Foundations: Stephen and David Dewaele look back on five years of DEEWEE Records

Pictures by Rob Walbers

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The enigmatic brothers take us behind the scenes of one of Belgium’s most iconic current record labels.

DEEWEE is more than just a record label. “DEEWEE is a building, a studio, a label, a record collection and a publishing house”, says the website. Just after dropping an album made entirely with an extremely rare vintage synthesizer (‘EMS Synthi 100’), Stephen and David Dewaele are eager to present the first compilation on their record label DEEWEE: Foundations. This time the two brothers, better known under their Soulwax or 2manydjs aliases, take a back seat and put forward the many artists they've been working with. Foundations features 27 collaborative tracks and celebrates the first five years of the label’s output. While it celebrates what has already been achieved, it also lays the foundations for what’s yet to come. We had a few words with the two Dewaeles, an established label act (Asa Moto) and a brand new signing (Movulango) to discover the recipe of the secret DEEWEE sauce.

What’s your feeling after seeing these 27 DEEWEE tracks in a finished compilation?

Stephen: “Our new label partner, Because Music, proposed we make a compilation of the best of DEEWEE so far. Normally, this wouldn’t be something we’d think of ourselves – we’re not very overview-minded – but when we started selecting the tracks, we realized how much more we weren’t able to fit in. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes, there’s also so much more coming your way. So yes, it’s a nice overview, but it’s only a fraction of what DEEWEE has to offer”.

David: “A lot of DEEWEE releases are completely sold out already. By putting these tracks on a new compilation, we’re giving our fans another opportunity to get these tunes on vinyl”.

We work closely with our artists for years, so signing new ones isn’t something we do casually.

Why didn’t you start a label earlier?

Stephen: "We got asked that question a lot in the past 20 years. It just wasn’t something we felt we had time or appetite for. If we started a record label, it had to be done our own way. That means taking our time or rethinking the traditional relation between the imprint and the artists”.

David: “Only when the DEEWEE Studio was finished (in 2014, ed) we finally were able to start this project”.

How do you select the artists you sign on DEEWEE?

David: "Our artists are usually people we've known for a long time already, like Charlotte Adigéry, Bolis Pupul, Sworn Virgins or Phillipi & Rodrigo. We never accept demo's, or we rarely sign people we haven't met in real life".

Stephen: “There's no fixed system behind it, but we like to be involved with these artists from the start. All the people on our roster are talents we work closely and intensely with for years, so signing new ones isn’t something we do casually”.

What does that collaboration process look like?

Stephen: “The whole reason we built the DEEWEE Studio was to have the ideal space for collaboration. It’s a place where we can create stuff together without any involvement from the outside world. When our artists have an idea, we invite them for a listening session, and we exchange ideas or collaborate. That doesn't always have to revolve around music. Sometimes we create a book, or we prepare exhibitions. In the end, everything that comes out on our label is recorded here and mixed by the two of us. And so, this is most of what we’ve been doing in the past five years”.

David: “Record labels in this age often sign music that has already been made. We do the opposite; we work closely with our artists for an extended time, from music production to other stuff like composing a live setup or shooting videos. We try to do as many things as possible right here in this studio. Releasing music is only a small part of what we do”.

We never have to look for things to do because 'things to do' always find us.

I assume these younger artists learn a lot from you - but are there things you’ve learned from them?

Stephen: “Of course; they often surprise us. For example, our music library feels natural to us because we've been collecting these records for decades. Sometimes, what we think is an obvious release completely bedazzles them because they've never heard it at all. When they take these influences into their productions, we're rediscovering what made us fall in love with that particular sound in the first place. We would have never felt that if it wasn't for them".

You don't look like the type of guys that get bored quickly, even when there's a global pandemic keeping the venues closed. What have you been doing this past year?

David: "We've definitely had our hands full with DEEWEE. We never have to look for things to do because 'things to do' always find us".

Stephen: “Having a day off feels weird. Last Sunday was the first Sunday in years we haven’t spent in the studio – and even that felt a bit uncomfortable. The lockdown did allow us to finalize some long-running projects we could never finish as we were constantly touring".

What can we expect from the upcoming DEEWEE TEEVEE project?

David: “It’s a virtual television channel with 10-minute shows filled with live performances, music videos, etc. It’s a way for us to do more with the compilation, especially since we can’t do real live gigs. Watching DEEWEE TEEVEE will feel a bit like zapping through random TV channels, but cooler”.

And what about the upcoming releases on DEEWEE?

Stephen: “Four releases are ready to go, two of which are full albums, and not everything will sound like what you might not expect”.

Oliver Geerts and Gilles Noë have dropped three EPs on DEEWEE, the only record label they've released anything on so far. Their minimalist yet effective house-minded tracks are some of the strongest contributions to the catalogue.

What have you guys been up to?

Noë: "With our album in mind, we haven't stopped making music. You can expect a new EP on DEEWEE very soon, and we've also produced a lot of music on the recent album of Turkish artist Altin Gün”.

How did you first get in touch with DEEWEE?

Noë: "Ghent can be a small town sometimes. Both of us knew them personally long before we formed Asa Moto. At one point, they just asked us to come down to the studio and show them what we got".

What does the interaction between you and DEEWEE look like? Do you often disagree with their feedback?

Geerts: “We disagree a lot! But that's why we get the best results together. Usually, they tell us to delete a lot of unnecessary elements. They're quite good at seeing what's crucial and kicking out all the rest. You can hear that philosophy throughout the DEEWEE catalogue".

If you have tracks you've been tweaking for months, that can be a sign they might not be as good as you think.

Did the lockdown have an impact on the way you make music?

Geerts: “At the start of the lockdown, we each took home some gear from the studio and spent time apart. As we made music separately, we couldn’t jam around on our gear together, which was our usual way to go. Perhaps we’ve learned to approach music production in a more songwriting manner now. In any case, it made for some excellent results".

And did Stephen and David like those results?

Noë: "Yes and no (laughs). We always send them a batch of different things: a handful of pretty detailed demos and a few rough sketches. Most of the times, they'll pick the most minimal tracks of the folder. That only goes to show that the music you make in a matter of hours is usually better than the music you've worked on for ages".

Geerts: "If you have tracks you've been tweaking for months, that can be a sign they might not be as good as you think. Stephen and David help us putting our own productions into perspective".

Even though Mozes Mosuse has been around making music for a long time, he finally shared his debut single ‘Leave’ with the world (and it’s featured as one of the singles on Foundations). Meet one of the bright new talents on the DEEWEE roster.

Other than your first single, we don't know what to expect from you. Can you fill us in?

"It's tough to describe my sound with only a few words, but I like to cherry-pick elements from different genres: psychedelic rock, pop, grunge, etc. I've been making music for a very long time, but the upcoming material is all pretty new stuff. I've finally arrived at the point where I want to release my music”.

Is there a deeper meaning behind the name Movulango?

"It's my original last name, kind of. My family has roots in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it's common practice to share a last name with the whole village. Many people don't even have a fixed last name in a Western sense. It's more of a family thing. I only discovered this very recently”.

After working together for so long Stephen and David really understand the direction I want to take with my music.

How is your relation with DEEWEE?

“They can be a busy bunch (laughs). Sometimes it takes a long time before you finally get their attention, but when it happens, their feedback is valuable. I'm super happy with the upcoming debut EP – and it wouldn't have been possible without their input".

You’ve been waiting for that first release for a very long time, which can be difficult for young producers who want to prove themselves.

"That's true – and that's definitely the case for me. That said, ‘Leave’ wouldn't have sounded the same if I had my way. At first, it was a lot more guitar-centred and less of a dancefloor track. Because we took the time to explore different angles and versions, we ended up with the best result. The positive thing about working together for so long is that they now really understand the direction I want to take with my music”.

What makes DEEWEE different from other labels?

"They can be ruthless in their feedback, but it's hard to deny their experience in the music industry. I think all the artists on the roster benefit from that, even if that means you need to chuck away your favourite demo sometimes”.

What’s in the pipeline for you?

“There will be an interesting contribution to DEEWEE TEEVEE, although I can’t say much more about that yet. The biggest obstacle – releasing that first single – is crossed now, so all my attention is focused on the upcoming EP. I want to play my music live on stage, but who knows when that will happen, right"?