2ManyDJs

Marking the 20th anniversary of 2ManyDJs’ influential ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt 2’ album, brothers Stephen and David Dewaele look back at how they helped to define and popularise mashup culture

“Everybody wants to be the DJ / Everybody thinks it’s oh so easy,” blared Belgian indie/electronic rockers Soulwax on their minor 1999 hit, ‘Too Many DJ’s’. The lead single from Ghent-based brothers Stephen and David Dewaele’s second album, ‘Much Against Everyone’s Advice’, was the sort of scuzzy rock cut a band who grew up listening to Iggy And The Stooges might write. Yet it wasn’t music which shook the foundations of the industry, and the Dewaeles knew it.

“We were in a comfortable position in the indie rock world,” says David Dewaele, speaking from the pair’s Deewee studio in their home city. “But we were bored out of our skulls with the notion of how the music industry cycle worked – how you made an album, released it, did press, then toured.”

After their shows, the pair were already DJing as The Flying Dewaele Brothers, which they found as satisfying as the concerts themselves. David was a recent convert, but Stephen had been playing records at school parties since his early teens, taking inspiration from their father Jackie Dewaele, who was a professional DJ. Initially working for pirate radio in the 1960s, he was among the first to play rock ‘n’ roll on Belgian national radio, and he later gave exposure to Belgian new beat and techno pioneers Frank De Wulf and Renaat Vandepapeliere (founder of R&S Records).

“He was not so much of the David Mancuso type, but more like Tony Blackburn,” says David.

“Our dad has a really good voice – a voice of authority,” agrees Stephen. “If he reads the menu in a restaurant, people listen.”

Stephen borrowed Jackie’s David Bowie records in the 1980s, and with his own money bought vinyl by the likes of New Order, The Human League and The Danse Society. Later, the brothers also developed a taste for LFO and Aphex Twin, among other things, and they would throw in Beck and Pavement together with Daft Punk for fun when DJing. In the ghettoised 1990s, where people identified as listening to individual genres such as indie, techno or drum ’n’ bass, it’s hard to overstate how revolutionary this was.

“With our dad being who he is, it wasn’t something we thought about,” says David. “The idea of not listening to one style of music was normal.”

Ears soon pricked up to what the brothers were doing. Belgian radio station Studio Brussel gave them a regular mix slot called ‘Hang The DJ’ (it was originally ‘Hank The DJ’, but the Dewaeles vetoed it). They made around 20 mixes in total, which were bootlegged and later replayed on XFM in London, where the pair were bonding with Erol Alkan at his weekly Trash club night.

“Something was building around them, you could feel it,” says Stephen of their mixes. “We’d done Kraftwerk with the strings of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, and Erol, Dave and me were in Rough Trade when an A&R came in and asked for this thing he’d heard on the radio. The guy’s like, ‘I have no idea mate, that doesn’t exist’. It moved so fast, but in an indie band things go really slow.”

To fill the gap before the next album, their label, PIAS, suggested an official mix CD.

“We told them, ‘There’s no fucking way you can clear Kraftwerk or Black Flag – good luck!’,” recalls Stephen.

They were asked to write a list of dream tracks to mix with, and of the 200 or so they chose, some unexpected gems were approved.

“Stooges, yes. Velvet Underground, yes. Salt-N-Pepa, yes… Wait a minute, hello! That’s where it started.”

With 2ManyDJs adopted as their pseudonym for the occasion, the release in 2002 of ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt 2’ was a revelation.

The album (so-named because this was the second part of their mixing adventure, although many looked for a non-existent first volume) finally collapsed boundaries between analogue and electronic music tribes, and popularised the idea of the “mashup”, layering the vocal track or signature riff of one song over the rhythm of another. The concept wasn’t new, but PIAS clearing their samples took it out of the underground and into the mainstream, revolutionising the DJ mix and paving the way for the contemporary mixtape.

“The energy of being able to go from Peaches into the Velvet Underground or Destiny’s Child into 10cc was intuitively normal to Dave and me,” says Stephen. “If it borrowed from anything, it was the early hip hop aesthetic of taking the best bits of a record. After the 1990s, where everybody used a sampler, it was a logical progression.”

Before Radio Soulwax, says David, the concept of a mix involved a star DJ like Roger Sanchez matching the beat of house records.

“What was important for us was that it all gelled together musically,” he says. “It was more about finding records that maybe, at first sight, you wouldn’t be able to mix together, but then finding a way to make it happen. That was a bigger challenge than for it just to be something you played from beginning to end and danced to.”

It worked in that regard too, soundtracking house parties across Europe, selling nearly half a million copies and earning praise from David Bowie. It opened the door for artists and DJs who were already playing similar sets to modest local audiences to go global, among them Alkan, New York’s DFA crew and Glasgow’s Optimo (Espacio). It also helped boost many of the new artists involved, including Röyksopp, Vitalic and The Wildbunch (possibly featuring a pre-fame Jack White – even the Dewaeles aren’t sure).

Afterwards, the industry shifted, as festivals – at first, outliers such as Primavera and Sonar, then the likes of Reading and Leeds – realised booking 2ManyDJs to headline was cheaper, cooler and at least as exciting as paying a band. One night in Lisbon, they went on after Depeche Mode. With high production values added to the mix later in the decade, Daft Punk took this new trend to a global playing field, while LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy – a friend of the Dewaeles – has pointed out quite how influential they were in the worldwide explosion of EDM.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” says David, still one of the most sought-after remixers in the world alongside his brother. “We were just doing the stuff we thought was cool, and by chance it grew into this worldwide phenomenon that we knew was going to live its own life. Here in the studio, we work with a lot of people who are in their 20s, and it’s very hard to explain how abnormal that record was.”

Back then, Napster was booming, and the mass adoption of streaming was on the horizon. Now, music is a 24/7 mashup.

“It felt as if it was us against the world,” says Stephen. “If we had 300 people when we played, we’d be really happy. In that period, we were the underground, but I don’t know if there is an underground anymore.”

The 20th anniversary edition of ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt 2’ is out on PIAS

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