For: The Warehouse Project

Soulwax never quite disappear. Masters of multi-tasking, where most bands would complete tours and return to the safety of the studio, the Dewaele brothers – David and Stephen – and live members Stefaan Van Leuven and Steve Slingeneyer go from one huge project to another. Creating and programming whole radio stations, scrapping live sets on a whim, remixing the likes of Justice, Hot Chip, Arcade Fire and The Chemical Brothers… all in a day’s work for the Belgian group. It’s no wonder the likes of Erol Alkan and LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang look so befuddled at the band’s punishing schedule, during interviews in the Soulwax film ‘Part Of The Weekend Never Dies’.

Returning to The Warehouse Project this December Soulwax bring their legendary Soulwaxmas Christmas party to Manchester for the first time, heading up an event that features the likes of Erol Alkan, The 2 Bears, Kindness and Mike Simonetti. Will Orchard caught up with David Dewaele to chat about the band’s approach to writing, producing and performing, and what it’s like to be playing promoter and radio station boss at the same time.

Whereabouts are you now? 

I’m in London now.

Is that where you guys are living at the moment?

Well, I guess this is where I call home. But we’ve got a studio in Belgium, where we work, and I’ve got a place there. It’s kind of between there and London. But obviously, four days in the week we’re travelling all over the world. It’s slightly better now because we’re working on an album so we’ve got to be home a bit more.

How long have you been calling London a base?

I think it’s been four and a half years. One of the reasons we came here was because it wasn’t a big culture shock or anything. Most of our friends live here and our business is also based here. It’s been here since 2003; our management, our agent, all that stuff. It’s never been difficult. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes to Lille and then forty minutes from Lille to our hometown, so when we go back and forth it’s easier for us to commute to London than somewhere like, say, Manchester.

You’re working on the album now but you’ve got so many other projects going on at the same time. Where are you at with producing and recording?

The last six months all we’ve done has been concentrating on an album. I don’t know how far we are. Maybe 10%, maybe 90%. Basically, we’re in quite a fortunate position in that we can kind of just do what we want and put it out whenever we want. What that means is all we’ve done in the last year is made a bunch of music, all different kinds of things that could fit for different kinds of purposes. We’ve had quite a lot of different kinds of requests for different things, say films and working for other people. Sometime early next year we’re going to decide what will become a Soulwax album contender and what will maybe end up on other people’s albums.

We haven’t been working with anyone else other than my brother and me, and Stefaan, our bass player, That’s it. The stuff that we do with James [Murphy] is like a separate thing that’s got almost nothing to do with that stuff. That’s just James and me going to the studio and having fun with machines. We’ve done that in Ibiza. What we try to do, on a yearly basis, we would bring out a studio selection of synths and old analog gear and put them outside by the swimming pool. We would stay in Ibiza for a week or two weeks and record outside.

We had another project, Die Verboten, with Henry Riton and another friend, and we recorded all this spacey, proggy stuff outside in Ibiza. When James heard about that, he was a big fan. He really loved that. Then we did some stuff with him and we’ve done some stuff in London with him as well. But who knows. He’s so busy and we’re so busy and it’s literally just an excuse for us to hang out.

By the very nature of your schedules, it has to be quite a casual arrangement.

Yeah. Something should come of it because, honestly, the music is great. Working with James is great. But there’s no real ambition for it to become anything. I’ve spoken to some people who’ve been like, “Oh, it’s big! Soulwax plus LCD Soundsystem…” and also, musically, it doesn’t sound anything like what you’d expect. It doesn’t sound anything like Soulwax, it doesn’t sound like anything DFA. It’s something quite beautiful and different, all modular synths and very analog. But like I say, I’ve no idea if that’s going to become something tangible any time soon.

Conversely, where does the Soulwax material you’re making now fit in with previous Soulwax material? If you’re creating such a wide range of styles, is it just a case of making a decision next year what stays in and what gets left out? 

Yeah. There’s that entity, which I suppose is a choice. Maybe the music will decide itself. Like, “Ok, this really fits one album”, and then maybe the other stuff fits another album. Now, we’re consciously just making things without a certain purpose.

But on the other hand, we tour at times – The Warehouse Project will be one of them. We did a run in the summer where we did Asia, going to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong. And the stuff that we played then is… I guess you’d have to call it energetic dance music. It’s basically a live band playing electronic music, maybe in the way Nite Versions was. It can be quite different from the way we’ve been working on stuff in the studio. That fits that purpose. In a way, the best thing to do would be to put out an album of that. But I’m not sure if that’s what we want to do now.

When you’re playing live now, what are the sets constructed of?

I’d say it’s 70% new, 30% old.

So it’s a case of coming back on the road and bringing with you a new live show?

In the last three years we’ve done short bits of touring – three weeks of America, a bit of Asia. For every tour we’ve made tracks that are maybe for the tour and work for that thing. It’s really interesting because I think normally for a band, what you would do is you would make music, record it and then tour it for two years. We’ve kind of done another thing, which is that we have… in the last few years – it wasn’t a conscious thing, it just happened this way – we’d be working on a million other things and be like, “Oh shit, in two weeks we’ve got to go on tour. We’d better come up with something!” We’d make all this new stuff and rehearse it and play it, and then forget about it when we came home. Subsequently, four or six months later there’d be a tour and we’d say “Ooh, better make something new.”So even now, when we’ll do this run of Soulwaxmas, there’ll be ‘new’ music. Right now, it’s kind of interesting, It’s like a DJ set that fluctuates but with a live band.

It’s such a different way of working compared to most bands. When you’re writing this material, do you write it with specific dates and places in mind?It’s not as geo-bound but it’s more whatever we’re into now. It’s just like, “What’s the best that we can come up with now?” The interesting thing is that none of these things exist in the recorded fashion, they just exist as something we play live. Like I say, maybe early January we’ll throw away everything that we’ve been working on and just say, “Well that’s the album then”!That’s the other thing as well. On a night like Soulwaxmas, it’s quite an energetic, danceable line-up. It wouldn’t make sense if we came in and did soundscapes or ballads. You’d have to do something that would make people go crazy. I agree with you that it’s quite an interesting approach but it wasn’t by design. When you’re busy doing a million things that’s just how it happens. It’s helped us become less precious about things.

Where does the Radio Soulwax side of things fit in with your studio work?
It didn’t fit in with it. It was just us working in the studio as well. So much of the radio stuff was detailed work on stuff that I’m pretty sure no-one apart from the three people working on it would ever have heard. And that’s fine, that’s just how it works. But also it meant that we got so obsessed with every little detail, every little nanosecond, every little frame… “Is his arm moving enough? Is that snare drum compressed enough?”Every little thing. Bear in mind we just sell it to people as some mixtapes with visuals. Almost every hour is a collection of music that took ages to collect, scan, record the audio in digital, make a playlist, make a mix, edit all the tracks. Most of them are remixes of all the tracks as well. And then you start the visual thing, So one hour would take somewhere between a month and a year. In essence we made 24 albums, films. That’s a crazy amount of work. One way to look at it is that it’s stupid. Another way is that it’s admirable. For us, it’s somewhere in between because sometimes we’ll look at everyone around us and no-one makes such a stupid investment.Because that’s the other thing – we give them away for free. It’s three years of our lives that have ended up in this digital online radio station, I guess you’d call it. We love it. We put so much time and effort into it. We’re so proud of it. But on the other hand, there isn’t anything tangible to hold in your hand. It’s such a strange thing.

It’s a weirdly abstract, modern concept. If you think of things like Boiler Room – having a DJ set with all your favourite DJs, but you’re watching it on a TV and thousands of other people are watching it live too – it’s the same idea as a Radio Soulwax show. It can be as amazing as a DJ set you’ve gone to but there’s this weird disconnect. As a listener, you’re almost treating in a different, more analytical way.
People who work for us give us numbers of how many people have downloaded it and watched it, and that’s nuts. The numbers for it are beyond normal. But on the other hand, we don’t feel anything of it. It’s not like people come up to us on the street and go “Oh, that was great.” It’s almost an anonymous online thing. It’s not like when you put out an album and you play a gig and afterwards people will come up to you and tell you that a song changed their life. It’s such a weird thing in its extremes, being that it took so long to make and on the other hand it’s so successful on an online basis, but it’s also so… nothing. Do you know what I mean? It’s just digits, things in the air. It’s not a vinyl record or a DVD. That’s what’s so strange about it.
When you’ve been putting together the Soulwaxmas line-ups for this December, how have they come together?
It’s almost like it’s another different entity as well. We become these event organizers, in a way. We’ll make these line-ups and get people on board, a whole different campaign. It’s nice that it’s at the end of the year because it makes for quite a festive thing. Most of the people that are on tour with us are friends and it’s like a nice Christmas that you spend with your friends. The way we do the line-up is we try to not do the same thing every year. When we started to do it, people like Boys Noize, Justice, Vitalic… they go and fill their own Warehouse Projects, they go and fill their own stadiums. Even though sometimes they still do them – last year we had Boys Noize at Brixton, I think – it’s more interesting if we bring things that are more well known.The only thing that’s weird about this year’s line-up is that even though we’ve been buying his stuff for years, we’ve got a lot of mutual friends, we’ve never met Mike Simonetti. I think that’s the first time ever on a line-up that we’re bringing someone that isn’t a good friend. Usually, people are just friends. For the rest, I think we wanted to do something that was a bit less techno. More for the girls, less for the boys.

It’s really interesting having an act like Kindness on the bill too.
Well, the Kindness thing… in 2009, Erol and I went to see Kindness and Fabric. The gig was incredible. We thought it was the best thing we’d seen all year. It was a shambles, it was great, it was bad. It was one of those gigs where you have to be there, it was an incredible experience. Immediately, the next day, I asked him to come and do Souiwaxmas 2009.  There was a problem because that gig we’d seen, there wasn’t a proper band. That was just a bunch of friends that on the before he just called and said,“Do you want to play with me?” And so, he was like, “No, I don’t have a band. I can’t do it.”
Next year I asked, 2010, and there was a problem where he wasn’t around. He wasn’t in town so he couldn’t do it. Then last year I asked him to do it and he was working on the album. Every year he kept seeing he’d do the next year, so this year is finally the first year we’ve got them to do it. It works out best because they’re promoting an album and all that stuff, and it’s been going well for them. It’s been something that’s been on the cards for three years now and finally we’ve got him!
It’s very exciting to have you coming back to The Warehouse Project, after the number of times you’ve been here. Especially now we’ve moved to a new venue.
I hear the new venue is great! It’s cool, I’m very interested because bigger isn’t necessarily better but I hear people telling me it’s going to be good.