Despite its name, 2 Unlimited is actually a quartet, comprised of two behind-the-scenes composer-producers, Phil Wilde and Jean Paul de Coster, and two lyricist-performers, Anita Doth and Ray Slijngaard. The four have worked together since 1991, presenting their audience with regular contributions to the techno sound, the dance club style prevalent throughout Europe in the 1990s. All of the group’s 14 singles have broken the top ten charts and achieved gold and platinum sales worldwide. Ironically, the quartet’s happy careen through sales and celebrity has been accompanied by relentless scorn from music reviewers; their name has become synonymous with techno at its most commercial.
Phil Wilde and Jean Paul de Coster, both from Antwerp, Belgium, created 2 Unlimited in their studio, initially without any performers or vocalists. Both were already adept with the studio’s equipment but, more importantly, they also shared a sensitivity to what will make a crowd dance. Wilde built his reputation deejaying for eight years on the demanding European club scene before investing in his own studio; de Coster ran a successful Antwerp record store. Wilde also provided an experienced background in composition and performance, which he first learned studying classical piano.
Wilde and de Coster first collaborated on a single called “Don’t Miss the Party Line” by Bizz Nizz. When the piece made the European top ten in 1990, the producers decided to continue working together. In 1991 they set down the instrumental dance track “Get Ready for This,” that would later receive vocals with some additional help. As de Coster recalled in Billboard, “We invited rapper Ray Slijngaard to have a go at it. We had worked with him before on ‘Money Money,’ an unreleased single by Bizz Nizz. By September, he returned the tape to us. To our surprise, he had also added the female vocals of a certain Anita Doth, a traffic warden from Amsterdam. He told us she was a good friend of his out of the city’s nightlife. Ray discussed the possibility of forming a duo to front the project.” Happy with what they heard, the producers took Slijngaard and Doth on board.
The team quickly worked out a production routine. Wilde and de Coster composed the music, then carefully, deliberately designed the track on the mixing board. Meanwhile, Doth and Slijngaard worked up the lyrics; “Once we have the melody,” Wilde told Tony Horkins from Melody Maker in 1994, “I give them a cassette-one instrumental, and one with my piano melody… They write the lyrics and they come back to the studio.” Even the vocals, the only acoustic element to begin with, could be sampled to carry a particular sound throughout. Explaining the use of Doth’s voice, for example, Wilde told Horkins that “she does actually sing all three choruses, say, but if one of them is very good we’ll use it all the way through. It’s best for the record.”
Writing for Melody Maker in 1994, Tom Sheehan noted the “widespread suspicion that Slijngaard and [Doth] are brainless puppets.” Although Wilde and de Coster deny the charges, they do allow most of the creative and entrepreneurial credit to fall on their own shoulders. Doth and Slijngaard take second place, acknowledged as largely competent collaborators, but never touted as the driving force of the operation or even as vocal divas. They provide the look of 2 Unlimited—faces, vocals, bodies, outfits, dance routines, video style, and even logo—which all involved consider vital to the group’s success. “If you want continuity for your projects,” de Coster told Flick, “you better give them something visual too… That way, the kids out there can easily relate to it.”
Both born in the Netherlands in 1971, the vocalists came to the producers with part-time music backgrounds. Slijngaard supported himself as a chef at the Schipjol Airport in Amsterdam, rapping at night with a friend and dancing at the city’s clubs; he had something of a reputation for his skills as a break dancer. Doth belonged to an all-female group called Trouble Sisters and did some modeling, but made her living in the traffic-wardens’ division of the Amsterdam police. When “Get Ready for This” came their way, neither one expected it
For the Record…
Members include Phil Wilde (born in Belgium), synthesizer, sampler, and mixing board; Jean Paul de Coster (born in Belgium), synthesizer, sampler, and mixing board; Ray Slijngaard (born c. 1971, in Holland), vobals; and Anita Doth (born c. 1971, in Holland), vocals.
Wilde and de Coster began as duo, mixing dance single “Get Ready for This,” as an instrumental track, 1991; Doth and Slijngaard joined on vocals the same year; group released Get Ready, PWL, 1992.
Awards : Smash Hits magazine Best Newcomer Award, 1992, and Best Dance Act Award, 1993.
to really change their lives. Talking with Sheehan, Doth recalled that she hoped to “sell a few in Holland and Belgium, maybe a dance hit in England.” Slijngaard added that “At best…I thought maybe I’d get some money to open my own restaurant.” When the collaboration proved to be successful enough to make them all professional, Doth and Slijngaard took on more creative roles. Slijngaard told Flick that “Having that kind of input has been key…. I could never be a part of a situation that didn’t allow for my creative expression and growth.”
Like their producers, the vocalists also brought with them an intimate knowledge of the techno audience, since both had been regulars on the Amsterdam underground circuit. Despite that background, however, the two ultimately took part in the mainstreaming of techno. Their manager, Michel Maartens, described that phenomenon for Flick: “When they surfaced, many parents feared that house and techno would damage their children…. It was associated with pills and nightly escapades. But Ray and Anita proved to be the acceptable faces of techno. When mom and dad saw they were harmless pop stars—which is essentially what they still are—all mistrust was over.” The mainstreaming, accomplished by all four artists together, contributed simultaneously to the group’s appeal and to its ill-treatment. Charging the quartet with superficiality and unoriginality, the press heaped scorn on them, regularly referring to them as “2 Untalented.” Simon Price, for example, reviewing Real Things for Melody Maker in 1994, declared that “2 Unlimited are—at best—a crude, bastardized assault on tasteful dance standards.”
Ironically, however, 2 Unlimited proved at least as irresistible as they were unlikable, as most of the commentators from Melody Makerhave demonstrated over the years. Reviewing Get Ready in 1992, Paul Lester suggested the paradox that 2 Unlimited seemed to pose for music critics: the music’s simultaneous shallowness and infectiousness. After noting the “juvenile puerility of the lyrics and rhythms,” he concluded that “2 Unlimited stand for energy and excitement. And if you’re not thrilled by the lobotomising insistence of ‘Workaholic,’ ‘Contrast’ and the rest you’re either dead from the toes up, or too grown-up for your own good.”
Calvin Bush commented on the same phenomenon in 1993; he told Melody Maker readers, “I truly admire the way a nation can unite as one to destroy them and they just have bigger hits than ever before. They’re harmless, gormless goons who’ll be outta sight shortly. Right now, though, they’re Number One Band in Hell by consensus.” Band member Slijngaard defended the act to Sheehan with a simple honesty about their motivation: “Underground bands don’t want to sell records….I respect that, but I want to sell records. I want to make money.”
By 1996, 2 Unlimited had 14 consecutive singles that went top ten in the international market. Their earliest effort, “Get Ready for This,” reached Number Two on the charts. By far their greatest achievement was 1993’s “No Limits,” which hit Number One in 35 countries and sold in excess of two million copies worldwide by 1996. Its attendant album broke three million in sales; Real Thingshings debuted at the top of Billboard’s Hits of the World chart when it came out in 1995. By the time they released a greatest hits compilation in 1996, the record industry had presented them with over 150 gold and platinum records, and MTV had honored the release of Real Things with a three-hour television special at Disneyland, Paris.
The 1995 release of Hits Unlimited was accompanied by an aggressive American advertising campaign aimed at increasing the group’s sales in the United States. Despite their celebrity status in European markets—led first by England, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, later with France and Germany—and Asian and South American markets, name recognition had persistently eluded 2 Unlimited in the United States.
Their music was familiar to any regular club-goer in America; as noted by Larry Flick, their singles had “saturation airplay in nightclubs, television sports programs, malls, boutiques, even aerobic workout sessions.” However, that same club-goer would be hard put to name the group behind the tune.
Get Ready (includes “Get Ready for This,” “Twilight Zone,” “Workaholic,” and “Contrast”), PWL, 1992.
No Limits (includes “No Limits”), PWL, 1993.
Real Things, PWL, 1994.
Hits Unlimited, PWL/Radikal, 1995.
Billboard, September, 1994; March 9, 1996.
Melody Maker, February 22, 1992; July 10, 1993; May 14, 1994; June 4, 1994; February 17, 1996.
—Ondine Le Blanc
"2 Unlimited." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/2-unlimited
"2 Unlimited." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved January 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/2-unlimited
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