Soulwax - There Can Never Be Too Many DJs
Soulwax are probably the third biggest Belgian export – after beer and chocolate of course – and definitely the most exciting, having masterminded the mash-up craze that has been driving underground clubbing for the best part of this decade. With a new film in tow and a return to Australia, 3D’s Cyclone got the buzz and was told what’s happening in their enviable world.
Soulwax haven’t succumbed to writer’s block, but it has been ages since they presented an album. While the Belgians have toured solidly, they’ve not avoided the studio altogether. They don’t yet belong to that elite group (Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo) of recording artists MIA. However, instead of honing another LP, the indie-dance mavericks have ventured off into filmmaking. Indeed, Soulwax’s core, Stephen and David Dewaele, also known as 2ManyDJs, are promoting the insightful documentary Part of the Weekend Never Dies.
The Dewaeles had aspired to preview the film – which centres on their wildly successful Radio Soulwax concept – at Cannes. It didn’t transpire.
“Yeah,” David laughs bashfully. “In the end we didn’t because, in true Soulwax style, we decided to go on tour or something and we couldn’t finish the film. So we finished it a few months later and, well, it’s coming out now!”
The flick actually premiered in London this past April. The DVD, accompanied by an additional live film, is materialising just as Soulwax return to Australia for Parklife. As it happens, Stephen, the older Dewaele, studied film, but both brothers edited POTWND alongside budding Brit director Saam Farahmand, who counts among his video credits Klaxons.
“We were involved in everything to the very last detail of checking the subtitles to making sure the DVD menu has Easter eggs – pretty much everything that’s in the film we’ve had our say in,” David offers. He had no idea that the enterprise would be so time-consuming. “It was definitely a lot of work – more work than we ever thought.”
The Dewaeles are as unorthodox as they are versatile. The siblings from Ghent introduced their indie outfit Soulwax with the early (and oft-forgotten) album Leave the Story Untold back in 1996. For that, they teamed with Chris Goss, who’s lately produced UNKLE. Then came 1999’s breakthrough Much Against Everyone’s Advice, comprising the propitious tune Too Many DJ’s [sic].
Soulwax cut their next LP, Any Minute Now, with U2’s chum Flood. By this stage the band had developed an identifiably modern indie-dance sound – as heard on the hit E Talking – that soon permeated the wider club scene. Unusually, the Dewaeles reached a broader fanbase through their moonlighting as 2ManyDJs – The Glimmers’ rockier cousins.
The Dewaeles, their dad a radio jock, championed a radical ‘mash-up’ ethos on their Studio Brussel radio program, Hang The DJ. Stephen began the show with Soulwax drummer Steve Slingeneyer, David stepping in when the latter moved to New York. 2ManyDJs’ 2002 spin-off compilation As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Part 2 – there was no Part 1 – provided an antidote to the narrow genrecasting of late ’90s dance (and pop) culture. In turn, it spawned countless bootlegs. 2ManyDJs were universally copied.
In 2005, a year after Any Minute Now, Soulwax unleashed the stopgap Nite Versions. More than a remix set, it reconciled Soulwax with 2ManyDJs. Soulwax even covered Daft Punk’s Teachers from their classic Homework, though, David lets slip, they’d never dream of touching their rock heroes AC/DC. Along the way, the Dewaeles devised a “little festival”, Radio Soulwax, which toured the globe – Australia included.
At the start of 2007 Stephen confirmed that Soulwax were preparing a fourth album. He was cagey about the direction but, when pressed, described their demos as having “more electronic influences”. The easygoing David is equally unforthcoming today but, he assures, they’ll be finishing a project following their Australian dates.
“The minute we come home after Australia, we’re gonna really [focus on it]. We’ve just been touring indefinitely. I think we stop 2 November. Then we’re gonna finish up all the things, all the loose ends, we’ve started over the last year and release them as soon as possible.”
Where are their heads at, then-
“At very, very, very many different places,” David teases. “That’s why we think it won’t be just one Soulwax album.” Does he mean a double-album- “Maybe not even an album!” he responds mysteriously.
The Dewaeles have themselves entered the production field. They guided Tiga’s overlooked Sexor. Ask most (dance) critics and they’ll tell you that music hasn’t been this exciting in years. David is less convinced.
“As DJs, there’s something that’s never gonna really change – there’s always random small things like little 12 inches here [and there]... [but] I have to say I haven’t heard any full album that I’ve been blown away by since the MGMT album [Oracular Spectacular], which I felt was really, really, really good.
“There’s a bunch of new things, people who we’re working with production-wise, who obviously I’m into. Late Of The Pier are a really incredible band from the UK that we took on tour with us as support. They just finished an album produced by our friend Erol Alkan. I think it’s gonna be big. They’re really good – it blew me away.
“But, in a way, that’s all work and, when I come home, that’s the last thing I listen to. I don’t listen to good contemporary music. All I listen to is old stuff, like jazz from the ’30s or big band stuff or weird Turkish folk music. Subconsciously, if you’re involved in music so much, your brain tends to steer away from certain things and pushes you to other places – and that’s what’s happening to us right now. The last thing I would listen to in my house or on my iPod right now, the last thing I would listen to for myself, would be a new hip band. Your brain just subconsciously strays away from those things if that’s what you do all day and all night already.”
Nevertheless, Soulwax could emerge as Europe’s DFA, the Dewaeles citing James Murphy & Co. as allies (Murphy cameos in POFTWND). Soulwax, too, have been broached to remodel pop acts. And they intend to do more external production.
“In fact, right now, while I’m doing this [interview], we’re working on the second Tiga album,” David reveals. “And we’ve done another band which is completely different – but the album’s not gonna come out ’til January. It’s a band called Das Pop. They’re also from Belgium. They seem to be getting a lot of hype.
“We’ve been approached recently to do production for a few big acts. It is something that interests us, but we wanna do our thing first. We’ll do odd things here and there... There’s a few upcoming things, like smaller bands, where we’re gonna do their albums, but more loosely. It’s not gonna be like with Tiga, where we spend days in the studio writing the songs with them. It’ll be more like a production thing where we just come into the studio and spend three weeks working on it.”
So, what if Madonna called to say she’s sick of vibing with RNB moguls and wants Soulwax-
“In her case, we’d do it, just ’cause it is a huge challenge,” David says, all earnestness. “I think we’d do it. There’s been a lot of [artists] who we’ve turned down for various reasons – sometimes just for time or ’cause we don’t feel it. There’s been a few recently approaching us... We’re quite interested in doing something more poppy.”
WHAT: Play Parklife / Part of the Weekend Never Dies through Liberator
WHEN: Sunday 5 October / Out now
MORE: fuzzy.com.au / soulwax.com