2 UNLIMITED, the Amsterdamsters who introduced the word ‘technotechnotechnotechno!’ into the language, are — no contest — the biggest pop group in Europe. SIMON PRICE meets them, naturally, beneath the biggest tub of margarine in the world.
IT MUST BE eight feet tall and 20 feet wide. As tubs of Flora go, it dwarfs even Roy Hattersley. And everyone performing at the Flora Aerobathon knows that, whatever course their future career may take, there will exist pictures of them next to a giant tub of margarine. But hey, it’s, y’know, for the children or something.
The whiff of evaporating Sure Sensive fills the air. Under the daylight glare or the house lights, a Mr Motivator clone is leading 20,000 14-year-old girls and their mums through a workout to the sound of supermarket-style, Not The Original Artists versions of ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’. Suddenly it stops and everyone looks up. Via a pitifully quiet PA, East 17 are performing their new single. The crowd watches impassively. No one screams. (That’s them f***ed, then).
Backstage, minor celebs frantically try to look like major celebs. Chris Coronation Street Quinten, an unnervingly anorexic-looking Danielle EastEnders Westbrook (soon to become Mrs Beardy One Out Of East 17), David “Kid” Jensen, ex-Page 3 girl Suzanne “Collagen Lips” Mizzi and her pony-tailed pop trio Rumour Has It… This is the strangest event I’ve ever covered. It’s also Sad As Hell.
IT’S ALL in a day’s work for 2 Unlimited. Ray Slijngaard and Anita Dels are, above all, professionals. For the Maker photo shoot, he throws sinister shapes, she snarls and claws the air like it’s second nature. Ten minutes and it’s a (w)rap. Anita frets into a Motorola about her cats back in Amsterdam. Ray, meanwhile, despite taking no real interest in soccer, is nonetheless upset to learn that Holland have just lost at home to The Republic Of Ireland. After conferring with Anita in Flemish, they both agree this is serious.
Later, I find them in their cramped tour trailer, Anita adjusting a studded leather dog collar, Ray sipping a revolting (but free) Robinsons Blackcurrant drink. For interviews, too, they’re very professional. Maybe too professional.
For instance, when I ask whether Ray and Anita, who spend 11 months a year together (August, when fewer records are sold, is reserved for partying), ever get sick of the sight of each other, Anita’s rehearsed, diplomatic reply is: “We spend so much time together we’re kinda used to each other. You do hear about people who can’t stand each other but have to work together anyway, and I couldn’t handle that. We have our arguments, but there seems to be a line in the press that we fight and we’re about to break up.”
Asked what Anita’s best points are, Ray answers “Her looks,” adding, “she doesn’t have any bad points.”
Anita, quickly and neatly, deflects the other rumour, that Anita and Ray are stepping out, by adding, “Of course we fight, like brother and sister, that’s how we feel: like brother and sister.”
As Ray recently told Just 17 (who had pretty good evidence that the pair share an occasional snog), “We want to become big stars and I don’t think that would happen if we got mushy with each other.”
IN 1991, 20-year-old Ray Slijngaard was working as a chef at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport by day, by night grabbing the mic and rapping with his friend Melvin D (“but just for fun”).
One night, he was approached by Belgian production team Jean Paul De Coster and Phil Wilde (who’d already had a Europe-wide hit with Bizz Nizz’s ‘Don’t Miss The Party Line’) to rap over a demo. Gradually, Ray “felt a chorus coming on” and thought “Girl Singer!”
Anita Dels, also 20, was working nine to five as a secretary, doing a little modelling on the side, and singing with all-girl quintet The Trouble Sisters. When Ray got in touch, she agreed, expecting to “maybe sell a few in Holland and Belgium, maybe a dance hit in England.”
“At best,” reminisces Ray, “I thought maybe I’d get some money to open my own restaurant.”
‘Get Ready For This’, a euphoric ersatz-rave track, went Top 10, silver and gold in 17 countries.
“Then the next one was a hit, and the next one… “
Must be a crazy feeling, being thrown into the middle of all that.
Anita: “But we’re used to it now.”
It’s just a job, huh?
Ray: “Yeah, it is.”
SLIJNGAARD IS something of a Party Animal. “I don’t want to sleep when I’m in a new city. I can go round a club chatting to strangers, so I don’t have a problem going out on my own.”
In 2U fanclub ‘zine No Limits (membership £18 pa from PO Box 66,1000AB Amsterdam, and includes agony column by Anita’s mum Aunt Lydia), Ray lists his favourite clubs as Idols in South Africa.
“One of the dancefloors was reserved for us. One of the DJs said, ‘All the girls who want to dance with Ray can go upstairs.’ There were about 20 girls waiting for me.”
…and Juliana’s in Tokyo.
“It’s the only club in Asia where girls dance on platforms and they don’t wear any underwear.”
In Amsterdam, apart from the occasional wise guy shouting “technotechnotecnnotechno!” (“It goes with the job”, Ray sighs), 2 Unlimited can go clubbing virtually unpestered.
“They know it’s you,” says Anita, “but they don’t want to make you big-headed by coming up to you going ‘woooh.'”
RAY FIRST got hooked on techno through Dutch acieed raves.
“The ones the police didn’t know about, they were the real ones. If you aren’t allowed to do something, it’s more exciting.”
Anita agrees. “The organised parties in warehouses have stopped. Now everybody goes to clubs, which is cool… but a bit boring.”
The Dutch attitude to drugs is famously liberal. A good thing?
“In Amsterdam,” says Ray, “like everybody knows, it’s allowed to sell weed on the street, and that keeps people away from the harder things. In England, people end up taking Ecstasy and cocaine and so on.”
Do you like a smoke yourself?
“Uh… uh… uh… “
Anita, and the entire 2U entourage, explode with laughter.
“NO!” He leans towards my tape recorder. “To all the kids at home, NO!”
THEIR CRUEL nickname, 2 Untalented, is evidence of the widespread suspicion that Slijngaard and Dels are brainless puppets.
“Of course,” sneers Anita. “Because it cannot be true that two people have so much success — something must be wrong. Either we don’t sing, or we’ve got masks on, or whatever! In fact, the producers write the music, we write the lyrics. It’s 50/50.”
2U face snobbery from rock purists and dance purists alike.
“People think with dance music, you push the button and it comes out,” complains Ray.
“And we’re commercial, y’know…” scowls Anita. “It was hard to get on MTV, because they say, These video clips, pfff, that’s bullshit.”
“They can say whatever they want,” Ray decides. “Underground bands don’t want to sell records. The Prodigy say, ‘We don’t want to be famous, we won’t do Smash Hits.’ I respect that, but I want to sell records. I want to make money!”
Ray and Anita also designed the 2U logo, and create the visual image for every new single, invariably involving a space-age costume for Anita, and Ray, a song title shaved onto Ray’s head, looking utterly sinister (and unintentionally camp).
“It’s not like I’m playing the cool guy — I laugh as well. There’s enough funny things going on in the audience. But you’re right, in the video clips I don’t smile. It’s not what we do.
“The new look’s a bit Terminator. There’s a guy on skates with, uh, all computer things and lights, and those two [Steve and Claire, the 2U dancers] are just boogieing away. It’s gonna be fast, you know?”
The ‘Let The Beat Control Your Body’ look was very provocative: head-to-toe PVC suffocation gear. It was very S&M.
Stephen Milligan would have loved it.
IF THE CYNICS are right and it all ends tomorrow, what memories will stay with you?
“Awards, golden records… We’ve been all around the world, we’ve played everywhere.”
“You always think I want to remember this moment for ever,” sighs Anita, “but then something better happens! I’ll always remember when ‘No Limits’ was Number One and the album was also Number One.”
Anita, why is Europop so brilliant right now?
“In the past, people only used to watch the USA and Britain for good music but there is a lot of talent in Europe now. Technotronic started it all. 2 Unlimited, Haddaway, Culture Beat — it’s music that makes people happy. And that must be what people need right now.”
“It’s not techno music any longer,” Ray argues. “Your mum sings it! It’s the pop music of the Nineties.”
What does your album sound like? Is it, by any chance…
“More mature! It’s 2 Unlimited into ’94.”
“But it’s not like we’re trying an entirely different style,” Anita cautions.
“Of course it’s the same thing,” Ray concedes. “Rapping, singing… I think it’s gonna be even bigger than No Limit [much laughter behind]. Hey, I can say this without being big-headed! I stand behind my product, you know? I’m proud of it!”
He pauses, then adds with awesome conviction, “We do what we do. We are 2 Unlimited.”
THE LIGHTS go down. The smoke rises. The lights flash pink and blue. Ray Slijngaard issues the rallying cry, “TECHNOTECHNOTECHNOTECHNO!!!” and the place goes mental. A two-song PA over a DAT this may be, but I’d venture to say it’s even more exciting than Counting f***ing Crows at The Forum.
“Are you ready to let the beat control your body?” demands Anita, as surrealistically buxom as a Marvel superheroine, and looking peculiarly kinky in Ice Hockey kneepads. When the beat strikes up, Ray’s Jean Claude Van Damme-inspired dance routine almost sends Anita flying. They almost crack up, but don’t miss a beat.
Like I said, professionals.
They do what they want, and they do it with pride.
© Simon Price, Melody Maker, 14 May 1994