What your background is and what you’re up to today?
I’ve been running R&S for 35 years, which is basically the first house & techno labe, if you want to call it that way. Before that I was a DJ, a hairdresser… I had seven jobs and made 10 million mistakes. Actually I always wanted to be a drummer, but I was not focused enough. So I started DJing and working at a record shop and that’s where I learned the tricks of the trade.
How would you explain R&S’ success story?
Because we didn’t give a damn. It’s a very short answer but since the start in 83, I’ve witnessed a lot of musical movements from soul to glam rock. It was my dream to start an eclectic label with, of course, dance music, but also punk, jazz or electro. But at the time, dance music was new and fresh so we created a fan base and were quickly marked as a techno label. A part of me felt like I was stuck; I wanted to tell these people: “Listen to something else, why do you all want to dance on the same rhythms?” So I eventually took a 10-year break because I was sick of doing the same thing over and over. I went to live in a farm, breeding horses, spending my time in nature and not even listening to music. I needed that honest contact with animals because I was over dealing with artists and managers.
How has where you come from shaped who you are today?
I was born in Ghent. I think you are born somewhere and everything around you has an influence: music, your parents… Whatever. My father only listened to classical music, so I’m quite different but maybe it was good training without me realising it.
You also had a radio…
Indeed, Radio Republica because we stated ourselves a republic. I had a studio in my apartment for many years where everybody used to hang out and make music. It was insane when I think about it: you had people sleeping on the floor and creating day and night. I had all those guys from around the world, so I went to national radio stations and asked them if we could work together and if they would play their records. They started laughing and said that all the kids wanted to listen to was rock n roll. I was so pissed that I called a friend and I said I was going to launch a radio station in 24 hours, which I did. I don’t take no for an answer, so I invited this whole scene and rented the satellite. We broadcasted for hours a night and it took off.
In your view, what explains Belgium’s considerable contribution to global house music? What “makes” our sound what it is?
To me house is nothing more than the 21st century’s disco. Belgians being the centre of Europe and having a serious electronic clubbing culture, it was natural for the country to become a key player of the scene. We don’t have soul singers here; we’re not in the UK or the US; all we had was machines to express ourselves and go global.
So, it’s the nightlife really playing a role.
Hell yeah. When New Beat came, Belgium was only about electronic music and nightclubbing. I’m not saying that Germany didn’t have an underground scene in small cafés but it wasn’t at the same scale. You could see a thousand kids queuing in the morning to get in the clubs. The entire world was watching. Today things have changed; clubs need to book five DJs each playing for only two hours. Just let them do their job so you can go on a musical voyage.
I guess it’s also about the crowd looking for the big names…
That’s it. Kids are used to being spoiled with international line-ups so they go for the most famous ones. It’s hard for them to go to a club if they don’t know the artist. We’re getting at a point where promoters need headliners to sell tickets.
To you, which place in Belgium best symbolises the country’s way of partying?
I don’t know because you have good clubs everywhere and it’s only in the last three to four years that we have an interesting club scene coming back. I would say Ampere in Antwerp and Kompass in Ghent are one of the main clubs in Europe. Kompass was launched by two young music lovers and their club is absolutely brilliant. The crowd in Ghent is interesting because it’s a university city so we have a lot of young people and clubs don’t get filled with the black t-shirts and Pradas. We have a nice balance of people looking for good music and a nice experience.
According to you, how has the scene evolved over the years?
There’s incredible music being made and now I’m probably going sound like granddad, but I miss the eclectic selections DJs used to play for hours in clubs.
Today everyone does the same thing and they only play for 2 hours, it’s ridiculous. We’re also sending the wrong message to kids, telling them that this is techno and they’ll get paid loads of money as a DJ when they make it. Look at the flyers, from New Zealand to Belgium they’re all the same. It’s like going to Mac Donalds.
What else is missing in Belgium’s nightlife?
Ladies. If I play now I only play for women, no joke. Even when I was young I used to look at women, because if they don’t dance, you have no party. Women create an atmosphere and they’re more prepared to work the dynamics of music. Men and women are different and I think women have this third eye in a lot of aspects.
What can politicians do to better support the homegrown nightlife?
Do we always need help from the government? No, sort it out yourself and try to do something. 9 will fail out of the 10, but the one who succeeds will have something interesting to offer to people. If we start subsiding everything, the scene will get lazy.
I’m an independent guy and no ones going to help me – end of story. And as far as the DB limits are concerned, it’s about a good sound system, not about cranking it up until your ears explode.
“Today, I’d rather release a record that doesn’t sell than sell my soul to make money.”
Can you tell us about a memorable night?
The last one that marked me was when I played for 12 hours at a party 3 months ago. I hadn’t experienced that for the last 15 years. I have no idea what I did anymore, to be honest I never know what I’m doing. But I remember the crowd was receptive; I play the hip hop and Miles Davis and they went for it.
Getting back to R&S Records, are you still as involved as you used to?
The office is now in London because it was a strategic city and our production manager takes care of the daily management of the label. I take care of the contracts and the main decisions but I don’t wait to be involved in the daily running anymore. That’s the reason why I stopped before; all I want to care about now is music. When I think about it I come to realise that I was lying to myself: releasing nonsense to pay my staff and make a turnover. Today I’d rather release a record that doesn’t sell than sell my soul to make money.
What’s in the pipeline for the next coming months?
I’m doing a sunset gig in the desert in Dubai, which I’m really looking forward to. I know it’s a Burning Man kind of crowd, but I will stay true to myself and take them on a trip. It’s going be intense, because they will take me straight from the airport to the desert and after the sunset gig, I’ll have to leave to play at another club. Exciting, but tiring