The House Hundred

Portraits of a scene's past, present and future greats

We’re teaming up with Bulldog to select 100 essential people, places and projects in Belgian house music. From producers and DJs to record labels and festivals, these are the forces driving the homegrown house scene forward, one BPM at a time.

Raphael

Raphael

DJ, arts teacher and visual artist

Describe yourself, your background and what you do today.

I’m a dad, a visual artist, a DJ and an art teacher passionately loving the life forces of nature on this planet and all things good and tasty. I’m hooked on vinyl and the healing effect of sound on our lives, bodies and souls.

How has where you come from shaped who you are?

My brother and I are the offspring of two musicians who first met in the late 60s when they were still studying at the Conservatory of Antwerp. They fell in love with music and with each other and we are the living outcome of their passion. As we grew up with music, mum and dad always welcomed friends and family to enjoy their performances. This shaped our lives and ears in the most direct way possible. Music runs through our veins. As a youngster I got involved in radio making at Radio Centraal, a unique non-profit organisation that broadcasted 24/7 programmes free from commercials and censorship or restrictions, kind of revolutionary at the time. That’s where the technical skills of live mixing stung me first. I was immediately fascinated by how adding and mixing layers of sounds, using pre-recorded stuff of all kinds and music, created an atmosphere that makes abstract narrative possibilities one can also find in storytelling without words. Listeners of the radio shows were the first to call me at the studio and invite me to spin records at small alternative parties. From that moment on, my career as a DJ organically found its own path.

In your view, what explains Belgium’s considerable contribution to global house music?

The Belgian scene counts a few leading record labels that released innovative electronic dance music by international artists that didn’t get the same airplay in their homeland. Think Derrick May Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Aphex Twin to name a few. I believe this opened doors for the house and techno scene.

What “makes” our sound what it is?

Belgium is a wealthy place that imported many stuff from all-over the globe and enjoys the absolute freedom to say, think and create without restrictions. This provides our relative young country the best soil to grow weird stuff in my opinion.

“Nightlife-unlimited, that’s what Belgium’s great at.”

What, to you, characterises the country’s unique nightlife?

 The crazy history of nightclubs without closing hours that enables thousands of party people to celebrate life and dance in order to escape boredom.

More specifically, can you talk to us about your home base’s nightlife scene?

When my girlfriend and I started working in the cloakroom of Café d’Anvers in the early 90s this gave us the chance to get discover qualitative house music by both national and international DJs that rocked the club week after week. More leftfield electronics, ambient and drum and bass found their way to the audience on Pacific’s stage, a venue run by the pushing forces that later became the founders of 10 Days Off. Then, at the end of the 90s, Antwerp was in need of an alternative to the well-organised clubs and venues. That’s when the Scheld’Apen opened their doors, a squatted abandoned building along the Schelde in what looked like a post-industrial environment. It was there that my fellow companions and I were the first to make way for electro, broken beats, and bass, introducing our collective called DOZER.

In your view, which place in Belgium best symbolises the country’s way of partying?

I believe Belgium’s particularity is diversity. In the late 80s, Antwerp had many clubs and places playing wave, New Beat, disco and jazz, amongst which the oldest one Gay Bar and some hidden places.
You would need to do a trip across Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels to discover it all. Nightlife-unlimited, that’s what Belgium’s great at.

What, in your opinion, is missing in Belgium nightlife-wise?

The use of good sound-design. We have specialists enough but most places that open their doors for nightlife invest their budget in drinks and forget that the audience’s experience is guarded by the comfort of the DJs and their ears. For some weird reason, the DJ is still mostly always excluded from the dance floor, where the crowd gets irreversible ear damage, because the DJ doesn’t even know what it sounds like out there. Only few organisers really seem to care.

What can politicians do to better support the homegrown scene/nightlife?

 The way I see it, they already do. ‘Het Bos’ for example is my favourite place in Antwerp and it’s a unique venue supported by the government. Politicians could take this organisation as an example of money well-spent to created more of places like these, where creativity in all its forms is stimulated for young and old.

In your view, what are the key ingredients for a good night?

 A non racist, “smart” and gay-friendly door policy. Good Sound. Safe cloakrooms. Lady-friendly toilets. Happy bars’ staff. And a good line-up that opens minds and invites the crowd to explore.

If you had to pick three essential Belgian house music releases, which one would they be and why?

Headhunter – Front 242

Death disco – Arbeit adelt

Moscow disco – Telex

Because these releases opened the way to house and techno and they influenced producers world-wide in an unseen way, and because they still sound as crisp and fresh since the day I discovered them. This timeless stuff fits any party at any moment whether it’s a disco, house or techno party.

If you could put together the line-up of your dreams, which top five Belgian acts would you book and why?

  • Brzzvll live
  • Elco B live
  • Hiele live
  • Stijn (for an early-days Kraakpand-electro-) Live
  • And myself to top it with a freestyle DJ set.

Talk to us about a memorable night out, good or bad.

One of the first nights I organised at the Scheld’apen brought people from different corners of the city together. They were outdoor parties called “Reunite them disassembled parts”. After a night of mayhem and endless dancing, cops paid us a visit while the first rays of sunlight revealed the wonderful mess we made. They told us that they had been searching all night for the source of noise inhabitants of our city’s left bank were complaining about. Those where the days!

What’s in the pipeline for you in the coming months?

I will take part to the next edition of Soundscore for a Sculpture in October this year at Nova, a wonderful forgotten place that will provide us with its outstanding architectural surroundings for an adventure in sound.