Charlotte de Witte doesn’t look much like a George. But until very recently, that’s the name she was DJing and producing under. “I was so young, and still very insecure,” she says. “I didn’t want to shout about the fact I was a female producer until people had booked me.”
And she had plenty of success as Raving George. Have a browse on YouTube and you’ll find ‘You’re Mine’, a 2015 Spinnin’ release which has clocked up an impressive 12 million views. But after a while, she’d had enough. “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.”
And it’s since she began using her birth name just over two years ago that she’s really started to make an impression as an artist. Since making the switch and moving away from electro to techno the 25-year-old has released on labels like Tiga’s Turbo Recordings, Sleaze and Novamute, played peak-time sets from DC10 to Oasis Festival and won fans in DJs like Adam Beyer, who has booked her for Awakenings.
Tonight we’re at a heaving pub in her home town of Brussels where we’ll be marking three years of her night KNTXT. After delicately working her way past tables brimming with drinks and candles a few hours before the evening kicks off, she begins to explain what made her take to the CDJs for the first time, eight years ago at a youth Club near Ghent. “I got to know techno thanks to Len Faki and his ‘Stranger To Stability’ remix for Dustin Zahn,” she tells us. “When I heard him for the first time I was like, “What is this music? This is so unbelievably good!”
While that first gig was understandably shaky (“I had never touched a CDJ in my life before, my track selection was shit and I didn’t really know what I was doing – luckily it was only a few friends and staff there”), she did make headway relatively quickly, getting a radio show on Radio Brussels a year later.
A punishing tour schedule means she’s rarely back at home now, but she still makes time to record the weekly Saturday night show which gave her a break in the first place. Championing new talent alongside music from classic Belgian labels like R&S and Bonzai Records, she’s keen to pay respect to the scene that birthed her in the first place. “I’ve been digging deeper and deeper into Belgian music,” she tells us. “I did a rework for Bonzai’s 25th anniversary. I play classics at the end of my sets as well as the show and people go nuts. I’m like, yeah, this is the music from my country!”
Dressed in a floor-length black Vetements trenchcoat and plain black Adidas sweat, Charlotte’s striking green eyes flash from behind her tousled hair. “After doing the radio show for a little while, I won a competition to go and play Tomorrowland,” she continues. But her sudden success came with its detractors. “Suddenly everyone knew the name Raving George,” she says. “There were people who couldn’t stand seeing a 17-year-old playing events like Tomorrowland and I Love Techno. There were hate groups against me on Facebook! People would say things like ‘Oh, she must be sleeping with the manager’ or ‘they’ve only booked her because she has tits’.”
Fiercely attracted to the darker side of music, after reverting to her real name Charlotte also changed to a style more authentically hers and adopted the stripped-down and aggressive approach to techno that’s become her signature style. “If you listen to more commerical types of music it’s very obvious what it’s meant to do: make you happy and dance,” she says. “But for me techno is much more emotional and complex. It’s all there in the structure of the music and the ideas behind it.”
It’s become almost a cliché to point out how different a producer’s personality is from the tough and stark music they might make, but it really is remarkable how much Charlotte’s demeanour differs from her DJ sets and productions. Whether 50 feet away from you in the DJ booth or sitting directly opposite you, her charm is intoxicating. Ridiculously warm and funny, she chats to us about listening to reggae in traffic and the rigmarole of doing her taxes before excitedly showing us iPhone films of some of her fans ‘having it large’ at a recent gig. She also regales us with tales of her parents who she’s ‘super excited’ to reveal will be joining her at Tomorrowland this year. “My dad actually worked for EMI,” she reveals. “I remember when I first started DJing properly and he came home with some vinyl for me. It was David Guetta! He was like, ‘Here you go, Charlotte – I know you’re a DJ. This is your music.’ She laughs. “It’s taken them a while to understand the type of music I play.”
“I play [Belgian] classics at the end of my sets and people go nuts. I’m like, yeah, this is from my country!”
Looking back at 2017’s stratospheric rise, she tells us she felt it coming but couldn’t have anticipated how fast things happened. A debut at Awakenings, gigs at DC10 plus slots at mega London venue Printworks and Junction 2 left her with little time to process events. And her schedule for 2018 shows no sign of a change of pace. With a fresh EP out the day of the interview (at the time of going to press she’s holding down three spots on the Beatport 100) plus gigs at Sonus and Sónar announced, as well as hosting her own stage at Tomorrowland under the banner of her KNTXT night, it’s no wonder she’s already looking ahead to some time off in 12 months. “I’m doing nothing next January but lying in the sand and getting a tan,” she laughs. “I don’t want to look like a fucking vampire any more!” Quibbles with her complexion aside, she’s keen to qualify that the relentlessness of life as a DJ isn’t too much of a hardship. “It’s everything I’ve dreamed of,” she says.
A few hours later we’re outside Fuse, Belgium’s techno Valhalla, a mass of fans snaking through the cobbled side streets ahead of the sold-out third birthday of KNTXT. “I don’t like playing my own tracks that much,” she’d told us earlier in the evening. “I end up constantly looking at the crowd thinking, ‘OK, are they enjoying it? He’s not dancing. Why is he not dancing?” But as she opens with her own, as-yet unreleased ‘Kuda’ before laying into a blistering set of deeply dark, uncompromising and heady techno it becomes clear that any such insecurities are unwarranted. There might be three other DJs on the line-up tonight, but it’s clear from the reaction of the crowd (many of whom have paid triple face value to get in tonight) that everyone’s here to see Charlotte. Sweat-drenched faces smile in unison and as she cues up Setaoc Mass’s pulse-racing mix of Spencer Parker’s ‘Shape Fascination’ a fusillade of smoke and lasers blasts towards the crowd. “Even when I’m really fucking tired and I feel sad and lonely because I’m a long way from home, or I miss my boyfriend and friends,” she tells us, “as soon as I open that door and feel the music it’s like ‘Aahh! I’m home.’
Charlotte de Witte’s ‘Heart of Mine’ EP is out on Suara now
Tracy Kawalik is a freelance music and culture writer, follow her on Twitter