"I thank God that the old music is still kicking and alive."
The beloved Dutch Euro-dance troupe Vengaboys have reason to party. Breaking out with 1998's anthem Up & Down, Vengaboys were initially dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan, even novelty. But, in 2023, they are celebrating their 25th anniversary. And Vengaboys are returning to Australia with a blockbuster tour – accompanying them on the Vengabus Danish pop star Whigfield, Alice DJ (formerly Alice Deejay) and UK group N-Trance. Indeed, as a dynamic retro act, they're having the final laugh – joining TikTok.
A cheerful Robin Pors (aka SailorBoy Robin), one of the quartet's three original members alongside Kim Sasabone and Denise Post-van Rijswijk, is chatting via Zoom from wintry Amsterdam at 9am. "It's cold!" he declares. "It's freezing cold outside."
In fact, Pors is contemplating why Vengaboys are so popular in Australia – the group last here for 2019's So Pop run. "I actually don't know," he laughs. "You have to tell me, because you live there." However, Pors continues, "The vibe is so good." He admits that the transit is taxing. "I'm trying to prepare myself for the journey, because I'm flying in tomorrow. But we have a little stuff in Singapore first [a show at Marquee Nightclub]. So that helps a bit – not that much, but a bit." Pors uses flight time to refresh his lyrics.
Appreciating camaraderie on the road, Pors shares an anecdote about The Mad Stuntman – the toaster who fronts Reel 2 Real, likewise on the tour. "I had a lot of fun last time we were in Canada. The [Mad] Stuntman from Reel 2 Real was touring with us and I was like, 'Can you tell me [about] the record I Like To Move It – like how did you do that in the studio? Are you singing always [growls] like this?'
"He was just [rapping sedately], 'I like to move it, move it…' Then somebody said, 'Do something strange with your voice!' And then he did [growls], 'I like to move it!'
"Then, after that conversation, he was always talking like [growls again], 'Hey Robin, how are you doing?' So that was really fun."
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Vengaboys launched in 1997 as a production project helmed by Rotterdam's Wessel van Diepen (DJ Delmundo) and Dennis van den Driesschen (Danski), the same team behind Alice DJ. They pulled together vocalists and dancers, with the Brazilian-Dutch Sasabone, aka Captain Kim, one of two Vengagirls and the lead. The posse had successive mega-hits with guilty pleasure songs such as their signature We Like To Party! (The Vengabus), Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!! and We're Going To Ibiza!. Though predominantly a singles act, they had a big LP in The Party Album!.
Vengaboys cultivated a dedicated gay fanbase. Still, they encountered scorn – particularly from techno purists, the '90s dance music underground condescending of all things 'Eurotrash'. And Vengaboys have had challenges. Popular in India, the group nonetheless faced student protests when in 2001 they were supposed to play Guwahati.
In 2010 Vengaboys issued a comeback single in the hi-NRG Rocket To Uranus, collaborating with American gossip blogger Perez Hilton. Among the songwriters was Anders Wollbeck, whose credits include Army Of Lovers' queerly blasphemous '80s hit Crucified. "I remember them!" Pors enthuses of the Swedes. "Yeah, they were amazing. Actually, I think we met them a few years ago… The Army Of Lovers were on a festival – I think in 2019, somewhere in Europe – and I was like, 'No matter what, I wanna see that show, I wanna see them.' It was really fun."
Memorably, Pete Burns – the flamboyant frontman of Dead Or Alive, iconic for their '80s SAW smash You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) – cameoed in the Rocket To Uranus video. Alas, Burns passed in 2016. "Yes, that's really sad," Pors rues. "It was amazing to work with Pete. It's very strange to call him ['Pete'] because, on the set, he was transferred in somebody else. But, when Pete entered the room, everybody was just quiet. The outfit, and the vibe, he was wearing was amazing. He did an amazing job in the video. So I'm really proud to have worked with him."
In recent years Vengaboys have capitalised on '90s nostalgia – which boomed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, music consumers seeking comfort in the familiar. Some pundits maintain that retrodom has negatively impacted the music industry, denying contemporary artists sufficient exposure – The Atlantic publishing a think-piece 'Is Old Music Killing New Music'.
Pors dismisses that argument. "I don't believe that, because there are a lot of good artists – they are new and they're amazing and they're very popular. You have Ariana Grande, you have Sam Smith – you name it. But I thank God that the old music is still kicking and alive, because there's some great music from the '80s. Well, '70s also… And so I'm glad that we're still listening to that. But I think there is space for everyone – for songs from the '90s or from the '80s and for new artists now. So I don't think the world is too small for music."
Either way, Vengaboys aim to keep their shows fresh, often adding covers – and not necessarily throwbacks. In 2021, the group remade Charli XCX's single 1999 (with Troye Sivan), sentimentally re-titling it 1999 (I Wanna Go Back) – the electro-star herself a Vengaboys fan.
In 2020, Up & Down was remixed by Sydney's Timmy Trumpet for the festival circuit – the Australian super-DJ promoting it in the press. "I think he was a big fan of our songs – and we loved his songs," Pors says. "So, for some reason, our producer met him or talked with him and then they were like [assumes high voice], 'Oh, we're gonna work together.'" Ostensibly, Vengaboys worked in person with Timmy – yet Pors contradicts that. "We didn't meet, actually." Regardless, he suggests they'll perform the remix in Australia.
In the meantime, US DJ Wuki has dropped an official mash-up of We Like To Party! with Yo! Majesty's Club Action in We Like To Wuki.
Vengaboys have aired minimal new music in later years – the fold's output slowing as Sasabone started a family in the early 2000s. They mainly head into the studio to ready material for live sets. Is there any prospect of Vengaboys cutting more bops? "I think in the future we're gonna record a new record or single, but not for the moment, no," Pors responds. "We're touring and just enjoying the world." He isn't adverse to the suggestion. "Maybe we should make an album again – that would be nice, actually. I'm down for that. But, you know, everybody in a group has to be down for that. So I need to ask my colleagues. But I would love it!"
Pors has some wild ideas for potential collabs. "I just found out Madonna is touring," he jokes. "Madonna would be nice, for a change. Just a small artist – I'm not aiming high. But Madonna would be cool, don't you think?
"Also we love Kylie Minogue. Maybe we can do a song of Kylie Minogue['s] in the show as well – that's also nice. Because Kylie is from Down Under – she's like the Madonna of Australia, actually…"
A quarter of a century in, and Vengaboys have defied the haters. Does even the hyper-positive Pors feel vindicated? "It's funny that you say that because, back in the days, people were stressing us a bit like, 'Oh, it's a one hit wonder and they're not gonna last…' So we heard that a few times in the '90s. And we were like, 'Well, we see what happens…' We just explode[d] with the song and then another song so… and then you go with the flow."
Pors recalls an interview with an Australian journalist who described their songs as "evergreens", touching him. "I was like, 'Oh, that's a big compliment' – that's something special, if you have an evergreen in your genre of music. So that's very cool.
"I didn't expect, 25 years later, to still [be] doing this when we started out – because we started out as like, 'Oh, let's make some music and let's have some fun.'"
Perhaps Vengaboys should call their classics 'Vengagreens'? "That's a good one, yes – that's the new phrase I'm gonna use from now on," Pors laughs. "So you helped me with this."
Ironically, Beyoncé drew on Euro-dance for her album RENAISSANCE – especially the single BREAK MY SOUL. Pors jokes about biting, but he belongs to the Beyhive. "I love the song BREAK MY SOUL," he extols. "It's an amazing song. I love the sound of what she's using; the sound of Robin S a bit. So I think that's amazing. And, just like the '80s sounds are coming back often, with Dua Lipa and those kind of [artists], it's amazing that [they] will bring the '90s music back in the new music. [There's] still space for everyone: the old music, the new music and the next music. So I think it's amazing – and I love the album of Beyoncé['s]. It's amazing."
Presently, Pors is anticipating his touch down in the Antipodes, Vengaboys devising an itinerary for downtime. "I think we're gonna do the Great Barrier Reef," he says. But, mostly, they plan to visit the beach. "We're so glad that it's summer over there and the sun is shining. I'm gonna enjoy restaurants, the people… I think I'm gonna hang out in some clubs, if it's possible. So, yeah, I'm gonna make the most of it – because I think I'm looking forward to this tour for more than a year now.
"We had the pandemic situation and we were like, 'Ohhh…' In that period, it was a bit depressing for an artist to sit at home for a long time. I was like, 'The first thing I would love to do is go back to Australia,' because that's my go-to place where I feel happy.'"
Pors promises "some surprises" in their "festive" – and energetic – concert. "I have to work out for the show a lot," he notes. And the Dutchman is chuffed to learn that local audiences are up for partying after experiencing cabin fever during lockdowns – embracing a new English idiom. "We are ready to party, too!," Pors proclaims. "It's gonna be a big party. So, hopefully, all the party people are coming out; [to] celebrate our 25th anniversary. No cabin fever is allowed anymore! We have to get out; enjoy the sun, enjoy parties, enjoy music from all ages and eras. So I'm down for Down Under."
Wednesday 8 February - Gilligan's | Cairns, QLD
Thursday 9 February - The Fortitude Music Hall | Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 11 February - Forum Melbourne | Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 12 February - Forum Melbourne | Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 16 February - Big Top | Sydney, NSW
Friday 17 February - Waves | Wollongong, NSW
Saturday 18 February - Hindley Street Music Hall | Adelaide, SA
Sunday 19 February - Metro City | Perth, WA