Soulwax: still tearing up the musical landscape

Stephen & David Dewaele - Soulwax/2ManyDJs

Two brothers whose musical prowess fuels three different live shows return to Britain for a festival-fuelled summer as their two alter-egos, 2ManyDJs and Soulwax.

Stephen and David Dewaele hit the radar after being largely responsible for reinventing the remix when, as 2ManyDJs, they dismantled over 40 records and rebuilt them by mixing riffs and vocals from different tracks. Their triple-gold 2002 album As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt 2 neatly vaults across decades and genres, from Peaches to the Velvet Underground, from The Stooges to Salt ‘n’ Pepa, from Lil Louis’ house classic French Kiss to Belgian ravers the Lords of Acid.

These days such musical mashups appear every other week on bootlegged white labels, but the brothers spent two years embroiled in what must be the world’s most dedicated act of licence clearing. From 114 chosen recordings, 62 of the owners refused permission and 11 could not be traced. Even the cover artwork caused a legal wrangle after the owner complained of his photograph being mashed up along with the music on the record.

Speaking from his hometown of Ghent in Belgium, Stephen says: “I don’t think we could ever make a record like that again. It was pretty special, at a musical level and on a clearing level, it’s something no one had ever done before.

“Musically it was at the right time, a lot of dance music was still house music, very anal about itself in my opinion. We were just rock kids, going hey, this is fun, but we just don’t want to groove out for 12 minutes, we want to rock for one minute and then move on to something else.”

But even before their 2ManyDJs radio shows, albums and DJ sets, the brothers had been working hard at Soulwax, their bluesy sometimes almost psychedelic rock band whose sound has become gradually more infected with dirty electronic sounds and dancefloor beats, from their 1996 debut Leave the Story Untold, to 1999s breakthrough album Much Against Everyone’s Advice followed by Any Minute Now in 2005.

It’s a combination popular enough to have found favour with most indie rockers over the last decade, from Franz Ferdinand to Interpol.

How did a Belgium rock act end up spearheading an invasion of electronic dance rhythms into tight-trousered guitar music worldwide?

“Out of boredom, really,” he says. “When you’re in a band you play live but waste so much time before and after just hanging around. We’d support other bands and we’d be free so we’d ask the DJ, who most of the time would be playing house music, if we could play, and most of the time they’d be happy. We wanted to hear something different. We need the chaos.”

It is Soulwax’s standout remixes of the likes of Justice, Klaxons, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip and The Gossip that has put them in such high demand.

Stephen says: “The electronic sound has always been in us, from the very first Soulwax record. We grew up on stoner rock, but even then we were interested in using electronics. We just never have imagined 2ManyDJs would have become so big, or that our remixes would become so big.”

In fact, their native Ghent hosts I Love Techno, a massive technofest every year in November for 35,000 ravers, and is the home to pioneering techno label R&S records, so their love of dark electronic noises and pulsing rhythms comes with a good pedigree.

“That Frank de Wulf [leading Euro techno DJ], he’s a friend of mine,” recalled Stephen. “I lent him all my Kraftwerk records when I was 15 when he had a radio show. I bumped into him the other day, and realised I keep forgetting my hometown is at the heart of techno.”

He adds: “For us, I really love DJing, playing music live, writing music and producing music for other people too. I’m very lucky that we’re able to do all these things with a fair amount of success,” he laughs, “because we never planned on it.”

And the chance to see the before and after effects of their treatment has not been missed – “We used to play the original Gossip track [Standing In The Way Of Control] before anyone else, we’d DJ and see everyone go nuts on it. We thought, this is a rock track with a dance feeling to it, but it just needs to get beefed up. We remixed it for no money and when you see the result it’s really gratifying.”

This month sees the release of Part of the Weekend Never Dies, a “film-slash-documentary” of the last three years touring around the world, part live show and part behind-the-scenes footage featuring some of the bands Soulwax gigged with: Erol Alkan, Tiga, Justice, Busy P, So-Me, Peaches, Kitsuné and Klaxons.

The full Radio Soulwax tour sees Stephen on guitar and vocals and David on keyboards play alongside Stefaan Van Leuven and Steve Slingeneyer as the Soulwax live band. They belt out not just own rock tracks but also their many successful remixes of other artists and the work they have done remixing themselves, Nite Versions.

Released in 2005, Nite Versions is a dancefloor-friendly re-imagining of their third album Any Minute Now with a hat-tip to the 12” mixes of the 1980s, which bands like Duran Duran called their “night versions.”

“It’s hard to remix your own music,” Stephen says, “it’s a bit of an exercise, but we managed it in two weeks after we just got our head round the fact that you can’t be too precious about it.”

How do you feel about other people taking the cutters’ knife to Soulwax records as you do to theirs?

“I’ve got no problem with people remixing our records, but nothing has made me stand up and go, wow. But, no problem, they can do whatever they want,” laughs Stephen.

“We’ve been bootlegged so much, there are whole record labels full of radio DJ sets that we’ve been doing. It’s so easy with modern technology, who am I to stop them?”

With talk in Britain of the government implementing a tax on internet users to cover illegal music downloads, it’s clear that the music industry is experiencing a seismic shift that Stephen acknowledges is pulling in different directions.

“I think the revenue for bands is shifting to live gigs, things are changing and we have to go with it not try and fight it. I mean, a lot of publishing contracts are not the best in the world, they’re based on old ideas and ideals. But I have no problem with people taking music, fucking it up and making something new—unless they get a number one with it!”

Soulwax play at Get Loaded in the Park on Clapham Common, Bank Holiday Sunday August 24. www.getloadedinthepark.com

 

[This article originally appeared in The Big Issue]