Awanto 3 aka Steven Van Hulle has just released his second album, amusingly named after The Smurfs' evil antagonist, Gargamel. The LP comes out on Dekmantel, a label he's been active with since 2012 and with it, delivers a heady meld of peculiar electronic dance music loosely forming house and techno, without conforming to either, it’s unpredictable and thoroughly satisfying from start to finish.
Steven resides an hour north of Amsterdam in Bergen aan Zee, a place known for its community of artists. He’s a follower of the I Ching texts, a spiritually enlightening practice that’s 2,500 years old. We’ve brought together Steven and his spiritual guide, Gerben Hallinga, a master in I Ching, for a conversation that sidesteps the norm. Read their interview below.
Steven: Every time I left after a session of the IChing advice, I walked out with a sense of being, because of the way you translated it to me, it gave me a lot of courage most of the time. And then I question myself, what would have happened if I didn’t have that. But maybe that’s not an issue.
Gerben: No, not really. Because that’s also what I Ching is about. Look, we consult the I Ching at moments we don’t really know how to do things exactly. And by doing it the way the I Ching advises we do things the right way. So there’s actually a right way to do things and a lot of ways to make things go wrong. But there’s one way to do things right and with I Ching we find this out, and because of the I Ching we have the ability to find this out.
Yeah… I remember the first time we met, I was very ambitious then. I don’t know if you remember?
No, I cannot recall.
I was busy opening a little record shop at the Nieuwendijk (Amsterdam) and a label, this was the first time you gave me advice. Because when I introduced myself to you and when you asked me what I was doing, I told you about my hesitation of actually starting the shop, as I didn’t trust the current owner. This is when you told me, ‘Just wait. I know something we can do’, and this is when you took your I Ching book and you said, just throw these coins. This was the first time I connected with the I Ching and it turned out to be true, because the current owner went on an aggressive rampage that exact night. It was from then on I regularly started to consult you. But you don’t remember.
No, I don’t remember all the I Ching consults I do. I actually try to forget everything; otherwise, you take other’s baggage with you.
For sure…but this was my benchmark into I Ching, I must have been around 23.
Now that you are telling all this, it starts to come back a bit.
So, after all these years doing I Ching and working with people, did you come to some sort of core essence?
Well yes, with all things happening when working with I Ching you start wondering about what it all means. How can it be? A new thought has arisen these past years, some sort of scientific idea that cannot be proven yet (van Lommel is talking about this as well, he wrote a book about it, about the near-death experience). He calls it ‘endless consciousness’, that hides beneath this near-death experience. Which means we do not think our thoughts with our brains, but our brains are just instruments we use to get handed the things that our outside of ourselves in an endless consciousness. I’m just stating it simply as far as I can understand it myself. So there’s an endless consciousness living outside ourselves we all use and all take part in. And I think with I Ching you can consult this endless consciousness. This is what I think now. This is my newest idea.
And before that, what did you think before that?
Before this, I didn’t know…
Yeah, because it just leaves us with metaphysics. I’m not saying this is the answer because this endless consciousness is just a metaphor for something we can never truly know, ever. But it doesn’t mean it works like this, we work like this. This is the idea that slowly came to me, and I will work on it some more in the future.
In the scene I work in, the nights and the work around being a DJ/producer, I have come across many pitfalls and will probably see some more. Every time I felt I was stepping into one of these pitfalls, I reached for I Ching to see if it can help me overcome it, and in the worst cases I reached for the phone to call you (Gerben), though tried to delay this as much as possible. Did you ever grab on to I Ching in the past when you saw your own pitfalls, or was this the reason you started with I Ching?
Well, it is like this, haha! I was very young, 14 years old I think when I already started with an oracle. I read in the newspaper about a Christian cult and they consulted the bible by asking a question and then opening the bible and pin a needle in the page, and wherever the needle was positioned on the bible page meant it was a message of God. I couldn’t believe this at all. I was raised in an Agnostic family, but I just wanted to see if it would work, haha. So I took a Bible and asked a question, put the needle on the page and then I understood! Perfect, I understood it straight away so I started doing this more. I had some trouble with my mum around that time, I was a teenager then, and I asked a lot of questions about those issues to the bible and it really helped me, even though I had no interest or belief in the Bible itself. It didn’t do me any wrong and I used it a lot, I had a bible full with needlepoints, haha!
When I was in school, I somehow came across Tarot. I bought a Tarot deck and book and did tarot for years on end. It’s not as intense as I Ching, though, not at all, but I always brought my deck with me, even abroad. And during essential moments I consulted it, and it helped me a lot. But it can also scare me, so I’ve always been careful with tarot.
Then came I Ching. After I dropped my daughter at daycare I biked through town and came to an area I had never been before with a bookstore that stocked occult books. I knew the owner from earlier in my life so I went inside to introduce myself and we talked, it was a really nice encounter with a lot of nice consequences. Before I left I wanted to buy a book and somehow the I Ching landed in my hand. I asked, ‘What is this.’ He said, ‘That’s I Ching, a Chinese oracle, it works really well! We even used it yesterday. Our cat was gone so we asked I Ching and it said, ‘Don’t worry, that cat will come back.’ And a couple of hours later the cat returned. I thought that if it’s that simple I want to know more. I took it back home and asked it a question about a domestic problem that bothered me and I got a crystal clear answer and the problem was solved like that.
That’s when I started studying I Ching. I didn’t understand it for years. Until I came across people (Dries Langeveld and Jaap Voigt) who, just like myself, were trying I Ching at home and thinking ‘how can this be’? From this first meeting, we decided to come together to share our knowledge. This taught me a lot and it really helped me. The first years we were mainly concerned with the figures, the hexagrams, we didn’t know anything. But after a while after using it a lot you begin to understand I Ching much better, until one day you know all of the 64 hexagrams; you get to know the lines and get to know things about it. Then, it just goes…
It becomes a friend… one you can count on.
That’s it, yeah. It helps you, warns you, gives nice tips, holds you back…
Like a manager, haha or like a personal advisor.
Yes, exactly but in the highest form.
Exactly! You wrote a book, one of my favourite books, The Winter Butterfly. It really, really made a huge impact on me and I read it a couple of times in fact. In this book you write about a couple of situations where you were in contact with your higher consciousness during very intense moments like when you felt were (Freddy) Heineken (when he was kidnapped) and also your encounter with Madonna…
Yeah… that was a magical moment for me personally.
This probably didn’t just make an impact on you and me, but now everybody who reads this. Because you can feel the situation perfectly, it is a very pure moment.
Yes, you can say that again!
Because as I understood it, Madonna was very young and still relatively unknown; a diamond in the rough.
Yes, that’s right.
Can you tell me a bit about it, how it was in that room, in New York?
I had an acquaintance, who I helped a lot through I Ching. She had a friend who would like to consult my I Ching so we made an appointment, a Saturday morning. He friend was a model, who came walking in, a bit pale, sallow hair, early-twenties I think, I don’t know. She didn’t look very healthy and wore an army jacket, torn-up jeans, and old sneakers. This acquaintance of mine said, ‘this is Madonna.’ I said, ‘Madonna? What a beautiful name, is it your real name? In a very cool voice, she said, ‘my mother called me that.” My acquaintance then said, ‘she wants to ask you something but she doesn’t believe in it. Will it (I Ching) still work then?’ I told her it always works but you have to have a question. If you have a clear question, you get a clear answer. This time we didn’t throw the coins but instead laid out the cards. You lay down nine cards, then I asked her to state her question, to which she asked, ‘am I going to be a Rockstar?’ (Gerben starts laughing)
‘Good question,’ I said. (Gerben continues laughing) So I shook the cards, gave her the deck and told her to give me nine cards, blind. She gave me nine cards, which I laid down on a blanket on the floor where we were sitting next to on cushions. After laying the cards down I turned them around, probably saying something at this point to explain what I was doing. I turned each card over one by one to reveal a combination of the nine cards in the most powerful hexagram there is. I felt a resonation (makes a sound of a nuclear bomb) coming from it the cards, something I had never seen. I told her she wasn’t just about to become a rockstar but the biggest star of the world. (Gerben starts laughing).
Yeah, I just came out with it… and it was true. When someone gets cards like these, it just is the biggest thing of all. Then I gave her an explanation of what was going to happen with every card. There was one thing I clearly remember. I told her if there is any moment that you feel like your career isn’t taking off as fast as you want it to, just think about this moment. Because here lies ‘the waiting’. You have to wait for a point in time, one that you can’t do anything about (to speed up).
Then it became really hot in this small room we were sitting in, both girls were red in the face, myself probably included, ha! It was a really weird vibe (Gerben starts laughing). Then Madonna asked, ‘do I have to pay you?’ to which I replied that I was still learning, but if she became famous then I would come to get it. We all started laughing, which made for a relaxed vibe. Then we started talking about stuff, she was living close-by, about the music business and such. And then she left.
And she promised you (payment), eh..?
No, she didn’t promise anything, and we haven’t seen each other since. It was really special, all of it, but we weren’t acquainted or anything. And when I was back in Ruigoord, where I was taking care of my teenage daughter, Noonie, she had a lot of friends who came for sleepovers who were always talking about the music business, all of these pop-groups and artists when one day they were talking about Madonna. I thought, ‘Madonna? Madonna!? There’s something about that name.’ All of a sudden it hit me! I remember her telling me, ‘yeah, my mother called me Madonna,’ and the whole scene I’ve just explained, though more specific, was playing out in my head.
A same kind of thing happened when I laid cards for a fortune-teller in Paris, who was the best fortune-teller in Paris. He told me ‘continue monsieur’. In other words ‘keep on doing this’. This is also a moment I remember every detail from. But other than that not so much.
We are talking here about success, but also the hard parts of having an artistic career. Do you feel like this moment with Madonna is a success in your career now, or do you look at it differently?
Not so much a success, but it showed me that Madonna is Madonna and she made that career and it showed me the world is not like it’s told us to be. There’s a whole different world, and you can potentially call this world magical.
Exactly. What is your success in your career? And when do feel like you’ve failed?
Failing not so much, because it’s not about the success for me. I’ve known success with multiple things I’ve done like books or plays and television and film. With success, well, it’s necessary to make a bit of money and you need money to live… When it was possible for me to be successful I would definitely work hard for it, with interviews and other publicity and such, but I never cared for it. I only really did it for one thing, to make it a success, because it meant I could make some money from it. Though I don’t have any personal interest, especially back then, to become famous and to exploit this in any way. I only wanted to sell my product, and if this wasn’t possible, I wouldn’t do it, you know what I mean?
Yeah… That is exactly the reason why I understand what you’re saying. Because I really struggle with being in the spotlight, but it is about the product you make.
Yes. I saw something on television some time ago and they showed a couple of DJ’s playing for millions of people. On this square filled with tons of people. And there’s one guy standing in front of them! I don’t know what’s up with this anymore. I was asking myself ‘could I be standing in that crowd?’ But I don’t think so.
Or next to the DJ! Haha!
Yeah haha… hiding behind the speakers maybe? But jesus, what is that like if you are playing in front of all these people?
But you have your ‘weapons’ — the music. No matter how big the crowd, as long as you’re in contact with your music it is alright.
Isn’t it scary, though?
Erm… It can be, but I’ve never played in front of such big crowds so I don’t know the feeling. I’ve played for a couple of thousand, but not the crowds you’re talking about.
But that doesn’t matter.
The funny thing is, the bigger the crowd, the less scary it is.
It gets more abstract.
Right. When the crowd is bigger, the stage is bigger and you’re far away from the crowd.
Yeah, yeah, yeah,… that was evident.
The scariest gigs are the smallest, and the most fun as well, where people are right in front of you. It’s harder to move around and such but this could also be due to my claustrophobia. At the moment, the most profitable thing for a DJ to do is tour, but when you’re touring with a whole band…
It’s a lot more expensive.
It only costs money. It’s so unfair, actually.
This is why the music business moved toward DJ’s and the bands are put aside.
Unfortunately, yes. Because the effort they put in, in live music, is so much more and the payback much less.
It’s very bad for the culture. Where does it go? Does it leave us with disco music and EDM only?
No, fortunately the electronic music scene is evolving a lot, with a lot of different genres within the electronic music business. This is what a DJ does; introduce different styles of music to their crowds and this is how new or other genres gain recognition more than if there wasn’t a DJ involved. So it has two sides.
Yeah, I understand.
Something else that’s happening is that it’s being highly overrated, and underrated as well, but when you’re successful as a DJ you get to play for these huge crowds and there are always temptations on the lurk, which can result in losing contact with your crowd. This is also a reason why I wanted to sit down with you, to talk about the temptations that come with success and the pitfalls that come with this. It’s human nature to want more if we get more. But the more we want, the faster we run into the abyss. At least, that’s my opinion.
But still it happens though. We are self-destructive, where does it come from?
But not everybody is like this.
True, but a lot of artists are like this. I think you must’ve come across this at Ruigoord, the so-called freedom of thinking and creating, but in the end it can spiral downwards.
And I think I’ve seen this happening at Ruigoord as well. In a way, we have to be controlled.
Well yeah, freedom is hard to deal with. The same goes for success, money or wealth. Not a lot of people can do this. All of these things are hard. Freedom is hard to abuse, at the expense of others. And success, well… it’s usually at the expense of yourself. It happens a lot. Because of the tenacious life, which it is, you start using specific drugs. You see all these guys dying and what I’ve heard is these guys now die from the stuff they use to detox, not from the drug itself. There’s a detoxifier, I don’t remember the name but they all use it; Stevie Wonder and I don’t know who else.
Prince, George Michael…
You think they all died because of this detoxifier?
Supposedly they died from this. But they don’t talk about it of course because it’s a pharmaceutical detoxifier. But they all used it.
And this is how they died…
Yes. Well, drugs and alcohol, like speed and coke and all that crap are all deadly substances when used abundantly. At the expense of yourself.
Yeah… it’s also something that’s widely used…. already having a lot of impact on the city and on the cultural world, but now it has run out of control.
Everyone is doing it?
Everybody is doing it. Ha!
It’s not just the DJ doing it, but his crowd too.
Yes… but I don’t know if they use it to the same extent as the DJ. I just don’t know. I have no clue about this. But I think we will get a reaction to this. Things never stay the same they always evolve into new cultures, new people, new generations. You already see the young generations have voted Groen Links (Green party). There’s a visible shift…it’s their future! Climate change is the biggest disaster waiting on us and nobody is talking about it. But it’s going to happen…so… the new generations are seeing this. And that’s how you get change. And the same goes for music. This mass culture might change into a culture that’s more about intimacy. It can happen, you never know.
Yeah, I have the same idea. But maybe this is because I strive for this myself.
But of course, you striving for this is a sign. There’s always the avant-garde/forefront of people that makes a start.
Yeah… a bit of intimacy occurs during these times.
I think a lot of people yearn for this.
It gets so cold and bleak otherwise.
Empty, yes. And you forget why you were in it in the first place. I think more artists are concerned with this. I hope a lot of friends and artistic colleagues can remain strong. Also in terms of the substance usage to keep us focused, as we have to sometimes play at multiple places in a short time. We live a jittery life.
Yes, of course.
That’s also why using drugs is more normal than normal life.
Yes, that’s what I’ve heard.
That is definitely the riskiest pitfall we have to face. Bringing me back to I Ching, that’s also why I feel very blessed to have come into contact with I Ching at the start of my career. It seriously has had extreme influence on me at a very important time in my life.
I believe you in a second.
Sometimes even just one I Ching advice would give me courage and power for two years. So much that I didn’t have to think about it afterward. Up until now, I find this book the most magical book there is.
And that’s also the reason why I wanted to invite you for this conversation.
I actually have very few idols.
Well, I don’t see you as an idol. More like a friend, but definitely a huge inspiration. And I would really like to thank you for this from the bottom of my heart.
That’s very nice to hear. The funny thing is, I don’t know anything about this. And it should stay like that. By the way, Han should be included in that as well.
For sure, Han as well. He taught me a lot in the time I moved from Amsterdam to Bergen, because he lived there. He was basically all by himself over there so it was a win-win situation. I helped him with coffee and groceries and in return, he gave insights about the I Ching and life. You were pretty close for a long time.
A very long time. I remember when he was still living in the city, I went over to his place a lot. Later they moved after Hanna died because I’ve known them from way before. It was very tragic how it happened. She took very good care of him, she was a very spiritual person, very pure and she never used anything. Because of all of this he had a high resonation. Always dressed well, they had a very nice house and they were very courteous. And when they moved things remained the same until she got sick, a horrible hereditary illness. After this (Hanna’s passing) he was never able to recover.
He resorted to drinking.
Drinking was necessary for him to keep on going. But he basically smoked himself to death. When he heard they had to remove one of his legs he understandably ended his own life. But smoking was the problem. It really is a shame.
Let this be a warning for everybody who’s reading this. Haha.
Yes, for real. It really is something that anybody can just buy this stuff, while so many people are dying from it.
Yesterday at the supermarket I saw the smoking section was covered behind doors.
It should be out of sight now yes.
I think it’s a good thing.
Yeah, yeah. But it doesn’t work.
Just less stimulation, only a bit.
It’s too late now anyway; with all of these sicknesses. All we can do is just deal with them.
In the church at Ruigoord you’re not allowed to smoke anymore because otherwise, they’ll lose their permit. Now they’re all smoking in front of the entrance, which is super annoying, because you have to walk through it (in the summer time it’s different, then they can sit on the terrace). You walk through it, and I swear to you, I walk through it, and I can feel the difference in resonation in that area opposed to inside the church. Just that moment you feel like you are moving through a vacuum or something like it. In essence, I’m just saying it like this now, these smokers are committing suicide. Haha… Haha. Yeah, well…
Let’s hope not. Shall we end this interview? Do you have anything else to ask?
Well, I can say some more about the I Ching perhaps? When people are starting to use I Ching they also get helped by I Ching. Not just with their questions, but also when they’re not asking any questions. There’s some sort of consciousness process that gets going inside your mind, why you stop doing certain things or how you warn yourself before doing things, or even wen you do certain things or not. You can try to name these things like ‘illumination’ for example, but I don’t do that. I don’t believe in that. You can use this expanded consciousness, but it also uses you. It starts to lead you. It looks for opportunities and it thinks ‘ha, here’s a simple soul, but I want to help it do good’.
Check out Awanto 3's latest album Gargamel and purchase HERE.