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.

High on House

High on House

Sam Schnabel, DJ and promoter

Describe yourself, your background and what you do today.

I grew up in Schelle, a small town near Antwerp and got into DJing when I was 13 years old. This led me to joining a youth club – JOKOT based in Niel – at age 17, where I took my first steps in organising parties. I kept this up for a couple of years, but after graduating from secondary school I moved to Antwerp and focussed on my accounting studies and DJing. Eventually I started working as an accountant – which I still do part-time today – but I’m also still very active as a DJ and am continuously trying to improve my studio skills. On top of that, I joined forces with Tim Gys and Christoph Van Hecke (AKA Bocain) about four years ago, founding High On House and later Balance, which kind of kickstarted a new era in my life.

How has where you come from shaped who you are?

Growing up in Schelle, I would sometimes feel a bit isolated – but looking back now, this has actually proven to be a good thing. It forces you to find your own way, and if done with the right spirit, you can learn so much. Music-wise, it took me a while before I eventually found my own style, something that wasn’t a copy of some famous club DJ. Same thing applies for the parties we used to throw: with only a small budget and no real examples we could base it on or previous experience, we just tried to make the best out of our situation and found our way through event organisation.

In your view, what explains Belgium’s considerable contribution to global house music? What “makes” our sound what it is?

The biggest influence on Belgium’s legacy of global house music is easily the Antwerp-based Bonzai Records. Just a bunch of friends and DJs making music they liked, messing around with synths and playing them straight away in clubs, they formed a very distinctive, energetic sound which was completely unheard of at the time. A sound which obviously became way bigger than they themselves ever expected. As to what makes our sound, the “Belgian sound”, I honestly have no clue. I am confident though that true passion will always shine through, and that everything starts from there. Every generation has its own style. And although we’re known for the darker, harder stuff, I think our sound is more related to a certain time and the upcoming club culture that had to be nurtured and fed.

Can you talk to us about your home-base’s nightlife scene? What makes it special, who are its main players?

Antwerp’s main player is easily ID&T, the entertainment enterprise behind Tomorrowland. But besides that, we’re still pretty spoiled over here. I still remember how as an 18-year-old-kid, I would look forward to an international act for weeks. Today, Antwerp can regularly enjoy seeing up to a handful of international headliners across Antwerp in one weekend. This is easily the most exciting things happening in Antwerp’s nightlife right now, and it’s all thanks to the promoters, clubs and friends hard at work. Think Kattenkwaad, UNDER, Klank, Floorfiller, Club Vaag, Ampere, Cafe d’Anvers, Edge,… The list goes on. Shout out to all them guys for contributing to a strong Antwerp nightlife alongside our own projects High On House and Balance! Having said that, parties here tend to start late, lasting until the early morning. I hope to see this mentality change someday, and that we see clubs being packed from early again. A bit like in the UK, but without their 4h curfew.

To you, which place in Belgium best symbolises the country’s way of partying?
It has to be Brussels’ Fuse – pretty much the beginning of club culture in Belgium as we know it today. The fact that it’s still going strong is a beautiful thing, and the ultimate proof that Belgium still loves and supports what they do. Besides that, as an Antwerpenaar, I have to mention Café d’Anvers. Equally iconic!

In your opinion, what is missing in Belgium in terms of nightlife?
I like to consider nightlife as something which goes beyond mere club nights – and in that aspect, Belgium’s already in a pretty good place. We have a lot of clubs, a vibrant nightlife, plenty of largescale festivals which have established a strong following outside of Belgium too, and in more recent years a growing number of boutique festivals. Having said that, we could do with more spontaneity, like having the opportunity to organise a small outdoor event on short notice. The volume regulations should also be reconsidered – I don’t see the point in throwing outdoor parties if people are able to have a deep conversation in front of the DJ booth, omitting festivals of course.
However overall, I think the main debate should revolve around club curfews. Another issue is that of drugs: of course, illegal substances are present at numerous cultural events, yet as controversial as they may be, I’m adamant that they should be legalised. It’s more important to better inform people, like having (large) venues provide drug-testing services. Drugs have always been present in nightlife and is here to stay, regardless of the many wars carried out against it. It’s high time to reconsider drugs, to have a more open and constructive discussion.

 

What can politicians do to better support the homegrown scene/nightlife? For instance, what do you make of Amsterdam having a nightlife mayor?
A nightlife mayor would be a great asset, and Amsterdam is definitely an example that other cities should follow. I’m confident that a vibrant nightlife contributes to the economy and culture of its city, bringing together all sorts of crowds thanks to all the different sub-economies merging together. All pointing to how crucial it is for city councils to invest in their nightlife. Having said that, this remains cultural first and foremost – money should never be made the main concern, and instead we should look towards making it as inclusive and accessible as possible.This is where the nightlife mayor should step in: appointing someone with a good understanding of politics, music and culture who will provide a solid vision and serve as a middleman between politicians and all of us who provide some sort of culture to the city. Allowing us promotors, music- and culture-loving fanatics, to improve what we’re already doing, with more respect and dialogue between all the parties involved. Furthermore, this interaction could enhance the way the City determines its cultural policies, with substantial on-site knowledge and feedback reaching the decision-makers. I’ve always been convinced that working altogether on all levels is key, and bringing a nightlife mayor to the table would not only solve some of the negative issues surrounding nightlife but would also be a massive step in the right direction more generally.

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

There’s a number of things to consider: a diverse crowd of true music lovers, an adequately organised event with no time lost on endless queuing, well-chosen line-ups that ensure a solid warm-up session as well as smooth transitions between the acts, and a good sound-system. And no VIP! People should be dancing, not posing with ridiculously expensive bottles of champagne.

If you had to pick three essential Belgian house music releases, what would they be and why?
There’s so many to pick from – this is a tough question. I’ve chosen three iconic, yet very different tracks, that had a massive impact in their time, influencing many other artists and forming the base for the music I love today.

 

Technotronic – Pump Up The Jam

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EcjWd-O4jI

Push – Universal Nation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnBeTPpr98g

Telex – Moscow Discow

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c639hksrUzU

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

Sven Van Hees – a Belgian house and lounge music pioneer. Pretty much love everything he does.

Niels Feijen – a High On House resident and good friend that deserves all the attention he gets, and more. One of Belgium’s finest tech house DJs!

Tom Smeyers – he instantly had me hooked the second I heard him play. Very fresh house, Italo and Detroit sounds!

FCL – Red D and San Soda’s house project, which was responsible for the track It’s Youand the main reason why I’ve chosen them.

Nukov&Yelmet – loads of good DJs and producers to choose from, but these guys just always seem to get the vibe right.
And as a cheeky extra, I myself would love to play!

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

It’s hard to choose just one, as there’s been many memorable ones these past years. But I think I’d have to go with High On House’s one-year anniversary in the former Petrol Club. Our concept was founded without any intentions – it was just meant to be a small party for friend, by friends. Over the course of the first year, more and more people found their way to our High On House events, and we expected a crowd of 600 people at our one-year anniversary bash. Eventually more than 1,000 turned up. The line-up was perfect, with Ramon Tapia and Di Chiari Brothers headlining, and the vibe was right, with smiling faces all night long. This night was really a turning point for us as an organisation: from then on, we shifted gears and started utilising the full potential of what we already had going. Bringing the sound we believed in, giving young DJs and artists a platform and continuously trying to improve our visitors’ experience. Even today, we are still micromanaging every step of the process in order to try to stay one step ahead of the game and thereby making a difference.

Aftermovie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkwquPfZB3c

 

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

We have three events coming up before summer kicks off. First one is on 2ndMarch at Club Vaag with Detlef – he’s already played for us once, and since he’s currently one of my favourite producers I’m personally really looking forward to that one. The other two are still secret, but due to be announced soon! This summer we’ve also been invited to host a couple of events, with the biggest one yet just announced: Tomorrowland! On top of all this, we’re also working on a booking agency. Interesting times ahead.