Charlotte de Witte is a force of nature
The Belgian DJ, producer and label head is on unstoppable form
Charlotte de Witte’s first gig was in a youth club in Wippelgem, a small town in Belgium. She made her DJ debut to the bar staff, some local kids and a bunch of her best mates, but soon she started to gig all over Belgium, then the Netherlands, then France, then all over Europe. It rippled out. In 2011 Charlotte won a DJ competition the day after her 18th birthday. The prize: to open the main stage at Tomorrowland.
“We were in front of the main stage and there were screens with Charly’s head five metres big,” recalls her friend Matthias. “We all went completely crazy. I was like… this is not happening. But it was. We all said, ‘Look! There’s Charly!’”
And they’ve not stopped saying that since.
Charlotte de Witte is many things. She’s a DJ phenomenon, a producer, a label-owner. But perhaps less obviously: a goofball. It’s 10 minutes before her set at DGTL Barcelona. We’re behind the scenes a few feet from the stage, watching the sun set over Parc Del Forum. It’s hot and Charlotte’s sweating: “Feel my T-shirt. Feel it. So sweaty!”
A fan taps her on the shoulder. She automatically leans in for the selfie, flashing a well-practiced smile. After the first fan breaks the ice three, four, five people follow. One American man isn’t able to cope. “Charlotte. Your Time Warp set –” he trails off, unable to end the sentence. He turns, wide-eyed, to a friend. “She’s just…” But when he turns back Charlotte isn’t there; she’s a few feet away doing a little dance routine.
Charlotte’s arrival anywhere is followed by a ripple of excitement, but if she notices she doesn’t let on. She’s instantly recognisable: tousled hair, side lip piercing, shiny pleather skirt, oversized tee, platform Doc Martens and the energy of a 12-year-old boy.
From where we stand it’s hard to see how far the crowd stretches, but it seems to reach as far as the coastline. One man catches sight of Charlotte in a gap between speakers and makes a heart at her. She waves and makes a heart shape back. “I always feel nervous before a set,” she claims, but her expression resembles something closer to joy.
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The sun has turned the sky a dusty pink. The postcard backdrop is soundtracked by Anetha’s muscular, pounding techno. Several men in black jump into action on stage to fiddle with cables and cords. “It’s time, Charlotte,” a woman says. Charlotte walks up the short flight of steps, crouching low. Anetha’s giant black speakers are rolled across the stage, her final track fades out to whoops, whistles and applause from the crowd. She bows off, Charlotte stands up and the applause turns volcanic. A girl screams with all the vigour of a film noir femme fatale: “I fucking love you Charlotte!” – and boom. The first track kicks in, smoke billows over the crowd, and energy surges like a tsunami. Charlotte de Witte stands behind the booth, half-smiling, legs slightly apart, hair flying in the sea breeze, joyful, defiant; and it seems like she’s lit up from the inside.
Charlotte de Witte is many things. She’s a superstar DJ, a producer, a goofball. She’s also an entrepreneur. Three hours before her DGTL set we meet in a hotel lobby in central Barcelona. Her voice is husky (“I’ve had a cold since Tomorrowland”) and her English near-perfect – though she picked up the American version. Her eyes, somewhere between blue and green, are wide and innocent, the kind of eyes that seem to let the whole world in.
Mid-intro she looks at her laptop and starts talking excitedly in Flemish. She and Matthias stand up and double high-five. Charlotte’s party series and label KNTXT is officially a registered business.
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There’s often something surreal about meeting a famous artist or DJ for the first time; it can take a moment before they assume the form of a real human. But with Charlotte it takes all of five minutes. She’s just too chatty, too excitable, too curious, too unfiltered to maintain an air of celebrity for any longer than that.
Though to be a little starstruck is understandable. Since that Tomorrowland gig Charlotte has looped around the world at least four times. She’s played Awakenings, ADE, Sónar, Ultra. She knows Ibiza like the back of her hand. She’s launched globally revered party series KNTXT and more recently the KNTXT label. She’s released music on Drumcode, Mary Go Wild, Sleaze. She regularly plays alongside the likes of Nina Kraviz, Adam Beyer and Amelie Lens, and for KNTXT’s first release, Liquid Slow, she teamed up with Chris Liebing.
Other tell-tale signs that Charlotte de Witte has most definitely made it: she has a monthly residency on BBC Radio 1. She can no longer go to clubs in Uruguay, let alone Belgium, because she’ll get mobbed for selfies (“I got into this because I love to dance. This ‘fame’ thing is not something I’m one hundred per cent accustomed to”). Occasionally she wakes up with no idea what country she’s in. Her KNTXT parties sell out arenas. Not bad for 27.
So the fact that she doesn’t have a monstrous ego isn’t just refreshing, it’s a miracle. “Imagine,” she says, horrified, “if my friends thought that all of a sudden I’d become a diva! I would hate that.”
Charlotte’s career went truly batshit after she lost the pseudonym ‘Raving George’ in 2015. “I didn’t want to shout about the fact I was a female producer until people had booked me. Eventually I just thought, ‘Fuck it!’” she says. “I’ve been DJing for six years. Everyone knows I’m a woman – why do I need a male name? It was a stupid idea anyway.” After mulling over another pseudonym (somewhere in a parallel universe, ‘Charlotte Lewis’ is on the cover of Mixmag), she went with her birth name. “Even though no-one can pronounce ‘de Witte’!” she adds. “De Witty. De White. De Weete.” [It’s de Witt-eh]. “But I don’t mind.”
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Celebrity status does not interest Charlotte. What does interest her, however, is being a good friend. Her phone buzzes. “Oh, sorry guys, I have to take this. My friend’s having relationship problems.
“Hello?” Charlotte holds the phone away from her face, part-time DJ, part-time therapist. “Hello? Hey! How are you?”
She disappears onto the terrace.
Charlotte de Witte is many things. She’s a a goofball, an entrepreneur, a part-time therapist. But perhaps less obviously: a fighter.
If Charlotte’s rise was meteoric, so was the backlash. She spent the early days of her career defending herself, forced to prove that she was in this business because she actually quite likes music, not because she wanted attention. As an 18-year-old she dealt with hate groups on Facebook where people accused her of sleeping with promoters to get gigs. Some of those people she thought were her friends. “That was hard,” She says. “I’m not sure if it was because I was young or because I was a woman. Even now, people assume that I don’t make my own music and that I’m not playing live.”
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Charlotte’s been accused of doing too well, succeeding too fast. But she’s kept going, fighting to do what she loves – even though it hasn’t been easy. “The most challenging part of my career has been getting people to take me seriously,” she says.
Her true friends don’t seem to struggle with that. We meet one old mate, Lissa, also a DJ, at DGTL. Lissa’s respect for Charlotte’s achievements manifests in broken, fragmented sentences. “I just can’t believe… it’s incredible… so happy. I’m just so proud…” At one point during Charlotte’s set, Mixmag asks, “Would you want this?” Lisa looks out to the sea of adoring faces screaming the name of her friend. “Of course I do,” she says. “Of course I want this.”
Day-to-day, Charlotte surrounds herself with people she trusts, who can pick her up when she’s feeling low. Because the lows exist, and they’re real. “My friend Dan [Eats Everything] told me, ‘We don’t get paid to play a DJ set. We get paid for all the travelling and the lack of sleep.’”
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Delayed flights, missed connections, missed birthdays, missed weddings, jet-lag, sleeping in two hour windows: it all adds up. But despite touring alone for over two years, she’s “never felt lonely. I made such good friends. And the DJ community is supportive.” Italian DJ Enrico Sangiuliano told her to call him if she ever needed to unload. “‘Whatever the time’, he said, ‘it doesn’t matter – I’ll probably be awake anyway, somewhere in the world’.”
It’s something only fellow DJs can understand. A good example: the morning after DGTL we meet in the five-star breakfast area. Charlotte walks up to a striking blond man, hair slicked back, eyes a piercing blue.
“Hey Marcel [Dettmann]!” How are you?”
“Not too bad,” Dettmann replies in a thick German accent. “Heading to Kiev today.”
“Oof,” Charlotte says. “That’s not an easy journey.”
“Yup. And I’m on at five in the morning and have to wait two hours until my flight to Antwerp. It wouldn’t matter if I could go to sleep in between, but that wait…”
Charlotte’s face brims with sympathy, but our car is waiting outside. She says goodbye to fellow soldier Marcel and we make our way to Drumcode in Amsterdam.
Charlotte de Witte is many things. She’s a DJ phenomenon, a goofball, an entrepreneur. She’s also a food fanatic. On our way to Drumcode festival she shows us a map on her phone of all the places she’s enjoyed a meal. It’s so covered in pins that the only identifiable pieces of land mass are the Arctic, Antarctic and the north-west corner of Siberia.
Artists at her level don’t have to eat regular festival junk; at Drumcode the artists get off-site food delivered straight to their laps. Backstage, the staff give us bowls of carbonara, mixed meats, roasted vegetables. “Oh my god,” Charlotte says, mouth full, eyes rolling back in her head. “I fucking love food.”
Nevertheless, Charlotte makes sure she says ‘thank you’ to every waiter. She wishes all her drivers a “Good day, sir!” She takes selfies with lots of very sweaty fans, and she tries to fit all the people who ask onto her guest list.
And she loves a good English accent. Or, more accurately, she loves to mimic them. She’s not picky about whose. It could be, say, Eats Everything, or, for example, a journalist from Mixmag. Whoever the target, Charlotte’s over-exaggerated mockeries are always followed by a gleeful chuckle, like a gremlin who’s eaten the contents of the cookie jar.
To the untrained eye it seems as though she doesn’t stop – and on closer inspection it’s true, she doesn’t. Her manager often gets angry emails from fans saying he’s overworking her, which Charlotte finds hilarious. Because she’s over-working him.
“I really, really love doing this,” she confirms. “If I didn’t completely love it I wouldn’t keep up with the lack of sleep and missing friends and family.” She’ll come home from an intercontinental tour and collapse on her bed, swearing she’ll take time off. “But then after a day I’ll be on the phone to my manager. Like ‘Alexander, what the fuck is going on? What are we doing?’ And he’ll say, ‘Charlotte, you arrived home yesterday. This is normal. Chill out’.”
But she doesn’t plan to do that any time soon. “I’m addicted to the rush of this life,” she says. “Absolutely addicted. Addicted to standing in front of the crowd. That does something very crazy with your mind. To just be there and see so many thousands of people dancing to your music. I mean it’s crazy – it does something to you.”
And with all these fans, sell-out shows, world tours, it raises the question: does Charlotte still feel she needs to prove herself?
“No,” she says. “Fuck that! Fuck that. I did it, man. I fucking did it. And if you’re still not convinced then go fuck yourself. Really. For real. Like – I’ve fought for this, hard. I’m there. I’ve proved myself. And I worked hard. Fuck yeah.”
Charlotte de Witte is many things. She’s a superstar DJ, a goofball, an entrepreneur, a part-time therapist, a food fanatic. But one thing she’s not is apologetic.
Alice Austin is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter
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