This article was written by Kathy Evans, and originally featured in The Age online on Jan 5.
When DJ Armand Van Helden wrote his punchy paean to St Babs as one half of Duck Sauce, he never in his wildest moment dreamed he would one day perform it with a full symphony orchestra.
And it is probably fair to say that the MSO, in all their years of playing the vast, majestic soundscapes of Beethoven, or, say, the lyrical mysteries of Mahler, never thought they would be playing it either. And yet here they are; the DJ from New York and some of Australia’s top instrumentalists, uniting in that small, shaded area of a Venn diagram where musical crossovers live, to bring you Barbra Streisand, ooh ooh-ooh ooh, ooh-ooh ooh, ooh-ooh ooh ooh. “I will say I was slightly apprehensive,” admits Van Helden, speaking from his current base in Miami, when he was first approached with the idea for Symphonica. “I never thought I’d ever be DJing with an orchestra. I mean NEVER! I needed a few days to marinate with it. And then I thought, ‘this is a cool thing. It could be amazing’.”
Van Helden is an electronic music icon who rose to prominence in the mid-‘90s with house anthems including U Don’t Know Me, My My My and his mix of Tori Amos’ Professional Widow. (Apparently she was so chuffed with it she sent him a basket of cheeses to say thank you.)
Van Helden is the master of the remix, a kind of musical subversion that can drag old songs out of obscurity, breathe new life into faltering bands, and get empty dance floors heaving – and yet he can’t play a note.
“I am not a musician,” he says firmly. “A lot of these songs I made in my apartment in New York; it was like, ‘aha, put this together, slap that down, out the door and let’s see what happens’. I can’t play an instrument, apart from a keyboard, and I’m like a child, but for some reason we are talking so it must have worked for me somewhere.”