It's difficult for me to overstate my enthusiasm for 2 Many DJs and what they've done for the international music scene since the duo - brothers David and Stephen Dewaele - began moonlighting from their supposed 'day job' in the Belgian rock band Soulwax to play records in nightclubs and bars. Stubbornly unpretentious in their tastes, gleefully determined to avoid genre-lisations, 2 Many DJs come to the party with one clear aim: to get you dancing. They achieve this by playing pop music, rock music, electronic music, hip-hop music, famous music, obscure music - and every now and then, really bad music too.
They also succeed by bringing a near-genius instinct for what unlikely combinations of records will work with each other: Green Velvet with Led Zeppelin, perhaps; Nirvana with Destiny's Child; The Stooges with Salt'n'Pepa. These are the 'bootleg' mixes or 'mash-ups' of which you may have heard about, but the Dewaeles, by nature of their musical upbringing and studio experience, do more than bounce a couple of tracks together on hi-tech software: they edit, loop, EQ, pitch control and edit again to turn the result into something entirely original.
An outgrowth of their Belgian radio show, the 2 Many DJ's 46 track megamix, As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2, has become something of an international sensation since its release on the Belgian label Play It Again Sam in the spring of last year. The album made many a Year End List (including my own and the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll), has sold well into the six figures, and helped launch at least one hit single: 'Danger! High Voltage' by Detroit's Electric 6 (credited on the album as The Wildbunch and featuring the White Stripes on backing vocals). I've played As Heard
yet again while writing this intro and still can't tire of its programming and segueing: I maintain that it's not just the Last Great Mix CD, but one of the most perfect party mixes ever packaged to the public.
'As Heard' would not have meant so much to me if I hadn't witnessed the duo perform so many equally riotous gigs without the benefit of studio time and computer technology: there are few DJs around who can transform a room's energy so rapidly as this unassuming pair. Not only that, their unrepentant celebration of apparently conflicting styles arrived on the scene at the perfect moment - just when dance music was so busy navel-gazing that it had lost sight of where it was going, allowing a number of rockists to take over the clubs with their own equally narrow focus. 2 Many DJs are not only capable of playing to both audiences, they more or less insist upon it. And while they've performed their share of exclusive gigs (Halloween and New Year's Eve at New York City's ultra-hip Tribeca Grand Hotel), they're just as likely to drop in on seedy bars unannounced and for free: in Manhattan, they've regularly shown up at the downtown dives Lit and Plant, and at the recent Winter Music Conference in Miami they also chose small rooms that simulate a house party atmosphere over the impersonal megaclubs.
There are further explanations for my own enthusiasm. 2 Many DJs' genre-busting playlists remind me of my own DJing experiences in the early 90s, when it was entirely expected to play several different styles of music in one night and for some of it to be overtly commercial and not necessarily 'cool'. And, on an even more personal level, included on the Hank The DJ shows (which have been archived at the Soulwax site and have also been pressed up as CD bootlegs) are such cult classics as 'Boominbackatcha' by Freq Nasty, 'Same Old Show' (with The Selecter loop) by Basement Jaxx, 'Plastic Dreams' by Jaydee, 'Closer' by NIN and 'Killer' by Adamski, all of which indicate that only do 2 Many DJ's have great ethics and great skills, they also have superb taste. (Their occasionally lapses, a la Nik Kershaw's 'Dancing Girls' and Paul McCartney's 'Temporary Secretary' are the exceptions that prove the rule.)
Finally, by careening from their ongoing work as a rock band into a job as radio DJs and producers of unlikely mixes and 'mash-ups,' Stephen and David have challenged conventional career expectations for the modern musician and faced down (in court) the petty guardians of the industry. They're part of a new generation that's changing the way we absorb and purchase music, and they're doing it because they love the music. Nothing more contrived than that.
We talked extensively in October over a long lunch at the Tribeca Grand while Stephen was nursing a cold from constant travel and lack of sleep. We talked so much that I was scared to transcribe the interview. My thanks to Anisha for taking on that brave task and dealing with their thick accents, occasional lapses of English grammar and the many references to obscure Belgian techno producers and English glam bands. Yes, Frank the Wolf does make more sense than Frank de Wulf...
(We start off talking about the Electroclash scene. Stephen and David had just played Larry Tee's Second annual Electroclash festival at Webster Hall.)
David Dewaele: It's just weird, the whole electroclash thing.
Stephen Dewaele: I think Peaches, and us, and Chicks on Speed are not necessarily electroclash. I think the name is very unfortunate. I think we do something which is different but it's not electroclash.
Tony Fletcher-Although you have Peaches and Adult on your album and some cool 80's records, I just don't think of you in that sense. When I think of electroclash, I've got this clichéd image of octave bass lines, spoken, icily-cool, ironic vocals...
Stephen: And people lip-syncing over playback tapes, and that's it.
-Yes. Whereas I think of you as a) fucking it all up, in a good way, and b) going on a musical journey, and c) doing what to me DJing is about - taking different things and making something new. So when you take a Peaches track and it comes out of the Velvet Underground, that is part of what you're doing as DJ's, to me it doesn't render you electroclash any more than it makes you part of Andy Warhol's Factory.
Stephen: It shows how people, especially in New York, really need a category, they really need to put a tag on things.
David: Now it's electroclash but a few months ago it was "the bootleg CD," and "the mash-ups."
Stephen: And after that it'll be something else.
- So the background, with your father being a DJ. . .
Stephen: He was one of the first Belgian radio Djs, I think, in '68, and '69, and he had a show where he played a lot of the rock stuff, he played Led Zeppelin, and all these things, and people in Belgium were really into it. And then he went to do Radio Luxembourg, and he met Jimmy Saville and all these guys, and then they got a lot of the English DJs over to Belgium.
-What was his first name?
Stephen: Zaky. That was his name. Just Zaky. Apparently when I was young, when The Small Faces came over to Europe they stayed in our house, and Stan Getz stayed over, and I don't remember it. The most relevant thing is we grew up amongst thousands of records. When I was six, I really got into music for some reason, and it's good cause you can go out and explore, in your own house, you pick out records. Still, we go up to the attic and we find stuff which is, "oh, wait a minute, what's this?"
-So who's older?
Stephen: I was born in 1970 so I'm 32 now. So Dave's 27. My first gig was Mud. I was like five years old but I remember my mom and dad knew Les, the singer of Mud. The only song I liked by Mud was "Dynamite."
David (and Tony Fletcher): "Tiger Feet!"
Stephen: No, "Dynamite." It's got a mad fucking riff man, it was like, punk. The first gig I wanted to go to, when I was ten, I think, was Human League. I was so crazy about Human League, really, really. And my mom and dad took me as a surprise to see it and I was amazed how just these fucking three people on a synth, and the projections, and him singing really well...
-Which version of Human League?
Stephen: Dare had just come out, and they were playing a lot of old stuff still. But I was amazed by how powerful it was. They had the same energy for me as maybe going to see AC/DC or something, it was like, fucking blowing me away.
-Dare was a great album. Historically people have forgotten that that's the record that changed a lot that and Soft Cell maybe.
David: Yeah, because even this week we were hanging out with people here who completely know all the Electroclash, and then what did you play?
Stephen: I played Travelogue.
David: Yeah, and then there were two instances where a person came up to me and said, "What is this? I have to get this!"
Stephen: I play "Seconds," which is my favorite track ever. And people keep on coming back and asking "What is this?" A lot of the songs that they were making were analog, and it took a long time for them. It's the same with Kraftwerk, that's why they sound different. And that's the thing that I hate about electroclash, nine out of ten records that we get now are made with the same synth sounds on the Nord Lead, and that's not what it's about.
-Yeah, at that time everybody was looking at synthesizers like "what the hell are these," and people would stay home and try to figure out how you could make something work
Stephen: Yeah, it's amazing what Martyn Ware and all these guys did.
-So for you, as you both grew up, was DJing going alongside making your own music?
Stephen: Yeah. When I was 14, my Dad had a radio show with really cool people from Ghent, our hometown, in it. The people who started the R&S techno label, they did a show, and a very well known Techno DJ called Frank de Wulf who was from around there, he did a show, and everybody could do what they wanted. They all started up there.
-What was it called?
Stephen: It was Radio GO. It was fucked up radio. When I was 14 my Dad said "Do you want to have a show?" And I was like "Really? And I can put out all the music I want?" And so that's where I started out, and that's where I gave all my Kraftwerk records to Frank de Wulf. We were like the little kids to them, you know? And that's where I started spinning records and mixing them, that was the only place that had Technics where you could mix and do stuff, and from there on I started DJing at some clubs. I never wanted to be, like, a DJ. It was a means of showing what I liked, or you know, when you're at your friend's house and the music's shit, and you just put on some other music.
-Some people just end up taking on that job.
Stephen: That's why I did it. And then we did the second Soulwax album, and there was a guy drumming on it, Steve, who is a really good friend of mine, and him and I started off doing this thing called "MacGregor and MacGregor." And it was very funny. But then Steve got married to Tracy Bonham, and he moved to New York, so I asked Dave if he would fill in.
"I never wanted to be a DJ. It was a means of showing what I liked, or you know, when you're at your friend's house and the music's shit, and you just put on some other music." Stephen and David put on some 'other music' at Apt., summer 2002.
-So in Soulwax, it was you and Steve who were initially DJing, and after Steve left David, was like, "Oh, I'll do it..."?
David: Well it was more like he left and there were two gigs that we had to do.
-So it hadn't really occurred to you, David, to get in and spin records with him and Steve?
David: No, I was there for every set they did, but I was there just to hang out.
Stephen: It was fun with Steve but it wasn't as aligned. The thing with Dave and me is we'll go to a town and set ourselves free, and go to a record store and come back and without knowing it, we'll buy the same records. It's happened before, a lot of times. So DJing with David, we could swap it up. Whereas Steve would come up with some weird Brazilian thing.
-So from the beginning was it about "What really interesting combinations can we do?"
Stephen: Oh, absolutely. I've always been like that. I remember when I got my first stereo deck I would get intros and pause them, and repeat them all the time, and just hit the pause button, I was really into doing all that. And then when hip-hop came along, the first Public Enemy record, and De La Soul, and the Beastie Boys it really blew my mind because it was exactly what was in my head. Not the rap part, the rhyming part, but the mixing of styles, which was what I grew up on.
- I did a fair amount of DJing in the early 90's, and the reason our club was so great was we would just mix up this stuff. I used to have this favorite mix that was "Let Your Body Learn" by Nitzer Ebb over the top of N-Joi, whether it was "Malfunction," or "Adrenalin" the vocals just went perfect.
David: How did you find that?
-You just played them together at the club, and kind of go, "this works," and you'd keep it on a bit longer, and then you'd reach a point when they're just synched up, and you'd stand back and go "fuckin' hell" and you'd look over and everybody'd be dancing.
Stephen: That's the best part, when you discover stuff like that.
David: We still discover stuff even today. The thing is though, we never remember it. You come home and you're like "fuck, how was that mixed?"
Continue to PART 2