Interview: XiJaro & Pitch

Nina Ristivojevic

September 7th, 2023

Their partnership represents perfect harmony, as each member brings distinct strengths to the production of their sound. Anthony is virtuoso at creating catchy melodies that resonate deeply with their listeners. On the other hand, Xander excels at mixing and mastering, ensuring their tracks reach their full potential. Together, they are the driving force behind XiJaro and Pitch, an uplifting trance duo project renowned for stirring emotions within their devoted and expansive fan community. Despite his blindness and hearing challenges, Anthony frequently takes his place behind the DJ decks, delivering extraordinary music accompanied by lively dance moves and contagious smiles. This resilience played a significant role in the duo’s Twitch channel’s remarkable growth during the pandemic, as it continued to flourish and draw in dedicated fans through XiJaro and Pitch’s “Open Minds Live” performances.

What began as the Chasing Dreams podcast has now blossomed into a wonderful compilation in collaboration with Black Hole Recordings. This compilation features exclusive tracks by talented artists, with 4 singles already released. “Chasing Dreams,” “Invisible” featuring Adara, “Heart” with Ava Silver, and “Time” with CARI. In addition to this unique compilation and its release, XiJaro and Pitch are preparing us a special Open To Close set on September 8th in Venlo in collaboration with Airwalk Events. It will be something they have never done before. If you happen to be nearby or hesitating to attend this unique venue make sure to grab your tickets on time. You can also pre-order #chasingdreams now and get yourself ready for 38 exclusive singles.

Listen to the album here.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit down with Anthony at the Luminosity Festival after his performance and learn more about this incredibly interesting and dedicated life journey. We went back to the beginning of his first touch with trance music and plenty of mashups he and Xander crafted during the early stages of their collaboration. Anthony opened and talked about his biggest challenges while performing long sets. But this did not stop him from organizing the longest open-to-close event happening on September 8th to celebrate the #chasingdreams compilation’s release. If you are interested in finding out what vocalist is on Xander and Anthony’s bucket list and about Anthony’s dance moves keep reading.

Anthony, your journey started when you were just 9, correct me if I am wrong.

It depends on when you want to start the journey, but my first DJ set was at the age of 9. It all began when my mom and dad gave me a radio receiver as a Santa Claus gift. This portable but high-quality receiver allowed me to explore various radio stations. Around 2000-2001, I ventured beyond the typical top 40 stations and discovered the world of dance music, including trance. Back then tracks like Cygnus X - Superstring (Rank 1 Remix), Milk Inc ft Sylvie - I Don’t Care, Ian Van Dahl’s “Castles in the Sky,” etc were so popular. And then I was impressed with the way DJs seamlessly mixed one track into another. “Whoa, this is fascinating. I want to try that myself.” – I said. Then my dad showed me a basic mixer he had, without EQ buttons, and the CD players lacked pitch faders. This limitation meant that I could only create mixes with tracks that shared the same BPM. Mixing tracks with different BPMs was out of the question since I couldn’t adjust the tempo. That’s the situation I faced when I crafted my very first DJ set at the age of nine. My frustration at the absence of a pitch fader during those early days led to the moniker “DJ Pitch.” (smiles)

Then, I fell in love with trance. I listened to Nightly Radio also because they streamed a trance club called Illusion in Belgium and they broadcasted that live on the radio. I just fell in love with the whole raving atmosphere. Of course, I was way too young to go to raves. At the same time, I was developing a really big passion for radio as well and for DJing at the same time. In 2004, I attended the City Parade, a Belgian version of the Love Parade in Germany. I raved passionately alongside a friend. Shortly after, I acquired my first Pioneer DJ set, which marked the beginning of my journey into vinyl and CD mixing. At just 13 years old, in 2005, I hosted my first radio show, “Into Trance,” on FM.

And couple of years later you discovered Xander’s amazing mixes on After Hours FM that made a lasting impression on you, prompting you to reach out and establish a connection, right? This marked the beginning of your bond, leading to various events and experiences until the significant decision in 2014. Can you share more about the story behind your bond?

Only two years later. I wanted to have guest mixes on the radio show because that was, for me, a really nice way to connect with other DJs. Xander was doing this amazing thing on After Hours FM. He was doing this year mix style, mega mixes, a bit like what Arman Van Buuren was doing. Since I also have perfect pitch and I could hear all the key mixing going on and I was like: “Okay, this is next level!” I just sent him an email asking him if he wants to do a guest mix for my radio show. We started talking and actually he broadcasted the year mix on the radio show with me as well. Then somehow we figured out that our skill sets were complementary because I had a lot of ideas, but could not always executing them because back then music software was not really accessible in general, and it still isn’t. I was fairly limited in what I could do. I wanted to make a specific mash-up and I didn’t know how to do it here with the gear that I have. So Xander said: “Okay, no problem. I’ll do it. Just tell me what you want to do and I’ll do it.” First, mash-up I made soon after. Also, Xander didn’t want his slot on After Hours FM anymore because he wanted to focus on productions more. But I wanted to have the slot. So we agreed to share the slot and also produce together. That’s how XiJaro and Pitch actually started being a thing.

As you mentioned, Xander is more a studio enthusiast with a profound love for music production, while you find your true calling in the DJing realm. Do you believe that this contrast in roles serves to effectively complement each other?

Well, my initial passion was DJing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not involved in music production. It’s not quite like the Aly and Fila dynamic, where Aly primarily produces and Fila handles the DJing. In our case, I play a significant role in production, especially when it comes to crafting melodies, as it happens to be one of my strengths. Of course, it’s not always one-sided; sometimes Xander initiates a melody, and I build upon it, or it works the other way around. However, I’m usually the one responsible for creating most of the melodies and handling the arrangement aspects. Xander excels in mixing and mastering, and this balance works well due to my hearing issues. Typically, the process unfolds with me brainstorming an idea for a track, sending him melodies and other concepts. He then heads to his studio in Canada, where we maintain a direct, high-quality audio connection, allowing us to communicate and collaborate effectively. I provide continuous feedback, share opinions, and contribute ideas as the track takes shape. This is our collaborative approach to creating music.

Also since you’re playing at the events, you can get a reaction from the crowd? Then you know that you’re both going in the right direction.

That is another thing. But yeah, that is definitely true. Our Twitch streams also hold great significance for us. It’s incredibly rewarding to witness the crowd’s reactions in real-time. Through the chat feature, we receive nuanced feedback as people can share their thoughts while we’re live. This interaction goes beyond just excitement; we often receive detailed opinions about specific parts of our tracks and various aspects of the music. Personally, this connection with our audience is something I deeply cherish and strive for. As for discerning what works and what doesn’t, it becomes somewhat intuitive over time. I’ve been immersed in the world of trance since its peak in 2002 and have attended numerous trance raves, from the first beat to the very last. Gradually, you develop a keen sense of what resonates with you in trance music. While everyone’s preferences vary, you can pinpoint those magical moments that gave you goosebumps and aim to recreate them as authentically as possible in your own tracks.

During the pandemic, Twitch experienced a surge in popularity, and you took advantage of the platform to connect with your fans in a close and personal way. It proved highly successful, with your fans warmly embracing this new medium. Now that the Covid situation is hopefully behind us, you have chosen to continue doing live sets on Twitch. What is the main reason for this decision?

Indeed, delving into deeper philosophical realms, what truly drives me in life is a profound sense of connection. It’s about feeling linked to everything, whether it’s nature, people, or any other aspect of existence. Live gigs certainly provide that connection, but so does Twitch. This is precisely why I’m attending Luminosity as a visitor for the entire weekend. It allows me to interact with my fans, engage in meaningful conversations, and establish that vital connection. Luminosity holds a special place because it brings together the die-hard uplifting trance community, which aligns with the music we create. This is why I strive not to distance myself backstage after performances; instead, I aim to be part of the crowd, listening to what people have to say. The same principle applies to Twitch. For instance, just last Wednesday, we gathered for a delightful dinner with the XiJaro and Pitch family at a charming Italian restaurant. It was a time for genuine conversations and enjoying a delicious pasta meal before the Luminosity event – a truly amazing experience.

The length of your live sets on Twitch, sometimes lasting 16 hours. That is some serious dedication and passion if you ask me. ☺ However, I can imagine that it may pose challenges, particularly since you cannot see or hear the immediate reactions of the audience. Does this aspect ever make it challenging for you to perform, given the lack of direct feedback?

Indeed, multitasking is a constant requirement because you’re constantly selecting tracks, especially during those marathon sets that can go on for 16 hours. I’ve done sets of all durations, but one thing I don’t do is plan those sets extensively. The only thing I plan is the first track. Everything else unfolds spontaneously during the set. To me, this is what being a DJ is all about. The music scene has evolved significantly, and now, the primary focus is on producing good tracks and their performance. However, fewer DJs embody the true spirit of DJing as artists. Take Menno de Jong, for example; he didn’t have a vast catalog of productions, but he built a successful career because his sets were exceptional. He’s one of the examples that inspire how I approach making my sets and how I want them to sound.

When I play a set for half an hour on Twitch, I typically spend about 20 minutes actively engaging with the chat in real time. The reaction from viewers is nearly immediate, with just a 10-second delay, so I can see exactly how people are responding as I play a track. Emojis are flying. People are writing messages like, “I love this!” or expressing their reactions with smiles. To be completely honest, when it comes to emojis, I’ve muted them all. It can get overwhelming with the constant flood of emojis. I understand the enthusiasm, but if I don’t mute them, my screen reader crashes, and I can’t extract useful information from such an overload. When someone sends 200 virtual hugs, for example, it’s just a bit too much to handle.

**It makes total sense to me. It is great people love it but I would go nuts. (laughs) **

Now, let’s turn our attention to one of your recent releases titled “Heart,” a captivating collaboration with the talented Ava Silver. Congratulations on creating such a beautiful masterpiece! Undoubtedly, your fans have embraced it with enthusiasm. I’m curious to know how this track came to life and what led to your decision to collaborate with Ava on this project?

Now I have to think about whether I’m going to tell the real story. (laughs) When I came across Ava’s collaboration with Bogdan Vix last year, “Do It All Again,” I instantly fell in love with Ava’s voice. That’s when the idea of working with her began to take shape. We envisioned a vibrant, summery release around June, and we had heard something about “Heart.” We thought it might sound a tad cheesy, but for a summer track, it felt just right. However, the challenge was that we had a mere two weeks to complete the entire project, racing against some rather tight deadlines. We were part of a compilation project with Black Hole, and getting the release ready swiftly was imperative. We didn’t have enough time to take the track to the level of polish we typically aim for. Nevertheless, the track came together, and to our delight, it has been well-received by listeners. It all worked out wonderfully in the end.

Perfect time especially for Luminosity to play it over there. Speaking of, “Heart” is part of the upcoming, as you mentioned, Chasing Dreams compilation that you’re working on in collaboration with Black Hole. It’s fascinating to see how this project evolved from the Chasing Dreams podcast to a full-fledged compilation. Could you share more details about this promising project and shed some light on the concept and inspiration behind it?

Absolutely, our vision for the Chasing Dreams compilation is rooted in the idea that music has the power to unite people and transcend the boundaries of reality. It’s about inspiring individuals to push their own limits and encouraging personal and collective growth. This concept is at the core of Chasing Dreams, and we believe music should facilitate such transformative experiences. To further amplify this idea, we wanted to create something tangible that people could hold in their hands—a physical representation of what Chasing Dreams represents musically. Hence, the concept of a CD compilation was born. But it’s more than just a collection of tracks; it features exclusive compositions. We see Chasing Dreams as not only chasing dreams for our listeners but also for emerging producers. We wanted to provide a platform for these talents to showcase their best work, possibly leading to significant career opportunities and personal growth within the music industry. This physical addition complements our existing podcast and merchandise offerings.

Additionally, we’re introducing a party concept, including an open-to-close event on September 8th to celebrate the compilation’s release. This event marks our first-ever open-to-close live set, spanning seven to eight hours, with a live audience. It will certainly come with challenges, but we’re eager to take them on.

I really need to limit myself when it comes to loud music exposure, especially in preparation for the seven-hour open-to-close event. While I am fully capable of playing for extended periods, I recognize the importance of giving my ears some rest to prevent potential damage and ensure a sustainable career in music. To achieve this, I’m considering a schedule adjustment in collaboration with Xander, allowing me to take periodic breaks during performances. This approach will help safeguard my hearing and allow me to continue pursuing my passion for several more years to come.

The event is set to take place at Grenswerk in Venlo, a location situated at the intersection of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It’s crazy to see people flying in from the United States to attend this open-to-close event.

**That’s not crazy. That is a testament to their deep love, passion, and unconditional dedication to the music. **

It is crazy. (Laughs) It fills me with gratitude when I see that happening and it’s so amazing. So, mark your calendars for September 8th when we’ll be hosting this event in collaboration with Airwalk Events at Grenswerk. It promises to be an unforgettable experience, reminiscent of a thrilling boiler room atmosphere. Fun times await!

Okay, noted. Like many trance artists, and as we know you also enjoy collaborating with vocalists. However, I’m curious to know which singer you perceive as particularly prominent in recent times. Do you believe that adding vocals to a trance track truly makes a significant difference to its overall impact?

Absolutely, vocals can make a world of difference in a track. While there are many talented singers, some possess the unique ability to elevate vocals into an entirely different realm. From our own production, I’d like to highlight “Invisible.” The vocals in that track aren’t your typical trance vocals, and the vocal sound isn’t what you’d typically expect in a trance song. However, if you were to imagine that track without vocals, it just wouldn’t be the same. The vocals add an indispensable layer, making the melody even more captivating. Adara, who provided those vocals, is a highly promising vocalist. Additionally, there’s a vocalist I haven’t had the opportunity to collaborate with yet, but I’d love to in the future. She’s been in the scene for quite some time, and her work is truly impressive. I’m talking about Sarah Lynn, particularly her collaboration with Alan Morris. That vocal performance on “Take Me On a Journey” is absolutely outstanding and has me completely enthralled. Working with Sarah would be a dream come true.

We are going to share this message and maybe she will come back to us.

Throughout your extensive performances at various events and major festivals around the world, you must have had the opportunity to experience different audiences. From what you’ve heard and witnessed during your sets, I’m interested to know which nation or community stands out as the most passionate in terms of their deep love for trance music and which one has left the wildest and most energetic impression on you?

Well, it’s a really hard question. There are still parts of the world we haven’t had the opportunity to perform in yet. South America, for example, holds a lot of intrigue for us, especially considering the fantastic stories we’ve heard and the strong fan presence in places like Mexico and Chile. It’s something we’re eagerly looking forward to.

In terms of memorable experiences, I’d have to highlight the passionate community in Los Angeles, particularly around Dream State and our performances at Academy LA. Those moments hold a special place for me, not just because of the incredible energy but also due to the personal connections made.

However, when it comes to the creziest crowd, I’d have to give that title to Australia. Our performance at the Transmission Festival in Sydney back in February was truly mind-blowing. The venue was designed for a massive audience of 20,000 people. Before the doors even officially opened, a progressive DJ played a fantastic warm-up set, but a short one of just 40 minutes. Then, when we hit the stage as the openers and cranked up the BPM to 140, the crowd went absolutely wild. The thing went nuts!

**I always say that being a DJ involves being a performer and a showman, as it allows you to effectively transmit energy to the crowd. When you’re performing on stage and showcasing your energy through dance and smiles, it leaves a lasting impression on the audience. How would you describe the way you feel music in those moments and in general? **

Yeah, it’s quite amusing when you think about it. The funny part of this whole situation is that I have no idea what I’m doing. Imagine that I’ve never actually seen anyone else rave in my entire life. Can you believe that? There’s almost nobody who ever told me how to do it. Okay, some people might say basic things like “Put your hands up in the air!” – that’s probably something that happens at raves. Those are the basic concepts. But apart from that, I’ve never seen anyone rave, so I just do whatever feels right, honestly. I just go with the flow and do whatever I want to do at that moment. Somehow, when I’m on stage, it works. It’s crazy to me because I think what I’m doing is really weird, but apparently, it works.

It is natural. Essentially, all I need to do is stop overthinking it. Here’s how I approach it: I put myself in the shoes of a raver in the crowd and think, “How would I move if I were out there?” Then, I simply let myself move in response to how I feel at that moment. It’s as simple as that. When I hear the crowd erupt in cheers and shouts, and I can feel their energy resonating with the music I’m playing, it’s truly one of the most beautiful compliments an artist can receive. It fills me with immense joy and gratitude, and it fuels me even more. I get even more energized, and that’s when I go even crazier, letting the music guide me and the crowd’s energy drive the performance. That’s how the magic happens.

Awesome! Now, one of my favorite questions usually. If we ask Beatport they would reveal that your remix of Rank1’s “Such is Life” holds the top position among your most streamed tracks. Remixing a classic like that must have presented its own set of challenges. How did you come up with the idea to remix such an iconic track, and how did you approach the task knowing the weight of its legacy?

Creating the bootleg was actually a pretty straightforward process, and here’s why. We didn’t approach it with a lot of pressure because our main goal was to have a more contemporary version of this amazing track for our sets. The idea to remix it came from Xander, who said, “Hey, can we do a remix or bootleg of this?” It had been quite a while since we’d done something like this.

For the bootleg, we made a few modifications, including crafting a slightly different melody, incorporating some signature XiJaro and Pitch riffs, while staying faithful to the original’s essence. We have a deep appreciation for the original track, including the vocals and the breakdown, so we aimed to maintain that core feeling while adding a modern touch. In fact, we had already included it in our set at Dream State 2021. Then, we decided to send it over to High Contrast, partly because we thought, “Why the hell not?” Of course, perfecting it took some time, just like any other remix, but we didn’t feel immense pressure since our initial intent wasn’t necessarily a release. It was primarily a track we wanted to play in our sets.

I think the pressure generally comes when you want to make something that sounds better than original. I think artists shouldn’t do that.

I completely agree. When it comes to making remixes, my preference is to create something that sounds distinct from the original track. Take, for instance, our remix of “Stars Collide” by Somna, which remains one of our most popular remixes. While working on that, I did feel some pressure, but not because I aimed to make it better than the original. Instead, it was because I had a vague idea in mind. The original track had shorter chords, and I wanted to extend the melody with longer chords like those in the breakdown. I knew what I wanted to achieve, but finding the right level of emotion for the lead synth in that remix was a challenge. It took quite a bit of time and effort to get it to the point where it is now. My focus was on capturing the specific feeling I had in mind, rather than trying to outdo the original.

Your sound is 100 percent uplifting trance but did you ever think about trying something different, maybe experimenting with some other genres?

We are already doing that. At the beginning of the set, there was a collab, which I cannot tell you anything about yet. Also, there is our collab with Artento Divini, which is called Bad Boys, where we did a bit of a smiley thing with a slightly techno and future wave thing because we thought it was funny to do it. Why not? But just to let you know, it’s not because I wanted to leave Uplifting or because the money is in future rave or whatever, but it is what it is. As in when you are listening, making the same music for 15 years and then you want to try something else. Also, I have to say, the evolution that’s happening right now is very interesting because what’s happening for now, for me personally, this is the first time. First, I really love deep and melodic techno, which was also a route that we were going to go, maybe still, we will see. But I really love that. But you cannot do that in the same set. It’s hard to play 122 and 140 in the same set if the set is only one hour. Of course, in our eight-hour set, we’re going to start with deep tracks and we’re going to build up nicely. Nicely a bit of techno, a bit of progressive. Definitely going to happen. But when it comes to now, finally you’re getting techno again at 135, 138 BPM, and even faster. The cool thing about that is that you get other music that’s around the same energy and tempo range as of lifting trance, and it gives you the opportunity to mix it up a bit and to throw a real techno record in the middle of a trance set. It’s possible now.

It’s impressive how the music evolves. Actually, it gets back to its roots.

Yeah. Now they just have to call it trance again and that’s the problem. Nobody calls it trance, but it’s trance.

No, because it’s not popular.

Yeah, exactly. That’s really what it is. Whatever, honestly. I’m quite eager to experiment, especially with a touch of techno influence. I’ve been toying with the idea of combining slightly darker techno intros with deeper soundscapes and more robust kicks. The goal is to create a new hybrid form that retains some uplifting qualities while incorporating the darker elements reminiscent of old trance and tech. It’s an exciting experiment that we’re diving into, and we’ll see where it takes us. Additionally, we’re working on some projects at 126 BPM, exploring the progressive side of things. Diversification is something we’re truly passionate about. It’s easy to stick to a familiar sound once you’ve established it, but we’re committed to innovating and pushing boundaries. You can expect to hear some of these new sounds in 2024.

We can say these are some plans for you in the future. And besides #chasingdreams, of course, is there anything else that you would like to mention and share?

It’s truly incredible to reflect on where we are now. Sometimes, I find it hard to fully grasp what has happened. Just two years ago, we were nowhere on the music scene, and now we’ve played at renowned events like Luminosity, A State of Trance, Transmission, Electric Daisy Carnival, and many more. I want to emphasize that all of this has been made possible because of the incredible support we receive from people like you. It’s an immense honor to see that our music resonates with our fans and that they appreciate what we do. I’m deeply grateful for this. For me, it’s all about giving back. Some people see what I do as a gift to them, and that’s the most beautiful thing. They’ve played a significant role in helping us chase our dreams. My hope is that, in some small way, we can contribute to chasing your dreams and the dreams of everyone who listens to our music. That, to me, is the most important message to convey.

I believe this is a valuable tip for anyone pursuing their passions, and it’s something often emphasized in live coaching and mindfulness practices. It’s true that the only reason all of this happened is because I didn’t have any expectations. When things started to take off, I was at a point where I was almost ready to quit DJing because I had lost my passion for it, and I wasn’t feeling inspired in my productions either. Then, during the COVID pandemic, I got a bit bored and thought, “Why not set up an old webcam, play some tunes, and see what happens?” I deliberately avoided envisioning any particular outcome because I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment. For me, it’s crucial to approach life with a sense of openness and acceptance. Whatever opportunities come my way, I embrace them with gratitude and joy. If it were to stop tomorrow, I’d still be incredibly grateful for the journey and experiences we’ve had. As long as we can continue doing what we love, it’s a dream come true, and that’s what truly matters.