“Mediocrity has become the norm”, explains R&S Records bossman Renaat Vandepapeliere at the AVA Festival Conference earlier this year, and he’s got a point. Terms like ‘genius’ and ‘legend’ get thrown around a bit willy nilly these days, so much so that we ignore some of finest in favour of the disposable.
The disposable is something that clearly doesn’t interest Renaat, and this is reflected in the artists he brings to his legendary imprint. The latest signee, Felix Manuel, known most notably under his Djrum alias, is a symbolic signal of the ‘true artist’ aesthetic that is such a passion of Renaat’s.
Having got into music at the age of 9, Felix’s tastes cover the entire spectrum of sound. From Michael Jackson to modern classical and ambient to gabba, the artist refuses to be pigeonholed to any particular category; sonically shapeshifting his way through a range of different influences.
I caught up with Renaat to chat about Felix, and quickly we found ourselves venturing deeper and deeper in the rabbithole, such is the label heads passion for music.
Renaat isn’t shy of giving an opinion, and his infatuation with sound hasn’t diminished, even at 60 years old. We chatted about everything from what it takes to make a great album to the well paid DJ’s out there that have been playing the same set for years. Listen carefully. We may just save the scene yet.
When was the first time you came across the music of Djrum and what were your initial thoughts?
It was a couple of years ago. I remember one of the first records I heard that Synkro played, which was The Darkest Hour Just Before Dawn, and shortly after that the track he did with Jono McCleery, and I thought wow. This guy is very interesting.
I was going through your interview at AVA Festival earlier in the year where you mentioned that only artists such as Nicolas Jaar and Nils Frahm are capable of making great electronic music albums. You obviously regard Djrum in this category as there is a full LP coming on R&S Records next year. What is the difference between today’s standard contemporary producer and someone like Jaar and Frahm?
Well, Nicolas and Nils are classically trained musicians, and that’s something that you can hear in their compositions, but, what makes the music special? Hmm. I guess it’s the personality behind it. Felix (Djrum) has that too. I think you can hear when Djrum is making a track. It sounds personal. It’s him. It’s nobody else. This is something that attracts me to music in general. Does the artist have something to say? Is there an individual behind the project? Djrum is no different. You can hear his wide spectrum of knowledge about music. His knowledge and feelings really reflect in what he does. He’s not one dimensional.
Yeah I get what you mean, there’s such a wide arsenal of sounds. I really love his garage and dubstep influenced stuff.
I think he’s going to go a step further now.
That actually leads me into the next question! Have you heard anything from the forthcoming Djrum record?
I’ve heard one track, a vocal track, with a girl from the album. It’s just wonderful. You can hear the composition and the actual work that is went into making it. He’s really someone that can make an interesting album. An album isn’t just a load of banging tracks. It’s a body of work. It’s a journey. An album is more of a reflection of someone’s feeling in time and space. I cannot wait to hear the full thing!
I actually went to see Djrum make his Belfast debut at the weekend there, and he did not disappoint.
There’s a big difference between a DJ and a producer. There are borders. You’re still there to make people happy and you’re still there to make people dance. It’s not like you’re doing a live gig and you’re doing your own personal thing, but Djrum is a great DJ on top of being a great producer. Not many producers are great DJ’s, and vice versa.
I remember seeing a post you put up on Facebook about festivals and events being scared to book ‘different’ DJ’s. That it’s causing the scene to stagnate...
Running a club and a festival is still an economic fact. Most people do invest a lot money into making things happen so I know there is risk and you need big names. However, those names have been running for twenty years, the flyers are the same from Moscow to New Zealand. Of course, you have festivals that are doing something different, like Dekmantel, who are taking a little more risk, but the bigger they go the less risk they can take.
I find that a shame. You have all these great new guys that need to be exposed. I think people need to be dedicated again. To actually listen and accept new music. If you want to hear the same thing over and over again that’s fine, that’s your choice, but I’ve been fighting and spreading the word – 6 hours, not 60 minutes, if you know what I mean.
What can you do with a 2 hour set? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Clubs have a massive responsibility. They’re the breeding grounds for new DJ’s and new music and more freedom. I would prefer it was like the old days. A DJ should start the evening and stop it. Then he/she can work. Any DJ with pride wants the time to go through their record collection and build something and bring you to somewhere else.
This is the only way forward for discovering new talent. With all those 2 hour sets, what can you really discover? Bang, bang, bang, bang. Everybody wants to peak, and I understand that, but it’s not helping anybody. It’s sterile.
You mentioned there about young and new producers coming through that aren’t really being given the chance to be properly exposed...
Yes absolutely. I started a compilation, the first EP will be out soon, with tracks that I play and all those guys are unknown.
Is there any particular unknown artist that you’ve been really enjoying?
There’s so much man. Good music is very subjective, I have to be careful! What I like you might hate, it’s an endless debate. If you search on Bandcamp, and really go through the effort, which is what a DJ should be doing, you can find incredible stuff. It’s just fucking insane. I’m 60 and I’m still searching like a young kid at 18, finding tracks and thinking oh my god, what is this?! It’s much harder for young producers to get that exposure.
Bandcamp is almost like today’s modern age record digging. I’ve seen people complain that it isn’t user friendly, but that’s almost the point. It forces you into looking that little bit harder for great music.
Yeah! The search engine isn’t really that obvious so you really have to do some digging. I like that, I really like that. It’s like with Spotify. You buy a track, you listen to it and then an algorithm, a machine, is going to decide what you like. Excuse me? Fuck that shit!
Well, that’s my questions about done. Is there anything close to your heart that you’d like to talk about that I haven’t brought up?
Well, there’s a reason why I’m still out playing 6 hour and 12 hours sets as a 60 year old man. I refuse 2 hour sets. If they come to me with 2 hours I say buy a radio. It’s like meeting people and having dinner with them for the first time. You say hello and the hours go a little bit better but you haven’t really got to know them. It’s the same with a set; you need to have time to make people feel what you’re doing, to take them on a journey.
I know some really famous DJ’s that are paid a fortune and they’ve been playing the same set for years. How are they not bored with their own work?
It’s funny you should mention that. I’ve actually seen comments flagging up online with people complaining that certain DJ’s have been playing the same tunes for a while now. People seem to be catching on a little.
Yeah, I’ve travelled and seen it firsthand. I don’t know how people play two sets in one night. I couldn’t do it. Maybe it’s my age, but I just couldn’t. I need to refresh and find more tunes. Music is a passion, but now it’s all ‘I want to be famous, I want to be a rockstar, I want to make lots of money’. Something doesn’t feel right nowadays in my book. We can be like, ‘it’s OK, the kids like it, let it go’, but I think something needs to change. We have to be prepared to give young, interesting talent a chance. With older DJ’s too. I know people that if they were given the chance to play for 12 hours they would blow your mind. Bring that back. Please, worldwide, bring it back!
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