”
Where de Witte seems most free is on stage. She’s a fiercely energetic performer, often covered in sweat by the end of her shows, some of which have been all-nighters in years past. While her schedule hasn’t allowed for any all-night gigs in 2019, she’s up for doing more. “It’s all about planning,” she says. “But it’s an extremely cool thing to do. It’s fascinating, it’s very heavy, but it’s something incredibly special.”
Peak-time slots on the world’s biggest stages is where de Witte really shines. It’s where her years of preparation and dedication fully come together, and she knows it. “I don’t want to be cocky, but I try not to get affected too much by the billings or the timetable, who’s playing before and after me, because I generally believe in trying to bring forward a sound I believe in.” It’s a sound that has captivated fans the world over. This year alone, she’s played in Russia, Italy, Germany, Spain, Serbia, Switzerland, Mexico, Japan, Poland, Canada, Peru, Ecuador, the UK, Holland, and across America to Chicago, San Francisco, Miami and Denver, a city she’s toured to three times before. “I’ve actually been trying to go to the Rocky Mountains for skiing or hiking, but timing-wise it never really works out,” she says. “But I love it here. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I come from LA and it was 25 degrees. And here in Denver, there’s snow everywhere.”
But de Witte’s success hasn’t come without the ire of the keyboard-lashing rageaholics who’ve become a ubiquitous part of any successful DJ’s social media feed. Early on in her career, people launched Facebook hate groups against her, claiming she was sleeping with her manager, or that she landed her bookings only because she’s a woman. Now that she’s become one of the most sought-after DJs in the world, de Witte still receives hate, though she says it’s changed in tone. “It’s more just trolling and some people just saying stupid stuff online. But I mean, that will always, always happen.” Charlotte isn’t naive about the Internet. “That happens to everyone, everywhere,” she says.
It’s undoubtedly true that hate pervades our online world. But it also feels undeniable that women are unfairly on the receiving end of the majority of that hate, especially in techno. Pressed on why she thinks that is, De Witte sounds exasperated. “I don’t know. Because people can be foolish and narrow-minded. I mean, I’m sure that men get hate and trolls all the time as well. But people are so stupid, and sometimes people are less friendly towards females. I don’t know.”
Even if the animosity towards de Witte has lessened since her rise to fame, it’s not something she’ll ever get used to. However, she won’t go as far as saying it affects her mental health. “It’s just annoying. It’s hateful stuff. And when you’re having a bad day, it really, really, really sucks. And if you’re having a good day, it’s okay. You can handle it. But I mean, it’s just not fair. It’s not cool. It’s like bullying behavior sometimes. But I try to not let it affect me so much.”
In fact, De Witte says she feels very fortunate about how she’s received online. Even though she isn’t overly excited about feeling like she always has to share something, the overwhelming majority of her followers are devoted fans who offer nothing but love and support. In the last few years, she’s also become close friends with some of her peers — people who understand exactly what she’s going through; people who’ve been in her shoes before, and who she can be completely open with. Though it’s usually not trolls she talks about. “The effects of traveling the world, being in [different] time zones, the lack of sleep, and the pressure that’s on you is much, much bigger than these social media trolls would ever be,” she says.
That’s not to say she’s complaining about the life she lives. It’s a life she chose and loves, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s just the best job in the world. But for every upside, there’s a downside. You pay a price for everything you do. Everything has its consequences,” she says.
It’s for this reason that she’s so thankful for the support she receives from her fellow DJs. No matter what time it is or where she is in the world, she can send out a message, knowing its receiver will eventually get back to her. “I mean, they’re also awake all the time because of the time zones. So, I think that’s really cool. I think it’s really important to have that.”
Now, De Witte is focusing on her label, which will feature up to six releases per year from upcoming artists that Charlotte supports, as well as a few established names (though details are under wraps at this stage). In between, she’ll be playing a host of KNTXT gigs, including in Barcelona and fabric London, while trying to maintain balance amidst all the chaos. “It’s always about balance,” she says. “But [touring] is also what makes me genuinely happy. I mean, I could accept fewer gigs if I wanted to. I don’t because I just love it so very much.”
Chandler Shortlidge is an Editor at Beatport living in Berlin. Find him on Twitter.